So, there’s one aspect of Beethoven’s style that I personally, haven’t been able to write convincing examples of. That would be the False Picardy Third. To clarify, this is what I mean by False Picardy Third:

A harmonic motion to the parallel major that sounds like a Picardy Third and is followed by an extensive passage in that key, only to be suddenly switched back to the parallel minor as if to say "You thought I was going to end in major, didn’t you. Well I’m not. I’ll end it in minor."

This is something that Beethoven does often in his minor key pieces, especially those that are in C minor. I could use any work, but to keep things short for the listener, I will use the Pathetique Sonata rondo as an example of the False Picardy Third.

At 2:42, the motion to C major starts. Then at 2:50, C major is confirmed and it lasts until 3:15, when the F#dim7 brings us back to C minor in just 1 chord. This whole section from 2:42 to 3:15 is the False Picardy Third.

Now, I have tried to use this concept myself of the False Picardy Third, but it doesn’t sound convincing when I try to use it. And I’m wondering why. I mean, when I try to use it, I have the motion to the parallel major and the extensive major key passage. I even have the sudden switch back to minor. And yet, Beethoven does it convincingly and I don’t. I can only think of 1 difference between my use and Beethoven’s use. I tend to stray away from the diminished seventh in favor of the dominant seventh in major keys whereas in minor, I often use the diminished seventh as the one and only dominant function chord in a passage.

Could this use of the diminished seventh be so crucial to the False Picardy Third, that trying to use a dominant seventh instead is like trying to use the vi chord as a tonic chord without a preceding modulation to the vi in that it just won’t work in the majority of cases?

  • 'False Picardy Third'? Hasn't it just modulated into its parallel key?
    – Tim
    May 20, 2020 at 10:12
  • But the resolution to the major key + the extensive passage in the parallel major sounds like a Picardy Third doesn’t it? And doesn’t it sound even more like a Picardy Third in another example, the recapitulation of Beethoven’s Fifth? So, when it flips back to minor, I know that it is a False Picardy Third.
    – Caters
    May 20, 2020 at 15:55
  • 2
    No, it doesn't. A Picardy Third generally speaking is at the very end of a minor piece. Not a long way from the end. Usually the last bar or two. By moving to the minor earlier, there's no Picardy anything.
    – Tim
    May 20, 2020 at 16:09

2 Answers 2


First off, as Tim notes in comments, this has nothing to do with Picardy thirds (false or otherwise). I suppose if Beethoven had actually returned to the major form of the theme in a final refrain of the Rondo, maybe you could think of it as a false move into major, but he doesn't.

This is an episode, which frequently modulates to other keys in a rondo.

It sounds convincing partly because it's a common thing to do in rondo forms, sometimes known as a maggiore couplet or episode. Rondo forms typically have forms like ABACA or ABACABA, and the B and C sections (known as episodes or couplets) frequently move into parallel major or parallel minor (minore couplets). These sorts of episodes are all over rondos by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, etc. While the first episode in a minor rondo frequently goes to the relative major (III), later ones sometimes go to the parallel major.

And the return is convincing because it's part of the form and returns to the home key along with the refrain, which is pretty much the definition of what a rondo form does.

As for the details of why your particular attempt at a similar modulation doesn't work, I have no idea without seeing it. But Beethoven's example partly works because it's the very kind of thing he might be expected to do in a section like that.

P.S. I do not intend this answer to sound flippant at all. But you've asked quite a few questions relating to form here, and I might recommend you take a look at a serious textbook on form to try to understand how classical pieces work if you're going to use them as models. I might recommend William Caplin's Classical Form (or perhaps the more student-oriented version Analyzing Classical Form by the same author).


I don't believe the diminished 7th matters - playing the dominant 7th twice in the Beethoven is still convincing. But then I would find it still convincing if the minor theme came in immediately after the C cadence at 3:11. Perhaps it is because I have heard the piece often. Perhaps it is convincing because Beethoven has now used the theme several times and established it in the listener's mind, so there will be a sense of familiarity and rightness when it returns (in the minor key). Perhaps it is because the first 3 notes of the theme still allow ambiguity about whether it is major or minor. Or a combination, or something else I haven't thought of!

Do ask somebody else you trust about whether they find your work convincing, as sometimes we are our own harshest critics.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.