Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Mozartian Counterpoint, Part IV

Mozartian Counterpoint
Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII

20. Sonata in F for 2 pianos, KV.497

I cannot figure why this sonata has not a greater notoriety. A contrapuntal masterpiece with a symphonic drive and with one of Mozart's best and most haunting slow movements, it ought to be performed more. Perhaps the notion of a work of this scale for keyboard four hands is not a common conception. Regardless of its fame it is a genuine advance in style. The interplay of the voices produces not a rollicking or mischievous banter but a tense dialogue. Abert has pointed out that the voices rise from the role of accompaniment to independence by contrapuntal (canonic or imitative) procedures. "In short, the usual concertante procedures and reciprocal accompaniment on the part of two players at the same instrument are replaced by a compact, genuine four-handed keyboard style." [Abert, 989] This sustained use for dramatic effect is also a new and distinct variation in Mozart's use of counterpoint.

I would recommend examining the score of this sonata, here is an arrangement on four staves for two keyboards: PDF (via the IMSLP/Petrucci Music Library.)

opening of the allegro to the 1st movement, m.30-36

The whole movement rests uneasily on the opening adagio and even where the mood brightens there still vibrates an implacable nervousness. Abert identified the dreamlike, or rather nightmare-like, nature of this movement. We are drawn into it by the opening adagio and driven through it by the relentless drive of the imitative procedures. In the equally massive andante we again see large-scale canonical treatment of the themes and while the last movement recalls the ebullient rondos of the concertos its theme seems to hold a secret, one it never gives up even when we see the darker side of the seemingly innocent theme. Tovey ranked this theme with that of the phrase from the finale to the C minor concerto, about which Beethoven said, "Oh, my dear Ries, things like that will never occur to the likes of us."[9]

With its veiled energy this sonata presages the mood of Die Zauberflöte and with its polyphonic structure the G minor symphony. It was written in August 1786, the year in which Mozart wrote Figaro, the C minor and C major concertos (and also several small canons for three voices, KV.507, 508, and 508A), and the Symphony No. 38 in D.

21. Symphony No. 38 in D, KV.504 - Adagio - Allegro

Like the preceding sonata this symphony begins with a slow introduction of about 35 bars. Similar also is the contrapuntal treatment, which is a vigorous contest among three of the movement's motives in double counterpoint.

KV.504, themes. (via Abert's W. A. Mozart) (click to enlarge)

Theme C enters at m.143 in canon in the violins before it is joined by themes B and D. The contest between these themes is great but not terrible. It is energetic and full of bravura but does not rend at the heart. It is a vigorous, healthy contest. The transitional motive E leads us back to A for the recapitulation.

The Final Three Symphonies

We ought to take pause before discussing the "Great Three Symphonies." Perhaps the first thing we notice when looking into the history of these symphonies is the sheer volume of analysis they have invited in the last two hundred years, and in the last hundred from Abert, Dearling, Della Croce, Floros, Jones, Keefe, Mila, Robbins Landon, Sadie, Saint-Foix, Schenker, Sisman, Steptoe, Tovey, and Zaslaw. Like the Requiem the Symphony in C, KV.551 has a substantial literature of its own. Besides analysis there is much criticism of the symphonies and discussions of their nature.

I think each symphony has been dubbed "Romantic" by someone at some point and the reasons for this moniker can be adduced with relative ease, though we ought not easily adopt it. Those who think of Mozart and think only of galanterie and "good taste," those who prefer Romantic effusiveness indeed ought to re-consider their view of the composer especially in light of his minor key works. Likewise he who considers Mozart to be "essentially Romantic" is off the mark too. Both conceptions lead one astray and they typify misunderstanding Mozart. Indeed in 19th century the two most popular Mozart concertos were the D minor and the last D major, the former seen as the pinnacle of his passion and the latter his taste. Instead we ought to strive for a more thorough and less taxonomic understanding, we ought to get to know the music and then later consider issues of style and genre.

When we consider these symphonies, like the minor-key concertos we must wonder how surprising they must have  been to their first audience. The following works are undoubtedly unprecedented particularly with regard to the bold harmonic modulation and the contrapuntal aspects of their construction. Yet alongside the passion there is restraint, just as in the C minor Concerto KV.491. In the case of the E-flat symphony there is even humor alongside the passion, as there was in the D minor Concerto KV.466. Yes, there are "typically Mozartian" features like scalar figures, a songfulness, and the frequent modulation. Yet the E-flat symphony is a surprising work from its implacable opening theme to its concluding forte chords which manage to intensify the sense of resignation with which the work concludes. There is lyricism, passion, modulation, and a measured restraint. More still we have both the intimate and the ethereal, the personal and cosmic. All of this, the passion and the play, the tunes and the arias, is Mozart. And more. One ought not to have a bag of adjectives at hand when listening, ready to pull out "Grecian" when we feel spaciousness or "Romantic" whenever we sense passion. Yet I cannot now suggest how one ought to approach these symphonies, other than to listen, and listen, and listen. . .

N.B. We might make a few practical notes too. Zaslaw's "Mozart's Symphonies: Context, Performance Practice, Reception" (1989) is a very good start for what its title suggests. It has much information on instrumentation and references to other primary sources (letters, reviews, et cetera.) Georges de Saint-Foix's "The Symphonies of Mozart" (1949) contains many comments on the symphonies, from early reviews to 19th century accounts but his analyses do not differ substantially from Abert's. Both Zaslaw's book and Simon P. Keefe's essay "The 'Jupiter' Symphony in C, K.551: New Perspectives on the Dramatic Finale and its Stylistic Significance in Mozart's Orchestral Oeuvre" (Acta Musicologica, [Vol.] 75, [Fasc.] 1 (2003) pp. 17-43) have good bibliographic information on all three symphonies. Abert devotes much space to these symphonies and Tovey devotes a few pages to each but still is, as usual, well worth reading. Peter Gutmann's essay on the trilogy is also great and it's available online. [10]

Lastly, given the specific nature of this series and the tremendous volume of work already done on these pieces we will not be treating them as fully as possible. I have attempted here and there to point readers in the direction of other scholarship.

22. Symphony No. 39 in E-flat, KV.543 - Andante con moto

The three final symphonies were all entered in Mozart's catalog in the summer of 1788, along with the Sonata for Piano in C, KV.545, the adagio to the fugue in C minor (originally for two keyboards, KV.426: see here), and the series of short canons KV.553-562. The symphonies in G minor and C always seem to have dominated this landscape and in particular the E-flat symphony is the least famous in the trilogy. Neal Zaslaw asks a few penetrating questions in trying to account for the disparity:
Could it be this is because it has neither the proto-Romanticism of the G minor symphony nor the nickname and extraordinary finale of the "Jupiter"? Could it be that the kind of ideas Mozart chose to explore in this work survive the translation from the lean, transparent sounds of eighteenth-century instruments to the powerful, opaque sounds of modern instruments less well than the more muscular ideas of the G minor and "Jupiter" symphonies–that the flat key, which creates a somewhat more muted string sound compared to the brilliance of C (K. 425, 551) or D major (K. 297, 385, 504), makes less of an impression in large modern halls on twentieth-century instruments than it did in small halls with the instruments of the period? It is also Mozart's only late symphony, and one if his relatively few orchestral works in any genre, without a pair of oboes, which imparts to it a particular timbre. [Zaslaw, 443]
All plausible suggestions but it is also caught between the more generally "muscular" symphonies 38 in D and 40 in G minor, suffering the same fate of position as Beethoven's Fourth Symphony. Such is of course unfortunate since the symphony is of extraordinary dimensions. We will look in particular at the second movement, which one does injustice by classifying it as a binary structure with a coda. We would be likewise foolish to underestimate the measure of the main theme:

KV.545, m. 1-4, andante con moto

This main theme, which the strings introduce alone in A-flat but which modulates to the relative F minor in its recapitulation, will inform the whole of the movement. It too is a perplexing little theme containing apparent opposite features, Abert calling attention to the songfulness of its cantilena and Saint-Foix its "faintly martial character," but this contrast will not seem inappropriate when we see where this little theme will take us. With the plagal harmonies and discrete scoring for the cello the opening unfolds with a delicate loftiness. Yet after the theme's recapitulation the winds enter (m.28) in F minor with an arresting figure, piano, of staccato quavers and descending semiquavers into a menacing tutti forte, where another theme ratchets up the tension against staccato figures until we trot to a halt piano with semiquavers on B in B-flat. Now the clarinets and bassoons trade the second part of our opening theme back and forth with the bass strings.

At last the strenuous theme in the winds which introduced the second subject enters, now tamed, in imitation in the winds rising from the bassoons through the flutes against the pedal point in the strings. This counterpoint in the woodwinds over the sustained strings is a wondrous and serene gift of a moment, one which paves the way for the return of our gentle opening theme. This theme begins as before in the strings but rises to the woodwinds after which the strings add a counter-melody. The dialogue with the winds continues but now the winds offer a playful descending scale staccato as the first violins and bass strings take the main theme. Now the A-flat minor version of the theme we heard early on leads to B major and the recapitulation. Another dialogue between winds and strings initiates the coda and a chromatic descent leads to the close, tutti forte.

Here the counterpoint and ensuing texture proves a brief but still striking role in a work whose genius is in the handling and subtle modulation of the themes, of "grave and calm echoes, almost always veiled. . . but sometimes illuminated as if by lightning flash." [Saint-Foix, 122]

23. Symphony No. 40 in G minor, KV.550 [11] [12]


Hearkening back to our discussion of creative power we might look at the opening of this symphony and ask from whence its creative power comes? Tovey pointed out that it is, at least on paper, not so dissimilar from the overture to Il barbiere di Siviglia. Yes, and as Tovey says, what a world apart they are! The difference, slight in practice but vast in conception, is that between intelligence, competence, cleverness, even inventiveness, and the "highest poetic power."

KV.550, incipit

Movement: I. Allegro | II. Andante | III. Menuetto and Trio | IV. Allegro assai

What energy there is bound up not just in the opening theme but in the opening bar. Why is this so full of portent? We begin with only the strings, piano, with the violas divisi, i.e. that they should be in two groups to play full chords, double in thirds, et cetera. Likewise on first beat the basses pluck off the tonic. Yet the violins do not enter until the next beat with the main theme, whose anapestic weighting (i.e. short-short-long) will induce the rhythmic drive of the piece.Yet the third of those anapestic groupings ends with rising crotchets from V-III. Also the second half of this main theme ends with two crotchets both on IV falling from V. Thus this main theme itself is a sort of tense and unstable unit melodically, rhythmically, and harmonically.

The consequent of the main theme is cut off by the introduction of the woodwinds who with their rise and fall six semitones from and to D#, piano, and the lack of oboes makes an eerie entrance which heightens the tension. The winds then add some punctuating chords as the strings hammer the anapestic figure on D. After a restatement of the main theme heightened by pedal points in the winds a new theme enters at m. 26. Now in the relative B-flat major this new figure rises in staccato quavers against the basses flickering with quavers in thirds, until launching into a rising scalar passage in the violins and amplified by sforzato half-notes in the basses.

KV.550, second subject, m. 44-46

Now the second subject enters, first in the strings and then the winds before "sinking dreamily" (in Abert's words) into A-flat major. Now all of a sudden we enter a whirlwind crescendo which sweeps us back into the main theme and with a descending scalar figure a quiet moment forms in which the woodwinds treat the little anapestic figure imitatively. Then another forte outburst, and the violins follow suit. Concluding in B-flat the section ends.

Incredibly we're now whisked off to A-sharp minor in which the main theme repeats before we are shaken by the most abrupt and simultaneous entry 1) of the main theme in the basses, forte, in E minor, (which feels particularly raw and aggressive) and of a new theme in counterpoint in the violins:

KV.550, m.114-117

This contrapuntal explosion "rages in double counterpoint over the regular harmonic sequence in E minor, A minor, D minor, G minor, C major, F major and B flat major, not stopping until it reaches the dominant of D minor, while the first element of the theme, which has been hurled through every tonality but which is now compressed into the semitone step of its sigh motif, brings the whole section to an end like a shrill outburst." [Abert, 1125] Now the strings and winds trade the first figure of the main theme back and forth until it is replaced in the winds by a ghastly figure which slices in sforzato. The flutes and oboes now trade the figure, which now holds all the weight and tension of the piece, as it descends in a chromatic passage and the tension unwinds before the main theme returns piano.

This is not the healthful vigor of the Symphony in D KV.504 we looked at earlier but something altogether less restrained and most surprising. A volatile theme is worked up through modulation and contrast into an explosion wherein "theme and counterpoint strive to go their separate ways." [Abert, 1125]

The recapitulation is rife with innovation even though we don't reach the heights of tension we did in the development. After a restatement of the main theme our figure from m. 26 (which Abert dubbed the counter-subject and Foix the sequel to the first subject) enters is itself plunged into vigorous counterpoint between the 1st violins and basses, from which it emerges in G minor. Saint Foix was certainly right to call this essentially another development section.

Now the two main forces of the work, the tense main theme and the resigned second subject, are finally directly juxtaposed. (Like in the overture to Don Giovanni, we have antithetical ideas in sharp contrast, albeit differently developed.) For even more tension the stabbing sforzato figure and the sighing anapest figure return, again all brought now into the most direct comparison. All of the force of the movement is concentrated one last time before plunging into the final run and the final three chords, based on the very first figure.


Why is it that people seem to be more transported by the preceding, aggressive movement than this more tender but equally expressive movement, at least if popularity is any indication? Let us hope we are wrong in our inference. This sonata-form movement with a double exposition shares with the preceding movement of course a certain gravity, an opening in the strings only, intensification via imitation, and many and bold modulations. Yet here the mood shifts not between rage and resignation but. . . one can only crudely and glibly describe this movement. What expression Mozart has made with this lyrical figure, and again with another incredibly simply figure, this of but two thirty-second notes.

Menuetto (Allegretto)

Who would expect the vicious struggle of the Allegro to return here? Yet here too we find genius in the effects of these rhythms which are treated in counterpoint in which they interrupt each other, producing a tremendous agitation.

KV.551, Menuetto incipit

The Trio in contrast picks up the resigned motif from the allegro, trading its theme between the strings and winds. The opening measures establish one group in the strings moving from the tonic triad and the second group in the winds modulates to the fifth in D major. In D now we cannot conclude and too a little coda interrupts the phrase and more still D is extended after the repeat, delaying the return to the tonic. This dialogue between strings and winds and its graceful little phrase brings us the idyllic peace we long for after the trio which brought back and amplified the struggle of the allegro. The winds have the last word with the theme.

Though this trio does not figure substantially in our look at this symphony, the reader is encouraged to seek out Leonard B. Meyer's Grammatical Simplicity and Relational Richness: The Trio of Mozart's G Minor Symphony. [13] It is excellent and contains a wealth of information both directly pertinent to the study and of the incidental type one might never seek out or find by itself. Meyer reveals a wealth of craftsmanship in this tiniest of pieces.

KV.551, Trio incipit

Finale: Allegro assai

We find here another deceptively regular theme, in two equal parts, the first piano in the strings and the second a forte response from the tutti. The ascending figure from V to I followed by the triad marked staccato launches us forward into the frustrated desperation that lies in that jump of the third up to B and the following suspension. This movement amplifies the energy from the opening one last time, to the point of "demonism" to both Saint-Foix and Abert. Here is the so called "daemonic" Mozart, a phrase itself a bit hackneyed after the many attempts to combat the view of Mozart as the composer of prettiness and taste.

KV.550: Allegro assai. Incipit

In the consequent phrase with the repetitions and the tutti's interrupting forte chords, the tension is amplified as we wait for the energy of those first bars to erupt, which it does in a fury of 1) rushing descending scales in the lower strings and a wickedly aggressive four crotchet figure in the other voices. The violins and the lower strings then trade the scalar figure back and forth in a whirlwind until we come, disoriented, to a halt at VII-V at m. 70.


It is then intensified in the winds and with a chromatic motion until the return of the first theme which brings back its aggression. The main theme returns in the development and after a highly disorienting chromatic passage (of simple crotchets and rests) the winds starting with the flutes begin to imitate the theme in the strings. One cannot overstate how remarkable the following fugato passage remains. It brings the tension of the whole movement and the whole symphony to a fevered pitch from which it will not relax. With continuous and restless modulations and the relentless stretta entries of the theme, all maintained forte this finale is a positively exhausting climax. Finally in the recapitulation the second subject, long silent, returns and is heightened by being in the tonic G minor and taken up and extended in the strings before the aggressive second half of our main theme drives us to the end.

24. Symphony No. 41 in C, KV.551

Allegro vivace

We come to it at last, the Great C major Symphony. There comes a point in the life of great works of art at which their own fame and history have created such a world around them that they are in danger of becoming obscured. KV.551 has generated such a world of both sentiment and scholarship around it.  Eventually all of that sentiment and scholarship starts to ossify into an impenetrable mass and one has trouble experiencing the work. The sentiments have turned into epithets and the scholarship has murdered to dissect. Thus you have the "Olympian symphony with a fugal finale." I will, then, attempt to be brief and elucidating at the expense of being thorough.

Charles Rosen made an exceptionally apt example of this symphony in discussing the "Classical Style" in his landmark book of the same name. One of its characteristics, he argues, is synthesis. Consider the opening:

KV.551, incipit

It is treated, as Rosen says, [The Classical Style, 82-83] twenty measures later with a counterpoint. Thus the two contrasting elements of this musical phrase are reconciled. The first half of this theme is akin to a martial fanfare and recalls the Viennese tradition of grand trumpet and timpani celebratory pieces. (see Brown's essay in "Other Reading" below.) In contrast to this exuberant and earthly theme is the lofty and ethereal one which follows. This contrast and subsequent reconciliation form the heart of the exposition as the great celebratory dancing (in ingenious and varied imitation) does in the development.

Of the second movement marked Andante cantabile I will add only one remark from Arthur Hutchings, that "Mozart's spirit is an operatic character with a human soul, and no supernatural personage of Apolline art." [Hutchings, 141]


Like in the G minor symphony this movement resumes the theme of the first. Its theme also has something both earthy and lofty about it and it too receives contrapuntal treatment.

KV.551. Menuetto. Incipit

Molto allegro

What is perhaps most ingenious about this movement is perhaps also obvious: the manner in which all of the themes so satisfyingly combine in the contrapuntal synthesis in the coda. The conclusion, though, is not contrapuntal but as Rosen says, "pure concerto style" [Sonata Forms, 324] in its reprise of bars 13-35. Contrapuntal procedures in this movement are employed, then, for both development and synthesis. We also see here so many of Mozart's practices: contrast of homophonic and contrapuntal textures, many modulations and modulations through the circle of fifths, a cantabile line, dialogue between the winds and the strings, rushing scales and sliding figures, contrasting themes, chromatically descending lines, and fugato development. Here these practices are explored and synthesized on a grand scale, with a release of energy paralleling the sinfonia to Figaro, drive paralleling the preceding G minor symphony, and an enervating, exalting effect unparalleled.

Other Reading on KV.551

Broder, Nathan. The Wind-Instruments in Mozart's Symphonies. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 3 (Jul., 1933), pp. 238-259

Brown, A. Peter. Eighteenth-Century Traditions and Mozart's "Jupiter" Symphony K.551  The Journal of Musicology, Vol. 20, No. 2 (Spring, 2003), pp. 157-195

Sisman, Elaine R. Mozart: The Jupiter Symphony. (Cambridge Music Handbooks) Cambridge University Press. 1993.

Sisman, Elaine R. Learned Style and the Rhetoric of the Sublime in the 'Jupiter' Symphony in Wolfgang Amadè Mozart: Essays on His Life and Music. ed. Stanley Sadie. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1996.

Wollenberg, Susan. The Jupiter Theme: New Light on Its Creation. The Musical Times, Vol. 116, No. 1591 (Sep., 1975), pp. 781-783

Woodfield, Ian. Mozart's 'Jupiter': A Symphony of Light? The Musical Times, Vol. 147, No. 1897 (Winter, 2006), pp. 25-46


Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.

Hutchings, Arthur. A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos. Oxford. New York. 1942

Rosen, Charles. Sonata Forms. W. W. Norton and Company. New York. 1980.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company. New York. 1971.

Zaslaw, Neal. Mozart's Symphonies: Context, Performance Practice, Reception. Oxford University Press. New York. 1989.


[9] Not to be confused with the sonata fragment KV.497a.
[10] Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume I: Symphonies I: Sonata in F Major for Pianoforte for four hands, KV.497. 1935.
[11] http://www.classicalnotes.net/classics/mozartsyms.html
[12] The Norton Critical Score (W. W. Norton and Company, NY. 1967 ed. Nathan Broder) is a handy volume, containing 1) the score edited by H.C. Robbins Landon, 2) Abert's analysis, 3) Alfred Heuss' hermeneutical analysis, and short reflections from ten other critics from Hanslick to Tovey to Einstein. 
[13] Meyer, Leonard B. Grammatical Simplicity and Relational Richness: The Trio of Mozart's G Minor Symphony. Critical Inquiry, Vol. 2, No. 4 (Summer, 1976), pp. 693-761

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