Thursday, January 27, 2011

Mozartian Counterpoint, Part VI

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

Mozart's so-called late style has not been consistently well-received or understood. It has been glossed over as "neo-classical" and "bare." Many detect an autumnal quality to the character of the pieces, but the style still perplexes: what is Mozart doing here? What is the relation between style and content? Cliff Eisen states what is in fact a subtle observation:

The essence of the "late" style, then, is a return to an earlier aesthetic, one of unity of affect. It is not a return to an earlier style, a style characterized by uniformity of surface: for Mozart, the surface remains as varied as ever, sometimes more varied, more disjunctive. But underneath there is a uniformity of idea or topic that motivates and is expressed by the music. [Eisen, 116]
Let us bear that distinction in mind in looking at these last works of Mozart.

27. String Quartet in D major, KV.575

I. Allegretto | IV. Allegretto

Mozart's final quartets were composed as a set of three, intended to be a set of six, for King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, himself an amateur cellist and composer. It is unknown whether they were commissioned by the king or, if not, why Mozart chose to dedicate them to King Frederick. He clearly expected some remuneration for dedicating the works to the royal family, though. [21]

Several years later in 1796 the twenty-six year old Beethoven staying in Prague would dedicate his two sonatas for piano and cello, op. 5 to the king. Like Mozart's quartet Beethoven's sonatas give an expanded role to the cello.

In addition to the prominence afforded the cello this quartet demonstrates great unity among the movements. Too, as we saw in the final sonatas, Mozart utilizes a mix of thematic and contrapuntal development, often with close imitation as in the development (beginning m.78) of this quartet.

Introduced by the cello, the main theme of the final movement, below, hearkens back to the first two. We will see it to be the progenitor of the movement's wealth of material, again demonstrating Mozart's genius for coaxing material from a single theme.
Quartet in D, KV.575. Main theme, m.1-3
In each of the episodes of this snappy rondo our main theme, or part of it, shows some new face through imitation or inversion or against a counter-melody (also sprung from the main theme.)

Below the main theme enters in the 1st violin joined by the second violin with the theme a half-measure later and an octave below. Then (m.46) with inverted versions the viola joins the 1st violin and the cello the second:
 Quartet in D, KV.575. m.44-49
 (click to enlarge)
Below we see both types of development at once: the main theme imitated in inversion in the lower voices and a counter-melody same in the violins.
Quartet in D, KV.575. m.112-119
(click to enlarge)

28. String Quartet in B-flat, KV.589 - Allegro assai

Here too it is the rondo finale that receives contrapuntal treatment. It is also by far the shortest finale of this set, a feature which, when combined with the suddenness and brevity of the contrapuntal procedures and the short flitting figures, the 6/8 meter, and allegro assai tempo gives the movement a puckish, fleeting quality.

The viola starts off straightway with contrary motion to the violins, which the cello continues after the repeat at bar nine. Abert summarizes the essence of the procedures in this set:

Here too contrapuntal procedures permeate the entire style, offsetting individual ideas one against the other, inverting them and repeatedly interpolating them between thematic and homophonic sections. [Abert, 1221]

29. String Quartet in F, KV.590 - Allegro

This quartet too concludes with a contrapuntal finale, though this time in a more or less sonata form. It is also substantially more contrapuntal than any other movement in the set. Instead of flashes of imitation and inversion we have sustained fugato. Too this finale is essentially monothematic, with the main theme (below) always at the center or nearby. The rushing semiquavers sweep us along and the fugatos seems as whipped up tempests, though energetic as they rush they never startle or overwhelm. They are great but not terrible. The main theme, roused as it gets, is at heart breezy and genteel.

Perhaps, though, this allegro is of a more intimate variety? Is there something personal about the "genteel" theme; is it more of a character? It is the only theme of the movement. Is there something autumnal about it, like the mood of the preceding menuet? Perhaps it makes a polite entrance, goes about its business, endures its share of storms, and makes a graceful exit.

Quartet in F, KV.590. m.1-8: main theme.
(click to enlarge)

Mozart would eventually sell the set to publisher Artaria in June 1790 for what he called "a trifle." [22] It was published posthumously the following year without any dedication to King Frederick.

Artaria published these final quintets, KV.593 in D from December 1790 and KV.614 in E-flat from April the following year, in 1793. A. H. King suggested that due to their marked stylistic differences and similar title pages (both bore "composto per un amatore ungarese") Mozart perhaps conceived them as a pair [King, 56 ] (like the wind octets/serenades in E-flat and C minor, the last two symphonies, and the Concertos KV.488 and KV.491.) Too in both quintets the menuet is placed third among the movements, unlike the earlier quintets.

30. String Quintet in D, KV.593

This quintet, the "masterpiece of the least productive year in Mozart's life" [King, 57] begins with a slow introduction, adagio in Mozart's hand but usually printed larghetto. It is the only quintet to begin so and this slow movement will return at the end of the work, just before a short coda consisting of the main theme from the opening of the allegro. Of this unique symmetry Hans Keller asked,

Is there another piece in the entire chamber musical repertory whose beginning is its end; where the identical structure first sounds like the ideal opening and finally, like the only possible conclusion?[23]

String Quintet in D, KV.593. m.22-27.
(click to enlarge)

Perhaps not in chamber music, though Beethoven returns to the grave opening at the end of the first movement to the Sonata for Piano in C minor, Op.13.

Larghetto: Allegro | Menuetto: Allegretto | Allegro

We see canonic procedures throughout the movement: in the exposition (of the dotted figure from m.28), in the development (of the descending figure of the main theme), and in the recapitulation (of the trilled figure of the main theme and the dotted figure from m.28) all of which stand out from the larghetto with its resigned figure and bass response and the vigorous call of the forte-piano figure of the main theme.

While we see similar canonic writing in the menuetto, it is the finale which truly surprises. Who would expect the contrapuntal flights to come from the movement beginning with the almost comic opening of the first ten bars? First we have the fugato beginning at m.54 with the trilled figure. Then at the opening of the development the following theme, a close relative of the opening measures, enters:

Quintet in D, KV.593. Allegro Finale: m104-108

Skiing along briskly against triplet figures it sweeps us up, but what is to become of it? It works its way down from the 1st violin to the viola, but when it gets to the bass it is rather a loose/free retrograde version of it which appears and which will be the subject of the following fugato. After the main theme returns at the recapitulation it shortly enters into counterpoint with the trilled subject.
The movement builds up to this polyphonic climax, comparable to the finale of the Jupiter which resolves through a haunting six-bar chromatic cadence, before the music spins to its dizzy close. This extraordinary finale, with its sudden changes from almost lyrical beauty to the astringent tensions of the minor mode that lurk below the glittering surface, contains the essence of what Einstein aptly called the 'wild, disconsolate mirth' of the whole work. [King, 58]

Mozart's friend, the theologian and musician Maximilian Stadler who had heard the young Mozart perform in 1767 and would finish orchestrating the Requiem, recalls that Mozart played the viola parts to KV.593 with Haydn, himself returned to Vienna from Eisenstadt after the death of Prince Nicolaus in the autumn of 1790. [24]

31. String Quintet in E-flat, KV.614 - Allegro di molto

Praise for this quintet has not been universal. Hans Keller referred to the E-flat quintet as "a bad arrangement of a wind piece in mock-Haydn style"[Keefe, 114] and Abert to the piece as, "essentially a far more light-hearted and lovable piece." [Abert,1224] Yet King called it, "music of warm, untroubled delight, and astonishing vitality, almost spring-like in its luminous self-confidence." [King, 58]

The last movement of Mozart's last quintet indeed has something of Haydn's humor in it and too of the the E-flat symphony, the humor of whose finale was among its least admired characteristics in the nineteenth century. It too is of variety of sonata-rondo form and it begins with a theme of two even halves:
Quintet in A-flat. Allegro, incipit.

After a tease with canonic procedures Mozart throws the two halves, slightly modified, into a full and spirited fugato at m.111 until the restatement of the main theme in the minor. Now the five-note-figure opening in the viola is thrown against a response in the bass, which seems about to take it over until the opening figure is asserted forte by the violas and violins. The main theme is now re-stated four times, each against a different accompaniment, here against a triplet figure, there against a forte staccato scalar figure rising in stretto in the lower voices, then against a gentle piano figure in the second violin and first viola. At last it returns piano and in inversion in the first violin, before climbing up with a final re-statement forte in the lower voices and a long rising scalar figure in the first violin.

Many listeners reasonably sense an autumnal quality to late Mozart, but with its jaunty theme, bright fugato and relentlessly fresh variations, not in this finale.

Mozart wrote the following "Adagios and Allegros" in F minor for, "ein Orgelwerk in einer Uhr," or what we might call a "player organ" as in "player piano." This pair too is one of contrasting styles.

It is probable that these pieces were played in the "mausoleum" of Austrian Fieldmarshal Baron Ernst Gideon von Laudon, who having retired after a successful career including service in the Seven Years War and War of Bavarian Succession, was called into service a last time in 1789 to lead Joseph's war thus-unsuccessful war against Turkey. After successfully capturing Belgrade within three weeks Laudon, in his early seventies, died. A certain Count Joseph Nepomuk Franz de Paula Deym von Strzitez, who Robert Gutman referred to as, "a kind of Viennese combination of E. T. A. Hoffmann's Copelius and Madame Tussaud" [Gutman, 741] created a "mausoleum" with a plaster-and-wax effigy of the man with hourly funeral music. (If that's not enough to make you want to read more about Deym, he fled Vienna after an illegal duel and returned using the alias Müller.)

Now should you think we have already delved too far into this esoteric world of 18th century mechanical organ music, consider these other resources:

–Deutsch, O. E. Count Deym and his Mechanical Organs. Music and Letters 29 (1948), 140-5

–Dreyfus, Laurence. The Hermeneutics of Lament: A Neglected Paradigm in a Mozartian 'Trauermusik' Music Analysis, Vol. 10, No. 3. (Oct., 1991), pp. 329-343.

–King, A. H. Mozart's Compositions for Mechanical Instruments: The Background and Significance. Musical times 88 (1947), 11-14; repr. in King, Mozart in Retrospect (London, 1956), 198-215.

–Richards, Annette. Automatic Genius: Mozart and the Mechanical Sublime. Music and Letters 80, (1999), 366-8.

–Schaper, Sjoerd J. Mozart's Fantasias K.594 and K.608 for mechanical organ.

–W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Arthur. Joseph Haydn and the Mechanical Organ. University College Cardiff Press. 1982.

–W. J. G. Ord-Hume, Arthur. Ornamentation in Mechanical Music. Early Music, Vol. 11, No. 2 (Apr., 1983), pp. 185-193.

–Zaslaw, Neal. Music for Mechanical Instruments. Cambridge Mozart Encyclopedia (Eisen, Cliff & Keefe, Simon P. (ed.))

–Zaslaw, Neal. Wolfgang Amadè Mozart's Allegro and Andante ('Fantasy') in F minor for Mechanical Organ, K.608. The Rosaleen Moldenhauer Memorial. Music History from Primary Sources: A Guide to the Moldnehauer Archives, ed. J. Newsom and A. Mann (Washington DC, 2000), 327-40

Of the above essays I would recommend beginning with Schaper's, then Richards' essay for historical context, and Dreyfus' for [most excellent] insight into the musical language. Also note there is a third piece written for the occasion of Deym's "mausoleum," the Andante in F major, KV.616, which we will not be discussing here.

32. Adagio and Allegro in F minor for Mechanical Organ, KV.594

Returning to the F minor pieces, let us start with KV.594 which is structured as Adagio-Allegro-Adagio. We begin with what was by Mozart's time the old rhetorical device of the elegiac, or lamento, bass. They often utilize an anapestic (short-short-long) rhythm, ostinato, and a descending chromatic line, all features associated with high style and grave emotion. (Probably the most famous instance of a lamento bass is the Crucifixus of Bach's B-minor Mass.) Here in the first six bars see the chromatic descent down the fourth from F to C in the bass from the first figure of the ostinato which reaches up from F to C.  (Note too the rising line leading up to sighing figures from m.20-27. Picking up the fall to C from the trebles the final bass figure three times rises an octave to C until stumbling to F.) Yet it was not the simple use of this device but rather Mozart's ingenious transformation elaboration of it which makes this piece so extraordinary. Mozart uses a series of falling sixths throughout the adagio and
. . . by mutating the descending hexachord by species [chromatic and diatonic], Mozart at once broadened the field for the potential topics of the discourse, and by disabling the metric regularity of the traditional lamento, did away with the formalized ritual of dance rhythms so as to begin speaking in that personalized 'musical prose' so beloved of his Romantic successors. [KV.594] can be heard neither as a generic funeral piece nor as a particularly 'exquisite' (auserlesen) occasional work. . . Instead, by virtue of its extraordinarily affecting representation of grief, the piece must be seen to have both eclipsed and escaped its occasional function, entering into that pantheon of cherished musical works whose substance and aura invite a sustained analytic gaze. [Dreyfus, 342]
The allegro in F major opens with a grand fanfare immediately falling into stretto. In the D minor section the seven-note figure plunges into contrapuntal procedure. The adagio returns but not in identical form. First, Dreyfus makes the most perceptive point that m. 125-132 form a compressed version of the earlier descents in m.8-20, making the fall to the tonic at m.128 an abrupt one of resignation. [Dreyfus, 341] Too it is adorned with gruppetti (figures of the trill family) first against the ostinato then in imitation over a dominant pedal point. A quaver figure arrives, moving from F to C in contrary motion in the voices before the rising-and-falling bass figure returns, this time rising to F and falling to C.

33. Adagio and Allegro for Mechanical Organ, KV.608

KV. 608. incipit
Unlike KV.594 the fugue here is clearly more Bachian in nature. Too it is the first major, full, strict fugue, not a fugato and not one within a larger sonata-form structure, Mozart had completed (for he wrote numerous small canons and contrapuntal studies) in some time. The structure of this F minor piece is Allegro-Andante-Allegro and its opening, with the trilled and dotted figures, could scarcely be more stern. The figure, sans the final semiquaver, enters briefly in stretto. After the ascending swirl up through two octaves from C the fugue proper begins

Allegro and Adagio in F minor. m.13-19

proceeding with exhaustive stretto and inversion 
. . .the dense contrapuntal texture eventually thins out for an extraordinary modulation over a chromatically rising bass from E flat major to F sharp minor. This unsettling, even shocking, harmonic detour recalls the destabilizing chromaticism of the opening, and directly precedes a return of the 'overture' material, now insisting on the diminished harmony (the diminished chord in bars 60 and 61 is repeated here, hammered home), and twisting rapidly, if tortuously, back to the home key of F minor. [Richards, 367]
As with KV.594 the opening material returns altered. Here the fugue returns with a counter subject of rapidly alternating semiquavers which lends an even more frenetic character to the already frenzied fugue.

34. Piano Concerto in B-flat major, KV.595 - Allegro I

Piano Concerto in B-flat, KV.595 - incipit, main theme.

This is one of the most beautiful and fleeting moments in all of Mozart. The piano twice gives forth the main theme from m.197 two which the strings reply with a sturdy forte response. The first time the winds, as if interjecting politely, add a descending piano tag to the string response; the second time they take it over and then take over the main theme from the piano offering it in a brief canonic procedure before in imitation. Then we get so caught up in following the imitative exchange between the winds and the strings here:

 Piano Concerto in B-flat, KV.595 - Allegro m.220-222
(click to enlarge)

that at last when the second violin enters with the main theme and then the first a fifth above in canon we are blissfully overwhelmed.


Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.
Dreyfus, Laurence. The Hermeneutics of Lament: A Neglected Paradigm in a Mozartian 'Trauermusik' Music Analysis, Vol. 10, No. 3. (Oct., 1991), pp. 329-343.
Eisen, Cliff. Mozart's Chamber Music, essay in The Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Keefe, Simon P. (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Cambridge. 2003.
Gutman, Robert W. Mozart: A Cultural Biography. Harcourt. 1999.
Keefe, Simon P. (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Cambridge. 2003.
King, Alec Hyatt. Mozart Chamber Music. BBC Publications, London. 1968.
Richards, Annette. Automatic Genius: Mozart and the Mechanical Sublime. Music and Letters 80, (1999), 366-89 


21. ". . . the two dedications will bring me something as well." Letter to friend and fellow mason in Vienna, Michael Puchberg. Vienna, July, 12 1789.
22. ". . . I am forced to sell my quartets, all that hard work, for a trifle, just to get some cash into my hands and meet my immediate obligations." To Michael Puchberg, Vienna before or on June 12, 1790.
23. Keller, Hans. Program notes on Mozart's chamber music. [YouTube]

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