Monday, February 4, 2013

Mozartian Counterpoint: Addendum: KV.465

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

String Quarter in C, KV.465

I. Adagio-Allegro

The String Quartet Kochel 465 enjoys the most fame of Mozart's six Haydn quartets due to its dissonant 22-bar opening Adagio. The infamous dissonance of the introduction, however, has passed from hot topic of 19th century disagreement, inciting critical feuds and even re-written editions, to bearer of dissonances "mild" and "unproblematic to describe." (Irving, 54) Of course Mozart's music, here and everywhere, needs neither rewriting nor description, but understanding and enjoying. Robert Greenberg has also pointed out with humor and truth, "Only mild, vertical dissonance? As compared to what–a cat on a cactus?" Indeed there should be enough harmonic and melodic dissonance for anyone, but we're here specifically to talk counterpoint.

KV.465. Adagio. 
Annotated by N. Vertucci.
Click to enlarge.

The Adagio divides into two sections of 15 and 7 measures, with the first section breaking down into units of 4, 4, and 7.
  1. 15 Measures
    1. 4 Measures
    2. 4 Measures
    3. 7 Measures
  2. 7 Measures
Section I.A begins with the cello vainly droning out quavers of Cs which fail to establish a tonic center because of the viola and 2nd violin entrances on A-flat and E-flat which create the A-flat major chord. The 1st violin then enters, but on A-natural, clashing with the previous A and contemporaneous G of the viola and forming a tritone above the 2nd violin's A. The polyphonic entrances of the upper three voices which bring these dissonances create a formless coming-into-being and the descending chromatic lines following the initial dissonances evolve a sinewy chaos. Yet at the same time the imitation by its nature creates a framework of stability.

Section I.B begins and functions much the same way with the same phrase rising up, though now a step below, a beat apart through the trebles over the now-descending bass line.

Section I.C breaks the symmetry with a chromatically ascending figure, again treated imitatively although not passing through the 2nd violin.

Section II. The final seven measures finally establish the tonal area of C before we enter the Allegro, although not without disruptive syncopations and passing dissonance.


In the exposition we arrive at the long-sought after C major with a leaping, bounding theme. The imitation throughout this section amplifies the lush energy and vertiginous activity of the theme and scalar figures.

Exposition. mm.41-47
The development section begins with imitative polyphony of the main theme over a descending bass line which proceeds, in reminiscence of the chaos of the Adagio, to tug the whole polyphonic jaunt down into a crash of highly disjunct, forte, accented figures.
Development. mm.113-118
Whereas the imitation of the exposition magnified the energy and motion, the imitation here intensifies the drama of the minor tonalities.

This is extraordinary music, not just for its radical harmonies but for its wealth of contrasts and expression. Mozart moves from cosmic chaos to bounding human exuberance and concludes in a fusion of the two. The complex harmonies and contrapuntal frames don't stand out as learned and instead all but disappear within the effect.

Soloman concludes,
[Mozart] composes states of ambivalence that do not unfold successively, but occur at the same time, achieving the effect of simultaneity by chromaticisms, rhythmic shifts, modulations, registral contrasts. . . Mozart specialized in the representation of amalgams of opposed affects, of beauty and sadness, of consolation and terror, of longing and anger, of pleasure and pain, teaching us what it may mean when the object of desire is simultaneously the source of fear. [Solomon, 203]

Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. 2007.
Greenberg, Robert. The Chamber Music of Mozart. The Great Courses [Lecture]. 2004.
Irving, John. Mozart: The Haydn Quartets. Cambridge Music Handbooks. 1998.
Mozart, W.A. String Quartet in C, KV.464Score via IMSLP.
Solomon, Maynard. Mozart: A Life. 1995.

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