Showing posts with label Mozart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mozart. Show all posts

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fin ch'han dal vino Sing-off

Nine great Don Giovannis sing the famous Champagne aria. Only one will emerge victorious. . .

A fun treat, enjoying as we do comparisons amongst versions of a piece. (Always interesting to see what they do what that rising bassoon phrase, amongst other features.)

Fin ch'han dal vino calda la testa. . .

Friday, June 24, 2011

A Mozart Timeline

A preliminary version of a timeline I created as part of a larger Mozart project. Hopefully this chart and similar will give a clearer sense of who were contemporaries. Included are prominent family, friends, collaborators and librettists, students, employers, and composers. The red-shaded area is the life of Mozart, who as you can see came and went in the lives of many of these people.

Suggestions (both for comprehensiveness and clarity) are of course most welcome!

(click to enlarge)

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Three Portraits

How do you capture an individual? How do you condense an essence into an expression? Not over the course of a novel or film but in as short a time as possible? What medium do you choose: word, image, or sound? Are they all even possibilities? Perhaps I have made the task sound unduly difficult for surely we all have favorite photographs of ourselves and others. How often, though, are these images mere captures, mere documentations. Usually one can simply say, "He looks happy," or "she looks pretty." Quite difficult it is to suggest that the state in the photograph is the character of the person. We might think of a particular picture as being a "classic" or "typical" look of someone we know, but how do you suggest that in just one viewing?

With those questions in mind, let us take a look at how three masters did it in three different mediums.

Sargent, Nancy Astor

The painting is probably the form most associated with the notion of a portrait. Maybe such is so because the medium is especially suited to a balance of both the literal and figurative. Here Sargent balances just those choices, capturing the decisive character of the viscountess with that so bold line down the left of her figure. The shimmering sash is a splash of flair and serves to lead one's eye back up and left to her face. Inclined forward and turned to you, one feels as if she's deigned to look at you for a moment before moving on. Indeed she is the woman who, as the story goes, told Winston Churchill, "If you were my husband, I'd poison your tea."

Catullus, 41 & 43

Ameana puella defututa
tota milia me decem poposcit,
ista turpiculo puella naso,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
propinqui, quibus est puella curae,
amicos medicosque convocate:
non est sana puella, nec rogare
qualis sit solet aes imaginosum.
Salve, nec minimo puella naso
nec bello pede nec nigris ocellis
nec longis digitis nec ore sicco
nec sane nimis elegante lingua,
decoctoris amica Formiani.
ten provincia narrat esse bellam?
tecum Lesbia nostra comparatur?
o saeclum insapiens et infacetum!

Catullus' colorful vocabulary is a wonderful counterpart to Sargent's palette.  This pair of poems forms an indirect attack on a certain Mamurra, a Roman prefect under Caesar and well-known profligate, by way of his girlfriend. Here Catullus lets it rip from line 1 with defututa (you'll have to look that one up yourselves, dear readers) and follows it up with her fee. Catullus caps off the first salvo with the delicious little phrase, "turpiculo naso," a "somewhat ugly" nose. So call together her relatives to come take care of her, because with her looks she must be quite out of her head to charge that price. Certainly she's not used to consulting the mirror.

43 is a catalog of the defects of this Ameana, with her perfectly awful features. Her nose is of not minimum size, her feet are not pretty (perhaps too big), her fingers are too short, and her mouth is, we might say, too runny. Just what Catullus means by lingua, whether speech or actual tongue, is not specified but she's not very refined with it.

Mozart, Sonata for piano in C, KV.309 (284b)

Mozart wrote this movement for Rosa Cannabich, the daughter of Christian C., director of the court orchestra at Munich. Mlle. Cannabich was Mozart's pupil while he wrote this musical portrait of her in the autumn of 1777, when the composer was 21 and Rosa 16. In a letter to his father Mozart reports his student was "a very pretty and charming girl. She is very intelligent and steady for her age. She is serious, does not say much, but when she does speak, she is pleasant and amiable." He goes on, "She is exactly like the Andante. . ."

II. Andante un poco adagio, in F

Standing out foremost in this sonata are the sarabande-like rhythm and continuous variations between forte and piano. Mozart emphasized this andante "must not be taken too quickly" and indeed to do so would be to disrupt the genteel pace and motion which unifies the expressive contrasts. Could Mlle. Cannabich have been, or anyone be, as charming as this sonata, so expressive yet gracious, and growing lovelier still in each variation?

While we see these are each brilliant portraits, it is hard to say whether their success owes to some separate skill for portraiture. These artists all demonstrate a talent for color and a command of large and small scale structure elsewhere. Is it some balance of a keen perception and skill in the medium? One might suggest they are simply works of exaggeration, but I would propose a turn of thought from T. S. Eliot, the "working up of the ordinary into poetry," and "expressing feelings which are not in actual emotions at all." Hence the difference between an accurate depiction and a living portrait.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Mini-Review: In Search of Mozart

Directed by Philip Grabsky. 2006.

Phil Grabsky's In Seach of Mozart is probably a satisfactory movie. I offer such oblique praise because while I cannot say I enjoyed the film, In Search of Mozart clearly has something to offer. (What that is and for what audience. . .) There are numerous interviews with today's foremost scholars of Mozart, talented musicians passionate about Mozart's music, copious clips of performances, and a grand tour through Mozart's world and life. Yet the experience of watching In Seach of Mozart left me surprisingly unmoved. No, nothing feels out of place and nothing is essentially wrong with the film but I grew bored not too long in. Why? I think it is because the film feels so much like a summary. Now such is not the worst that can happen to a documentary: describing something. The problem is that the essence of Mozart never jumped out at me. In Search of Mozart feels more like a tour or report rather than an experience of Mozart. Let me try to explain why this is so.

The main problem is in fact two intertwined: they keep interrupting the music with so-so discussions about the music. In writing Amadeus, which of course receives a few broadsides in this documentary, Peter Shaffer remarked how you could only use so much music before people would grow to loathe the return to the talking bits. The observation applies to film documentaries as well. Regarding the second half of the film's problem, I was quite surprised at the middling quality of musical discussions. The discussions of the music in the film fall into two distinct categories: the outright shallow and the merely mediocre. Discussions with the performers fall almost exclusively into the former category. We hear that this piece has energy, that one has depth, opera is about the human condition. Yikes. Only pianists Imogen Cooper and Ronald Brautigam shed any light on Mozart's style. Lang Lang makes the classic point about the essentially dramatic nature of all Mozart's work.

Of the mediocre one might admit that they are in fact explanations, but never the explanations. They are never articulated finely enough to be memorable or specifically enough to be meaningful. On occasion they are confusing. One might consider them, at best, "truthful but unenlightening" and this feels a particular weakness given the wealth of illuminating writing on Mozart. Pick up any random sentence of Tovey on Mozart to see the poverty of these explanations. Cliff Eisen, probably the foremost Mozart authority today, and Volkmar Braunbehrens alternate between myth-busting and what feels like answering review questions from the end of a text book chapter. Only opera director Jonathan Miller and Stanley Sadie, interviewed shortly before his untimely 2005 death amidst a massive scholarly project, manage to speak both intelligently and extemporaneously as they elevate the discussion to more interesting issues of style and philosophy.

The chronological framework of the film suffices, following the standard breakdown into 1) the early travels, 2) the return to Salzburg, 3) the Paris and Vienna trips, 4) the return to Salzburg, Idomeneo, and the break with the archbishop, and 5) the Vienna years. Present are the usual quotes, letters, anecdotes, people, pictures (including spurious and inauthentic portraits of the composer), and pieces. The pacing is good but one never feels like anything is actually happening before you. Rather one feels told over and over "he wrote this in this place, here is sample, this is why its good." Such, coupled with the fact that the interviews are often shot in extreme close up, makes the film seem a sequence of talking heads. To be fair the heads are interspersed with pans over the same few photos and footage of random people walking through modern European cities. There is certainly not enough focus on the places Mozart lived and visited. While the beginning of the film explores the place of his birth and they certainly seem to have been driving somewhere, most of the outdoor footage consists of wide-shots of cities and medium-range shots of random people walking around.

It is hard to recommend In Search of Mozart without considering its audience. It is of insufficient depth and polish to please a scholar or aficionado. It might, by exposing to Mozart's music, spur someone who likes classical music but not Mozart to listen, but it's not electrifying enough to snare someone opposed or indifferent.

The film has a strong cast of experts, few of whom are at their best here. One would benefit from seeking them elsewhere in their scholarship and performances. Overall, In Search of Mozart feels like a so-so academic paper whose author, because he did a lot of research and was writing about an important person, didn't think he needed to make any particular point.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Liebst du mich?

Schubert. Schwanengesang - Ständchen (Rellstab)

Mozart. Das Veilchen, KV.476 (Goethe)

Mahler. Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen: Die zwei blauen Augen von meinem Schatz (Mahler)

Bernstein on Beethoven, Mozart, and Music

From the Unanswered Questions Norton series of talks at Harvard, given in 1973. The series, happily, is available in paperback and on DVD.

On Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 18, op. 31, in E-flat major
and Musical Semantics

On Mozart's Symphony No. 40 in G minor, op. 550
Part I | Part II | Part III

Monday, March 21, 2011

Mozartian Counterpoint: Part VII

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

Having discussed already the Overtures to La clemenza did Tito, [24] and Die Zauberflöte [25] we have left to discuss the scene from Act II of The Magic Flute with the "two armed men" and Tamino's trial and the Requiem.

37. Die Zauberflöte, KV.620. Act II, Finale: Der, welcher wandert diese Strasse voll Beschwerden

The laws of counterpoint in the era before "Classical" or "Rococo" taste took over were not simply musical rules. Perhaps one might say with greater accuracy that musical rules were not simply rules for composition. In 1739 Johann Heinrich Dedler's encyclopedia the Grosses Universal Lexicon music defined music as, "everything that creates harmony, that is, order. And in this sense it is used by those who assert that the whole universe is music." [Wolff, 2000. 335] Musical rules were then identical or proportional to the "musica universalis" or the "music of the spheres," i.e. the proportions and relationships of the movements of heavenly bodies. The origins of this thinking lie with Pythagoras' theories that, as related by Aristotle, "the principles of mathematics are the principles of all things."[Metaphysics I.v] In the 17th century this view took on additional relationship to God's creation and ordering of the universe and his eternal reign. There were, of course, variations on these views as well as disputes about their academic and theological implications. [26] I only mean to suggest that in many respects to many composers and theoreticians, the laws of musical composition were not artificial but natural and universal, at least to some extent.

Yet times did change. While contrapuntal procedures retained associations with grave, and often sacred, music, and with a "learned" style it was not necessarily on account of a perceived fundamental relationship. Tastes too changed, evidenced by Rousseau's famous distaste for baroque complexity [27] and later, by Koch's distinction that the "Contrapunktist" was more grammarian than poet. [Chapin, 101] Counterpoint of course would endure, as it does to this day, although:
The respect for the principles of strict counterpoint seems to follow pendular swings in history. If in the 1780s musicians began to experiment with counterpoint, in the 1840s they increasingly aimed at historical accuracy, and in the early twentieth century they again sought malleability. In other words, although the strict style always carried symbolic associations of law and order, this law had different implications at different times. [Chapin, 104]
It is the world and weight of this association with immutable law that Mozart invokes with the style and procedures of the choral fantasia of the two armed men. As a slight aside, I do not concur with Chapin (but rather with Hammerstein) that the scene emphasizes a fluidity to the law because it is neither at all clear precisely what the laws are nor whether exceptions to it are made for Tamino and Pamina.

The scene of course works as a scene of cinema and drama. Too, as Abert notes, the words to the song are inspired by those sung in Masonic lodges at the time and the melody is the old chorale "Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein, which Mozart likely saw the theoretical work, Die Kunst des reinen Satzes in der Musik, "The Art of Strict Composition in Music" by Johann Kirnberger, composer, theorist, and student of J. S. Bach. Abert also traces the dotted (first appearing piano in the second violins) to the Kyrie from Heinrich Biber's Missa S. Henrici of 1701, and suggests, correctly I would say, that Mozart intended by it to give the scene an "ecclesiastical coloring." [Abert, 1291]

Mozart draws on all of these associations for this scene of terrible and perpetual power in which the "ticking of the Kyrie theme" calls forth "demonic restlessness" and the "choral melody moves through the intricate weft of the voices like the voice of implacable fate itself. This whole section attests to the greatest contrapuntal rigor, limiting the interludes to their absolute minimum, so that the course of the chorale is never interrupted. [Abert, 1291]

Too one could not miss the parallel to the aria, "Blute Nur, Du Liebes Herz" from Part I of Bach's St. Matthew Passion[28]

Here Mozart has drawn on counterpoint not just as a musical device but for symbolic purpose by also drawing on the cultural traditions with which it was associated.

36. Requiem, KV.626 

Latin text and English translation of the Requiem Mass (Missa pro defunctis) via Wikipedia.

What paragraph of summary could serve to introduce Mozart's Requiem? The massive fugues, the harmonic design, the sheer force of the terror it unleashes, the Gothic images. . . not to mention the myths surrounding Mozart's death, its incomplete state, the challenges to its authenticity, the studies of the fragments and, of course the scholarship devoted to all of these facets which has accumulated over the past 200 and some years. One must, I think, approach it with a little modesty. Modesty in the face of what we are unlikely to clear up, before what is lost, and before the greatness and solemnity of the piece. As in the rest of our survey, we will not be performing in-depth investigation or speculation, but rather highlighting this final work of Mozart's counterpoint. In the Requiem we will see that Mozart's use of counterpoint is is so perfectly suited to this unique use, the Requiem Mass, as to seem almost a distinct usage, "the Mozartian conception of the Requiem." For as surely as Mozart had models for opera and far surpassed them, so has he his models for the Requiem Mass. Likewise his use of Handelian subjects and Bachian choral-writing is so subsumed into Mozart's idiom and the unique demands of the Requiem as to be a whole new creation.

He employs counterpoint here not as study, not for humor or whimsy, as "learned style" contrapuntalizing, incidentally, synthetically, or as climax. Nor is it even employed simply as development as part of a larger sonata-form framework, though of course the counterpoint develops the themes. Rather it is employed persistently throughout the work, though in many varieties, as the ideal expression of the musical ideas, musical ideas themselves either inherited from the Catholic tradition of the Mass for the Dead or developed to give musical expression to this particular text. Here is not the standard setting of "Cum sancto spiritu" as a fugue but the creation of precise and unique settings within a large-scale framework for the Requiem Mass. Mozart draws on the natures of the sections of the mass, of the "tuba mirum," "Rex Tremendae" of the flammis acribus," and "lacrymosa" to create unique small-form structures for this unique text, the requiem mass, and unifies them with unique large-scale harmonic and structural symmetry.  This is in essence word-painting in "motet style," i.e., deriving the musical ideas from the meaning of the text and the musical structure from the stanza-structure of the text.

The Requiem certainly, as Eisen has said [Eisen, 167], demonstrates the profound "unity of affect" of late Mozart. Too as Eisen said we have unity of affect despite variety of technique. Even the words traditionally set to fugues, those based on some of the oldest words and ideas of Christianity, while Mozart does indeed set them to fugues, the fugues are quite extra ordinary. Yet the unity of affect is so profound that even in its incomplete state the piece looms impossibly large in the memory. So much that one is tempted to consider this requiem the "Mozartian conception of the requiem."

Yet perhaps this is not a satisfactory classification of contrapuntal use. Perhaps we might say then the Requiem represents a synthesis of contrapuntal usage, both technically via use of inversion, imitation, double-counterpoint, fugato, and fugue, and stylistically, through variety of texture and expression of text, all of course infused with Mozart's technique and inspiration.


The D minor key in which we open will in fact dominate the whole work, particularly the Introit-Kyrie, the Sequence (Dies irae through Lacrymosa), the Sanctus, and the Agnus Dei.) Dominate as it does the mood though, with its inherent chromaticism D minor functions as genus chromaticum of the Requiem, the point of departure for the voluminous modulation throughout. The requiem theme, from Handel's Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline ("The Ways of Zion do Mourn") HWV.246, is introduced in canon between the bassoons and basset horns against staccato quavers in the strings, achieving a disconcerting, but not yet overwhelming mood between the eerie sonority of the winds and the stalwart march of the strings.

The basses enter on D with the theme then rising upward through the voices, the altos joining on D and the others a fifth above. Yet soon the voices come together on "dona eis Domine," ending with a  half-cadence on A. Mozart proceeds with homophonic statement of "et lux perpetua luceat eis" followed by "Te decet hymnus in Sion" for the solo soprano, based on the ninth psalm tone (the tonus peregrinus) used only for In exitu Israel de Aegypto[29] but slightly altered to contain a strict inversion of the main theme of the Requiem. [Maunder, 122] This votive is offered over over a new motif (A), which later will set "dona eis requiem." This motif is developed in imitation and inversion in the strings under the solo soprano.

He proceeds with a dense contrapuntal section for all of the strings and the chorus, the strings developing a portentous dotted figure as the chorus cries "Exaudi" and the soprano tutti developing a more lyrical version mostly doubled by the basset horns. The movement ends with a final fugue for which the basses enter with the "requiem theme" followed by the altos a fifth above with the "new" (A) theme that accompanied the soprano.

Requiem in D minor - Introit - m.34-35

What a contrast of textures in such a brief period! Too Mozart varies the instrumental accompaniment: colla parte here, strict obbligato there. The tension builds until arriving at "et lux perpetua luceat eis," first declaimed forte and then pleaded piano over a lamento bass, ending on A and preparing the way for the great double fugue of the Kyrie.


This Kyrie is a tense and twisting ride. Unlike the Kyrie to the C Minor Mass this is one big fugue without a central section on Christe. Too there is no arrival at, or moment of, renewal or respite, only the despair of guilt and the imminence of judgment. The subjects enter and re-enter suddenly, the jarring Kyrie subject always seemingly a moment away. Even the sections in F and B-flat retain the terrible urgency.

Requiem in D minor - Kyrie - subjects

At m.28 the Christe subject (B) enters for the first time in stretto, rising from the bass. Here, as Abert points out, "its ascending diatonic line is compressed to he point where it becomes chromatic," [Abert, 1321] yet another harmonic daring which troubled Mozart's contemporaries. The fugue rushes headlong into a rest, cutting off eleison mid-word as if the day Judgment has indeed arrived. In the following, mostly homophonic, movement of the Dies Irae, it has.

Rex Tremendae

In awe and supplication the chorus cries out three times, supported by the basset horns and bassoons and followed immediately by a descending dotted semiquaver figure, suggestive of both kneeling and collapse. Then the upper voices treat the theme of "Rex tremendae maiestatis," unfolding with its octave leap, in canon over the lower voices in canon alternating "qui salvandos salvas gratis," and all of this over the orchestra which treats yet another theme in canon between the upper and lower strings. The choral parts converge in a homophonic section before switching roles, the tenors beginning the canon with the basses as we modulate to D minor. The movement concludes with the plaintive cry "salve me!"
 Requiem in D minor - Rex Tremendae - m.9-10


This is the longest movement of the Requiem, setting six stanzas of the Sequenz. The notion of "Recordare" permeates this movement, which Abert wisely describes as possessing a "discursive" character due to its rondo-like structure and an "interiority" through the counterpoint. We begin with two themes in counterpoint which perfectly set the tone of "Recordare" and whose dialogue throughout will maintain it. The first [A] enters in canon between the basset horns and its first minim followed by the rising quavers followed by entrance of the other voice is astonishing like something taking shape in the memory. So too is the other figure, [B] which enters along with the first but in the bass, a descending figure with a trilled motif. Mozart maintains the intimacy and "interiority" throughout with only the soloists and strings and contrapuntal development. This scalar theme then enters in canon in the violins against a bass pedal point, again suggestive of things tumbling from the memory to one's attention. The soloists will take up theme A with "Recordare" and theme B will become the main theme between the episodes. There interiority and internalization we associate with the inversion of the themes and canonic entrances of the soloists contrasts the emotional and physical reality suggested by the homophonic declamation of phrases like, "Ingemisco" and "tamquam reus," set off as they are by singultiary pauses.


Where the Recordare ends in hope and assurance the Confutatis begins in terror and tremor with the hellfire in the bass instruments crackling over and over. The basses enter "confutatis maledictis" and the tenors follow in close imitation, as if writing in the flame. (The effect of the close imitation, the relentless elevation of tension, is similar here to that in KV. 497.)Yet at m. 7 the women enter in C with the pure, plaintive cry, "voca me cum benedictis." Modulating through the dark realms of A minor and G minor Mozart concludes in F major, the key not of despair but of the mystic brotherhood in Die Zauberflöte.

This movement, one of Mozart's most glorious, has been brilliantly described by a source I now defer to:

Amadeus, dir. Milos Forman. 1984.

Domine Jesu

Perhaps even beyond the relentless entrances of the Kyrie and the hellfire of the Confutatis the Domine Jesu is the most terrifying movement of the Requiem. The piano opening quickly gives way to the forte outburst "Rex Gloriae," the alternating dynamics, startling imagery, and abrupt entrances of "de poenis inferni" and the dark tonality of "et de profundo lacu," and the sudden forte leap of a seventh at "de ore leonis," and the rearing of the lion's hear create a scene of terrible grandeur.

The subsequent fugato on "ne absorbeat eas tartarus ne cadant in obscurum" for the chorus has the rhythm of a dance but is no merry gigue but rather reminiscent the dance of death. The gaping sevenths suggest both distance from God and outcry as the twitching semiquavers in the bass nervously urge the movement on.

The soprano soloist enters with the entrance of the image of St. Michael the Archangel, urging the music though a canon and brighter tonality on "sed signifer sanctus Michael repraesente sanctam," with each successive voice entering a fifth below.

The movement ends with the great "Quam olim" fugue on "quam olim Abraham promisisti," thematically contrasting the terrors of the underworld with the promise of God's covenant with Abraham for his descendants.  The fugue is dominated by the one idea and figure, "quam olim Abrahae. . . promisisti" here and there punctuated by "et semini" eius." The absence of a counter-subject and the accompanying motif in the bass make starkly clear the reality that God's promise is all that saves from "de poenis inferni," "de profundo lacu," and "de ore leonis."

"Domine Jesu," "Quam Olim" Fugue, m. 55-57

Benedictus, Sanctus (Hosanna Fugue) & Amen

It would require great length and discursion usefully to discuss these incomplete movements. I would, though, make a few brief points.

While the unusual subject of the Hosanna fugue is certainly by Mozart its working out by Süssmayr is clearly of a rather pedestrian nature. The Amen fugue survives only as a sketch It is unknown whether Mozart intended to repeat the material from the Introit at Lux Aeterna. Abert points out [Abert, 1335] such a repetition was not uncommon at the time and in KV. 220 and KV.317 Mozart himself had made such repeats. Likewise we must wonder whether it was the composer's intent to use the Kyrie fugue for the "cum sanctis tuis in aetarnum" fugue. Clearly the structure of the Requiem demands a fugue at cum sanctis. . . but whether the frightful Kyrie fugue suits "with your saints in heaven" is not obvious. 

Final Thoughts

This Requiem, for all of its thematic borrowing from other works, is an astoundingly original work. For all of its drama and imagery, it is grave and dignified. Despite its incomplete state, it is demonstrates extraordinary unity. We see here what we have seen throughout our look at Mozart's counterpoint: technical mastery and erudition, drama and lyricism, variety, and an overall unity of affect which reconciles the myriad details of the work. With this one, incomplete, work Mozart struck such a chord in the hearts of men as to have defined "requiem." Who imagines another when he hears the word? For something he wanted "to try his hand at" [Wolff, 1994. 73] the Requiem was beyond ambitious.
[Mozart's Requiem] is no longer content to stir specific emotions in the most general terms but that seeks to reflect the detailed psychological development of the work. Time and again it is Mozart the dramatist who emerges from the score, not in the sense of an opera composer or man of the theater, but in the way in which Bach in his vocal works and Schubert in his lieder occasionally plays the part of the dramatist. Mozart was right when he said that he was writing his Requiem for himself, but his remark goes far deeper than he himself intended; it is his most individual and personal confession of his thoughts about life and death. . .  [Abert, 1336]
Mozart reconciled all, leaving us with the sight of man humbled before God at the breaking of the world.


Abert, Hermann. W. A. Mozart. Yale University Press. New Haven and New York. 2007.
Chapin, Keith. Strict and Free Reversed: The Law of Counterpoint in Koch’s Musikalisches Lexikon and Mozart’s Zauberflöte. Eighteenth-Century Music 3/1, 91–107. Cambridge University Press. 2006.

Eisen, Cliff. Mozart's Chamber Music, essay in The Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Keefe, Simon P. (ed.) Cambridge Companion to Mozart. Cambridge. 2003.

Maunder, Richard. Mozart's Requiem: On Preparing a New Edition. Oxford University Press. New York. 1988.

Wolff, Christoph. Johann Sebastian Bach: The Learned Musician. W. W. Norton and Co. New York, New York. 2000

Wolff, Christoph. (Whittall, Mary. (trans.)) Mozart's Requiem: Historical and Analytical Studies, Documents, Score. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles. 1994.

Recommended Reading

Gutmann, Peter. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem. 2006.


26. see: Yeardsley, David. Bach and the Meanings of Counterpoint. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2002.

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]

Friday, December 31, 2010

Mozartian Counterpoint, Part V

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

Before beginning Part V, which focuses exclusively on keyboard music, we ought to note (however briefly) some chamber music in which counterpoint figures but does not predominate. The popularity of some of these works likely suffers because they do not inhabit famous and familiar genres like the symphony or sonata. Yet what intimate dialogues in these pieces and what wonderful combinations of instruments such as in the Piano Quintet in E-flat, KV.452, scored for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, and piano. So also for the Quartet for Piano and Strings in E-flat and the Trio for Piano, Clarinet, and Viola, KV.498 (which is probably more famous by having been dubbed the "Kegelstatt" and associated with Mozart's skittles-playing.) Also to this group we should add the Violin Sonata in A, KV.526, the opening allegros to the Piano Trios KV. 496, 502, 542, 548, and the String Trio in E-flat, KV.563.[14] The counterpoint here is utterly transparent and Alec Hyatt King put it well that, "in spite of his deeper instincts, Mozart became a master of allusive and incidental counterpoint–the union of themes in nimble sections of fugato–swift inversions and graceful canons, all bubbling up with kaleidoscopic suddenness. . ." [15]

While the final quintets, operas, and the Requiem undoubtedly dominate amongst the works of Mozart's last years one ought not overlook the splendid and intriguing keyboard music from this same period.

25. Rondo in A minor, KV.511

Abert called this "one of the most important keyboard rondos ever composed" [Abert, 986] and Arthur Hutchings said its mood is "lovely in a musical expression like this, but morbid beyond pathos in a man's behavior." [16]

The chief figures of this landscape are chromaticism and the trills and turns, which as Abert says recur so regularly as to be thematic. We will see this rondo's very close imitation in the stretto entries again in the sonatas, yet not so fierce as here where the mood is perhaps but slightly removed from that of the allegro to the Sonata in F for 2 pianos, KV.497. Like the theme to the finale of that same sonata, this theme too is one of Mozart's most veiled and mysterious: bare yet secretive, intimate yet detached,
longing yet resigned. That it enters so suddenly yet so logically and naturally renders it all the more potent; its return is always as a sort of disturbing reminder. Here the form of the dance creates an air of gentility even as the chromaticism bares unrestrained pathos. Such an unsettling pairing nonetheless transfixes.[17]

While the "easy" Sonata in C KV.545 utilizes some imitation in its short rondo finale and the Sonata in B-flat, KV.570 features counterpoint in its outer movements, it is in the two sonatas KV.533 in F and KV.576 in D where we hear Mozart striking an extraordinary balance between the "learned" and "galanterie" styles. In these works we have both lightness and seriousness, accompaniment and counterpoint.

26. Piano Sonata in F, KV.533

Allegro in F

Mozart subverts our expectations straightaway. The main theme enters by itself but then is joined at bar 4 by the Alberti accompaniment which proceeds to sort of clash with the scalar figure before it drops out entirely. What are we in for here? We barely get to know the main theme, which only drops into the bass, jumps up again, and is repeated, before it is treated in counterpoint. After the imitative development of the first theme, the second enters (at m. 41 and on the dominant C) and it too is treated in counterpoint straightaway. A third theme enters at m.66 and is not treated in imitation but rather it ushers in an exuberant virtuoso passage of scales and triplets.
click to enlarge

The passage from m.125-145, right, in the development is also a feast of imitation. Here the first part of the second subject is inverted over and over, modulating each time through D minor, G minor, C major, and F major.

At last in the recapitulation at m.194 the third theme enters again, this time as counter-subject to the main theme which enters at m.220 and which is again thrown against counterpoint (m.213.)

Andante in B-flat

Here, "Mozart carries the language capacity of his epoch to the breaking point, and nearly to his end."
–Hans Werner Henze [18]

The beginning of this sonata brings us near to the world of the introduction to the Sonata in F for 2 pianos, KV.497. The restlessly modulating and fantasia-like passage from m.47-72 is the heart of this movement and of it Abert wrote:
This is one of the most austere passages in the whole of Mozart's output. Certainly none of his contemporaries ever wrote anything to match the present passage in terms of its searing relationes non harmonicae. Together with its contrapuntal accompaniment, which is reinforced in thirds, the motif. . . strives upwards with its sforzato accents, creating a feeling of bitterest self-torment, until it reaches the dominant harmony of B flat major, thereby producing a sense of emotional tension unique in Mozart's sonatas. [Abert, 1146]
N.B: A finale for this sonata was begun but only 16 bars are completed (K.Anh.30 = 590.) The rondo performed with this sonata (KV.494) was composed about 18 months before the preceding movements, and expanded with a twenty-seven bar contrapuntal episode, perhaps to create symmetry with the imitative counterpoint of the first movement.

27. Piano Sonata in D, KV.576

Allegro | Adagio | Allegretto

Mozart completed this sonata shortly after his trip through Leipzig to Berlin (see No. 28 below) possibly in fulfillment of a commission for six "easy" ("leichte") keyboard pieces for the Princess Frederika of Prussia. That this is the only sonata Mozart wrote for this planned series, that it is not at all "easy," and that it was published alone and posthumously all suggest a different purpose for its composition. I once heard Robert Levin give a most insightful (and fun) pre-concert talk about this sonata, a talk of which you can hear a variant here: YouTube. His remarks bring to mind a similar comment from another great pianist, Alfred Brendel, who said that, "Where Mozart somehow manages to surprise us with what we expect, Haydn excels in the unexpected." [19] Indeed while that observation plays out over the course of this sonata there is nothing expected about the contrast in the main theme's pair of figures. Levin respectively terms them "fanfare" and "goody-two-shoes":
click to enlarge

This sonata takes further the stretto and inversion and re-inversion of the parts in the B-flat Sonata, KV.570. Contrapuntal procedures begin almost immediately when the first theme is joined by a similar counter-subject. This counter/second subject begins with the "fanfare" theme and continues with a descending semiquaver figure. Soon after at m. 28. this figure enters in stretto. The development section begins with canonic imitation soon repeated in inversion. The rising chromatic passage at m.77 and subsequent semiquaver figures give way to the figure of two triplet quavers from the close of the exposition. For eleven bars it alternates between the hands, treated against a rising chromatic line and dominant pedal before a descending scalar passage enters forte and reintroduces the main theme for the recapitulation.


The form of this movement has been variously referred to as "free rondo" "sonata-rondo" or "irregular-sonata-form." F. H. Marks in "The Sonata Its Form and Meaning as Exemplified in the Piano Sonatas by Mozart" offers an extended discussion of this question of form. Here though we may briefly note that on the one hand this movement has three entries of its subject with interstitial material and on the other the transposition of the melody to the dominant makes it a second subject rather than an episode, and bars 80-116 are developed from existing material, making it a development section. Too, the exposition is not repeated. Of contrapuntal procedures we see the stretto of the main theme at m.34, m.103, m.117 in sharp relief from the virtuosic runs of ascending and descending quavers.

28. Eine Kleine Gigue in G, KV.574

This short gigue is of the French, fugal, type and of course such is what brings it into our purview here. It seems rather curious in Mozart's output at this late date, does it not? Girdlestone suggested it was a pastiche[20] of Bach, probably spurred by Mozart's April 1789 visit to Leipzig where he met Johann Friedrich Doles (1715-97), Kantor of the Thomasschule and pupil of J.S. Bach. While in Leipzig Mozart played and improvised on the Thomaskirche organ, looked at some of Bach's motets, and heard Doles' students perform Bach's motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied. While the precise date of this gigue is uncertain, it likely dates from around May 16 of the same year, when Mozart in fact returned to Leipzig and where he presented this little piece to Carl Immanuel Engel, organist at the Schlosskapelle.


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

[14] King, Alec Hyatt. Mozart's Counterpoint: Its Growth and Significance. Music & Letters, Vol. 26, No. 1 (Jan., 1945), pp. 12-20 (quotation from p. 17)
[15] Hutchings, Arthur, "The Keyboard Music" in H. C. Robbins Landon and Donald Mitchell (eds.), The Mozart Companion (London, 1956), p. 62 –– cited in Sutcliffe, W. Dean "The Keyboard Music" in The Cambridge Companion to Mozart, Simon P. Keefe (ed.) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 2003.
[16] See also Levin, Beth:
[17] See lecture, "Mozart: Divertimento in E-flat major for Violin, Viola, and Cello, K. 563 (1788)"
[18] Brendel, Alfred. Alfred Brendel on Music: His Collected Essays. A Capella Books. Chicago. 2007. p.12
[19] ibid. p.110
[20] pastiche should not in this context carry the the often negative connotation of our common usage.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Review: Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Directed by Michèle Hozer & Peter Raymont. 2009.

At some point in the life of every music lover, particularly fans of J. S. Bach and keyboard music, he comes across Glenn Gould. Perhaps one does not so much come across Gould so much as get struck by him. Be it the articulation, the distinction of the voices, the tension, or perhaps just the humming, I suspect the first acquaintance is often a startling one. Such was certainly the experience of many when Gould burst from obscurity onto the music scene with his recording of Bach's Goldberg Variations. That an introduction to him and his take on music still arrests individuals would please him very much, I think, and I say that a little more familiar with him after this splendid documentary.

To begin at the end, the film concludes with the notion that it is the mystery of Gould, not the narrative of his life, that drives peoples' attempts to rediscover him again and again. In this respect, and another which I think would please the late pianist, Gould is himself like a piece of great music: it asks a lot of you, it brings a lot to you, and it gets richer the more you live with it. I say live with and perhaps that's what comes off most from this two-hour film, that Gould lived a musical life. From the age of three when he began to read musical notation (before he could read words) and acquired his trademark habit of singing along to his playing, through his truncated concert career and through his long sessions practicing and recording it is clear he lived and breathed music. He came at a piece from every possible direction, he took it apart and put it back together again, and he internalized it. We gather that he understood pieces as only their creators did and in fact Gould once told a composer who was fretting at Gould's interpretation, "You don't know your own piece!"

Perhaps this internalization was closely linked to the loneliness which followed him through his whole life. As a child he avoided common social affairs and during his adult life it seems he never had more than a handful of friends. This desire or need for privacy and isolation, whether on account of illness or an inability to share his clearly vibrant passion for music or both, was clearly at odds with a musical career. First, performing is an intimate experience in which the performer shares a great deal of himself with a great many people. Second, there is a certain intangible feedback a performer gets from an audience. Third, there is probably a certain degree to which an audience drives the performer to greater lengths. Yet Gould considered "concertizing" hideous and audiences (not individuals but audiences en masse) "rule of mob law." Such too is at odds with his plans, rather vaguely conveyed at least in the film, to "democratize music" with "kits," i.e. to provide people with recordings they could somehow manipulate themselves. (Presaging, of course, today's remixes, edits, "mashups," and playlists.) Yet this paradox in Gould between inner and outer is again like music itself, with its dichotomy between being personal and universal, and both with the utmost intensity.

Gould seems to elicit rather strong, often contrary, emotions. He was quite difficult, but most kind. He tried to control situations, but not people. He had perfect technique, but imposed on the piece. Famously conductor Leonard Bernstein, before a performance of a Brahms concerto with Gould, actually prefaced the concert with a disclaimer that he had great respect for Gould but differed with the interpretation which was to follow. A revealing fact, and one consistent with the man this film introduces us to, is that Gould took Bernstein's comments as having been said in the best spirit. What Bernstein did was of course what anyone who understands music would do. The performance cannot be constrained even by the conductor. It has to, as Gould says, express the individuality of the performer. For Gould, and he said this many times throughout his life, art was about creation and making your own world. It was about expressing your own uniqueness and isolation. Again we see a dichotomy, here between composer and performer.

Indeed in one segment while discussing his performance of a Mozart sonata Gould explains why, though reverently, he changes Mozart's adagio marking to allegretto, and why he draws out the opening so slowly, almost comically: to bring the audience into the world of the piece. You cannot do that by pulling a piece off a museum shelf but by creating something in front of people. He takes such liberty to seize the audience, to let them know something important is happening in front of them, that something rare and beautiful and fleeting is being created and will pass away. In this way too Gould is himself musical: he was himself as fragile and fleeting as a piece of music desperately reaching out through time.

Genius Within falls rather cleanly into two halves, the first of which chronicles his youth and concert career. It was a career with a sudden dazzling rise, punctuated by his spectacular Soviet tour in 1957. The first performance of the tour was poorly attended, owing in part to a lack of popularity for Bach due to him being broadly labeled as evangelical by the government, yet after the intermission the house was packed. One imagines hundreds of giddy phone calls to friends and family akin to, "You've never heard anything like this before. Come!" Surely their enthusiasm for the music gratified him. During his performing career the quirks and eccentricities were under control and perhaps Gould, knowing how they helped his popularity, didn't even mind when they were overplayed in the news. He had his custom chair, his gloves, he canceled performances. He was popular. Yet on April 10, 1964 he gave his last public concert. Henceforth he was to perform only in recording studios, which suited both his desire for privacy and his desire to control the environment of the performance. He also began a series of radio programs and documentaries.

He was to gain something else which he lacked and sought: intimacy. Cornelia Foss, wife of German-born American composer, conductor, pianist, and professor Lukas Foss, left her husband for Gould and moved with her children to Toronto. Again, Gould seemed happy. A friend recollects that he must have said a dozen times throughout his life that, "These are the happiest days of my life." Gould pioneered recording and took advantage of the unique creative possibilities (mixing and splicing) it provided, using an auditorium in a Toronto mall. After a seemingly ideal period in which he recorded prolifically, enjoyed time with Cornelia and her children, indulged his love of nature, and enjoyed his control and privacy, he grew more difficult. His paranoia, controlling temperament, and hypochondria all worsened.  Cornelia left him, saying the eccentricities began to overshadow his personality. Despite a period of collaboration and likely romance with Ukrainian-Canadian soprano Roxolana Roslak, Gould was clearly slipping away. He began to script all of his public appearances. Yet before he died he recorded the Goldberg Variations once more. More eccentric this time, but perhaps more thoughtful too. A touching scene is composed of original footage from Gould's Toronto funeral. In a packed church of over 3,000 they played Gould's performance of the Goldberg aria and the attendees wept as as they listened, Gould characteristically humming along.

Genius Within is a little conventional as a documentary. Chronological and neatly segmented, it is structurally simple. Too it spends a tad much time on his romance with Cornelia Foss and his guilt late in life at not having properly taken care of the parents who were so devoted to him. It is very light on musical analysis. Yet the film is brought to vivid life by the plethora of original footage of Gould and the many interviews with those who knew him. They are all particularly candid and frankly they seem a little baffled and overwhelmed by the effect Gould had on their lives. The most penetrating remarks are from Gould's biographer, Kevin Bazzana, and two of his friends, including the late violinist and conductor Peter Ostwald.

The film ends on a perfectly fitting note: that his mysteriousness perplexes and draws us in to rediscover him. And rediscover him we ought to. His friend suggests he'd have liked to be remembered not just as a performer, but as a Renaissance man, a creative artist who didn't just play but tried to share a philosophy of performance for this most special, curious thing we call music.

N.B. A selection (Prelude and Fugue in C, No.1. Book II) of Gould's performance of J. S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier was included on the Voyager I space probe launched in 1977. See for the other music included.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Inside Chamber Music with Bruce Adolphe

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center has a wonderful series of lectures with composer, scholar, author, and pianist Bruce Adolphe. (Here is an interview with Adolphe from September's Opera Today.) His series with the Lincoln Center CMS, Inside Chamber Music, is a wonderful look into the world of chamber music. In particular Adolphe looks at a Bach concerto, selections of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and a Mozart String Trio. He gets into substantial depth discussing theory and elements of style while still taking the time to define basic concepts and avoiding technical jargon. The lectures are elucidating and highly entertaining too.

In particular he touches on a number of issues we have been looking at of late in our discussions of music and culture and of Mozart's counterpoint. Over the course of the series Adolphe discusses the philosophical dimensions to Bach's structures and sheds light on his "learned" style by looking into the details of Bach's thorough, encyclopedic, explorations of musical ideas. If you enjoyed our "Ideas" essays (see here and here) I think you'll enjoy these lectures. He gives a splendid talk on the adagio of Mozart's String Trio in E-flat, KV.563, contrasting the dramatic expression of the classical style and the introspective nature of Bach's music with a comparison to a famous stage play. This also bears on our discussion of music qua language (see here and here.)

Of the B-flat minor fugue from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Adolphe says it
is so complex and so learned that most people can't deal with it. This is an example of a level of dissonance that only Bach and people who have devoted themselves to what he was doing and who tried to follow the processes of his mind could tolerate. . . But every single dissonance can be explained by a logic.
Yet Bach, as Adolphe says, did not consider this music for concert or popular performance, but for the personal study of a composer. We ask again, though, can a language be too complicated, too esoteric, too unique to one individual, to serve as a language? (In describing this fugue in particular, ought we distinguish between philosophical, scientific, and artistic characteristics? What does the fugue do, how, and why?) Adolphe notes Rousseau's famous criticism of Baroque music's "ugliness." [1] Is it too "learned" or too dissonant? (The learned contrapuntal style was in fact on its way out, though we'll see Mozart reconciling the styles in his late sonatas in the next part of the counterpoint series.) Yet this Bach piece is highly chromatic and fugal, and recall the finale to Mozart's Symphony No. 41. Are these pieces too "learned" or too dissonant?

These are of course nearly the same questions Alex Ross asked about modern music last month in his article in The Guardian. One the other hand one of the most common observations about Bach's music is its universal appeal, that his fugal explorations of ideas, his modulations, and symmetries are universally understandable as mathematical relationships (and profound and beautiful ones at that.) (Such is also apart from the philosophical dimensions.) Comments about the cosmic dimensions to Mozart's final symphonies are not so dissimilar. Moreover, many composers have claimed they learned about music from the Well-Tempered Clavier, thus to some extent they are in fact self-explanatory.

On the one hand languages rely on rules and standards to be tools of communication and on the other hand all great artists, both composers and authors, seem to stretch the rules a bit. They displace phrases, use words in unusual ways, they make obscure references, and sometimes simply break the rules. Why is this necessary? Is the language at fault? The artist? Perhaps a certain flexibility is necessary, for the artist and the person experiencing the work. Perhaps too a flexibility in the language itself is an asset. Yet flex too far, and it becomes esoteric and perhaps unintelligible. Can any language, though, be said objectively to be easy? Would perhaps the easiest language be the most natural in some respect? Would that really be a virtue? Is there a dichotomy between artificial and natural in terms of language? Ought the language or the music mimic nature, should they be naturalistic?

For example, is there anything intrinsically difficult about fugal music, or easy about galanterie? What about factors like periodicity? Is the phrasing of, say Mozart's fugue KV.394  any "easier" than Bach's? We looked at this fugue earlier this year. Try comparing it to a Bach fugue. Whose phrases are longer? How are they balanced? (Adolphe discusses this in the Q and A section of the lecture Classical Counterpoint: From Bach to Mozart, but see also the article On Mozart's Rhythm by Edward E. Lowinsky [2])

Also, what might be said to constitute the language and its norms? For example, we consider the "Classical Style" primarily that of Mozart and Haydn. Now not only were they both revolutionary composers who transformed the musical language they inherited, they themselves were quite different. Too we think of Bach and Baroque as closely related, but Bach's music is in many ways a world unto itself. Of course time is a factor too: can you step into the same culture twice? Would it be good if you could?

Of course the greatest music confounds these questions by being both profound and popular, learned yet appealing, and cosmic yet personal. Are they better only because of their craftsmanship or is there too some truth in them that binds the opposites and transcends them? (Is that tantamount to being "natural" as we said above. Could such just an impression of nature?)

Anyway that is another round of thinking about, or at least pondering, these perennial questions, a round spurred by Mr. Adolphe's wonderful lectures on this extraordinary music. He speaks about a lot more than I've highlighted here. Go check them out!

[1] This volume of the Bach Cantata Choir's newsletter has an insightful discussion of the issue: [1.2 MB]
[2] Lowinsky, Edward E. On Mozart's Rhythm. The Musical Quarterly, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr., 1956), pp. 162-186