Thursday, April 1, 2010

Three Modes of Perception of Economics

Economics, mit Humor

Three Modes of Perception:
The Liberal, The Conservative, The Libertarian

(click  images to enlarge)

I. The [Neo-] Liberal

II. The Conservative

III. The Libertarian

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Movie Review: The Audition

Directed by Susan Froemke. 2009.

By chance I stumbled over The Audition, which played on PBS as the feature of a fund-raising telethon. For the part of the Metropolitan Opera's management commissioning The Audition was a rather frank attempt to draw the interest of a younger demographic, one familiar with so-called reality television, American Idol, et cetera, for hearing live opera and classical music at New York's Lincoln Center. Anecdotally, I have no problem believing what someone interviewed during the telethon alleged, that the average age of their concert-goer is 65. Their fund-raising and seat-filling goals aside, important as they are to the continuation of the opera, this is a wonderful movie.

The Audition is the story of the 2007 Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and the competition's 22 semifinalists, 11 finalists, and 5 winners. We spend most of the film (which is probably about 110 minutes) with the 11 semifinalists, learning what brought them there and seeing where they are in perfecting the program they hope will impress the judges and launch their careers. What becomes apparent rather quickly is the group's diversity. This variety of ranges, timbres, personas, and programs greatly and invariably shifts the nature of the competition, which is not about whose "Largo al factotum" is snappier, but about who has to hit his high C's, who needs to work on her breathing, and who has to realize that he is good enough to compete. There is no villain or even meanie, and while young and talented Michael Fabiano is more aloof and has a less rosy picture of the competition than the others seem to, we still root for him. There is no gossip, cheating, or fighting to wallow in, only to see who will perfect his work and wonder who, even if he does, might not be what the judges are looking for.

While many viewers will probably cheer for one singer above all, we empathize with all of them for the difficulty of their task, the years they spent preparing, the stress of having your potential failure broadcast and preserved for posterity, the risk of time and money, and of course their emotional investment. In their practice sessions conductor Marco Armiliato seems to do as much for them by calming them down as he does by helping them fine-tune their performances.  Their formal audition before the judges and a packed Metropolitan Opera house is both tense and spectacular, filled with onstage successes and backstage trepidation. This last act is intercut with the scenes of the singers returning to the waiting room after their audition, where they are all greeted with kindness and encouragement by their fellow singers and we see they are not a group of temperamental artistes and prima donnas, but one of talented and passionate people simply trying to do what they love the best they can.
click to enlarge

Postscript. (spoilers.)

I was particularly saddened to see in the coda during the credits that Ryan Smith, (above, left) succumbed to cancer not long after his success in the Met competition. Ryan's personal story, of being forced to abandon his singing career due to financial issues early in life and his recommitment years later, was quite affecting. Seeing his confidence rise, seeing him realize that he was good enough to compete, and finally seeing him triumph in his audition was the heart of this movie and what made it so very compelling and significant. I'm quite sure I'm not alone in thinking that.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, March 20 through Friday, March 26.

1) From the AP via the WSJ, Wolfgang Wagner, leader of the Bayreuth opera festival from 1951-2008 and grandson of Richard Wagner, has died.

2) For the WSJ, Heidi Waleson reviews the production of Ambroise Thomas' "Hamlet" running at The Metropolitan Opera through April 9.

3) From Armond White at First Things, "Do Movie Critics Matter?"

4) Terry Teachout at the WSJ on "Bringing Art Back to PBS."

5) At the Mises Daily blog, Anton Batey on "the trouble with 'No Child Left Behind.'"

On "Healthcare"

6) Three issues of constitutionality, from Ilya Somin at The Volokh Conpiracy

7-8) More on constitutionality at the Cato @ Liberty blog:
  1. from Ilya Shapiro 
  2. from Roger Pilon
9) At Reason, Peter Suderman on the "lie of fiscal responsibility."

10) Also from Cato @ Liberty, Chris Edwards on federal health spending.

11) Doug French at the Mises Daily blog looks at the bigger picture of healthcare "reform":
The current system cries out for fixing. And how does the state propose to fix it? Never through more freedom, never by rolling back the real problem. Instead, it proposes more power. This has been the systematic trajectory during every presidential administration for many decades.

One of the worst problems concerns the wedge that the state drove between the payer and the healthcare provider. Businesses became the wedge. When? During World War II wage controls. Businesses scrambled to find ways to pay their employees without running afoul of the law. They turned to providing medical care. This is no different from how banks offered toasters to depositors when interest rates were controlled in the 1970s. It is the market desperately trying to get around a problem created by the state. But once this happens, if the controls are not repealed, the escape hatch becomes the norm. And this is precisely what happened.

12) Victor Davis Hanson at his Pajamas Media blog:
How wonderful  if a Reid, Obama, or Pelosi for a moment would just come clean, if even in defiant fashion. Imagine:

“Some people screw up or are unlucky. We’re here to ensure they end up the same as you who don’t screw up or are luckier. We can’t say they are in any way culpable, so we blame either the system or you who are better off. The best way to level the playing field is to  tax all we can, take our percentage, and redistribute the rest. Lots get hired to administer to even more. The rules don’t apply to ourselves, who are wealthy but not the targeted culpable. We know privately all this is not sustainable, but assume the better off will find a way to save themselves and thus us, before we bankrupt ourselves — after we are gone. And we don’t care really whether this is always legal, or fair, or workable, because we know it is moral and we are far more moral people than you.”

13) At Investors Business Daily, Michael Ramirez:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

On the Overture to Così fan tutte

Overture to Così fan tutte

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (KV.588)

Così was commissioned by Joseph II, Emperor of Austria, and premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on January 26, 1790.

Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 clarin trumpets, timpani, and strings (2 violins, viola, cello, bass.)

The score is available via the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe.

John Eliot Gardiner conducting the English Baroque Soloists
The Overture is one of the funniest things Mozart ever wrote. Its themes, alternating their whisperings and chatterings with a hilarious kid of Hallelujah Chorus, tell us in Mozart's language that the persons of this dream are, humanly speaking, rubbish, but far too harmless for any limbo less charitable than the eternal laughter of Mozart. [Tovey, 30]

I. Introduction

Tovey credits Mr. John Christie, (1882-1962, founder of the Glyndebourne Opera House and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera) with characterizing Così fan tutte as a dream. Such is true of Così both for its self-contained world with its many improbabilities and for the variety of interpretations the story invites. The setting is Arcadia, yet the characters are flawed. The title is Così fan tutte but just what has Alfonso's experiment revealed? Sometimes the characters speak in cliche, sometimes in poetry, here the music mocks the characters, there supports. What of these contradictions? We saw in Don Giovanni the forces of being and non-being in opposition, and in Così, as David Cairns brilliantly states, we explore "the difference between appearance and reality." [Cairns, 188] Continuing, he writes, "And it is not just the characters on stage whom the answered questions are addressed to but the audience watching them. Così fan tutte has implications far beyond the 'School for Lovers' and the 'All Women do it' of its titles. It speaks, existentially, of the randomness of life, the fickleness of affection, the brevity of happiness. Continually stimulating though it is, it is not a work that sends you out of the theater in a glow of contentment with the world."

Of contradictions we can already see two, between Tovey and Cairns, so let us analyze this overture and then revisit the question of its character.

II. Analysis

   Andante: m.1-14

This andante begins in C major, where an opening forte chord clears the air and prepares the way for a beautiful and delicate phrase for the oboe that begins piano on the dominant, gently supported and kept aloft by the bassoon.


Chords intervene forte here, as if to warn us not to get too comfortable with such unperturbed beauty. The oboe phrase repeats again, this time supported by the bassoon and clarinet, before what becomes the opera's titular theme begins (m. 8, lower strings):
m.7-14 (Click to enlarge.)

This theme is reprised in Act II by Don Alfonso in his aria on the nature of women. [1] Here, though, it has purely musical form and functions strictly as the heavyhearted counterpart to the first theme. In its first appearance in the strings and bassoon it is introduced staccato as though being gradually brought into view. In repetition it is repeated forte by the whole orchestra as if being begrudgingly acknowledged.

  Presto: m.15-end

Yet m.15 begins a presto section, picking up the final dominant of the andante and beginning in the tonic again, as if saying, "yes, such a sad fact is so, but nonetheless look how wondrous this is. . ." We are now introduced to the first of four themes whose interplay forms the basis of this large section. This first is a figure of chattering quavers. (Below, left)

I. m.16-17 II. m.25-28

The next theme, (above, right) follows immediately, before the woodwinds begin trading a third theme back and forth above a three-crotchet figure in the strings:

III. m.30-32

After a repeat of the second theme we hear the last one, which has a lower line not unlike the opening to Le Nozze di Figaro. [2]

IV.  m.59-61

The rest of the movement proceeds in like fashion, each theme remaining in the orchestral group in which it originated. Here theme III is interrupted by theme II which is interrupted by I. Shortly after they proceed in another order. Yet as if heedless of where they started the themes run again into the titular one at m.228. We left the Così fan tutte theme behind to look at love's playful variations in the hustle and bustle of the presto, but here we have inevitably come back. Yet we do not remain despairing as the Theme I of the presto returns and we skate right up into a Mannheim crescendo and a close on a fortissimo of the jocular presto Theme II.

III. Conclusion

What of our original question then? The overture has three aspects, the purely beautiful aspect love (Theme I. of the Andante), its sorrowful aspect (Theme II. of the Andante), and the trivial or exuberant (Themes I.-IV. of the Presto.) The first two aspects should not be glossed over as Mozart "putting on his mask" [Abert, 1176] and the third should not simply suggest the characters are "rubbish." The surface trivialities should not discourage us. Charles Rosen puts his finger on the proper approach to this piece:
There is no way of knowing in what proportions mockery and sympathy are blended in Mozart's music and how seriously he took his puppets. . . Even to ask is to miss the point: the art in these matters is to tell one's story without being foolishly taken in by it and yet without a trace of disdain for its apparent simplicity. It is an art which can become profound only when the attitude of superiority never implies withdrawal, when objectivity and acceptance are indistinguishable. [Rosen, 317]
Sometimes the ridiculous and improbable do spring forth from love and such things can be beautiful and worth exploring too. As the overture leaves us off at the drama, it is as if Mozart says, "and here's an example."

Act II, Scene III: Andante: Tutti accusan le donne m.21-24


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

Cairns, David. Mozart and His Operas. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 2006.

Rosen, Charles. The Classical Style. W. W. Norton and Company. NY, NY. 1997.

Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume VI: Supplementary Essays, Glossary, and Index: Overture to Così fan tutte, KV.588. 1935.

Friday, March 19, 2010

War and History with Victor Davis Hanson

Peter Robinson, host of the Hoover Institution's Uncommon Knowledge, interviews Victor Davis Hanson, Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Classicist, and Military Historian.

The discussion centered around themes from Dr. Hanson's latest book, a collection of his essays, "The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern." 
I. Inseparable From the Human Condition
II. The American Way of War
III. Your Defeat, My Victory
IV. Ain't Gonna Study War No More
V. Man of War
Transcript [PDF]

War and History with Victor Davis Hanson
Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V
Total time: about 50 minutes.

Around the Web

For the week of Saturday, March 13 through Friday, March 19.

1) David Harsanyi in the Denver Post asks, "Does the process matter?"
President Barack Obama believes citizens are indifferent to "procedural" spats.
Actually, in the case of health care legislation, the ugly substance of the legislation creates the ugly process. The two issues are inseparable. The process is corrupted as the advocates have no other path for passage.

Sometimes process is vital in protecting the American people from the abuses of majoritarians and crusading tyrants. Other times, it is used by those very people to circumvent pesky constitutional restrictions.
2)  At, "Reason Saves Cleveland Part II: Fix the Schools."

3) At The Volokh Conspiracy, Ilya Somin asks, "Is Hayek Still Relevant?"

4) In the WSJ, Terry Teachout on Benny Goodman, Jerome Robbins, Benjamin Britten and Other "Unsure Artists"

5) In Science News, Tom Siegfried on "the shortcomings of statistics."

6) In the WSJ, Robyn Eckhardt interviews Malaysian architect Kenneth Yeang and discusses sustainable skyscrapers. (He also answers a few questions about himself, revealing a bit of his personal philosophy.)

7) In City Journal, Adam D. Thierer reviews "You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto" by Jaron Lanier.

8-9) Reviews from
  1. Richard Draubner on Wagner's Rienzei and Die Meistersinger. (Deutsche Oper Berlin)
  2. Agnes Cory on a Michelangelo themed recital by bass Sir John Tomlinson and pianist David Owen Norris.

    10) At Musica Sacra, "Liturgy and the Words We Use" by William Mahrt.

    Wednesday, March 17, 2010

    On the Overture to Don Giovanni

    Overture to Don Giovanni

    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (KV.527)

    Don Giovanni was commissioned by Pasquale Bondini and Domenico Guardasoni for their opera company and premiered at the Estates Theatre (aka The Count Nostitz National Theater) in Prague on October 29, 1787.

    Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 clarin trumpets, timpani, and strings (2 violins, viola, cello, bass.)

    The score is available via the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe.

     Incipit. (click to enlarge.)

    James Levine conducting.

    . . . the work is not about guilt and retribution but simply about being and non-being, and the overwhelming tragedy of the conclusion rests on the grandeur and terror of the action as such, not on the triumph of moral laws over the world of appearances. [Abert, 1050.]

    I. A Programmatic Overture?

    In the tradition of E. T. A. Hoffman this overture has been considered programmatic in nature, with specific references to the plot and characters, particularly the opposing characters of Don Giovanni and the Commendatore.[1] As suggested by the quote above, Abert did not subscribe to this theory and wisely so. The significance  of this overture does not derive from particular actions but of elemental forces in opposition and conflict. Its essence is the relationship between these forces, a relationship incomparably expressed by some of Mozart's most beautiful and terrifying music.

    II. Analysis

         a. Andante m.1-30

    We begin in D minor with the opening famous for both its strength and the terror it evokes. The first chord, forte on the tonic, is striking enough, yet its effect is increased by 1) the trill on the timpani, 2) the sustained chords in the upper winds and horns, 3) the syncopated half-note chords in the violins, 4) the half-notes on D in the lower voices, and 5) the concluding rest. The effect is nothing short of astounding: the first chord slices the silence as the upper winds and horns fill out the sonority, and the timpani trill and the syncopated violins trip up the smoothness and jostle us before repeating their notes, and the lower voices fade away. A rest follows but this brief pause serves not as respite but to intensify the preceding terror by letting it momentarily recede from us. The effect is then repeated starting with a chord on the dominant.

    Now a new theme of a dotted figure comes in the strings, accented by a whole note descending in the woodwinds on the first beat of each measure. Then we hear another new theme, with the 1st violins wandering amongst F, G#, A, and E as the lower strings alternate between the dominant and 7th and then tonic and dominant, all against a figure in the 2nd violins disorienting, agitating, and frightening despite its simplicity:

    m. 11-14

    Yet another new theme presents itself to us, a descending figure starting sforzato on a D quarter note (doubled 8ba) and running down to C on 32nd notes, where it ends piano. (below, left)

    m.15-16 m.17

    This theme transitions into yet another one, (above, right) consisting of a triplet 16th note (in the violins an octave apart) followed by a fragile 8th note in the bass voices. The theme is cut of by a swell forte in the orchestra before it continues, though only to be cut off in like-fashion again at m.20.  The theme, now limping even weaker, transitions into the andante's most recognizable theme, an ascending and descending scale that rises each measure, "rising in crescendo, seeping away again piano." [Abert, 1052]

    m. 23

    The scales create an unbearable and escalating tension until the fourth iteration of the scalar figure (m.26) erupts into a frenzy of 32nd notes in the 1st violins. The transition here is most abrupt: in m.28 we are all frenzied 32nd notes, timpani trill, and forte horns, and at m.29 we are piano, and the first violins in staccato 8th notes are slowly leading us away from the experience. This sudden transition into the following D major allegro draws the sharpest of comparisons between the two elemental forces of the overture.

         b. Allegro m.31-285(end)


    Abert insists, again contra E. T. A. Hoffman, that this "most inspired" of Mozart's ideas must be perceived as a unified whole and not as a "mosaic-like" arrangement of aspects of the titular character. [Abert, 1053]

    m.32-39. (Abert's section bracketing.)

    Indeed, for as he says this element as a whole consists of a build up and a release of energy, from the motifs on the upbeats to the explosion of the rising anapestic[2] fanfare figure in the woodwinds (m.38-39) This theme (in the violins) runs against a tonic pedal in the violas and cellos which seems as a fiery crackling in the background, strongly contrasting the previous passage and alerting us that something new is afoot. Despite several delays the theme is drawn down from A to the tonic and at last to the outburst and dominant at m.38.

    The theme then repeats with intensification from the winds and horns in sections (a) and (b) and a new orchestral passage follows section (c). The staccato quavers, forte unison on D at m.48, the syncopated chords in the winds that give way again to the anapest figure, the figures rising and falling an octave, and the half cadence close give the section tremendous drive and contrast. Scales for the violins follow three times before a brief theme in the winds against another pedal piano, yet again without warning or preparation as the strings reply furiously in A minor before closing on E.


    This main theme of the 2nd subject falls into two sections, the first five descending notes (a) and then the consequent (b), the effect of which is a challenge and a response. (The consequent bears close relation to part of our opening theme.) The theme then repeats before part (a) of our second subject takes center stage. Its first two notes now forte and piano respectively, it is taken up first by the strings and woodwinds, then exclusively by the latter group that trades it back and forth between the flute and oboe (m. 85) and at last the bassoon takes it over. Now the second subject theme is unleashed in A major in all of its glory, its rhythms soaring unbound until at m.116 a series of quaver quadruplets centered around A and E barely manage to put the brakes on.

         m.121 - Development

    This section begins with the return of the second subject theme. There follows what Abert understandably called the allegro's "most inspired moment" in which the first half of the theme is repeated stretta[3] in the woodwinds as the second half alternates between the violins. It is a brief yet revealing moment as these contesting ideas are "revealed to be different expression of one and the selfsame force." [Abert, 1056]

    At m.141 the main theme returns with a shift to G major but it has not its former luster and vigor  and rather quickly fades away. The second subject theme now enters in what will be a series of six iterations, each harmonically varying. Abert outlines the harmonic progression of the section as follows:

    B-flat - g(V) - g(1) ( = d (IV)) - d(V) - d(I) ( = a(IV)) - a(V) - A(I)

    After the sixth variation the theme somewhat struggles with little ascending and descending figures and attempts to begin again  four times, fortepiano as if trying to get properly underway. The effort concludes with descending scales from E and G in the violins (m.192.)

    After the rollicking return of material in the recapitulation we slowly descend to the drama, having modulated to C major (for transition into Leporello's Introduzione aria in F.) By means of drawing out the familiar first half of the second subject theme the momentum dies and the fading image of the elemental struggle gives way to the opera proper.

         c. Concert Ending (m.286-298)

    While the overture dissipates into the Introduction and Leporello's aria "Notte e giorno faticar" Mozart also composed an alternative 13-bar ending intended for concert hall performances. The ending has been variously received, Abert calling it "hasty, too short or unworthy of a classic overture" [Biancolli. 460] and "evidently dashed off at great speed" [Abert, 1057: Footnote 87] and in contrast Einstein considering it "a truly inspired piece of work." [Biancolli, 460] It also presents various difficulties for analysis.

    On this "concert ending," Mr. Hideo Noguchi has published on his personal Mozart Studies website a thorough and thoughtful analysis. Included are discussions of manuscripts, harmonics, instrumentation, dynamics, et cetera. As it is readily available I simply and gladly refer you to the author's fine work. The link is in the Recommended section below.

    IV. Conclusion

    As we see from the handling of the musical elements the relationship between our two main musical ideas is the heart of the piece. Compare the chilling opening of the andante and the potent, first theme of the allegro with its exuberant life force. Consider the array of terrible themes of the andante contrasting the variations of the second subject. Perhaps most significantly we saw the sharp contrast between the andante and the allegro in the sudden transition from the former to the latter and, perhaps most uncomfortably, that no matter how glorious the allegro grew, the great and ominous andante ever hovered over.

    [1] Abert's W. A. Mozart contains a footnote with several works of such "poeticizing" interpretations from the 19th century, including accounts from Hoffman, Gounod, Jahn, and Wagner.
    [2] i.e., a meter comprised of two short beats followed by a longer one, as opposed to the dactylic meter.
    [3] Italian for narrow or close, stretto refers to the answer replying to the subject before the subject has yet completed. (It can also refer to a section of increased speed. [Apel, 711.]


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

    Apel, Willi. Harvard Dictionary of Music. Entry: Stretto. Harvard University Press. Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1966.

    Biancolli, Louis. (ed.) The Mozart Handbook: A Guide to the Man and His Music. Essay on the "Overture to Don Giovanni" by Herbert F. Peyser. The World Publishing Company. Cleveland and New York. 1954.


    Cairns, David. Mozart and His Operas. University of California Press. Berkeley and Los Angeles. 2006.

    Kierkegaard, Søren. Either/Or. Trans. Hong, Howard V. and Hong, Edna H. Essay, "The Immediate Stages of the Erotic, or Musical Erotic." Princeton University Press. Princeton, NJ. 1987.

    Noguchi, Hideo. An appraisal reconsideration of Don Giovanni Overture K.527 with Mozart's alternative conclusion. 2007.

    On the History of the Estates Theatre.

    Friday, March 12, 2010

    Around the Web

    For the week of Saturday, March 6th through Friday, March 12th.

    1) For the WSJ, Kelly Crow (Maastricht, The Netherlands) on $4 billion worth of Gauguins, Botticellis and Roman statues.

    2) At The Boston Globe, Carolyn Y. Johnson on the Bohlen-Pierce scale:
    The unusual scale she played ended on a high note that was triple, not double, the frequency of the low note, and the interval was divided into 13 equal steps. This new system, called Bohlen-Pierce, was independently invented in the 1970s and 1980s by two engineers and a computer scientist as an alternative to the traditional musical system. Initially a mixture of math, music, and theory, Bohlen-Pierce has now grown into a living art, as people around the world have begun building instruments, composing pieces, and developing a music theory, all using notes that most people have never heard.

    3) In the WSJ, Byron Janis on Chopin's 'Soul and Heart.'

    4) Arminta Wallace interviews violinist Janine Jansen for The Irish Times.

    5) In The UK Guardian, Alex Ross on applause at the concert hall.

    Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    On the Sinfonia to Le Nozze di Figaro

    Sinfonia to Le Nozze di Figaro
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. (KV.492)

    Figaro was commissioned by Emperor Joseph II and the Imperial Italian Opera Company and premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna on May 1, 1786.

    Instrumentation: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 clarin trumpets, timpani, and strings (2 violins, 2 violas, cello, bass.)

    The score is available via the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe.

     Incipit. (click to enlarge)

    John Eliot Gardiner conducting The English Baroque Soloists.

    The piece–which is all about movement raised to its highest potential–steals in as though from a distance in its famous seven-bar opening phrase, needing two attempts to get under way. But now it stirs in every quarter, laughing, chuckling and triumphing, with new watercourses opening up as the floodtide rushes past, before the piece as a whole races toward its jubilant end in a bacchantic torrent entirely in keeping with Mozart's basic conception of his subject, an apotheosis of an untrammelled life force that could hardly be more infectious. [Abert, 935]
    Indeed, what a glorious piece to set Figaro on its way. Where the overture to Die Entfuhrüng paused and took us aside for a look at a more tranquil place, the sinfonia to Figaro sweeps us up and never slows down. Mozart did, in fact, consider for Figaro an overture similar to his for Die Entfuhrüng and the folio shows an andante con moto in 6/8-time with the main melody in the oboe against pizzicato accompaniment in the strings. [1] He struck it out, though, and in its place we have this glorious sinfonia, a designation which, distinct from overture, makes this more of an opening concert piece.

    In contrast to Mozart's earlier operas it is not bound to the work as Idomeno's overture is bound to the drama by a tragic pathos, or as Die Entführung's is in depicting an exotic land. It lacks the infamous chord in Don Giovanni and the threefold-chord of Die Zauberflöte that become motives throughout those works. Though it does not contain any explicit musical or dramatic connection to the opera, the mood and energy of the piece nonetheless have a great preparatory effect on the audience, sweeping us into the proper mood or at least sweeping away some of the day's cares with which we entered.

    It is perhaps unavoidable to state the piece's form, which is that of a sonata without a development section. We will see in its stead significant contrast between the exposition and recapitulation, which Levarie suggests function as strophe and antistrophe, the latter "fulfilling what the exposition leaves undone." [Levarie, 3]

    We open pianissimo in D with the strings offering the main theme along with the bassoon which adds a certain implacable eccentricity to the phrase. The woodwinds respond piano in a four-bar
    arpeggio before the whole orchestra bursts forth at m. 12, winds and horns forte and strings fortissimo. Against the basses sputtering out quavers in D the winds, horns, and 2nd violins play crotchets, doubled on the strong beats by the timpani until the horns recede to the strong beats only and the winds subdivide the weak-beat crotchets into quavers, creating a rollicking dactylic motion with which we close the section. We then return (at m.18) to the opening material, now heightened with the oboe and flute and this time piano.

    The start of the next section, m.35, beings forte but backs off quickly to piano and a thrice-repeated descending scale followed by forte chord of punctuation. At the fourth repetition, though, the punctuation and scale coincide, only the scale is ascending now and we are launched into a flurry of arpeggios and an "exuberantly powerful" [Abert, 936]  rhythm based on a simple figure of three crotchets before we slide back down again in a descending tonic scale.

    Summary of Sections I-III

    I. m.1-18
    1. 7m. opening theme
    2. 4m. arpeggio
    3. 7m. descending tonic scale
      II. m.19-34
      1. 6m. opening theme with winds
      2. 4m. arpeggio
      3. 6m. descending tonic scale
        III.  m.35-58
        1. 10m. scalar theme
        2. 4m. arpeggios and crotchet figure
        3. 10m. descending tonic scale
          Subsequent Sections

            IV. m.59-84

            This bridge passage is a particularly clear example of this overture's habit of proceeding in "fits and starts." [Abert, 936]. The 2nd violin and viola introduce a figure of eight 8th notes, the first of which is both fortepiano and staccato. In the next measure the figure is doubled on the strong beat by a whole note from the 1st violin and then two measures later the oboe joins in and the 1st violin introduces a sprightly, incipient version of the overture's main opening theme. The oboe elaborates a little, followed by the flute before the material repeats and the descending figure in the flute slides down into a forte unison. The tone suddenly waxes serious and we have a grave theme in the first violin repeated between more forte unisons and against incessant quavers in D.


            The theme, though, quickly gives way to the old three-crotchet motive, increasing the tension as it ascends each measure, from G# on the last forte unison up through D until the basses come in on the dominant at m.85 and present us with a grand and lofty theme.

            V. m.85-138



            Yet this mood quickly reverses as this bass theme is taken up by the violins where it becomes, as Abert states with particular precision, "timid and even supplicatory." [Abert, 936.] The phrase is followed by a short but firm little phrase, first in the bassoon and oboe and then in the oboe and flute, as if the violin phrase is leaning on it for support, or perhaps leaning into the stronger phrase as a suppliant. In its third repetition it seemingly evaporates as it is taken up by the bassoon which chirps it out less seriously and staccato.


            Here the bassoon and violin glide and soar gloriously, free of the earlier turmoil. Yet after the flute joins them they slide right into a forte unison chord and the tension returns. The chord repeats several times, each time cutting off a theme in the 1st violins trying to get underway. After four thwarted attempts the theme gets cut off midway and a descending scale leads us into a recapitulation of the piece's opening, pianissimo. These structured interruptions, with dynamic markings every other measure, characterize the "fits and starts" progression of the sinfonia.

            VI. m.139-235

            Levarie discusses at length the complexities of the harmonics in the variations of the recapitulation. Rather than repeat his analysis I will note only the most prominent feature, the resolution at m. 203-208 of the a-sharp that derailed and delayed the successful completion of the ascending scale way back in the very 4th measure and set us on our many-coursed adventure.

            VII. m.236-294 (end)

            The recapitulation runs straightaway into the many-measure crescendo (a "Mannheim" crescendo) that begins the coda. The tension rises bar after bar spanning two octaves until it erupts forte into an outburst of the whole orchestra and a release into the three-crotchet motive (now with more force than ever) and then straightaway again into descending scales, first in the violins and then the woodwinds (against a trill on C# in the strings which gets fulfilled by the grace notes B-C# leading into the unison on D in the following measure.) This structurally and harmonically satisfying run is repeated twice. So precise is the structure of the piece, so measured its rhythmic phrasing and balance and so complementary its harmonic progression and structure to that rhythmic framework, that when we gradually come to a close we feel neither defrauded of more adventure nor exhausted from too much, but rather freed and vivified in perfect degree.

            [1] This andante is presented both in Abert's W. A. Mozart (on p. 934) in the chapter on Figaro and in the NMA Critical Report on p. 330 in the section, "Striche und Änderungen von Mozarts Hand."


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

            Levarie, Siegmund. Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro: A Critical Analysis. University of Chicago Press. Chicago. 1952.


            Platoff, John. Essay "Tonal Organization in the Opera Buffa of Mozart's Time" in Mozart Studies 2 ed. Cliff Eisen. Oxford University Press. NY. 1997.

            Swain, Joseph P. Harmonic Rhythm: Analysis and Interpretation. Part II, Section 12, "Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro." Oxford University Press, NY. 2002.

            Tovey, Donald Francis. Essays in Musical Analysis. (Six Volumes.) Volume IV: Illustrative Music: Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro, KV.492. Oxford University Press. London. 1935.
            N.B. Though brief at only about one page, Tovey's essay is worth reading for its comparison to Cimarosa's Il Matrimonio Segreto and Tovey's habitual wit and concise insight.