The final movement of Mozart’s final symphony ends with a bang…a joyfully exhilarating explosion of counterpoint. Like a roller coaster ride, this last movement often feels enticingly dangerous, as if it’s on the verge of spinning out of control. Somehow, it always ends up staying on the track. By the end of the coda, Mozart has simultaneously combined five independent musical themes from the movement, creating a stunning musical fireworks display.
Mozart’s last three symphonies (39, 40 and 41) were written, back to back, in the summer of 1788. John Adams observed that many composers seem to drift towards increasingly contrapuntal writing in their final years. Beyond Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Mahler are prime examples. Counterpoint refers to multiple independent musical voices occurring at the same time.
Let’s listen to Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C major K. 551, nicknamed the “Jupiter”, starting with the first movement. You can hear the influence of opera in the musical dialogues which run throughout the symphony. The movement opens with a conversation between two seemingly contrasting characters. Later, in the second theme, more conversation occurs between the violins and cellos (2:31). The silent pauses, where the music suddenly stops, seem as important as the notes. At 3:50, following one of these pauses, a direct quote of Mozart’s earlier aria, Un bacio di mano K. 541pops up unexpectedly.
The second movement is a French Sarabande, a dance form which J.S. Bach used in the solo violin, cello and keyboard suites. Try closing your eyes as you listen. Beyond the calm beauty of the opening, do you hear a hint of darkness, tragedy and tumult in the music?
The Austrian Landler third movement is fun because of its sense of motion and flow. The Nikolaus Harnoncourt recording, below, demonstrates the extent to which style comes out of rhythm and tempo. Rhythmic “feel” and expression are closely connected.
The final movement is built on four notes (C, D, F, E) which have ancient roots in plainchant (listen to Josquin’s Missa Pange lingua). Mozart used this motive in at least two of his symphonies (1 and 33) and in his Missa brevis No. 3. Here, the motive develops into some of the most complex counterpoint and fugal writing ever imagined. In the coda, beginning in 41:16, listen for all five motives occurring simultaneously…a true explosion of counterpoint.
It’s a familiar and often dubious story which almost always ends in disappointment…A homeowner discovers a long-forgotten violin tucked away in a dusty attic. On a slip of paper inside the instrument’s f holes, the words “Antonio Stradivari” can be faintly made out. Most of the time, on closer inspection, these instruments are determined to be cheap copies. But the recent discovery of a 1731 Stradivarius, which belonged to Rodolphe Kreutzer, proves that rare, miraculous discoveries can happen.
The violin was found in a closet in the New York apartment of late millionaire Huguette Clark. It went up for auction this week at Christie’s and was expected to sell for upwards of $10 million. You can get a sense of the sound of the “Kreutzer” Stradivarius here and learn about its esteemed history here.
The violin disappeared into Clark’s private possession in 1921. Had it spent the last ninety years in the hands of the world’s greatest violinists, it probably would not have remained in such “fresh” condition. At the same time, it’s unfortunate that such a great instrument was apparently withheld from the public, languishing as an art investment and curiosity piece for a wealthy recluse. Hopefully, we’ll hear it on the concert stage in coming years.
Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata
Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) was influential as a violinist and teacher. He served on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory for thirty years, succeeded by his student, Lambert Massart (teacher of Wieniawski and Kreisler), who inherited his Stradivarius. Kreutzer’s Forty-two Etudesor Caprices (1796) remain a fundamental part of violin pedagogy. Kreutzer was well regarded as a composer (listen to his Violin Concerto No. 17) and conductor.
It’s ironic that Kreutzer is now associated with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47. Beethoven originally dedicated the sonata to his friend violinist George Bridgetower, providing the teasing inscription, Sonata per un mulattico lunatico. Bridgetower performed the sonata with Beethoven on May 24,1803. He was forced to sight read over Beethoven’s shoulder because of a lack of rehearsal time. Following the concert, Beethoven and Bridgetower went out for drinks. Accounts suggest that Bridgetower insulted a woman whom Beethoven admired. The furious composer immediately withdrew the dedication and rededicated it to Rodolphe Kreutzer, writing:
This Kreutzer is a dear kind fellow who during his stay in Vienna gave me a great deal of pleasure. I prefer his modesty and natural behavior to all the exterior without any interior which is characteristic of most virtuosi. As the sonata was written for a competent violinist, the dedication to Kreutzer is all the more appropriate.
Kreutzer ignored Beethoven’s dedication and never played the sonata, calling it “outrageously unintelligible.”
The story of Beethoven and Bridgetower inspired Rita Dove’s poetry, Sonata Mulattica. Leo Tolstoy also wrote a novella called The Kreutzer Sonata.
Here is a live 1964 recording of Beethoven’s “outrageously unintelligible” sonata, performed by violinist Leonid Kogan and pianist Emil Gilels:
No, this post isn’t about following your intuition…today we’re talking about musical inner voices, those sometimes inconspicuous lines between the melody and the bass, which are often the essence of a piece’s drama. If you have any doubts about the importance of these lines, often played by violas and second violins in orchestral and string quartet repertoire, watch this short but funny clip of conductor Sergiu Celibidache rehearsing the Adagio from Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7.
Ensemble playing is about teamwork and every part is essential to the whole. Let’s listen to a few orchestra excerpts, which are great examples of the power of inner voices.
Take a moment and think about all of your Facebook friends or cell phone contacts. Could you imagine music which would fit each personality? English composer Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934) wrote a series of variations on this original theme, each depicting one of his friends. He assigned each variation a cryptic title, leaving audiences to guess who was being represented. The piece has commonly come to be known as the Enigma Variations. The variations run the gamut from lighthearted to fiery. One of the most famous and memorable parts of the piece is Variation IX, a moving chorale dedicated to Elgar’s publisher and close friend, August Jaeger. Listen carefully to the inner voices. Pay attention to the contour of the lines and the way they fit together. Listen for moments of harmonic tension:
Tchaikovsky’s final work, Symphony No. 6 “Pathétique”, features a triumphantly rousing third movement, followed by a Finale which sinks into the deepest despair (Adagio lamentoso – Andante). What’s interesting is the way Tchaikovsky chooses to write the opening theme of the final movement. As a listener, you might make the logical assumption that the first violins play the prominent descending scale line (F-sharp, E, D, C-sharp, B, C-sharp). But the actual opening line for the first violins is B, E, G-sharp, C-sharp, E-sharp, C-sharp. It sounds pretty strange when played by itself. The second violin part has similar jumps. So who has the famous melody? It turns out that the melody and inner voices alternate back and forth between the first and second violins. Today the second violins in an orchestra typically sit next to the firsts, but in Tchaikovsky’s day, the seconds faced the firsts on the other side of the stage (where the cellos usually are now). Tchaikovsky achieved the nineteenth century equivalent of surround sound.
In this performance, conducted by Valery Gergiev, the second violins are seated across from the firsts:
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
In the final movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, a seemingly insignificant inner voice becomes the star of the show. Listen to the supporting voice at 1:11, which mirrors the top voice in contrary motion. As the development section begins, we hear it again (4:28), then more prominently in the trombones. Listen as this inner voice is transformed into a powerful, heroic proclamation played by the whole orchestra (5:28).
What are your favorite inner voices? Share your own listening suggestions in the thread below.
In a previous post, I suggested that many of the greatest composers experienced a mysterious, heightened sense of musical insight in their final years, leading to some of the most profound and visionary music. Franz Schubert (1797-1828), who died at the tragically young age of 31, tapped into this sense of revelation at the end of his life. Following a series of charmingly tuneful classical symphonies, Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major (“The Great”)rose to the heroic, Romantic heights of Beethoven’s symphonies, although it differed from Beethoven in temperament and was rooted in melody rather than motive.
Equally profound is Schubert’s String Quintet in C major, D. 956, completed just two months before his death. In this piece, the addition of a second cello to the traditional string quartet brings a new dimension to the sound, creating an almost symphonic quality. This contrasts Mozart’s addition of a second viola in his quintets.
One interesting aspect of Schubert’s writing is his ability to draw upon the emotional significance of keys and their relationships. Listen for sudden modulations and harmonic surprises, like the turn to E-flat major (1:56). Consider how this new key, a third away, feels completely different.
The second movement features a contrast between the ethereal, almost time altering opening in E major and the turbulent second theme in a distant F minor. Listen to the way Schubert sums up this dichotomy at the end of the movement (34:00-34:37).
Pay attention to the way the the inner voices and cello pizzicati shape the way the music flows.
Here is a 1994 Naxos recording by the Villa Musica Ensemble:
Can you imagine how shocking the opening of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op.67 must have been for audiences at the first performance in 1808? While the classical style of Mozart and Haydn was rooted in elegance and balance, Beethoven made the orchestra growl. There’s a sense of struggle, as if he’s impatiently pushing the classical orchestra to its limits.
The entire symphony springs from the first ferocious four notes. It’s a study in concentrated energy and relentless forward motion. While the four note motive develops on the smallest level, the piece is also developing on a large level. It’s an unfolding process in which turbulent C minor is transformed into heroic C major.
Here is a performance by Paavo Jarvi and the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen:
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/beethoven-symphonies-nos./id74441316″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Symphonies-Nos-5-7/dp/B000001GPX”]Find on Amazon[/button]
Did you notice how the opening motive runs through the entire piece like musical DNA? In the first movement, as we move into the second theme, it’s still there in the basses (0:55). In the second movement we get the same “short, short, short long” (7:55, 8:14 and 12:11). We hear it in the third movement (16:19) and fourth movement (25:06, 25:25). As you listen, you’ll hear many more examples.
Beethoven’s ability to unify the symphony with a common motivic thread was revolutionary in 1808. The end of the third movement would have been equally shocking. Listen to the passage starting around 19:16 one more time. The music gets softer and softer, hinting that something significant is about to happen. Then, as the movement should be ending (20:03), Beethoven creates a musical bridge linking the third and forth movements. He later briefly returns to the third movement’s theme before the recapitulation of the final movement (26:09).
The climax of the symphony (and the goal of the first three movements) comes with the heroic proclamation at the opening of the final movement. Beethoven reserves the special color of the trombones for this moment. While trombones had long been used to double the voices in church music, this was one of the first times they were incorporated into the orchestra. Notice the way the trombone color, with its heroic and supernatural connotations, transforms the sound. Beethoven expands the orchestra further with the piccolo and the contrabassoon.
The key of C minor held special significance for Beethoven. Emotionally intense and stormy, C minor evoked the turbulence of an age of revolution. It embodied a sense of heroic struggle, which would form the bedrock of Romaticism.
In Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas: A Short Companion, American pianist and musicologist Charles Rosen suggests that Beethoven’s C minor compositions are closely linked to the Romantic idea of the artist as hero:
[quote]Beethoven in C minor has come to symbolize his artistic character. In every case, it reveals Beethoven as Hero. C minor does not show Beethoven at his most subtle, but it does give him to us in his most extrovert form, where he seems to be most impatient of any compromise.[/quote]
Let’s sample the unique, ferocious energy of Beethoven’s music in C minor:
We’ll start with the Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor, Op. 13, commonly known as the Sonata Pathétique. It was written in 1798, when Beethoven was 27 years old. The first movement’s structure follows traditional Sonata form (exposition, development, recapitulation). Many listeners hear the influence of Haydn and Mozart, but Beethoven’s unique voice is apparent. As you listen, consider the drama that a single chord can create.
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/beethoven-moonlight-pathetique/id4344495″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Pathetique-Moonlight-Appassionata-Barenboim/dp/B000002SFW”]Find on Amazon[/button]
The ferocious opening C minor chord tells us everything we need to know about the piece which follows. Throughout the first movement’s introduction, notice the way Beethoven plays with tension and resolution. Just as we’re lulled into complacency, we get hit with another jarring surprise. Romanticism is about the drama of the moment and this introduction draws us into each moment, chord by chord. In the passage at 1:04, notice the musical conversation which is taking place. What do you think each voice is saying?
Beethoven returns to this haunting introduction at the beginning of the development section, but this time we hear it in G minor (5:35). This is a technique Haydn used frequently, but here it seems more ominous and unsettling. Notice how unstable the music feels throughout this section and listen for the return of C minor at the recapitulation (7:13).
At the beginning of the coda (8:35), we’re once again haunted by the opening C minor introduction. Regardless of the movement’s many harmonic adventures (which include E-flat minor and major and F minor), the stern final chord tells us that nothing has changed. C minor remains inevitable and all-powerful.
The second movement demonstrates the unique expressive qualities of individual keys. Here we’re in A-flat major, a world away from the storm and stress of C minor, which returns in the final movement.
Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Op. 30, No.2 was published in 1803. Again, the music is consumed with the stormy turbulence of C minor and maybe even the terror of the French Revolution.
Here is Anne-Sophie Mutter and pianist Lambert Orkis:
Allegro con brio (0:00)
Adagio con cantabile (9:20)
Scherzo: Allegro (18:50)
Finale: Allegro; Presto (22:25)
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/beethoven-complete-violin/id39247378″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Violin-Sonatas-Arthur-Grumiaux/dp/B000OPPSX0″]Find on Amazon[/button]
Contrast the mood of this music toSonata No. 6 in A majoror Sonata No. 8 in G major. Violinist Leonidas Kavakos suggests there is something almost symphonic about this piece’s emotional power. At times the violin seems to be fighting the piano (the chords at 1:33 for example). The dotted rhythm of the first movement’s second theme (1:46) suggests military music from the French Revolution. As in the Pathétique Sonata, the second movement moves to A-flat major.
Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture, Op. 62, written in 1807, was inspired by the tragic play by Heinrich Joseph von Collin (1771-1811). Here is a recording of the Berlin Philharmonic and Herbert von Karajan:
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/beethoven-symphony-no.-3-eroica/id49481532″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Symphony-Eroica-Coriolan-Overture/dp/B00005MJ0Z”]Find on Amazon[/button]
In the play, Coriolanus is about to invade Rome, despite his mother’s desperate attempts to convince him to abandon the campaign. Beethoven’s C minor theme represents Coriolanus, while the E-flat major theme evokes the pleading of Coriolanus’s mother (1:22). Coriolanus doesn’t realize his folly until he has led his army to the gates of Rome. His suicide is depicted at the end of the overture (7:32). Listen to the way the Coriolanus motive is stretched into a painful dissonance at the end (8:14).
Another great recording of this piece is Wilhelm Furtwängler’s with the Berlin Philharmonic. It was recorded in the final days of the Third Reich. You can draw your own conclusions regarding the extent to which the tragic events of the times influenced the unique spirit of this performance.
The most famous of Beethoven’s C minor compositions is the Fifth Symphony. Unlike the preceding music, this piece is about transformation…stormy C minor turns into the ultimate heroism of C major. I’ll offer a few thoughts on this piece in my next post on Friday. In the meantime, here is a great 1967 recording by George Szell and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra:
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/george-szell-conducts-beethoven/id715278094″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Beethoven-Symphonies-Nos-2-5/dp/B001BEIB8W”]Find on Amazon[/button]
That’s pretty much what Franz Joseph Haydn said to his employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, except not in those words. Instead, Haydn found a clever musical way to get his point across.
As this article explains, in the summer of 1772 Prince Esterházy decided to extend his vacation at his country palace. The court musicians in Haydn’s orchestra were missing their families back home. Haydn gave the prince a gentle musical nudge. The final movement of Symphony No. 45 begins with the typical fast Presto. But at the end of the movement (27:35 in the video below) Haydn does something strange which would have attracted everyone’s attention. At the moment when the symphony should be coming to an end, a slow Adagio begins. One by one musicians drop out and exit, until two violins are left to play the final notes of the symphony. The good-natured Prince Esterházy allowed the musicians to return home the following day. The piece earned the nickname, the “Farewell” Symphony.
Let’s listen to a recording of Christopher Hogwood and The Academy of Ancient Music. The first movement begins in a stormy F-sharp minor. Listen to the way the music spins and evolves, sometimes going to unexpected places. Beethoven was a student of Haydn and I sometimes hear the seeds of Beethoven in Haydn’s music (15:50 in the second movement, for example). But while Beethoven ushered in a Romantic Era of the composer as “artist” and “hero”, Haydn probably saw himself more as a “worker”, writing only for the next gig.
As you listen to the instruments gradually drop out in the final movement, consider the emotional impact of this ending. There’s something touching about a symphony which began with such ferocious energy ending with the intimacy of two violins.
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/haydn-symphonies-nos-45-60/id139775650″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Haydn-Symphonies-Academy-Christopher/dp/B000004CYF”]Find on Amazon[/button]
Think about the way your favorite piece begins. From the ferocious opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, which form the DNA for the entire symphony that follows, to the quiet, mysterious tremolos of Bruckner’s symphonies, to the attention grabbing (and audience quieting) opening fanfares of Rossini’s opera overtures, the way a piece starts tells us a lot about what will follow. As you jump, grudgingly tip toe or stride boldly into 2014, listen to three pieces with uniquely interesting openings:
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4[/typography]
It’s hard to imagine a more powerful or majestic opening than the beginning of J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069. The first movement is a popular Baroque musical form known as a French overture in which slow, stately music is contrasted with a faster section. This is an opening which demands that you listen. It emphatically celebrates D major, building tension and expectation as it develops. The other movements are rooted in Baroque dances. As you listen enjoy the way the music flows. This would have been popular music in Bach’s time-joyful, sparkling and fun:
Menuet I/II 13:31
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/bach-orchestral-suites-nos./id445713157″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Bach-Orchestral-Suites-Freiburger-Barockorchester/dp/B005IQXTVS”]Find on Amazon[/button]
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]The Symphony that Starts With a Question[/typography]
You may hear the influence of Beethoven’s teacher, Franz Joseph Haydn in Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21. At the same time, the young Beethoven’s individual voice is evident. This symphony begins with a question. Listen to the first chord. It seems to be saying, “Where am I?” Can you tell where the music is going next? The chord resolves, but we still feel lost. When and how does the music confidently move forward?
Beethoven starts the last movement with a similar musical joke up his sleeve. After a dramatic opening octave played by the entire orchestra, the music seems as if it isn’t sure what to do next. Beethoven gives us a tentative series of notes…then tries again, adding another…then another…a scale is forming…Then he says, “Oh yes, now I know!” What follows is one of the most enjoyable musical romps ever conceived:
Adagio molto – Allegro con brio 0:00
Andante cantabile con moto 8:26
Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace 14:50
Finale: Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace 16:15
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/beethoven-symphonies-nos.-1-9/id79625894″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Symphony-1-7-Leonard-Bernstein/dp/B00000I9G9″]Find on Amazon[/button]
Our final “musical beginning” may be the most famous of all. Richard Strauss (1864-1949) wrote Also sprach Zarathustra (Thus spake Zarathustra) in 1896. The tone poem was inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical treatise. The opening depicts a musical sunrise. We not only hear but feel the pitch C, first as a deep, quietly ominous rumble in organ, basses, and contrabassoon and then expanding to other pitches built on the harmonic series (natural overtones). C, the purest key, with no sharps or flats is fixed in our ears, representing nature throughout Zarathustra.B with its five sharps (as far away from C as you can get, in terms of key relationships) represents the aspirations of man. The rest of the piece is a battle between C and B. Listen carefully at the end. Can you tell which key triumphs?
Here is a great recording by George Solti and the Chicago Symphony:
Did you hear the conflict at the end between B major in the highest instruments and C in the lowest? Nature has the last word, but in the end there is no satisfying resolution. In fact with Zarathustra, Strauss wrote a piece which ends in two keys at the same time. It’s a shocking and almost frightening ending, especially at a time (the late nineteenth century) when tonal relationships were beginning to slip away. In the twentieth century, after being pushed to the breaking point by composers such as Wagner, Strauss and Mahler, tonality would dissolve into the twelve tone rows of Schoenberg, Berg, Webern and others. In twelve tone music there would be no hierarchical relationship between pitches.
Leonard Bernstein made a reference to the end of Zarathustra in the final chords of West Side Story. In contrast to Zarathustra, in West Side Story light wins out over darkness in the form of a major triad.
Conductor Marin Alsop offers additional thoughts about Zarathustra’s powerful opening here. Program notes for the entire piece are here.
[button link=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/strauss-r.-also-sprach-zarathustra/id47125075″]Find on iTunes[/button] [button link=”http://www.amazon.com/Strauss-Also-Sprach-Zarathustra-Karajan/dp/B000001GQT”]Find on Amazon[/button]
[typography font=”Cantarell” size=”28″ size_format=”px”]What’s Your Favorite Musical Beginning?[/typography]
Now it’s your turn. Do you have a favorite “musical beginning?” Tell us about it in the comment thread below.
[quote]Life without music would be a mistake. -Friedrich Nietzsche[/quote]