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Orchestration as structural determinant: Mozart's deployment of woodwind timbre in the slow movement of the C Minor Piano Concerto K.491.

Casting an eye back through the analytical literature, one might perhaps acquire the impression that it once mattered little to an analyst whether a piece was a symphony or a sonata, an opera or a concerto, as long as it was a masterpiece. Music analysis seemed to be a discipline fascinated on the one hand by the predominantly monochrome note-heads of the short score and on the other by the need to locate and account for much vaunted notions of 'unity', 'economy' and 'organicism' in a small canon of works.(1) Concertos and operas were examined as if they were - or at least aspired to be - symphonies, and unsymphonic movements, numbers or passages were largely ignored or explained away.(2) Likewise, aspects such as timbre, which were neither thought to contribute to the high-capital, conceptual cluster of unity-economy-organicism nor graphically well depicted in staff notation, were generally discounted.(3)

As is well known, over the last decade the values which underpin this situation have been subjected to widespread re-evaluation and revision. Music scholars of all types have become more self-conscious in their examinations of musical works, extending their studies, for instance, to question the processes through which canons are established and maintained, or to apply existing analytical techniques to once-excluded repertories. Especially in the field of opera analysis, a significant number of writers have developed multivalent modes of analysis with which to approach complex, multi-layered and, potentially, self-contradictory works of art. An extended example is James Webster's study of Mozart's arias, which ranges from the consideration of aria texts to the provinces of the voice and the orchestra. As well as these three domains, Webster mentions stage action, characterization and plot development, although he places these beyond the purview of conventional analysis. According to Webster's scheme, each analytical domain encapsulates an extensive series of parameters, many of which are themselves subdivided, and each of which becomes a strand in the interpretative web spun by the analyst.(4) However, there is still some way to go before these lessons will have been equally thoroughly applied to all repertories, and the seductively convenient, monochrome short score remains a primary analytical tool. In this article, I explore the notion that a closer analysis of a composer's deployment of orchestral forces can transform an understanding of certain musical works. After all, some pieces which possess quite conventional tonal outlines, and are thus effectively opaque as individual entities from the perspective of conventional, short-score analysis, may be distinctly original in timbral terms. A composer's manipulation of texture and timbre can play an important part in the auditory experiencing of a musical structure, with a form-determining function invisible in short-score transcription.

The broadening of conventional analysis to pay attention to instrumentation and timbre seems to be particularly valid in the case of music written in Classical concerto form. In the first place, at its most basic level, the Classical concerto relies upon the alternation of tutti and solo instrumental forces. Indeed, eighteenth-century theorists of the concerto from Johann Adolph Scheibe (Der critische Musikus, rev. edn., 1745) to Daniel Gottlob Turk (Clavierschule . . ., 1789) and beyond concentrated on the feature of textural contrast within their descriptions of concerto form; it was only some decades later that first harmonic and then thematic contrast became central to analyses of concerto form.(5) Second, it is commonly pointed out that the Classical concerto owes much to the musical style of the dramatic aria, with which it often shared central billing on the concert programmes of the late eighteenth century.(6) Very briefly, the dramatic aspect of the Classical concerto can be partly a manner of melodic style and partly one of formal resemblance, but it also results from the practices of scoring in both genres. Leonard Ratner notes this quality when he divides the Classical keyboard concerto into three types: the entertainment-music type, the bravura type and the dramatic-scena type.(7) Mentioning the stance of the operatically motivated Mozart in the creation of the dramatic concerto from the entertainment type, Ratner comments: 'The role of the winds was especially significant in shaping the style of the later piano concertos. They join the strings to form a three-part ensemble with the piano, so that these works are virtually symphonies concertantes.'(8) Thus this article concentrates on the role of the wind instruments in a single movement of just one of Mozart's dramatic concertos.(9) To support the proposal that greater critical attention should be paid to composers' use of instruments I have deliberately selected a type of movement habitually discarded by the more conventional, analytically inclined commentator, the slow movement. As an early instance of this traditional view, one need but recall Arthur Hutchings's brisk exorcism: 'The chief interest of Mozart's slow movements is a spiritual and not a structural one'.(10) Recent writers may have become more matter-of-fact than Hutchings in their choice of vocabulary, but they appear equally uninterested in individual formal aspects of these movements. Thus Leonard Ratner states: 'Middle movements in classic concertos employed standard classic forms, in contrast to the unique combination of aria and sonata of first movements'.(11)

Specifically, I have chosen to examine the Larghetto of the Piano Concerto in C minor K.491. The first movement of this piece is frequently selected for analytical attention.(12) The second movement, however, and to a lesser extent the third, have not appeared to warrant extended investigation so far. Typical of the received wisdom on the relative interest of the movements of K.491 is the account of Charles Rosen, who, after devoting considerable space to the opening Allegro, confines his appraisal of the Larghetto to the following two sentences: 'The other movements are less original in conception, although equally fine. The Larghetto is like the Romanza of K.466 without its violent central section.'(13) Through the course of my own analysis, however, I contend that the interplay of instrumental timbres within this particular Larghetto, an aspect set side by traditional analytical conceptions, is so carefully calculated as to provide considerable structural interest and originality.

The Piano Concerto in C minor K.491 was composed in 1786 at the time of Le nozze di Figaro, towards the end of Mozart's main phase of keyboard concerto writing (1782-6).(14) Other than the solo keyboard and strings, the score calls for a wind section consisting of one flute, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and two horns, together with a pair of trumpets which are used with timpani in the first and third movements. This is the fullest wind scoring in any of Mozart's piano concertos. But it is the dynamics of the combination of oboes and clarinets that form the central theme of this analysis.(15) During the late eighteenth century, these instruments were sometimes played alternately by the same orchestral musicians; each sounded most effective in a somewhat different, though overlapping, series of keys; and each was typically employed by operatic composers to conjure up rather different dramatic moods and characterizations. This is not to claim that these instruments were never combined in the Classical period, or that their combination was deemed inherently problematic or undesirable by Classical composers. Indeed, two prominent but contrasting instances from Mozart's output, both of which pre-date K.491, are the E flat major Serenade for wind K.375 (1781), to which parts for a pair of oboes were subsequently added to the original sextet of clarinets, horns and bassoons, and the Quintet in E flat for piano and wind K.452 (1784), which blends an oboe and a clarinet. Nevertheless, in common logistic, technical and semantic practice, as well as on the grounds of their respective sonorities, Classical oboes and clarinets were potential opposites.

This opposition was well respected by Mozart in his Viennese piano concertos. While the majority include parts for two oboes, clarinets without oboes are found in just two concertos, those directly preceding K.491: the E flat major concerto K.482 (1785) and the A major concerto K.488 (1786).(16) It is only in K.491 that both instruments are found together; thereafter Mozart returned to the oboes-without-clarinets model.(17) This, in itself, is reason enough for those interested in the concertos to examine closely the woodwind scoring in K.491. Beyond this, however - and it is here that analytical interests resurface - it is possible to interpret the timbral opposition of oboes and clarinets in this Larghetto as a compositional device which interacts with other aspects to shape the listener's perception of the structure of the movement as a whole.

The second movement of K.491 is sometimes described as a rondo, with three statements of the principal theme in the key of E flat - the second abridged - separated by episodes in C minor and A flat.(18) Hutchings divides the principal theme and both episodes into two elements apiece: A. and B, C and D, and E and F respectively.(19) Cuthbert Girdlestone's explanation is similar: refrain (aba); couplet (submediant); partial refrain (a); couplet (subdominant); bridge; refrain; coda.(20) Although Girdlestone acknowledges that both couplets are similarly shaped, neither he nor Hutchings and Tischler draw attention to the fact that both episodes rely upon material that is in certain senses very closely related. Perhaps the expectation that in rondo form episodes will be, by definition, 'episodic' led these commentators to set aside quite audible similarities. But before introducing this material and describing the senses in which its resemblances inhere, it is necessary to build up a picture of the thematic, instrumental and harmonic interchange within the movement as a whole, since the relationship between the two episodes depends upon their position within the complete Larghetto. Table I provides an overview of the movement, incorporating preliminary observations on section and phrase structure, tonality, melody and instrumentation which are discussed further below.

As the second column of Table I makes apparent, in place of the ABACA-plus-Coda form proposed by Hutchings, Tischler and others - which rests predominantly on the tonal outline of the movement - I am suggesting a model of ABABAB derived principally from changes of instrumentation. Although with recourse to [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE I OMITTED] eighteenth-century commentaries a case could be presented for the historical plausibility of this timbral model as opposed to its tonal counterpart, my intention is not to replace the traditional tonal one but to supplement it. It would be just as foolish to argue that all that contributes to an aural experience of the shape of this movement is patterned orchestral colour as to propose that structure is generated in this music by principal harmonic shifts alone. Instead, it is from a combination of these elements, plus others such as the deployment of melodic material and rhythmic modelling, that the listener derives a conception of the Larghetto's shape. Although one aspect (tonality) may be treated in a routine way, this should not prevent the analyst from responding to the demonstration of originality among the others. Thus the third and fourth columns of Table I summarize the phrase structure (and associated tonality) and instrumentation of the Larghetto. The final column presents other comments, variously discussing sectional structure, harmonic function, melodic character and rhythm. In these columns, individual phrases are labelled with lower-case letters, supplemented by numbers to avoid confusion where necessary.

As the fourth column shows, the stage for this being a movement in which timbral contrast is important is set within the opening nineteen bars. Phrase 'a' is performed three times with a different orchestration at each hearing: first piano solo, then strings and wind, and finally piano and wind. The start of the next section is immediately marked by the introduction of a new timbre, that of two oboes playing in thirds accompanied by a single bassoon (bar 20). Notably, Mozart prepares for the entrance of the oboes in a leading role by omitting them from the previous phrase, a technique used quite consistently throughout the Larghetto and one which suggests the very careful organization of its timbral deployment. Even the bassoons, which do play in bar 17, are replaced by the horns in bar 19, allowing a brief respite from the double-reed sonority (see Ex. 1).

A very similar plan is used at the parallel phrase leading into the fourth section (bars 39-43), although here it is clarinets rather than oboes which are omitted. However, this music is not simply about the alternation of texture. An important part of my argument is that although there are distinct timbral contrasts between the second and fourth sections of the Larghetto, there are also very significant similarities which can lead us to consider these sections as two variants of the same material as opposed to two contrasting episodes. At a basic timbral level, both sections are begun by a pair of solo wind instruments, playing predominantly in thirds and with bassoon accompaniment. The flute enters later in each section in a supplementary role. Unlike other parts of the movement, where the wind instruments contribute periodic bars, chords or repeated figurations to a solo-piano or string texture, here they present extended melodic phrases. On a formal level, the two sections are shaped alike: an opening four-bar wind phrase reworked by the piano to a string accompaniment is followed by a second four-bar wind phrase, related to the first in rhythm and texture but rising a step higher, and similarly reinvented for the medium of piano and strings. In each case, there then follows a sequential passage which links back to the following 'A' theme. This structure of paired phrases and appended sequential link contrasts with the quatrain of section 'A'. Harmonically, the two wind-led sections are alike in that they are the two passages of departure from the home tonality. Within the sections, there are further harmonic parallels, with movement from the new key to its dominant during the first phrase, a return to the new key during the second, and then - by means of sequential, motivic development - a

[Musical Expression Omitted]

move to the dominant seventh of the tonic, E flat major.(21) Rhythmically, my two 'B' sections also stand apart from the 'A' sections by being much denser. In the opening theme, crotchet and quaver movement is the norm, with the exception of its characteristic dotted groups (see bars 16-19 in Ex. 1, above). In 'B' sections, however, semi-quaver movement is common, and there are also passages of demisemiquavers.

The fact that there exist numerous similarities between the two wind-led sections suggests that hearing them merely as episodes - as colourful but unrelated digressions from the movement's main theme - misses much of their point. To build up an impression of how these sections can be heard to contribute to the timbral drama of the whole movement, however, it is first necessary to look a little more closely at the differences between each wind-led section.

As I have already pointed out, the two sections differ in instrumentation, the former being led by a pair of oboes, and the latter by the two clarinets. We have already seen that in the Classical period these instruments were in many senses opposites, not simply alternatives, and it is this sense of opposition which I wish to develop in examining the two wind-led sections. For although they are alike in broad terms of wind-led as distinct from piano-led instrumentation, couplet as distinct from quatrain organization, non-tonic as distinct from tonic tonality and dense as distinct from open rhythmic style, they are diametrically opposed in certain important characteristics. Quite apart from the exchange of principal melodic instruments, in the latter section major tonality is substituted for minor, and the metrical-rhythmic patterning is reversed from an on-beat slow-fast to an anacrusic fast-slow. All this is clear from the openings of the two wind-led sections (Ex. 2). These quite specific oppositions, embedded within a matrix of broader similarities, give the clarinet-led section the character not of a second, independent episode but, rather, of a variation of the oboe-led passage.

[Musical Expression Omitted]

One final piece of evidence supports the notion that timbral contrast is a structurally significant compositional element in this Larghetto. This additional support emerges when similarities between the coda and the two wind-led variations are brought into focus.(22) The coda is begun by a wind-led passage, again with high, melodic wind instruments playing predominantly in thirds and a lower wind instrument accompanying with reiterated semiquavers.(23) As in earlier 'B' sections, this passage is then answered by a phrase of identical length performed by piano and strings. Once again, after two wind phrases and their consequent piano answers, there follows a final passage developing sequentially music from the previous phrases. Furthermore, the coda is similar to the 'B' sections in its rhythmic density and in the semiquaver rhythmic patterns chosen. The earlier variations, it will be recalled, were not simply distinct from the main theme but were also each other's alter ego in terms of primary instrumentation, tonality and metrical-rhythmic style. The coda unifies these oppositions by casting the music in the key of E flat, exchanging the opening rhythmic patterns of the oboes and clarinets, and combining them to fill a whole bar with clarinet call and oboe response (see Ex. 3). It is small wonder that the piano, in contrast to the two earlier variations, does not repeat the new woodwind melody but instead recalls a rhythmic motif from its own earlier music (compare bar 80 with bar 13).

[Musical Expression Omitted]

As all this suggests, what is from a harmonic perspective the coda of the rondo form is from a timbral and rhythmic perspective the synthesis of two preceding variations and the latter part of the third of three binary units. In schematic form, the Larghetto of K.491 is thus simultaneously ABACA-plus-Coda and ABABAB, or at least has the potential to be heard as such by listeners directing their attention variously to one aspect of its structure or another. Seen in this way, the finely planned structure of this movement is particularly original and interesting, for it illustrates the idea that even in non-texted pieces Classical composers were able to work with multiple structural considerations in mind. It seems possible that, in the composition of this slow movement, Mozart seized upon the historically assumed opposition of oboe and clarinet, embedding it within the larger-scale opposition of piano-led and wind-led sections. In so doing, he not only ensured a texture that contrasts with the two outer movements but also allowed the piano to demonstrate its powers in the role of respondent, re-creating the various wind passages in its own medium.

Instrumentation is not simply the vessel into which some irreducible musical essence is poured. In the hands of certain composers, timbre can be activated as a primary determinant of musical structure. To respond to this possibility, the analyst must sometimes be willing to set aside, at least temporarily, the convenience of the short score.

1 For a detailed discussion of the operation of this value system in musicological texts, see Janet M. Levy, 'Covert and Casual Values in Recent Writings about Music', Journal of Musicology, v (1987), 3-27. An interesting analysis of how contrasting views on the authorship of the disputed Sinfonia concertante for wind K.297b are consistently accompanied by use or avoidance of such terms as these is provided by John Spitzer, 'Musical Attribution and Critical Judgement: the Rise and Fall of the Sinfonia Concertante for Winds, K.297b', ibid., pp. 319-56. See also James Webster, 'Mozart's Operas and the Myth of Musical Unity', Cambridge Opera Journal, ii (1990), 197-218.

2 In connection with the topic of this essay, see John A. Meyer's account of chromaticism as a 'principal unifying element' in K.491 in 'Mozart's "Pathetique" Concerto', The Music Review, xxxix (1978), 196-210, at p. 210. Meyer's account effectively sets aside all but the first episode of the Larghetto.

3 As will be readily apparent, the impact of this analytical mind-set has not been confined to the genres of concerto and opera. To give a single further example, its operation until recent times within analytical studies of rock music is discussed by Allan F. Moore in Rock: the Primary Text, Buckingham, 1993, pp. 11-15.

4 James Webster, 'The Analysis of Mozart's Arias', Mozart Studies, ed. Cliff Eisen, Cambridge, 1991, pp. 101-99.

5 See Jane R. Stevens, 'Theme, Harmony, and Texture in Classic-Romantic Descriptions of First-Movement Form', Journal of the American Musicological Society, xxvii (1974), 25-60, at pp. 26-7, 48.

6 In her study of Classical Viennese concert life, Mary Sue Morrow makes the point that public concerts were colourful, multi-genre and multi-media affairs: 'To eighteenth-century listeners . . . a monochromatic program would have seemed not only strange but possibly a little dull' (Concert Life in Haydn's Vienna: Aspects of a Developing Musical and Social Institution, New York, 1989, p. 141). The importance of timbral and textural contrast was not confined to individual movements alone but was a central aspect of the Classical style.

7 Leonard G. Ratner, Classic Music: Expression, Form, and Style, New York, 1980, p. 294.

8 Ibid., p. 297.

9 Several studies of Mozart's wind writing are worthy of note. Studies and catalogues of operatic and concerto orchestration include Frits Noske, The Signifier and the Signified: Studies in the Operas of Mozart and Verdi, The Hague, 1977, pp. 121-9, 322-34; Christoph Wolff, 'Aspects of Instrumentation in Mozart's Orchestral Music', L'Interpretation de la musique classique de Haydn a Schubert, Paris, 1980, pp. 37-43; and Irving Eisley, 'Mozart's Concertato Orchestra', Mozart Jahrbuch 1976-7, pp. 9-20. Other relevant sources are Webster, 'The Analysis of Mozart's Arias', pp. 106-7, 124-30; and Neal Zaslaw's examination of Mozart's use of flutes and oboes from the twin perspectives of acoustics and performance practice in 'Mozart's Flutes and Oboes', Mozart Studies, ed. Eisen, pp. 201-11.

10 Arthur Hutchings, A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos, London, 1948, p. 20.

11 Classic Music, p. 304.

12 As indeed are concerto first movements in general. A rare study of a second movement is Susan McClary's 'A Musical Dialectic from the Enlightenment: Mozart's Piano Concerto in G Major, K.453, Movement 2', Cultural Critique, v (1986), 129-69. McClary's approach to the slow movement is readily distinguished from that of Hutchings in that she seeks to show how 'spiritual' interest arises from structural concerns. For a recent examination of the first movement of K.491, see Eric Wen, 'Enharmonic Transformations in the First Movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto in C Minor, K. 491', Schenker Studies, ed. Hedi Siegel, Cambridge, 1990, pp. 107-24.

13 Charles Rosen, The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, rev. edn., London, 1976, p. 250. Joseph Kerman's recent treatment of the slow movement is similarly fleeting: see 'Mozart's Piano Concertos and their Audiences', On Mozart, ed. James M. Morris, Cambridge, 1994, pp. 151-68. Following four pages on the opening Allegro, another page-turn leads straight into a discussion of the finale.

14 For a useful account of the manuscript score of K.491, see Henry G. Mishkin, 'Incomplete Notation in Mozart's Concertos', The Musical Quarterly, lxi (1975), 345-59.

15 It would be possible to concentrate on the interaction of piano and orchestra or of piano, wind and strings in this music, and a full analysis would need to embrace these timbral oppositions here and in the other two movements. However, my present concern is only to illustrate the notion that a close study of instrumental deployment can shed light on questions of musical structure: an examination of the use of oboes and clarinets in this Larghetto generates enough material to test the potential of this idea.

16 Apparently, Mozart originally conceived K.488 with oboes rather than clarinets; see Alan Tyson, Mozart: Studies of the Autograph Scores, Cambridge, Mass., 1987, p. 19.

17 Similar details of scoring are found in the original versions of Mozart's Viennese symphonies. Thus, only the Symphony in E flat K.543 (1788) originally had parts for clarinets, and it dispensed with the pair of oboes found in all the other symphonies. The case of the G minor Symphony K.550 - with clarinet parts added later - is well known. Turning to Mozart's dramatic music of this period, pairs of oboes and clarinets are, of course, used in Le nozze di Figaro (1786), but their simultaneous employment there is relatively rare. Pairs of oboes and clarinets were also called for in Mozart's two contributions to a revival of Francesco Bianchi's La villanella rapita, the E flat major quartet 'Dite almeno in che mancai' K.479 and the latter part of the A major trio 'Mandina amabile' K.480 (both November 1785).

18 See Hans Tischler, A Structural Analysis of Mozart's Piano Concertos, New York, 1966, p. 111.

19 A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos, pp. 171-2.

20 Mozart's Piano Concertos, 3rd edn., London, 1978, p. 403.

21 It is the idea of sequential development moving to the dominant seventh of E flat that encourages me to label the passages completing each wind-led section with the same letter ('b') as those in the middle of the first and third 'A' sections. In each case the material developed is different, arising from immediately preceding phrases, but the function of each 'b' phrase - marking a return to the opening theme played in the tonic by the piano - is analogous.

22 There are differences too: in the coda, the piano phrase does not repeat the wind one; the strings accompany throughout; both phrases are two bars in length, rather than the previous four; and the final harmony is a tonic pedal rather than a dominant seventh.

23 In most cases, it is semiquavers 2-4 that are repeated: the first may be either omitted or sounded an octave lower. Bassoon semiquaver reiteration is well disguised in the opening couplet of the first variation. For instance, bar 20, beat 1, becomes an ascending arpeggio, though still in a semiquaver rhythm. On beats 2-4 of the same bar, in place of repeated pitches the bassoon performs an inverted canon of beats 1-3 of the first oboe line. Nonetheless, from the second couplet onwards (bar 28) the reiterated semiquaver pattern becomes the norm.
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Author:Stock, Jonathan P.J.
Publication:Music & Letters
Date:May 1, 1997
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