Monday, May 9, 2016

Erstes Quartet: Mozart's K80 String Quartet

Mozart's First String Quartet

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Ever heard of him?  That classical composer?  He's been a household name for centuries, often referred to as a prodigy or mastermind. Even sometimes called the founder of the (ill-name) classical era.
But why? Why is his music, almost 3 centuries later, still held as a pinnacle for genius?  Why does history remember his name?  It is apparent in his first string quartet, written at the young age of only 14.....and if that's not impressive enough....written in a single day. His first string quartet! At the age of 14! In a single day! I could barely write a full sentence at 14, forget about composing music.  Imagine the potential! Even before puberty this young man was creating beauty in a way that had never been heard before!

The year is 1770.  Bach has been dead for only 20 years. Having traveled the rough roads of Europe, young Mozart and his father find themselves in the busy city of Lodi in northern Italy, known for its beautiful churches and baroque architecture.  Wolfgang arrived with wide-eyes, eager to explore the city.  As a talented youth, Wolfgang's father Leopold Mozart pushed his child to unlock his potential, much like that of Michael Jackson.  "You're not going outside til you finish your homework..."  So Wolfgang wrote a staple of string history.

Let's delve into the notes.

The piece consists of four parts: Violin 1, Violin 2, Viola and Cello.  Mozart places us in G Major, using a pulsing bass and viola part to prolong the tonality while the 1st Violin begins with a sweet melody, while the second violin stays silent. From Bach's point of view, this is unusual. You've got four instruments! You're paying them all! Why isn't the 2nd violin playing anything?!
In the third measure, as the first phrase ends in the 1st Violin, the 2nd Violin joins in with a soft high D(m. 3-4). Again, Bach is rolling in his grave! How can the 2nd Violin part be higher than the 1st!? What is going on here?!

Let me explain: when we play a triad on a piano, some extra strings also ring, even though they have not been struck by the hammers of the piano. These overlying harmonies (think harmonics) are called 'sympathetic resonance'. Like a true friend, they cry out softly when they hear their kindred spirits hammered. Mozart is using this idea outside the piano, having the 2nd Violin ring a sweet sympathetic harmony above the 1st Violin. What an inspired concept! Taking natural sounds and applying them in a new setting! We have our first evidence of genius thus far!

As we continue, we cadence with a suspension to the V or D major chord. (sigh) ahhhh. Finally, something Bach would be comfortable with. Mozart however, doesn't give Bach much satisfaction. Instead of returning to the tonic of G Major, Mozart continues to prolong the V chord, using linear motion in the bass and viola parts.  Again, we hear a sympathetic high D in the 2nd violin (m.11-12).  This time, however, we hear the soft D above the V chord, giving us a totally different taste than the previous sympathetic high D above the tonic or G Major chord.
In measure 13, we hear a sixteenth run and allow the 2nd Violin to show off, much like a side-note, until we land on the V chord.

What a badass!

If Ye Love Me - Thomas Tallis

Score Study Project

Keelan Freitag


Thomas Tallis was a 16th century English Renaissance composer under King Edward the Sixth, who controlled his harmonic choices very carefully.  Despite this Tallis became cherished composer by creating simplistic and harmonically safe choral motets. Tallis adhered to the Kings rules, however leaned more toward a Catholic belief system. He worked in Dover Priory in England as an organist and composer for most of his life and died in 1585 at the age of 80 years old.  Fun fact: his family name 'Tallis' is derived from the French word for thicket and  Thomas spelled it differently than it is remembered: 'Tallys'.

This hymn style motet, If Ye Love Me, is among his most famous.  Tallis composed this piece in for four voices: two countertenors, a tenor and bass. He set the text from the biblical verse John 14:15-17. It should be noted that he sets the text in English, rather than Latin, at was King Edwards insistence.The piece is syllabic and uses strophic form.  Each voice stays within a single octave and at no point the voices cross. The piece emits a relaxing and calm nature, making the listener comfortable while preaching the love and truth of God. 
Fun fact, this piece is also often recorded on classical guitar.

Score Analysis


Meter: 4/4 cut time

Tempo: slow andante; about 75 bpm

Key: C maj.

Harmony: 4-part male chorus
Lyrics : If ye love me, 
keep my commandments, 
and I will pray the Father,
and he shall give you another comforter, 
that he may bide with you for ever, 
ev’n the spirit of truth,
ev’n the spirit of truth.

(John 14: 15-17)


mm. 1-4 All four voices begin with a C maj chord establishing the tonic
First phrase begins
Pass through vi to get to V - I in mm. 2 with two half notes
Then a quarter note sequence in mm. 3 landing on a IV - I in mm. 4
mm. 5-8 Round begins on second beat of mm. 5 in the sopranos
Main motif starts on E; jumps a minor third before using passing motion back down over 3 measures
Response by Tenors 2 beats later
Tenors response also begins on an E but jumps a fourth before returning down
Altos sing motif in mm. 7
Basses sing response on beat 2 of mm. 7

mm. 9-13 Second part of round
Soprano and Alto begin on beat two of mm. 9 with quarter notes moving 
into a IV and then jumping a fifth
I chord at mm. 11
mm. 12 beat 2 we hear a V chord before a weak cadence on I in mm. 13

mm. 14-19 Start B section
Also in round
Tenors start with pickup on sol to do before falling along the scale in quarter notes
Other voices have similar rhythmic idea but start on do, jump a fourth and then fall in quarter notes
Half cadence on V7 at mm. 18

mm. 19-23 Second line of the round, begins in alto
Dropping a fifth then back, outlining the V chord, alto tenor and bass begin one beat apart
Passing to I chord at mm. 21 where the soprano joins in
Also outline I chord by jumping down a 5th then back, creating gravity
Quarter note passing motion in sopranos to IV chord at the end of mm. 23

mm. 24-26 Final motif
Similar to mm. 19-23 harmonically, however we start on a I chord
Prolong the I chord to mm. 26
Repeat markings back to mm. 14

Final mm. Second ending
Cadence on I chord held with fermata