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!

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