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Analytical Studies in World Music: Analytical Studies in World Music$

Michael Tenzer

Print publication date: 2006

Print ISBN-13: 9780195177893

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195177893.001.0001


Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

(p.332) Chapter 10 Mozart
Analytical Studies in World Music: Analytical Studies in World Music

William Benjamin

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter covers approaches to the analysis of a classical European piano concerto, with: Choosing the Work at Hand: An Account; The Concerto Genre and its First-movement Form; Aspects of Rhythmic Structure in Selected Passages; Harmonic Design: Visionary Transformations of Vernacular and Conventional Sources; and Mozart's Legacy and the Naturalization of Tonality.

Keywords:   Europe, piano concerto, Mozart, genre, rhythmic structure, harmonic design, tonality

In contrast to the other chapters in this volume, this one discusses a kind of music that will be familiar to many, perhaps even most readers, and that some will have studied in depth. As well, many of the tools of contemporary music analysis used throughout this volume were developed to study the sort of music I will be treating, music from the European classical canon. As a result, there is an abundance of well-made and aesthetically illuminating analyses of such music. Both of these considerations raise the question as to why my contribution fits or might be needed in this context. Perhaps some answers will emerge as readers make their ways through what follows, but I think it best to begin with a brief statement of conviction and purpose.

Some recent analysts of European tonal music have aspired to the perspective of the scientific observer. Although often versed in the practice of this music, and personally attuned to its values and connotations, these analysts see themselves as generating abstract descriptions of musical passages that are well formed in some theory, descriptions that aim at something importantly true about those passages even if they tell us only so much about how the music is perceived by composers, players, or listeners, and much less about its meanings for segments of the society in which it arose.1 Were I to adopt this stance, (p.333) this analysis might be as etic, in its own way, as any other in this collection. But the scientific pose is not one I care to adopt. Instead, I usually try, as an analyst, to describe aspects of music as I believe they can be heard and, indeed will likely be heard by a sufficiently sensitive and informed listener. That is hardly a scientific perspective, but neither is it what one might call an insider's perspective pure and simple. In any case, what I believe may be of value in what I do here is not to be measured along the emic—etic axis, but in terms of whether it points to centrally important features of European tonal music that reveal its distinctiveness but, at the same time, suggest drawing fruitful connections with other kinds of music. I have tried to do this in terms of two aspects of structure, both of which I think are absolutely fundamental: the manner in which the music attains rhythmic complexity, and the ways its most sophisticated pitch structures are rooted in a vernacular substrate.

For suggested recordings of the Mozart work discussed in this chapter, refer to the bottom of page 353.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Malcolm Bilson, fortepiano, John Eliot Gardiner, conductor, with members of the English Baroque Soloists. Photo by Clive Barda, used with permission.

I speak here of rhythm in a broad sense, as including durational patterning (p.334) and meter on various time scales, different qualities of motion, and relations of expansion and contraction; rhythm as applying to all the dimensions of music—harmonic progression, melody, motivic organization, dynamics, instrumentation, and so on—none of which is without its manifold rhythms, of which those lying beneath the surface, and therefore slower moving, determine the musical experience as much as others that can be clapped.2 Glib dismissals of European music as rhythmically uninteresting are easily countered with this concept of rhythm in mind. Still, it may be instructive to show how, in a context that presents no wrinkles at the rhythmic surface, such as might be apparent from the notation or might soon become obvious to the aspiring sight-reader, there may yet reside—below the surface—an intensity of rhythmic intrigue that may help to explain why the music remains so endlessly absorbing to its admirers.

It scarcely can be denied, however, that the glory of European art music lies in its pitch structures. These are anchored in memorable tunes that both accommodate and imply a complex of coexisting melodic strands. Such complexes, heard as polyphonic webs, give rise in the mind to the impression of slower-moving successions of harmonies, the patterns of which are then deployed to create form on various levels. To be sure, I don't propose to offer a thorough account of counterpoint and harmony in an important tonal piece. As I've explained, anyone interested in such an account is easily provided with a thousand references to the literature. Besides, it is clear that such an account would do little to persuade the reader that European tonal music is of a piece with the world's art music, not to mention its music in general. An opportunity resides here rather in attempting to relate a sophisticated tonal work, in regard to its harmonic and melodic organization, to some musical object in its associated musical vernacular, the folk or popular music traditions from which it took nourishment. By apprising oneself of the tie that binds a singular work of genius—I use the word unabashedly—first to a song that just about everyone knows, and second to art-musical transformations of the song that are themselves conventional, one acquires a standpoint from which to see just how and how far the artwork represents a singular departure, to see more clearly in (p.335) what way it is deviant, exceptional, and possibly subversive of the circumstances in which it was born and subsequently cultivated. Important tonal artworks have come down to us because they were cherished by generations of players and listeners. What better path do we have to the social interpretation of some music, to sympathetically or critically engaging the collective psyche of a culture that celebrates a specific work, than by way of understanding the musical and ideological challenges the work presents, in light of its audience's common fund of received and assumed musical knowledge, musical-vernacular base, and superstructure of art-musical conventions?

Choosing the Work at Hand: An Account

My decision to analyze the first movement of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 17, in G Major, K. 453, took shape in descent through a hierarchy—style-period, genre, composer, movement, work—that is less a matter of logic than a response to history. European music of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is often divided into three periods: the late Baroque (c.1690–1750), the Classical (c.1740–1830), and the Romantic (c.1820–1890). These articulate a progressive change in what it means for something to be a musical work. For the late Baroque, a work was a kind of trace of the application of conventional technique to the problem of providing music for a particular social purpose. Such an application may have been especially imaginative, or else routine, but in either case the primary criteria of success at the time of composition centered on the composer's adeptness at deploying standard materials in accepted ways and at making music to fit a social context.3 By contrast, for the Romantic era, a work was an expression of the composer's individuality at a particular stage of development. Hence, it was valued for its uniqueness and, to an extent, in direct proportion to the degree it deviated from conventions of whatever sort. Its functionality, rather than being explicit and concrete, became implicit, general, even transcendental: instead of meeting the demands of some occasion or activity, it was intended to engage, inspire, and uplift an idealized audience of well-intentioned acolytes, in the manner of a vision of metaphysical truth.4 The music of the Classical period lies between these extremes. Claims can be (p.336) made for its Romantic qualities, and indeed it is during this period that the unique work (e.g., Beethoven's “Eroica”) asserts itself over and against conventions as a primary source for future composers. At the same time, all Classical works are strongly connected to each other by convention, and all use common funds of musical devices and materials. It is this balance between the standard and the unique that has made the best Classical music so inviting to analysts and that makes it especially suited to my approach, which, as explained earlier, assumes some interplay between masterworks and the layers of a conventional musical knowledge base.

Once the decision is made to look at Classical-period music, the choice of composer limits itself quasi-automatically to Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. To put it another way, one would have to be following some contrary instinct, or grinding some unusual axe, not to choose one from among this triumvirate. Having put my revisionist impulses and grinding tool aside for this project, I gave no thought to anyone else, but at the same time, I had to move to the level of genre be able to pick one in clear preference to the others.

In explaining my choice of genre, I should say first off that I did not consider writing about vocal music, whether lyric, dramatic or narrative in tone. This decision bespeaks a desire to reflect the dominant and distinctive achievements of music in the Classical period, which are surely of composing textless music, the intrigue of which is deeply engaging while lying essentially outside language.5

From a structural standpoint, the choice among the instrumental-music genres of the Classical period is not crucial, as sonatas, quartets, symphonies, and concertos—names that correspond to specific instrumentation—are based on similar successions of movements written more or less in the same forms. (Well, not quite the same in the case of the concerto, as we shall see.) Although the Classical concerto is normally in three movements, as against four in symphonies, sonatas, and quartets, its distinctiveness lies mainly elsewhere. More than any other instrumental genre, the concerto is public music, intended for a relatively broad, informed but inexpert audience. Critics have argued about whether concertos movements are dramatic,6 but no one doubts that they share with opera arias an appeal to a wider audience of music lovers. Hollywood great Joan Crawford said it this way in a line from a movie quoted by Joseph Kerman: “I like some symphonies, but I like all concertos” (Kerman 1994: 162).

In response to the genre's broad appeal, commentators have tended to see the concerto as being about the relationship of the one to the many, and have (p.337) understood this relationship as antithetical.7 Of course, symphonies, too, have their individuals and groups, their soli and tutti, but in the concerto the individualistic impulse is personified in a solo part that begins by elbowing in on themes first given to the orchestra, overlaying or elaborating them in an atmosphere of play, and moves on to transform or transcend those themes with a music of display that expresses independence, willful strength, even courage.8 Yet the Classical concerto is misrepresented if described as some sustained allegory of the quest for individual freedom. Its prevailing atmosphere, the purely orchestral sections and solo perorations aside, is one of dialogic interplay, laced with occasional conflict, but essentially cooperative.9

Sensitivity to this cooperative interaction is conveyed in these words by Mozart's and Haydn's contemporary, the theorist Heinrich Koch:

There is a passionate dialogue between the concerto player and the accompanying orchestra. He expresses his feelings to the orchestra … Now in the allegro it tries to stimulate his noble feelings still more; now it commiserates, now it comforts him in the adagio. In short, by a concerto I imagine something similar to the tragedy of the ancients, where the actor expressed his feelings … to the chorus. The chorus was involved most closely with the action and was at the same time justified in participating in the expression of feelings. (Koch 1793:119)10

Because Koch's analogy is easily falsified in many particulars,11 it may be that his strategy was, in part, to lend prestige to the concerto of his time through association with a particularly venerable model. And yet there are passages in many Classical concertos that seem to validate the reference he is making.

(p.338) In figure 10.1, from the movement I will be analyzing, the solo tumbles via a long, rather tortuous succession of arpeggios (mm. 184–202) into a place from which its own resources provide no escape (203–206). It falls then to the orchestra (= chorus) to suggest a way out, which it does with a certain joyous concision in measures 207–210. But the soloist, seeming unable to hear what the orchestra is telling it, departs from where the latter leaves off (mm. 211 ff) with a new, exceedingly plaintive expression of its own, as if still reeling from what it experienced a few measures earlier. This is truly the stuff of drama, and plausibly, of tragedy; and it is thus that the concerto is brought close to opera, ironically, in this case, by music that is not at all vocal in character.

As well as being a public genre of relatively clear overall symbolic significance, the Classical concerto lends itself to cross-cultural comparison because it incorporates improvised music, which is generally absent from symphonies, sonatas, and the like. Most concerto movements provide space for a more or less lengthy solo passage just before the orchestral conclusion. This cadenza, which serves as a final comment on important themes and a final delay of the movement's most important cadence, is supposed to be improvised, and thus represents the acme of the soloist's display of independence by way of intellectual and technical control.12 A second level of improvised content, pertaining specifically to the piano concerto, has only come fully to light in recent years, as a result of research into the performance practices of the eighteenth century. It consists in the fact that the soloist is expected to improvise a continuous accompaniment to the orchestra whenever the latter is playing on its own for any extended period of time.13 Space limitations prevent me from discussing these (and other) possibilities for improvised content in a specific movement, but they clearly open up the concerto to comparison with culturally diverse musical productions (see, further, Levin [1989]).

Having chosen my genre, I decided to analyze a concerto movement by Mozart because the most dazzling excursions are embedded in the conventional


                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.1. Mozart. Piano Concerto in G Major, K. 453. I, mm. 184–227 (orchestral part reduced for second piano).

designs of his best work. The second movements of his concertos include some of the most compelling lyricism in all of music, but they are basically interludes, accompanied songs for the piano. The third movements are games of accommodation and reconciliation, representing the happy endings of all good comedy.14 It is in the first movements that that the full extent of his achievement in the genre is evident: negotiation, opposition, provocation, rejection, (p.340) and other problematic states are invoked—along with those less fraught—by way of textural and harmonic, rhythmic, and formal complexity Thus, the importance of the genre for its culture rests primarily on these movements, which are most filled with content that substantiates the aesthetic independence that music had newly won in Europe.

The seventeenth concerto, in G major, was written in Vienna in the spring of 1784, when Mozart was twenty-eight. The second of two concertos written for one of the composer's piano students, the daughter of a wealthy government official, it is not especially well known, and the literature about it deals mainly (p.341) with the last two movements: the second, notable for its unusual tonal plan,15 and the last, a set of variations, for its coda, which overtly mimics the closing ensembles of the composers comic operas.16 The absence of extended commentary on the first movement may reflect the polished but conventional “galant” (p.342) style—dominated by graceful melody and symmetrically arrayed phrases—of its themes. For much of its course, this movement is robust but genially conversational in tone, and untroubled by the orchestra and piano being at cross-purposes. Of the coruscating passion of the great minor-key concertos (K. 466 and K. 491) there is scant trace, and the orchestral sections lack the symphonic weight of those in, say, the C major concerto, K. 503. By contrast, there are some wonderful subtleties of rhythmic design in the themes, and one large section (p.343) of the movement (the development, excerpted in figure 10.117) follows a harmonic trajectory that, in its relationship to the historical evolution of European tonality, may be described as truly visionary. For my purposes, this juxtaposition of music that is routinely polished (if adorned with subtleties) and music that is singular in expression and technique seemed just right, as exemplifying the ideal balance sought by the great Classical composers in their attempt to engage both expert and naïve listeners, and to express a world in which the painted silk of the thematic surface can at any time be brusquely stripped away to reveal a turbulent inner life.

The Concerto Genre and Its First-Movement Form

As already noted, the Classical concerto is a three-movement work. The first movement is a lengthy, complex construct, which presents a number of full-fledged themes—self-contained musical statements comprising several interrelated phrases (musical groups of several bars that close in the last of those bars)—and a variety of other segments that are repeated over the course of the movement in varied forms, and that link together to connect, introduce, extend, delay, or conclude themes. First movements are generally in a fast tempo, in common (4/4) time. Typically, they are cast in a form that is understood, but the relationship of which to other formal models has been much debated. A synthesis of current views about this form, illustrated with reference to K. 453, follows a brief discussion of Mozart's instrumental resources.

Mozart's concertos were written for the fortepiano, the eighteenth-century precursor of the modern grand piano, and a string orchestra of some twenty players complemented by a small group of wind instruments. The wind band may be as small as four or as large as twelve. Always present are two oboes and two natural (in modern times, French) horns. Found most often, in addition, are two bassoons and a single flute. A number of concertos employ two trumpets and a pair of kettledrums (played by one person) for the purpose of adding weight to the sound of the complete orchestra at strategic points. Finally, a number of the later concertos use two clarinets. The Concerto No. 17 occupies a midway position in terms of this range of wind-band size, employing the standard group of seven: a flute, and two each of oboes, bassoons, and horns. This is just a large enough group to be able to enjoy a modicum of independence from the strings, without being large enough to dominate the (p.344) music for any length of time. As a result, there are no full-fledged themes introduced here by the winds, as happens in a number of the later concertos, and little more than incidental use of the winds in counterpoint to the strings.

Space limitations preclude any discussion of dialogic relationships among the wind band, the string group, and the soloist, a fascinating topic that suggests opportunities for cross-cultural comparison. I turn, instead, to an outline of first-movement form in the Classical concerto (henceforth: concerto form) as worked out in K. 453.

Concerto form was elaborated by Mozart in the 1770s, shortly after it had emerged in the work of other composers, and he applied it consistently thereafter.18 Oddly, it is only since the 1980s that a viable consensus has emerged about this form and its relationship to other forms. The most basic point of agreement is that there are strong parallels between concerto form and sonata form, the most important form in Classical instrumental music. Readers uncertain of the principles of sonata form will infer a good deal from the following (see especially the discussion of the movement's harmonic design later), but may want to consult a textbook on musical form or a survey of the historical period. Other elements of consensus are (1) that, compared to sonata form, concerto form proliferates more thematic material, is more modular in its design, and is less involved with the progressive development of its themes in its development section (one of the main sections of a sonata form); (2) that the solo part concludes with a cadenza, which is missing from plain sonata-form movements; and (3) that the contrast between orchestra and soloist is form-defining and results in an aspect of large-scale organization that complements the sonata-form aspect, namely that of an orchestral frame around, and one major orchestral insert within, the quasi-sonata form. In conformity with recent critical work,19 concerto form can be listed in six sections, as follows:

  1. 1. First orchestral presentation of thematic material.

  2. 2. Solo sonata exposition, with orchestral participation.

  3. 3. Second orchestral presentation of excerpts of the thematic material first presented in 1.

  4. 4. Fantasy for solo with orchestral accompaniment, having the tonal (more rarely the motivic) character and phrase structure of a sonata development.

  5. 5. Sonata recapitulation (a varied repeat of section 2) with the piano and orchestra more nearly equal than in section 2.

  6. (p.345)
  7. 6. Concluding orchestral presentation of thematic material, interrupted by the solo cadenza.

Sections 2, 4, and 5 constitute a kind of sonata form, which is complemented by sections 1 and 6, a weighty thematic frame for orchestra, with strong thematic and motivic connections to 2 and 5, and by section 3, an orchestral insert based on fragments of section 1. Sections 2, 4, and 5 are solo dominated, but each may contain purely orchestral passages, particularly section 5, which can begin with a lengthy orchestral passage that might be taken for yet another insert if it did not function as an essential element in the sonata reprise. Much of this is likely to be confusing, but I trust it will become clear to the reader who follows the detailed formal analysis of K. 453, I, which I present in the following table (figure 10.2). Readers are advised to study this table with the score in hand. After going through this material, they should compare it with the general outline just given, to verify that the latter applies. The table employs some terms in general use, whether of harmonic analysis (e.g., “V (harmony),” and “full cadence”) or formal design (e.g., “theme,” “transition,” and “recapitulation”). Other terms (“sentence,” “presentation phrase,” and “codetta”), certainly less familiar, are taken over from William Caplin's Classical Form, which readers may wish to consult. I have explained many terms found in the table in what follows.

Aspects of Rhythmic Structure in Selected Passages

Subtleties of Measure Grouping in a Theme

A glance at the rightmost column of figure 10.2 reveals manifold use of the label “sentence” to describe various subsections. The first such use occurs at Ai, the first theme in the first orchestral presentation, shown in figure 10.3.

A sentence, following Caplin (1998: 35–48), is an arrangement of melodic and harmonic material in time—a rhythmic arrangement—within the confines of a single theme (here, sixteen bars). A sentence begins with a short melodic idea that elaborates tonic harmony. Here, the basic idea is most easily grasped as the violin melody in measures 1–4, which centers on the fifth of the tonic chord (G,B,D) until measure 4, in which a motion to E520—on beat 2— (p.346) (p.347) (p.348) (p.349) (p.350) (p.351) (p.352) (p.353) (p.354) implies a change to (C,E,G), fully realized in the accompanying parts. This is the chord on the fourth scale-degree of G major (= IV). The next event of the sentence is a complementary idea, which exactly balances the first. In this instance, one has the melody of measures 5–8, which exactly conforms to that of 1–4, except in reverse, moving from E5 (mm. 5–7) to D5 (m. 8, beat 2), and from (C,E,G) to (G,B,D). These complementary ideas form a self-contained whole, a phrase, which constitutes the first half of the sentence. It has the function (p.355) of presenting a locus of thematic activity and is thus aptly named a “presentation” phrase.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                                         MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.2. Formal organization in K. 453. I. Asterisks refer to notes on page 353.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.3. Mm. 1–17, the principal (first) theme in the first orchestral presentation.

The second half (or phrase) of the sentence likewise has two parts, but their functions are not one and the same, as with the two parts of the presentation phrase. The first part serves to continue, develop, and intensify the melodic and harmonic activity exposed in the presentation. Here it consists of two groups of two measures each (9–10 and 11–12), the second being almost a repetition of the first. The melodic gist of each of these two groups is, like that of the two four-bar presentation groups, a step motion, G5 (9, beat 4) to F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   5 (10, beat 3), and this implies, in turn, a simple harmonic move, from (G,B,D) to (D,F                       MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A). The second of these chords has D, the fifth scale-degree of G major, as its root and is thus labeled “V” The complementary relationship of the two harmonic moves thus far executed can be seen by ordering the three major chords involved as follows: 〈C,E,G〉, 〈G,B,D〉, 〈D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A〉 = 〈IV, I, V〉. As is readily seen, each successive chord in this ordering is built on the last (“top”) note of its predecessor.

Collectively, the three chords present all seven tones of the G major scale. The musical syntax makes clear that (G,B,D) is the main (central) chord and that motions to the two others are complementary elaborations of, or deviations from that main chord. As we shall see, the elaboration in the upward (rightward) direction, to (D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A) is privileged, leading to V being called the dominant (= D) and IV the subdominant (or dominant from below = S), I being the tonic (= T). The aspects of continuation and development in measures 9–10 and 11–12 are obvious by virtue of the same kinds of relations being pursued as were first explored in the presentation phrase; that of intensification is a result of the generally higher melodic register, the use of wind–string dialog, the strongly accented chords in measures 10 and 12, and, most of all, of the acceleration that comes about because the same kind of melodic and harmonic move that took four bars in measures 1–4 and 5–8 here takes only two.

The second and last part of the concluding phrase of the sentence is called the cadence, and its function is to bring the theme as a whole to a close. The cadence stretches in this instance over measures 13–16, and consists of a stepwise descending melody (E5 down to G4) over a harmonic progression that uses, in melodically disguised forms, the three basic harmonies discussed above. The (C,E,G) harmony is represented here by a variant (C,E,A), in the first half of measure 15, and the basic cadential progression of harmonies is thus (G,B,D) in measure 14—prefixed by an elaborating chord in m. 13—(C,E,A) and (D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A) in measure 15, and (G,B,D) once again in measure 16. A thick chord with top note G5 overwrites the expected melodic G4 of measure 16. This kind of overwriting of an expected concluding event by the first event of a new group represents a type of rhythmic compression that is often called elision. It (p.356) gives the impression that one bar of music (sometimes more) has been folded back over on to a preceding bar. Here, it is as if measure 16 represented two bars, one concluding the first theme, and the second beginning a new subsection.21

Measures 9–16 as a whole, despite executing a continuation of the presentation phrase followed by a cadence, is labeled by Caplin as a continuation phrase.

What I have described thus far is perfectly standard, and would tend to substantiate the view that music of the Classical period is rhythmically square in the extreme. And yet the impression arises, and persists as one listens repeatedly to this theme, that some important aspect of its rhythmic vitality has been overlooked in this description. What this might be is perhaps suggested when it is noticed that the accompaniment to the theme, in the strings and the solo part, begins only in measure 2, and seems clearly to group the bars in twos beginning at that point and, what amounts to the same thing, to place accents at the onsets of even numbered bars. The melody, by contrast, groups the bars in two beginning in measure 1, and thus to accent, if in a less overt way, the downbeats of odd-numbered bars. The grouping of bars in the accompaniment is largely a function of where the harmonies change (at mm. 4, 9,11, etc.) and that in the melody is largely a function of rhythmic detail and contour in the melody itself, which clearly groups measure 2 with measure 1, measure 4 with measure 3, measure 6 with measure 5, and so on. The grouping conflict is particularly subtle in the continuation segment (mm. 9–12). Melodic activity, as just noted, groups 10 with 9 and 12 with 11. But if one reads the harmony as shifting with each bar, as follows: I (G,B,D), V7 (D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A,C), I, V, there would seem to be nothing to argue for grouping measure 11, contrarily, with measure 10, thus preserving the conflict. A closer look reveals, however, that measure 11, rather strangely, does not repeat measure 9, because it is lacking the G root of the I harmony on its first beat. The result is that measure 11 sounds much weaker than measure 9, and can even be heard as continuing the D root (or the V harmony) initiated in measure 10, and thus as in fact grouped with measure 10. The intended ambiguity (is the harmony of m. 11 a I or a V and does this bar group with the preceding or the following bar?) is intensified when the theme is repeated as Ei, in the solo sonata recapitulation. The corresponding measures, 235–238, may be seen in figure 10.4. The piano part in these measures are so fashioned that the impression in measure 237 is of a continuation of the V7 chord from the preceding bar. In other words, measure 237, rather than sounding as a repetition of measure 235, and thus grouping exclusively with measure 238, groups as well with measure 236, to which it acts as a harmonic continuation.


                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.4. Intensified ambiguity of measure grouping in mm. 235–238.

Careful consideration of this opening theme has shown us an instance of polymeter in Classical music, where we perhaps least thought to find one. If the whole note length of the notated bar is the beat, the two meters in play are both 2/1, but one begins on odd-measured downbeats, the other on evenmeasured downbeats. Music theorists describe this kind of subsurface polymeter as a hypermetric conflict.22 Such conflicts are widespread in Mozart's music (the reader may recall the opening of his Symphony No. 40, in G minor) and they contribute to the music's fabled grace, to a lightness that avoids any hint of superficiality.

Nonthematic Rhythmic Continuity

A fundamental rhythmic distinction obtains, in this music, between thematic and nonthematic sections. Themes are composed of phrases, and although many phrases lack cadences (e.g., presentation phrases), a group of measures is conceivable as a phrase primarily because it sounds self-contained. To put it another way, a phrase starts, goes along and, at some point comes to a stop, even if that stop does not have the conclusiveness of a cadence. So, in figure 10.3, the harmonic-rhythmic circumstances preceding measure 8 do not permit speaking of a cadence in that bar, but there is surely some effect of closure there, allowing one to say of mm. 1–8 that they contain a presentation phrase. The music presented in figure 10.5, however, is differently organized in rhythmic terms.

Here we have most of section A2 (mm. 28–34 are omitted), in which the arrival point of the first theme (the tonic harmony) is first confirmed and this concluding activity then merges into a transition to A3, the second theme.


                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.5. Wave-like segments in section Ai. mm. 16–27.

The music of A2, typical of nonthematic sections, is more processive than that of Ai. It has no internal stopping points and sounds, therefore, as if bounding ahead to some distant point of stability, located, as it turns out, at measure 35, the start of A3. Another way of saying this is that the segments of A2 are not phrases, for the most part. Measures 16–18 and 19–21, which are almost identical, are cases in point. They have beginnings, but no points of termination. Of course the beginnings at measures 19 and 22 might be heard as the end-points of these segments, making each of them into a four-bar (p.359) phrase the cadence of which has been elided, but this roundabout explanation serves to obscure a distinction that is better brought out in the open: we should rather speak here of concatenated segments that flow into one another, and think of them as successive waves rather than as separate phrases. (figure 10.2 makes repeated use of the term “waves,” to capture this distinction.) Measures 22–25, by contrast, are a phrase. They point clearly toward a half-cadence (on the chord [D, F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , A]) at the downbeat of measure 25, at which point forward motion is preserved by the intrusion of a new segment, hence, by elision. This new segment, which does not deviate harmonically from its starting point for ten bars (25–34), serves to prepare for the entrance of a second theme. In effect, then, rhythmic flow is a very important variable in this music, working as it does to shape the character and, thereby, define the formal function of a subsection.

Expansion and Contraction

The rhythmic phenomena discussed thus far, of conflicting pulsation/accentuation and different types of flow, are apparent at the musical surface, provided the listener is sensitive to them. Not so the phenomena to be discussed now, in reference to figures 10.6.a, 10.6.b, and 10.7. These point to an extreme richness and flexibility of rhythm, involving effects of expansion/retardation and contraction/acceleration that are the norm in well-made tonal music, although no less important for being ubiquitous.

In figures 10.6.a and 10.6.b, a simple underlying continuity (10.6.a) is subject to a process of elaboration that adds extra notes in such a way as to expand the underlying pattern to exactly twice its original length (10.6.b).

figure 10.6.a presents, in bare outline, a pair of phrases in a question-answer (usually called an antecedent-consequent) relationship. The break between the two phrases is shown by the vertical double stroke at the end of bar 4. The two phrases begin exactly the same way but whereas the first ends incompletely on scale-degree 2 (the key here is D major, the subordinate key of the B section, and thus of B3, B4, and B5) in the melody over scale-degree 5 in the bass, implying the cadence chord (A,C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,E), the second ends conclusively on the tonic in both melody and bass, implying the harmony (D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A). Such a pairing of phrases is called a period.

Sentence and period are the two most important thematic archetypes of music in the Classical style. In subsection B3, where the soloist introduces a new second or subordinate theme, one never given out by the orchestra in A, these two archetypes are deployed hierarchically in a most interesting way. The conceptual foundation of this theme is the simple period just discussed, but its actual surface is outlined in figure 10.6.b. The example, which represents (p.360) measures 110–133 in a reduced sketch, should be compared with the score or used as a guide in listening to the complete passage.

The relation of 10.6.a to 10.6.b should be readily apparent if only the larger note-heads in 10.6.b are attended to, as these correspond exactly to the notes in 10.6.a. The smaller note-heads represent events that elaborate and expand the underlying content of the music. In the transformed (elaborated) version, the fourth event of 10.6.a—A5 over C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   —appears a beat early in 10.6.b, but carries through for two bars until it reappears as C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   over A3 in bar 4. The fifth event of 10.6.a appears on the downbeat of measure 114 in 10.6.b, but is then repeated on the downbeats of measures 115 and 116, whereupon the phrase closes as in 10.6.a. In effect, a four-bar phrase has been expanded to eight bars. But something else is afoot: the bracket over the top staff in measures 110–111 covers a succession of pitch classes that reappears in the bass in measures 112–113, two octaves lower, similarly bracketed. Thus, measures 112–113 can be heard as a disguised repetition, with change of register and revised counterpoint, of measures 110–111. But measure 115 is a repetition of measure 114 and measures 116–117 are clearly a cadential segment. In effect, then, measures 110–117 are not only a four-bar antecedent (in expanded form) but also an eight-bar sentence. The two basic archetypes of the style are thus brought into simultaneous play, on two different levels.

The theme concludes by expanding the consequent phrase. This expansion begins in parallel fashion: measures 118–123 correspond exactly to measures 100–115. Measures 124–125 then duplicate measures 122–123, shifting material from the solo to the winds so it remains fresh. At this point we expect a full cadence corresponding to measures 7–8 of figure 10.6.a, but such a one is denied. A sudden shift to minor tonality at measure 126 indicates the abandonment of the cadence and the fusing of a new phrase to the incomplete consequent. This (p.361) phrase is itself sentencelike: eight bars long, it is based in large part on an accelerating series of transpositions of a two-chord pattern, first heard in measures 126–127. Such a series is called a sequence. In the last two bars of this phrase, 132–133, the sequence gives way to a progression that forms another half-cadence. The music in this part of the movement, as noted earlier, is engaged in a series of tactics, of which this is the first, for delaying a really strong (full) cadence in the dominant key. In this movement, that cadence arrives only at measure 171, although it is preceded by weaker (elided) full cadences at measures 146, 153, and 160.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.6.a. A simple period.

If the last two examples show a very particular rhythmic relationship (of expansion) between an underlying pattern and the musical surface, the next one displays relationships of both expansion and contraction that are so characteristic of European tonality as to be virtually endemic to it. figure 10.7 shows (p.362) the opening sentence of B4, the solo statement of the subordinate (second) theme first presented as A3.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.6.b. Sketch of the soloist's new subordinate theme, mm. 110–133.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.7. Mm. 139–146, the opening of subsection B4.

This illustration contains all the notes of the passage (with the orchestra part reduced for piano, as always), but adds some analytical symbols. The point of the analysis is to show that, while the surface rhythm presents steady eighth-note motion marked by a half-note pulse more or less throughout, and is thus scarcely of aesthetic interest, underlying, slower-moving melodies exhibit a great variety and plasticity of rhythm.

An underlying melody, in tonal music, is usually some kind of line proceeding by step motion. So, for example, the bass line proceeds entirely in descending step motion beginning in measure 139 (some of the descending steps are transformed into rising sevenths, for example, the opening 〈D3, C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   〉 may be understood as a transformation of 〈D3, C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   〉). At the same time, though, this stepwise descent is in the service of a much slower underlying descent from D3 in m. 139 to C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   in measure 143. Over this large-scale motion, the upper line (the tune) executes a parallel descent, from F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   in measure 139 to E5 in measure 143. Large-beamed note-heads point out these motions. From this point, the music first returns to its tonal starting point of a top-voice F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   over a (p.363) bass D, in measure 145, first beat. But the F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   is an octave lower than at the start, which gives the upper voice a chance to move down from E5 in measure 143 to F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   in measure 145, and to fill in this descending seventh with a scale (indicated with longer-stemmed notes). This scale is of course a close relative of the scale with which the bass connected its opening D3 to C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   (m. 143), but, whereas the scale in the bass occupied four bars, the subsequent one in the upper voice occupies only two. The effect is one of a reversal of linear motion—back to the opening interval of F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   over D—occurring twice as fast. This acceleration pushes the music toward the sentential cadence, in measures 145–146. This involves a structurally important descent in the upper voice, from F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   to D4, through E4, all within two bars, and thus representing a further speeding up of underlying melody. All in all, a surface that, at first blush, may appear rhythmically unchanging, reveals a strongly purposeful deployment of accelerating patterns, used to clarify certain points as goals.

It is impossible to generalize about how the endless rhythmic subtlety of music in the Classical style may relate to its social functions. Complexities of the kinds revealed in figures 10.5 and 10.7, which may be termed “systemic” because they are omnipresent in the style, are connected with the teleological or end-directed nature of this music. Play with archetypes, and specifically with archetypal lengths, as in figures 10.6.a and 10.6.b, seems to function mainly as a challenge to our cognitive capacities, and thus as a way of giving experienced listeners interesting things to do with patterns they know very well. This is a basis whereon important works in the Classical style reward almost endless rehearing, in an effort to absorb patterns made elusive through rhythmic transformation. Finally, conflict of subsurface pulsation revealed in the discussion of figure 10.4 is more of a personal trait than a style feature. In other words, it is less a matter of musical style than one of personal style, of Mozart's style, and it charms us with its beautiful economy, rather in the way that we are gripped by the way some people gesture or move.

Any of these ways in which our imaginations are engaged by the rhythmic subtleties of Classical music may be ideologically interpreted, and probably must be if the social importance of this music is to be understood. But my aims, which are more modest, will have been served if the notion that European tonal music lacks rhythmic interest has been, in some measure, dispelled.

Harmonic Design: Visionary Transformations of Vernacular and Conventional Sources

In this final analytical foray I sketch out the tonal form of the concerto movement, with particular emphasis on its succinct, but closely packed fantasy section (p.364) (D). I will begin with a digression, treating first a very familiar folk song, and then a short model composition, which I have contrived as a sort of link between the song and the concerto movement. The three pieces of music are connected by sharing a particular form, one with a middle section that creates a specific type of tonal tension with the surrounding principal sections. The folk song I picked is one that Mozart knew well. As for the model composition, I have used it in preference to an authentic Classical composition for its heuristic value in relating very explicitly both to the folk song and the concerto, which it does without introducing too many extraneous features.

The tune written out in figure 10.8.a is probably familiar to every reader. Mozart, too, was familiar with “Twinkle, twinkle, little star,” except that he knew it as “Ah! vous dirai-je maman,” a popular French children's song on which he based a set of keyboard variations. It is hard to think of a tune more archetypal with respect to European tonality. Its form is typical of European folk songs: an ABA, or ternary design. The first phrase (mm. 1–4) establishes the tonality (G major) with its opening leap of a fifth and subsequent stepwise descent back to the tonic. Measures 5–8 are a contrasting middle that proceeds (twice) stepwise from the fifth scale-degree to the second, ending on a half-cadence; and measures 9–12, a closing phrase that reprises the opening one, bring the tune as a whole to a balanced, satisfying close.

When Mozart used this tune for his variations, he adapted it to a different formal scheme, one conforming to the Classical ideal of binary symmetry. He did this by the simple expedient of repeating the first phrase, as in figure 10.8.b. The new measures 5–8 create literal two-part symmetry with measures 1–4, and measures 1–8 now balance measures 9–16 in length.23 This AABA design is also encountered frequently in European (and American) songs, often in slightly more complex variants. For example, instead of beginning with a repeated phrase, such tunes sometimes open with a period of the type discussed earlier, or with a pairing of phrases in which the second modulates to a secondary key. The extent and literalness of repetition in the closing phrase is another variable. But the third phrase, the contrasting or digressing move to a half-cadence, is a virtual constant within a large body of vernacular song which, by virtue of its relation to surrounding phrases, is the form's single most defining global feature.24


                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.8.a. “Twinkle, twinkle, little star” (= “Ah! vous dirai-je maman”).

The fundamental structure of this third phrase, a descent from scale-degree 5 to scale-degree 2 (occurring twice at the surface in “Twinkle … ”), is also important as the model for the middle section in sonata form, the most important conventional form in European art music. This section, known as the development, serves to extend the cadential harmony of the first section, the exposition. It does this in a very simple way. This harmonic end-point is the chord on the fifth scale-degree—(D, F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , A) in G major—made into a temporary tonic. Because the skeletal melody of the third phrase is a stepwise descent from the fifth scale-degree (D) to the second (A), it is a motion from the root of this chord to its fifth. As such, it carries the chord s imprint throughout its course, and serves to build up a desire for, or expectation of, the return of tonic harmony—(G,B,D) in G major—at the start of the reprise, the final phrase in simple tunes like “Twinkle … ”

How the folk song form just discussed relates to sonata form may be seen by considering figure 10.9 in relation to figure 10.8.b.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.8.b. Mozart's adaptation of “Ah! vous dirai-je maman.”

(p.366) figure 10.9 presents a minimal movement in sonata form, created for this occasion for the reason set out above (CD track 18). The texture is two-part, consisting throughout of an upper voice and a bass. Such a framework might be regarded as a kind of draft for a movement in early Classical style that, with thickening inner voices, doublings, and more rhythmic differentiation, could be turned into a final version.25

The first phrase of figure 10.9 (mm. 1–4) is a harmonization of the corresponding phrase of figure 10.8.b (or 10.8.a). It ends in a full cadence—on a G in both voices, implying the chord (G, B, D), with the bass G preceded by a leap from D (m. 4, b. 2). In the standard terminology of sonata form, this is a principal theme. The second phrase (mm. 5–9) begins like its counterpart in figure 10.8.b, except that the first note is an octave higher. (Please follow the larger asterisked notes in figure 10.9, beginning in m. 5.) At measures 7–8, the corresponding bars of figure 10.8.b are transposed up a fourth to D major, signaled by the presence of C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   in measures 7 and 9. The instability introduced in measures 7–9 by C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , and secondarily by ornamental pitches foreign to both G major and the local key of D major, is further promoted by the five-measure length of this phrase, which undermines any easy internal (binary) symmetry of length. The phrase ends inconclusively on the dominant chord of the new key (A, C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , E), with a melodic cadence tone absent from the folk-song model, the highly unstable seventh scale-degree (C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ) of D major. Measures 5–9 constitute a minimal transition, leading to a subordinate theme (mm. 10–20). Beginning as an approximate melodic mirror (inversion) of the principal theme—〈A5, D5, E5, F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   〉 inverts 〈D4, A5, (B5, A5), G5, F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   〉—this theme is more loosely spun out, largely because it approaches a possible full cadence in D major in measures 16 (even so, it would be seven bars long), evading this cadence by substituting F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   for D in the bass on the downbeat of bar 16, and finding its way back to the desired cadence in measure 20. Note that the large note-heads in the melody of measures 12–16 are an expansion of the melody of measures 3–4 (second half of the first Twinkle phrase) transposed to D major, whereas the melody of measures 16–20 restates the whole first Twinkle phrase (still in D) in varied form.

The whole exposition section of this little piece (mm. 1–20) is best understood as being in two (unequal) halves, measures 1–9 and measures 10–20. Each half contains two melodic statements of the first Twinkle phrase in some form (mm. 1–4, 5–9; 10–16, 16–20). The two halves may be heard as formal counterparts, in expanded form, to the first two phrases of figure 10.8.b.

The development section of this movement is a mere nine bars long, but its relationship to the archetypal descent of phrase 3 in figure 10.8.b (phrase 2 (p.367) (p.368) in figure 10.8.a) is clear. Instead of descending uninterruptedly, by step from D5 to A4, the melody of this section breaks this motion into two stages, each traversing the interval of a third. These thirds are shown with large note heads in the upper voice. The first 〈D, C, B〉 occupies measures 21–24, the second 〈C, B, A〉, measures 25–28. Measure 29 provides an extra buffer between this section and the next, helping to delineate them. Each of the two melodic thirds is accompanied by the bass in such a way as to suggest its own key, the first implying A minor, the second the tonic key (G major), and both ending in half cadences in their respective keys. But despite this added richness of tonal content, the underlying sense of the upper voice, as a descent from D5 to A4, is preserved.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.9. A short, model composition based on “Twinkle …, ” in sonata form (CD track 18).s

A recapitulation begins in measure 30. Like the exposition this contains three phrases. The first (30–33) simply restates the principal theme. The second (34–38) recomposes the transition so that it ends in relation to the tonic key where the original transition (5–9) ended with respect to the dominant key, that is, on F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   over D instead of C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   over A. The music then concludes by transposing the subordinate theme to the tonic key, introducing changes of octave to promote a better sense of continuity with what precedes and convincing closure for the movement as a whole.

All of this is meant to pave the way for detailed discussion of some of the melodic and harmonic complexities of the concerto movement. If I had the space, I could show how the whole of the movement's B and E sections, its sonata exposition and recapitulation, may be heard as extended elaborations of the corresponding sections in figure 10.9, but I will concentrate on the more limited task of showing how the development section of figure 10.9 (mm. 21–29) serves as a model for the remarkable music in figure 10.1, the fantasy for solo with orchestral accompaniment (section D), which I have already discussed from a dramatic standpoint. This is among Mozart's most visionary passages from the point of view of harmonic technique, prefiguring as it does many harmonic innovations of the nineteenth century. I will show that underlying the sophisticated emotional interplay of figure 10.1, symbolized by changing tonalities and textures, can be found a simple melodic line, descending in step-motion, that has the same tonal function as the contrasting phrase of “Ah! vous dirai-je maman.”

Before determining if this is indeed the case, a short harmony lesson is in order. In my discussion of the sentence I had occasion to propose an ordering of the notes of a major or a minor scale that forms a succession of chords: 〈〈C,E,G〉,〈G,B,D〉, 〈D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A〉〉 in G major; 〈〈C,E                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,G〉, 〈G,B                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,D〉, 〈D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A〉〉 in G minor (using the raised seventh scale-degree, F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ). Just as there is an underlying progression of melody—generally of stepwise descent connecting two tones of the same triad—that governs the upper voice of passages in a tonal movement, there is an underlying progression of triad roots that governs the (p.369) bass. Let us call the three chords in our abstract ordering by their standard names: subdominant, tonic, and dominant. So, in G major, (C,E,G) is the subdominant harmony, (G,B,D) the tonic, and (D,F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ,A) the dominant harmony, or S, T, and D, for short.26 The underlying root-series that govern bass lines of tonal passages are segments from a cyclic (periodically repeating) series of the form 〈T,S,D … 〉. In other words, progressions of harmonies (and, thus, guiding series of roots in the bass line) are segments from this series, such as 〈T,S,D,T〉, 〈S,D,T,S,D〉, 〈D,T,S,D,T〉, and so on. figure 10.10 makes this clear using standard notation.

System 1 shows the cyclic series 〈T,S,D … 〉 expanded to ten terms. Three (ordered) segments are bracketed and labeled x, y, z. These segments are presented on system 2. On system 3, the same segments are modified, dissonant tones being added to selected S and D chords.27 Specifically, pitch-classes a sixth or seventh above the S-chord roots are added, along with some a seventh above the D-chord roots. These additions are reflected in the addition of superscripts to the corresponding S and D labels. The purpose of the added tones is to destabilize S and D chords relative to the T (and some D) chords, which are not tampered with. On the last system, the same harmonic progressions are arranged to produce upper voices that move by step and bass motions that express, in their contours, the hierarchical primacy of the T–D connection (and subordinate status of S events). Specifically, the bass notes of S events are always left by step (a sign of dependency on the D that follows), whereas those of T and D event are normally left by leap.

This excursus on harmony prepares the reader to read figure 10.11, an analysis of figure 10.1, the D section of the concerto movement. Here we have three systems, labeled Rem. (for remote), Med. (for medial), and Sur. (for surface). System Rem. presents an underlying level of structure that is archetypal for sections of this kind, while system Med. presents a modification of the content of Rem. that underlies the content of this fantasy section in particular. Finally, system Sur. presents all the harmonies of the actual music in a rhythmic simplification that is also a metric reduction: one                       MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   on this system represents one                       MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   (one bar) in the score. All events on Med. reappear as surface-level harmonies on Sur., where they are elaborated with other events. Most events on Rem. reappear on Med., but two are replaced with more distinctive events and one new event is added on the latter. The systems are aligned so that (p.370) representations of the same event at different levels appear directly over one another.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.10. The derivation of harmonic progressions from the 〈T,S,D … 〉 cycle.

Level Rem. begins with a D major chord that represents the goal of the exposition (section B in figure 10.2), the tonic chord of the key of D major in its most stable form (with outer-voice Ds). This chord is also the goal of orchestral section C. The next ten events on this level are a standard way of harmonizing the “Twinkle” stepwise descent. Based on pattern y on system 4 of figure 10.10, the structure of these events is exactly that of the mini-development in figure 10.9. Here, too, the descent is broken up into two thirds: 〈D5, C5, B〉 followed by 〈C5, B                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , A4〉. Thus, the scale-degree series 〈5,4,3,2〉 in G is broken up into two shorter series: 〈4,3,2〉 in A minor followed by 〈4,3,2〉 in G minor. The use of Bb (from G minor) rather than B (G major) is a departure from figure 10.9's model structure, brought about the desire for the second half of the descent to more exactly reproduce the first half, which is “naturally” minor. In other words, the ten central events on Rem. form a sequence, in which a five-chord model (pattern y) is stated and then transposed. Sequences are generally understood to form the backbone of sonata developments, functioning rather like vertebrae, but here (and in many other cases) the whole section is composed, at an archetypal level, of a model and its single repetition in another key. Each of the two chord strings in this sequence is an 〈S,D,T,S,D〉 string, ending in a half cadence in its respective key. The special symbol SP→ that replaces the second S in each five-chord string (the P stands for “preparation”) (p.371) (p.372) denotes a chromaticized form of the S6 chord (e.g., with D# replacing D in the first chord) normally found in half cadences in development sections.

                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I

Figure 10.11. Hierarchical analysis of the D (fantasy) section.

Level Med. introduces three changes, affecting four events. The first change is a transformation of the first S chord, D minor at measure 184, to a B                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   major chord. Thus transformed, this event serves not only as an S in A minor, but as a new tonic (of B                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   major) in its own right, thus continuing the T function of the preceding D major chord while providing a sharper contrast than D minor would have, had it been given tonic status at the musical surface. The second transformation is more far reaching. The A minor T chord at measure 192 is reinterpreted as an S in E minor, and leads to a SP→ chord in that key, which duly progresses to a dominant (D). A fundamental characteristic of development sections thus emerges: their quality of tonal fluctuation and, at many points, of degrees of tonal indeterminability. These sections present far-ranging successions of keys, often in rapid succession, but the junctures between these keys, unlike those of the harmonies that articulate them, are not points in time, but durationally imprecise regions that may be heard to begin and end at quite different times of the musical surface by different listeners.

One reason for introducing E minor at level Med. is to solve a compositional problem at level Rem., the awkwardness of the juncture between the first and second 〈S,D,T,S,D〉 strings of its basic sequence. The D at the end of the first string connects somewhat roughly to the S at the start of the second. This shift, from an E major to a C minor (labeled an “M” shift in the example28) is papered over on Med., where a transposition of the first string's last two chords to E minor brings that string to a close on a B major chord. An M-shift now connects this dominant chord to a D-function chord (G major) in C minor, at measure 209, this being the third new chord on Med. This leads in turn to the T-function C minor chord at measure 211, which is promptly reinterpreted as an S-chord in G minor, leading to the second string of the large-scale sequence, as at Rem. Med., then, retains the use of M-shift from Rem., but uses it to link chords of identical function in different keys, thus connecting the strings more securely. It also enhances the parallelism between strings by beginning both with T = S reinterpretations, and it introduces a cadence in a new key (E minor). At the same time, the upper voice at Med. is largely the same as that at Rem. and preserves its underlying structural descent.

This brings us to Sur., a stage of further elaboration that is truly visionary in its transformational qualities. If the reader plays through the harmonies on this level, singing the top voice, he or she will notice that, whereas the overall melodic profile remains the same, the harmonic and tonal flow has become (p.373) extraordinarily rich. In particular, a profusion of keys has emerged at the surface, five new ones in addition to the six already there (including destination and goal keys) at Med. At the same time, the high adventure of the surface flow of chords is, if anything, more coherent than that at underlying levels. How is this possible? Because the harmonic flow is entirely directed by the 〈T,S,D … 〉 cyclic paradigm, as can be seen by reading the relevant symbols in the middle of Sur. beginning at measures 184ff and continuing at measure 196, under the system. The technique Mozart developed to combine extreme harmonic coherence with radical tonal instability is one of functional compression: repeatedly, particular events are called upon to occupy two or even three successive slots in the cyclic pattern. So, for example, the B minor chord at measure 190 is first a D (in B-) in relation to the preceding SP→ (functioning in this way because its bass note F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   is the root of the dominant harmony (F                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , A                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   , C                      MozartPiano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453, Movement I                   ) in the key), and must then be quickly reimagined as a T (still in B-) and, finally, reconceptualized as an S (in A minor) in relation to the succeeding D (m. 191). Such reinterpretation is implied many times in the section as a whole, and makes for an extraordinary density of tonal content despite the limited number of harmonic events.

Mozart's Legacy and the Naturalization of Tonality

Many contemporary students of culture have noted how traditions tend to naturalize their conventional rules, regarding them as if they were natural laws. This has certainly been the case with the basic principles of tonality. The scales, the melodic formulae, the metric conventions, and the cadential harmonic progressions of tonal music have all seemed to the European mind to arise out of the very nature of tone itself.29 We now believe, for the most part, that tones as such have no will, and impose nothing upon us. What instead determines the music we write and play are the interests of our culture as these come up against the evolving limits of human perceptual and cognitive capacity. Tonal music (p.374) has enjoyed enormous success because it satisfied the cultural need for a music that listeners could remember in detail despite its complexity, that gifted musicians could improvise, that would privilege the individual voice (melody) but adequately symbolize collective contexts (polyphony), that would project clear goals and reach them, and, above all, that might stand totally on its own as a medium of expression.30

Because the resources of tonal music were developed to meet the needs of European culture in the domain of musical expression, one is scarcely surprised, given the culture's dynamic and progressive character, to find that its music has undergone successive waves of style change. Yet the impression persists that, for over two hundred years, something real and essential persisted, underlying the shifting appearances of European music itself. Hypostasized in this way is something known as “common-practice tonality,” or, in music theoretical circles, as “the tonal system,” the positing of which can lead to the belief that tonal composers shared a set of rules—conscious or not—for generating coherent pieces. This is mistaken. Instead, I think, a few composers working at the earlier stages of one of modern Europe's most successful cultural ventures (fully comparable to its development of science) invented techniques for generating local continuity—for example, filling in the spaces between the chords on Med., in figure 10.11, to produce the chords at Sur.—that were then explored productively for more than 150 years.31 J. S. Bach, Mozart, and Haydn were preeminent in this achievement. In particular, the modes of harmonic continuity first proposed in the D section of this concerto and in comparable works by Mozart continued to occupy the best minds of music through several generations. They operate in music by composers as historically separate as Beethoven, Schubert, Chopin, Wagner, Debussy, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, and Ellington, who apply them subject to very different aesthetic considerations. To have been among the first to excavate channels of connection and continuity (or labyrinths of delay) that provided enduring fascination and intrigue for the returning ears of countless creative musicians over nearly two centuries is, perhaps, the soundest definition of musical genius, in the European context at least. In this sense, Mozart was among the supreme geniuses of European music.

(p.375) References

Bibliography references:


Allanbrook, Wye Jamison. 1996. “Comic Issues in Mozart's Piano Concertos,” in Mozarts Piano Concertos: Text Context, Interpretation, ed. Neal Zaslaw. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 75–105.

Baker, Nancy Kovaleff. 1983. Introductory Essay on Composition: The Mechanical Rules of Melody, Sections 3 and 4. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Benjamin, William. 2001. “When Are Musical Structures of Aesthetic Relevance?” Tid-schrift voor Musiktheorie, 8.2 (2003):95–101.

Boretz, Benjamin. 1971. “In Quest of Rhythmic Genius,” Perspectives of New Music 9.2 and 10.1: 149–155.

Caplin, William E. 1998. Classical Form: A Theory of Formal Functions for the Instrumental Music of Haydn Mozart and Beethoven. New York: Oxford University Press.

Cooper, Grosvenor, and Leonard Meyer. 1960. The Rhythmic Structure of Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Derr, Elwood, 1996. “Basso Continuo in Mozart's Piano Concertos: Dimensions of Compositional Completion and Performance Practice,” in Mozarts Piano Concertos: Text Context, Interpretation, ed. Neal Zaslaw. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 393–410.

Forman, Dennis. 1971. Mozart's Concerto Form: The First Movements of the Piano Concertos. London: Hart-Davis.

Irving, John. 2003. Mozart's Piano Concertos. Aldershot, UK, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.

Keefe, Simon P. 2001. Mozarts Piano Concertos: Dramatic Dialogue in the Age of Enlightenment. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press.

Kerman, Joseph. 1994. “Mozart's Piano Concertos and their Audience,” in On Mozart, ed. James M. Morris. Washington: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Kopp, David. 2002. Chromatic Transformations in Nineteenth-Century Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Kramer, Lawrence. 1995. Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

——. 2002. Musical Meaning: Toward a Critical History. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Kuster, Konrad. 1991. Formale Apekte des ersten Allegros in Mozarts Konzerten. Kassel: Bärenreiter.

Leeson, Daniel, and Robert Levin. 1978. “On the Authenticity of K. Anh. C 14.01 (297b), a Symphonia Concertante for Four Winds and Orchestra,” in Mozart-Jahrbuch. Austria, 70–96.

Lehrdal, Fred, and Ray Lackendoff. 1983. A Generative Theory of Tonal Music. Cambridge Mass.: MIT Press.

Levin, Robert. 1989. “Instrumental Ornamentation, Instrumentation, and Cadenzas,” in Performance Practice: Music after 1600, ed. Howard Mayer Brown and Stanley Sadie. Basingstoke, UK: Macmillan, 267–291.

(p.376) McClary, Susan. 1986. “A Musical Dialectic from the Enlightenment: Mozart's Piano Concerto in G Major, K.453, Movement 2,” Cultural Critique 4:129–170.

Rosen, Charles. 1980. Sonata Forms. New York: Norton.

Schachter, Carl. 1996. “Idiosyncratic Features of Three Mozart Slow Movements: The Piano Concertos K. 449, K. 453, and K. 467,” in Mozarts Piano Concertos: Text Context, Interpretation, ed. Neal Zaslaw. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 321–326.

Tovey, Donald F. 1936. “The Classical Concerto,” in Essays in Musical Analysis, Vol. 3: Concertos. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Webster, James. 1996. “Are Mozart's Concerto's ‘Dramatic’? Concerto Ritornellos versus Aria Introductions in the 1780's,” in Mozarts Piano Concertos: Text Context, Interpretation, ed. Neal Zaslaw. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 107–137.


(1) For a general discussion of the relevance of analysis to the aesthetic appreciation of music, see Benjamin (2001).

(2) Many music theorists would trace contemporary developments in the study of rhythm in European tonal music to Cooper and Meyer (1960). Although their method of applying the feet (combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables) of classical poetic meter to music has not been widely accepted, their imaginative extension of this method to longer spans of music, whereby phrases, periods, and whole sections are grouped in a manner analogous to single notes at the surface, has had a lasting impact. An early, deeply impressive, argument for seeing all of the content of musical experience as irreducibly rhythmic is Boretz (1971).

(3) Included among the social contexts of the late Baroque are some that are purely personal, but socially legitimated, for example, the solitary singing of devotional songs or the playing of keyboard pieces written to develop the skills of aspiring musicians.

(4) This attitude, which persists even to the present among concertgoers, finds its extreme expression in Schopenhauer's philosophy, which confers on music the power to convey an experience of the nuomenal world, the reality that lies behind all transient phenomena, and to cancel the subjective suffering that is proper to transience.

(5) Postmodernists such as Lawrence Kramer (1995, 2002) have done a lot to undermine this claim, and to show that “pure” music is shot through with language-situated ideology.

(6) See Webster (1996).

(7) The English critic Tovey writes, “Nothing in human life … is more thrilling … than the antithesis of the individual and the crowd; an antithesis which is familiar in every degree, from flat opposition to harmonious reconciliation, and with every contrast and blending of emotion … the concerto forms express this antithesis with all possible force and delicacy” (1936:6–7).

(8) Critics have understood this dynamic in differing ways. For Joseph Kerman (1994:151–168) it reveals the changing relationship of Mozart to his actual audience. For Susan McClary (1986:156), it “articulates a society/individual problematic.”

(9) For a detailed study of concertos in the light of eighteenth-century concepts of dramatic dialog, see Keefe (2001).

(10) This translation is from Nancy Kovaleff Baker's edition and partial translation of the Versuch (1983:209).

(11) Chorus and actor in Greek tragedy do not speak simultaneously, and do not repeat large chunks of common material in alternation. In general, too, one does not complete the other's thoughts, and the chorus's more static, reflective tone typically contrasts with the more labile attitudes of the protagonists, a contrast reflected in their different poetic meters.

(12) Today, most players play memorized cadenzas, many of which date from a much later time than the concerto they are performing. Even in the eighteenth century, cadenzas were often prepared in advance by players who did not want to chance making them up on the spot. Whereas Mozart composed cadenzas (sometimes more than one) to a large selection of his concerto movements, documentary evidence shows that he was quite capable of improvising one equivalent to those he published.

(13) Consisting of the bass line and chords which together clarify aspects of both the pitch and the rhythmic structures of the orchestra's music, this kind of accompaniment is becoming a feature of historically informed performances, one that significantly transforms the effect of the genre by causing the solo part to emerge, as it were, out of the orchestra rather than ex nihilo and, therefore, as a member of rather than in quasi-natural opposition to the large group. See Derr (1996).

(14) Passages from a number of piano concerto finales, including K. 453, are discussed in Jamison(1996).

(15) This is described in detail in Schachter (1996). A tonal analysis of this movement is also found in McClary (1986).

(16) Wye Allanbrook (1996:98 and 105) cites a list of well-known critics who characterize this final movement as being in comic-opera style.

(17) As regards the placement of this section in the movement, see the discussion of form in the next part of this chapter.

(18) The analytical overviews of Classical concerto form that I drew upon for the synopsis that follows are found in Dennis (1971:11–90 and 185–187); Leeson and Levin (1976/77); Rosen (1980:69–95); Kuster (1991:3–15); and Caplin (1998:243–251).

(19) The listing follows closely the model suggested in Kuster (1991:7).

(20) I use the now conventional Acoustical Society of America (ASA) pitch nomenclature, based in the piano keyboard. The lowest C on the piano is C1, the highest C8. Middle C is thus C4. All pitches within an octave share a number with the C below them. E5 is thus the E directly above C5, the note an octave above middle C.

(21) For a formal treatment of elision and related phenomena, see Lerdahl and Jackendoff (1983:55–62).

(22) Hypermeter is a term used in music theory for subsurface meter in which the beats are downbeats of successive notated bars, grouped into hyperbars (normally of uniform length, for example, two, three, or four notated bars long).

(23) Of course, the original symmetry of the two A sections around the B sections now disappears, but this is, in a sense, more of a visual or spatial type of symmetry, in that it requires a grasp of the whole for its appreciation. The new binary symmetries can be appreciated more locally, on the fly, as equivalent stretches of time (as hypermeter—see footnote 22).

(24) Theorists who emphasize the contrasting qualities of this third phrase call this form “small ternary,” notwithstanding its binary symmetry, whereas others who focus on the balance between pairs of phrases are more inclined to the name “rounded binary.”

(25) Mozart's frequent practice, for complex textures, was to first write out the two principal voices of large stretches of music, before returning at a later stage to add inner voices.

(26) This terminology goes back to the eighteenth-century theorist and composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. The S, D, T labeling became standard by way of the writings of the late-nineteenth-century theorist and historian, Hugo Riemann.

(27) Dissonant because they are step-related to a triad tone, to the root in the case of a seventh, to the fifth in the case of a sixth.

(28) Using the label “M” to name the shift from a major triad to another (major or minor) triad with a root a major third below is based on Kopp (2002:166–169).

(29) Heinrich Schenker, the most important music theorist of the twentieth century, titled a series of ten analytical pamphlets he published in 1921–1924 Der Tonwille [The Will of Tones], subtitling them as “for the purpose of witnessing the immutable laws of music, thereby conveyed to a new generation.” His idealistic conception seems rather narrow today, but the view that there are elements of European tonality to which humans are cognitively predisposed (for example, octave equivalence and the consonance of the perfect fifth) is not necessarily ethnocentric, or wrong. Any successful musical tradition undoubtedly respects (and makes imaginative use of) a particular set of cognitive requirements or constraints.

(30) Was there actually a cultural need for music to stand on its own, or was this a byproduct of serving other needs? One might argue that an ostensibly nonrepresentational music, and one unconnected to explicit ritual or ceremony served the claims (pretensions?) of the European Enlightenment to be speaking universally for all of humanity.

(31) The distinction I am making is between the work of music as a whole, which cannot be made according to rule, and the specific procedures involved in generating continuity for which rules (generalizations) can be formulated. Works of music are as much about discontinuity (necessarily rule-free) as continuity (possibly rule-bound).