Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mozart's 'Jupiter' - Beautiful. Complex. Amazing.

This weekend the Harrisburg Symphony’s concert will conclude with one of the greatest symphonies in the classical repertoire, the “Jupiter” Symphony by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (you can read more about the reality behind the music in this earlier post).

 Usually, when I post video clips, I try to find reasonably good performances, preferably live concerts (rather than recordings presented with pretty but often unrelated visual images superimposed on the music).

This time, I offer you two versions.

The first one, complete in a single clip, with Zubin Mehta conducting an uncredited Russian orchestra recorded for Russian TV (no explanation in what I can find for the larger-than-life photo of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich – perhaps it was a concert given as a memorial tribute following his death in 2007?).
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The second is with Matthias Bammert and the London Classical Players which includes the complete score for each movement, for those of you who enjoy following along with the printed music (even if you can’t read music, sometimes it’s just amazing to “see” what music looks like, the ‘script’ which musicians turn into the sounds you listen to).
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1st Mvmt
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2nd Mvmt (the slow movement)
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3rd Mvmt (the Minuet & Trio)
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4th Mvmt (the Finale)
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I’d ask you, especially those of you who are musicians or music students, to pay particular attention to the last minute of the last movement, beginning at 10:50. It is one of the most amazing passages in classical music.

Up till then, we’ve heard an overflowing abundance of themes – actually, theme-like ideas built out of small recognizable motives. It might be easier to think of them as gestures. There’s the long sustained whole notes that is the main “theme” of this movement

which you can hear recurring throughout the movement. It’s often called a “cross motive” because the notes rise and then fall back, creating, in a symbolic sense, the shape of a cross. Consequently, it was often found in liturgical music, as Mozart (and other composers) had used it before.

The next “gesture” occurs at 0:17, starting in the 2nd measure, a tag at the end of the 1st theme’s first phrase. Then, at 0:32, Mozart begins a four-voice fugue based on that 1st theme: note the accompaniment underneath the whole notes at 0:36.

At 0:49, starting in the 1st violins (four lines up from the bottom), there’s a rising scale – 6th measure of this frame – in the violins, underneath the whole-note motive. This is then repeated, each time starting on a lower pitch (a sequence).

Then, at 0:56, the violins and flutes repeat the “gesture” heard at 0:17 above, the theme’s closing tag, a descending, basically scale-like passage. Notice how the lower strings are a measure behind the violins.

This brings us to the official 2nd Theme at 1:06 – contrastingly gentle – now modulated to the expected key of G major – in the 1st Violins (m.5 of this frame). But also notice the little chuckling downward leaps in the oboe in the 7th measure followed by the rising scalar gesture in the bassoons in the next measure which lies underneath the flute version of that descending “closing tag” gesture from the 1st Theme.

Notice also, how that little rising figure at 1:17 plays “tag” between the flute and bassoons.

This leads up to a more emphatic version of the 2nd theme at 1:23 (7th measure). From here, the opening of the 2nd Theme spills over with the descending scale-like passage from the 1st Theme’s tag.

At 1:43 (1st measure), the 2nd theme’s closing gesture wraps up the Exposition of this Sonata Form’s first section. This leads to the 1st Theme’s tag (2:00, 7th measure) but notice now how the basses maintain the descending pattern but this is answered by the violins’ ascending version.

Then, Mozart marks for this opening section to be repeated so you have a chance to let it all sink in on a second hearing.

Now the “Development” begins – with different fragments of the themes appearing juxtaposed and contrasting with each other. The harmonic tension here is much stronger than what we’ve heard before, and the sense of tonal stability (what key we’re in) is very unsettled until we reach 5:41 (8th measure).

This begins the “Recapitulation” where the themes return, resolving all the fragmented tension, back in the original key of C Major.

But, by 5:50, instead of continuing as it had in the Exposition, Mozart takes a hold of that cross-motive and expands it, moving it away from C Major. The drama isn’t over yet! Then at 6:05 (9th measure), that rising scale gesture comes back and everything seems to be back to normal, the theme’s concluding tag following along as expected (6:14, 7th measure).

At 6:22, the 2nd Theme returns as expected, but now it’s in the original key of C Major (as it should be, according to text-book sonata form), complete with the woodwind chuckles based on other fragmentary gestures as before. As it continues, at 6:34 to 6:41, listen how these fragments start piling up, spilling all over each other. At 6:59 (4th measure), the expected conclusion of the 2nd Theme should round out the Recapitulation.

(Mozart marks the Development & Recapitulation to be repeated also, but this is often not observed. The bad edit here is perhaps because the recording did not take the repeat…)

At 8:39, once again, the Recapitulation begins and continues as above.

Now, at 10:37, we move into the “Coda,” or “tail-piece” of the sonata form movement. Notice how it begins with whole notes but not the same as they are in the 1st Theme: here (at 10:41, 7th measure), it’s an inversion of the main motive: instead of a step up, it’s a step down; instead of a third up, it’s a fourth down; instead of a step down, now it’s a step up.

Then begins one of the most amazing passages in all of classical music.

I say this in all seriousness because, as a composer who took counterpoint classes, I know how difficult this is – not just for me, but apparently for any other composer. What you’re going to experience in the next TWENTY-FOUR SECONDS – that’s all it takes – is an example of “Quintuple Invertible Counterpoint” which means there are five independent lines (melodic, motivic gestures in this case) which can serve as melody, as bass-line and as accompaniment in any position of those five lines.

What does that mean?

Think 4 lines with Soprano, Alto, Tenor & Bass in a choir, only here there are 5 of them. Harmonically, each line has to be a functional bass. Melodically, each line has to be independently differentiated so you can recognize it. Linearly, each line has to work with every other line simultaneously so as not to create theoretical errors like “parallel fifths and octaves” which are the 18th Century's equivalent of a hair in your soup.

If you’ve even taken 1 semester of harmony in school, you’ll know how hard it is to write TWO lines and not have parallel fifths! Well, this isn’t really five times as hard, it’s more like five times exponentially, or at least that what it seems like.

This is the only example in all of classical music of “Quintuple Invertible Counterpoint.” Not Brahms, not Beethoven, not even Bach, the master of all contrapuntal skills, ever wrote Quintuple Invertible Counterpoint. I’m not even sure there are any Quartuple invertible counterpoint out there and very few examples of Triple Invertible Counterpoint.

That’s why this little passage, which can go by in a flash, is so amazing.

Perhaps the most amazing thing is that it sounds so absolutely natural, like falling off a log, without calling attention to itself and so can be completely overlooked by anybody who’s listening to it.

Quintuple Invertible Counterpoint from Mozart's "Jupiter," color-coded

Each fragment, each of these five lines, comes around in each of the five positions, from top to bottom. The easiest one to follow is, of course, the whole note Cross Motive and it’s unfortunate that many conductors get to this and let it blast out in such a triumphant conclusion you can’t even hear the other voices, much less what they’re doing.

It begins at 10:52 (up-beat to the 3rd measure) with the dramatic version of the 2nd Theme (the blue highlight, above) in the violas while the cellos, basses, horns and bassoons play the main theme’s Cross Motive (pink) in whole notes.

As these move on to other voices, the lower strings play the rising scale-line sequence (green) to which is added the little “oboe chuckle,” a wide-spaced downward leaping gesture (grayish purple) first heard around 1:06. This is usually associated with the upward scale pattern but it also appears independently.

At 11:03, in the cellos (2nd line from the bottom) in the 2nd-5th measures, is the tag-theme from the end of the 1st Theme (yellow) with its dotted rhythm followed by descending scale-like pattern.

It all wraps up at 11:16 as it resolves into straightforward harmony to firmly establish a simpler texture for the final chords in C Major at 11:44 with a triumphant celebration every bit as joyous and vidtorious as the ending of Beethoven’s 5th.

Obviously, Mozart didn't start composing this movement and then say "Let me try to cram all these different themes together into this cool contrapuntal mash-up at the end." It could never work that way. He must have started with a few motives, worked out the details, sketched this passage then distributed the motives through the different parts of this sonata-form movement, using it here and there as it fit in with the rest of it.

Still, the technical wizardry is astounding.

Beethoven’s 5th (which the orchestra played last month) is a very human drama with a very human victory at its conclusion. Mozart’s “Jupiter,” especially considering what was going on in his life at the time he composed it, is by comparison more like something divine if no less universal. All the more incredible for being so easily accessible and yet at the same time being one of the most complex examples of fugal writing ever written!

Perhaps that’s why it deserves to be called the “Jupiter” Symphony.

- Dick Strawser

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Dick, for the heads up on the last part of Movement 4. I really enjoyed slowing down and hearing it over several times. Wasn't able to make it to the concert live this weekend, but enjoyed a concert in my living room, thanks to your comments and links.