Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in B flat major, K. 450

In his brilliant book on the period, The Classical Style, Charles Rosen writes:
The most important fact about concerto form is that the audience waits for the soloist to enter, and when he stops playing they wait for him to begin again. In so far as the concerto may be said to have a form after 1775, that is the basis of it. This is why the concerto has so strong and so close a relationship to the operatic aria...essentially what the classical period did was to dramatize the concerto, and this in the most literally scenic way--the soloist was seen to be different. [p. 196]
This is one very important reason why Mozart was so very successful in shaping the form of the classical concerto: he was virtually the only composer in music history who was as comfortable writing opera as he was writing instrumental music. In the Baroque concerto, the soloist (or soloists) are part of the orchestra as they played along throughout. They stepped out to take solos, but the really dramatic moments are when the full orchestra comes in. But the Classical concerto is very different: the big event is the entrance of the soloist, akin to the entrance of a character--a flamboyant character--onto the stage.

One of the techniques that Mozart used to structure concerto form was to have two expositions. You might recall that sonata form is essentially ternary:

  • Exposition
  • Development
  • Recapitulation
The theme or themes are presented in the exposition, which, in the symphony and quartet genres, is often repeated. Then these themes are developed in the next section. This is done largely through modulation and the breaking down of the themes into their motifs. Then the recapitulation brings back the material in its original form with the difference that it is now all presented in the tonic where in the exposition, some themes might have appeared in the dominant.

What Mozart does in his concertos is to give us two expositions: one for the orchestra that does not modulate and a second one for the soloist, that does. Let's have a look at his Concerto, K. 450 to see how this might work. Here is the opening theme:

Click to enlarge

Sorry to divide it into two lines. This is a regular eight-measure period with the first four measures ending with a half-cadence, followed by another four measures ending with a full cadence. The contrasts inherent in the period (two measures of basic idea followed by two measures of contrasting idea) are intensified by splitting the phrase between the strings and the winds. Indeed, this is one of the first concertos where Mozart makes very full use of the wind instruments. Subsequent themes have a similar harmonic foundation:

The use of the winds enable Mozart to give interest to the orchestral exposition, even though he is going to save the modulation for the piano's exposition. Here is how the piano enters:

That's a seven-measure phrase with brilliant passage-work and different material from what we have heard so far. The piano continues with material we first heard in the winds, interspersed with more brilliant passage-work. Another difference between the orchestral exposition and the one given to the piano is that the piano is constantly in a dialogue, first with the winds, then the strings, of the orchestra. It presents material that the orchestra echoes or comments on. Usually the piano has more elaborate versions of the material. The development is begun by the piano and shared with the orchestra. The recapitulation is also shared, though Mozart treats it, as he does all the formal elements, with great freedom. The theme, originally begun in the winds, is reintroduced by the strings under a trill in the piano:

Mozart dramatizes the concerto form by allowing great freedom and spontaneity to the piano part, giving it an individualized character as contrasted with the group character of the orchestra sections. We hear this throughout the recapitulation where the piano is constantly given solos that take over from and comment on the orchestral parts. The movement, as was normal, culminates in a cadenza for the piano that at the time would have been improvised, but nowadays is usually practiced beforehand. Here is Robert Levin, fortepiano, with the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher Hogwood:


Rickard Dahl said...

Interesting comparison, I never really though about the difference between older concertos and newer (Mozart and beyond), a simple thing like having the soloist play something different than the orchestra can make quite a difference. One more specific thing I've noticed in Mozart's (piano) concertos is that the cadenzas usually (most of the time I guess) end with a trill.

Anyways, I wonder if you know any good place to get scores by Shostakovich, free, if possible. I wanted to do some "looking at the score" of Shostakovich's 1st String Quartet and went to look at IMSLP. Instead of finding a score I found this:
"All works of this composer are under copyright worldwide and may not be uploaded.

You are still welcome to add any information you have on this composer, however." and this

"Under copyright worldwide.
No posting without written permission from the copyright owner.

The earliest that scores by Shostakovich can be hosted by IMSLP (Canada) is 2026.
Please do not bother adding any items to this wishlist until 2024 at the earliest; they will simply be deleted without comment. "

I think this is pretty ridiculous. Yes, I know, copyright is supposed to protect the author (or composer in this case). But firstly he is dead since 38 years so no use to him that it's copyrighted. Secondly, sure the work itself should be copyrighted so none can "steal" the music and claim it as his/hers own but the score should be available for public access. By not making it available it also limits the cultural appreciation (or something like that, dunno how to describe it, basically it should be part of our general cultural treasure). Sure I could buy the score but if I would start buying all scores for "looking at the score" it would be costly. Maybe you have some thoughts about these ridiculous copyright laws? Maybe even enough for a post?

Bryan Townsend said...

I know that the copyright laws often seem very stupid, especially to students wanting to have access to scores for study purposes. But if you end up being someday a producer of music (a performer or composer, for example), suddenly you have a different perspective. I recall a new student once that came to the first lesson with a large ring binder full of photocopies of copyrighted music. He had never purchased a single piece of music! It gave me a very uneasy feeling because if no-one ever bought a piece of music, then soon there would be no publishers. I honestly don't know how publishers survive these days.

Similarly, it was not until I made my first commercial recording that I became sensitive to those issues. It hit me the first time someone wanted to borrow a copy of my recording so they could make duplicates for all their friends! If you like the work someone has done, then don't they deserve to be rewarded for it?

But you make a good point about music at some point becoming a cultural treasure, something we all should have access to. This is, I believe, the function of a library. A good music library will have all these scores and you can study them at your leisure.

Rickard Dahl said...

Yes you have a point but I think IMSLP should be that sort of library (which it sort of is for non-copyrighted material at least). I mean if it's available in a music library anyways, why not having it available to people who don't have access to such a library (I suppose there is one or more in Gothenburg, never thought about it, but in many other cities there probably aren't). Anyways, earlier when I started playing piano I used to print out the sheet music but nowadays I buy. You're right, it's a tough situation for the publishers and I would not want them to cease to exist.

Rickard Dahl said...

Now I've realised I've commented on the wrong post. I was going to comment on the previous one, "Some Mozart Piano Concertos" but at a glance I saw concerto in the title and thought it was the same post. Anyways, haven't actually read this one.

Bryan Townsend said...

IMSLP is an incredible resource! The problem with Shostakovich, who only died in 1975, is that his estate still has copyright of his scores. Or so I believe.

Nathan Shirley said...

Originally there was no copyright for any Soviet work, it all belonged to the people. After the Soviet period there was a real mess, still no copyright, but no one publishing the music because the publisher was the Soviet government. Third generation photocopies were the norm. Warner Brothers tried to buy the rights to it, but couldn't figure out who owned it. Dover briefly published some of it as they considered it public domain. Then relatively recently the international copyright laws went into effect and now all this Soviet music is officially copy protected. So it's finally being published again, but usually at premium prices.

Ravel has his own crazy copyright story.

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Nathan. I was unsure about Shostakovich. I know that originally the collected works were a Soviet edition, but I wasn't sure of the present status. I know that there are new versions being published. I have the preludes and fugues and the publisher is DSCH, which I would guess is owned by Shostakovich's estate or heirs?

Nathan Shirley said...

I'm not sure who owns DSCH, but I'm sure his heirs now receive the royalties. This is the case with most deceased intellectual property owners, unless the author or their heirs give up the rights, as in the case of Peter Pan (rights given to a children's hospital).

The ridiculous extensions that copyrights keep getting are mainly thanks to companies like Disney, desperate to keep Mickey Mouse out of the public domain. So as of last year even older Soviet works like Peter and the Wolf are now copy protected for the first time ever... notice Peter and the Wolf suddenly disappearing from children's concerts?

Bryan Townsend said...

I don't know a lot about current trends in copyright law, but I recall that Stravinsky did new versions of a lot of his early works specifically to re-establish his copyright in the Western world.

I just signed a contract with a publisher and it made me pause to realize that there was no termination clause. This contract is good forever! Or until we are all dead, I guess.