Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Mozart: Marriage of Figaro, Act II, Finale

Like all classical musicians I had heard so much about Mozart that I started to glaze over every time I heard his name. But unlike most classical musicians, as a guitarist, I had virtually no opportunity to play his music apart from briefly learning the mandolin so I could accompany an aria in Don Giovanni.

But a while back I noticed that I had almost no Mozart on my CD shelves so I decided to fill the gap. The Complete Mozart was available at an amazingly low price so I ordered it. I did a quick browse through the discs--which took a few months since there are 170 of them! But now I am just completing a second, more thorough listening. The operas come last and I am just about to listen to Don Giovanni. A few days ago I listened to The Marriage of Figaro (Le Nozze de Figaro in the original Italian).

I also read a couple of biographies of Mozart, one execrable and one quite good. As I recall, in one passage in the quite good one the author writes that every couple of months, for most of his life, Mozart would write a work of true genius. He names a few, like the Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra or the Quintet in G minor, or the Linz Symphony.

One of the real failings of the very successful film of Mozart's life, Amadeus, is that his genius is underrated if anything. When you say that every couple of months he wrote something of real genius this means that every couple of months he wrote something that was as good if not better than what most composers manage once in their lives. If that. Stravinsky wrote one astonishing piece of music in his life: the Rite of Spring. Shostakovich perhaps two. Beethoven wrote perhaps four or five. Bach a dozen or so. But Mozart wrote something devastatingly astonishing every couple of months.

I ran across one of these feats of genius in the Marriage of Figaro. Act II (of four acts) ends with a twenty minute finale, as was common in the opera buffa. Mozart precedes this with a little duet:

Click to enlarge
Then the Finale itself starts with a trio:

Followed by a quartet:

Followed by a quintet:

And finishing, almost unbelievably, with a septet in which there are seven different characters on stage simultaneously, each with different lyrics to different melodies and rhythms:

Here is what Charles Rosen had to say about it:
The tour de force of this new conception of musical continuity in drama as an increasing complexity of independent units is the famous second act finale, which moves from duet, through trio, quartet and quintet to septet in a magnificently symmetrical tonal scheme.
I couldn't possibly sort it all out for you today, but Paul Zweifel has done a beautiful job of giving the background and sorting out the plot for you here. Oh yes, and the whole thing is structured by being in sonata form: exposition, development and recapitulation.

Here is just that final septet, with subtitles in English:

And here is the whole of Acts 1 and 2 from the 2006 Salzburg Festival:


David Wentzell said...

Bryan, what is your "Tally of Genius" for Papa H, a favourite of yours (ours)?


A.C. Douglas said...

When [one] say[s] that every couple of months [Mozart] wrote something of real genius this means that every couple of months he wrote something that was as good if not better than what most composers manage once in their lives. If that.

Yes indeed. M was indeed that transcendent a genius. It's not for nothing he's often referred to as the divine Wolfgang. And that genius was on display in its fullest flower in his mature operas for M was an opera composer to his very core. One can hear it even in his symphonies and especially in his piano concerti. It's one of my pet conceits that had M lived out his biblically allotted three-score-and-ten in good health it would have been M, not Wagner, who would have been responsible for what we today call Wagnerian music-drama. He was almost there even while being restricted to working with only the (by comparison with Wagner) limited musical tools and forms at his disposal.


Bryan Townsend said...

That's a very good question, David! Certainly the Farewell Symphony and a couple of other symphonies. The quartets op 20 and 33 and in that I am joined by the testimony of Donald Francis Tovey. Perhaps the Seven Last Words?

ACD, I agree in every respect, except that Mozart even created some of the tools and forms such as the synthesis of opera seria and buffa that we see in the Da Ponte operas.