Frank Corcoran

irish composer

Mozart’s G – Minor STRING–QUINTET.
X–Ray for Washed–Yet–Yearning Ear

In einer eMail vom 26.05.2006 17:42:08 Westeuropãische Normalzeit schreibt FBCorcoran:

Things musical in Salzburg this Mozart Anniversary Year are pretty
disgusting; commerce and cliché go hand in hand discussing Mozart and Women or
Mozart and Syphilis, Mozart and Chocolate Balls etc. Vienna, too, has dug up
every four–bars that stiff–wigged little Biedermeier four–years old
child–prodigy ever scribbled on music–manuscript of any kind. Awful! Even that North
African who won the Vienna Marathon recently, the Moroccan Mohammed what–not,
claimed he crossed the pain–threshold to jog to victory with only Mozart
piano–concertoes in his head–phones.

I took a long time to sidle up to Mozart. For years I was too young to
penetrate behind the brittle surface of many a sonata of his. But I did take
young to the last symphonies, particularly the plangent G – Minor, and to his
unfinished Requiem, I suppose, to the torment which peeps out occasionally
behind the beautiful sheen that seems to say ‘‘Don’t ever dare you try to get
behind my brittle surface!’’

Well, I will dare this X–ray analysis of Mozart’s G – Minor – Quintet. I’m
going to go behind the surface patter and the throb and pull on your
heart–strings. I’ll attempt to break the music down not through words or technical
jargon but with the help of the music itself. In a minute I´ll explain what
I’m up to.

‘‘The trouble with Mozart’’ is the title of a book no one has yet written;
how would it go down, I wonder, in Salzburg with all those Mozart–Kugeln and
Mozart–Kaiserschmarren and Mozart–biros and –puppets and – underwear? This
book would have to describe all the 250 years of composer–hagiography and
pious cant and sugery castration which Austrians and non–Austrians alike have
been inflicting on the ‘‘Oh, he died young’’ immortality of our Wolfgang

What has always revolted me were the abounding
self–contradictions in this historical concoction of legend and reality that we’ll never fully now be able to clean up: like, for instance – what was the wild and
furious cover–up that was done to his apartment, his corpse, the
medicine–bottles, the doctors and undertakers and suspicious funeral–arrangements on that
stormy November night he died in 1791? His wife, Costanze, outlived
Wolfgang by years, well–married to Nissen. She kept tight–lipped
till she died. His only sister, Nannerl, was very close to him as a child,
inseparable, you’d say, on all those big European tours they took from
crowned court to Ducal palace in the 1760s Yet, when she was burying their
father in Salzburg in 1787, he never came back to visit the grave; and Nannerl,
too, kept tight–lipped about her younger brother till the day she died.

Even Mozart’s G–Minor String–quintet was from early on surrounded by legend.
In the 19th c. it was THE Mozart Quintet, the most often performed of all.
There were always stories and stories about ‘‘depression, deepest melancholy,
this is a prayer of tragic loneliness’’ and so on. Behind the tones was
‘‘the Garden of Gethsemane; he must empty this chalice while his apostles
sleep’’ kind–of–thing. Well, maybe.

The fact is: Mozart interrupted work on ‘‘Don Giovanni’’ in the Spring of 1787. The father was still alive. They desperately needed cash. He decided to
write two quintets, our G–Minor and what I’ll call the ‘‘great’’ C–Major
quintet for 2 violins and cello and the dark, chalumeau colour of two violas,
then offer them on spec to a publisher, any publisher, to help the family’s
rapidly worsening finances. They had to get out of the city centre apartment, into a cheaper suburban flat in the Viennese Vorstadt, Landstrasse Nr.
224. Fourteen days after Mozart finished the G–Minor that I will attempt to
X–ray with less words than musical tools, his father died in (– in those
days, still pretty distant) Salzburg. Mozart did not bury him but his pet
starling that had also given up the ghost. He composed his ‘‘Musical Joke’’
(K.522). But for whom? To whom or what does it refer?
I will never know. Better not surround the four movements of the G–Minor
quintet with yet more speculation. I want to listen to the actual music:

MUSIC : G–Minor Quintet. 1

What is the musical substance of this pulsing first movement? And here I’d
better warn myself, I’m not going to use any technical terms like ‘‘second
subject,’’ ‘‘the retrograde inversion modulates to the key of the
sub–mediant’’ or such clap–trap…

Let me take a tiny bit out of the middle of this first movement.

Bar 167 – 184

Now Mozart’s opening bars of the G–Minor: Bar 1 – 29.

He lets it flow: Bar 29 – 48.

In 1788, just one year later, Mozart was to compose that great mystery, the
G–Minor Symphony ( – again here, for whom is shrouded in mystery…).
Here’s how the last movement opens:

SYMPHONY Nr. 40. IV. Opening.

Flash–back to our G–Minor Quintet. Out of the opening movement again. Here
the two low violas, delicious colouring!

Bars 140 – 151.

I’ll flash forward to Mozart’s opening of the G–Minor Symphony in 1788:

Bars 1 – 16. Mov. 1, G–Minor Symph.

Could this be the same woeful chromatic line? In our quintet? Take this :

Quintet 1. Bars 76 – 84.

But the g–minor symphony’s second subject ( – OOOPS! There I let it slip
out – okay, call it ‘‘second theme.’’ Okay?) is somehow strangely similar :

SYMPH. 40. 1. Bars 41 – 51.

Mozart in 1787 was 31. He knew of his own worth. He was accepted as one of
the leading European masters. In far–off Bonn, young Ludwig van Beethoven’s
music teacher had let slip that ‘‘he would certainly become another Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart if he continued as he had begun… ’’ Nearly a hundred years
later another Viennese master was to call Mozart ‘‘the greatest disaster
that can happen to another composer…’’ Young Debussy went one further and
said it was a pity he wasn’t French, because he’d be worth imitating.

Okay, back to the pathos of the G–Minor String Quintet KV 516 and my
musical X–ray now of its Menuet second movement. This is hardly dance–music by any
stretch of the imagination. Its jolliness is torment. Here’s how it starts.
First I’ll slice off the opening bar. We get:

MENUETT 2 – 10.

Hmmmm I heard that falling, chromatic music in the first movement

Mov. 1. Bar. 122 – 133.

Now I’ll bring the Minuet opening again, this time with that opening idea
I’d sliced off:

Menuett: Bar 1 – 13.

Just a minute! We heard the second theme of the G–Minor Symphony opening a
moment ago!

Symph. 40. 1. Bars 41– 51.

Our quintet–exposition had a solo for the first violin somewhere that
brings these bits and smithereens all together. For me, at least!

Quintet 1. 78– 88.

Am I right? Here’s Mozart’s full Minuet Mov. now!

Menuett – Mov. all.

Mozart’s ADAGIO Slow Movement we tend to hear as the apotheosis of sadness;
the 5 muted strings sing their muted hymn to Who? What? The Viennese,
ever since Eduard Hanslick declared music is ‘‘powerless to express anything
at all!’’ have been thinking out loud about this. They didn’t get far.


Now what was that falling figure of that Minuet again, I wonder?

MENUETT. Bar. 1 – 2.

And now Mozart’s second ADAGIO with that deep pizzicato bass:

ADAGIO. Bars. 1 – 29.

Last flash–back to the Minuet:

Menuett. Bars. 1 – 4.

Or, to think of it, the closing music of the opening movement. It went:

Mov. 1. Bars. 239 – 253. i.e. without those last 2 chords!

Mozart advertised his two string–quintets in the Viennese ‘‘Algemeine
Musikzeitung.’’ There were no
takers. Nobody wanted to buy his new compositions. He slid deeper into
financial misery. Here’s the violin solo at the end of his ADAGIO which lead
you on to the last movement. After his death, but it was too late…,
they played his chamber–music masterpiece alright. But some people muttered
that this first violin bridge–music from his ADAGIO to his Finale was just a
little bit light–weight:

ADAGIO Bars. 26, say, – 38.

Let me X–ray these few violin notes again:

Bars. 33 – 35.

But this is just that mighty falling hymn of the first ADAGIO we’ve heard!


Here’s another biteen of that violin solo – it is, of course, a rhythmic
variant of so much falling music in the first movement – I’ll juxtapose two
bits and let you hear:

Bars. 35 – 37 ADAGIO then straight into 1. Bars. 31 – 39.

At last Mozart’s final movement jig–rhythm as a kind of relax after the
tourning and wailing:

Mov. 4. Bars. 1 – 21.

Is this jig–rhythm all that trivial? No. Behind the brilliance a Mozart
always poured into his final movements, there’s that very same falling figure
that our thinking ears have come across in every movement up till now!

Bars. 43 – 96.

Get it? – That falling idea, this quintet’s finger–print?

Bars. 80 – 88.

Does your washed ear follow me? How about the last sigh of his first
movement. Last time:

Mov. 1. Bars. 242 – 248.

How is he, I wonder, going to find the right ending for such a mighty
monument to what?

Bars. 267 – End.

I’ll give a last injection of that G–Minor Symphony 2nd theme you heard

SYMPH. 1. Bars. 71 – 85 ( NB – OR LAST MOV.????)

Last ear–thoughts. Last eerie thoughts… Last questions: How’ll I connect
up that Jig–music:

Mov. 4. Bars. 21 – 24

with the sublime, slow hymn for 5 muted strings:

Mov. 2. Bars. 1 –2.

and then with that other sighing Adagio that many people call a Cavatina,
as if the first violin were a great diva in a sorrowful operatic scene:

ADAGIO : Bars. 1 – 6.

I won’t tell you the answer. Your ears will…

Mov. 4. 21 – 29.

Posted under: Humble Hamburg Musings

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