Mozart and Counterpoint. (5)

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“Mozart and counterpoint”, (final excerpt).

From: Mozart. His character and works. By Alfred Einstein.

(Translated from „Mozart und der Kontrapunkt“, by Einstein, Alfred: Mozart. Sein Charakter, sein Werk. Zürich, Stuttgart 31953, S. 174-189. Lizenz: verwaist/ License: abandoned. Source link: Mozart und der Kontrapunkt)

By Edward Eggleston

From excerpt 4:

… Why is it that such a masterful fugue as from K. 394, from April 1782, cannot compete with a fugue by Bach, as with the C minor work from “Well-Tempered Clavier” I – which it apparently follows? – And this despite the artful augmentation, diminution, and stretto of the work. [Theme in ex. 21:]

ex. 21

Because the theme is too “learned”, neutral, too little Mozartian; while Bach’s fugues are always Bachian, and do not simply exhibit (skillful) augmentation, diminution, and stretto – but reflect something more personal, where such things occur by necessity. The same is recognizable, and perhaps even more so, in the fugue from the suite in “Handel’s style”, K. 399: [ex. 22]

ex. 22

(excerpt 5)

The strangest aspect of this somewhat awkward A minor fugue is its transitional function: from a C major overture to an allemande in C minor. It is not necessary to consider Mozart’s crisis concerning Bach or polyphony in detail here. What is emphasized is it really was a creative crisis. Mozart was too great and sensitive as a musician, not to deeply (and even painfully) sense this conflict between his understanding of “galant” and “learned” composition and a truly living contrapuntal style.

For Bach, this musical dualism of the second part of the 18th century did not exist. The smallest gavotte, or shortest passepied from a clavier suite might appear to be “galant”; but in truth were conceived as polyphonically as the organ chorales or the “Art of Fugue”. Can we believe Mozart would not have deeply felt the extraordinary greatness of these works, an overpowering quality not shown in the entire production of his contemporaries? Where were pieces like Bach’s organ trios, with their lawful freedom, the free lawfulness of their voice leading, with the range and logic of their forms? Mozart never quite finished with this experience, but it moved his imagination toward producing works of increasing perfection.

The first is a “Menuetto in Canone” in the Serenade K. 388 (July 1782), with the “Trio al revescio”: an art work, however, that follows Joseph Haydn more than J.S. Bach. And the second perhaps is the Fugue in C Minor for Two Pianos (K. 426). Mozart later showed his approval of this work by arranging it for string orchestra, and in adding an introductory adagio (K. 546). A crowning work in fugue is found in the Fantasia (for mechanical organ) in F minor, from the last year of Mozart’s life; or in the Adagio and Allegro for a similar instrument (K. 594), completed a few months earlier. There we find the full freedom of his mastery, his command of the “strict style”. This is especially remarkable as the Adagio and Allegro was composed “for the clockmaker” Count Deym, as a funeral piece in memory of the hero Field Marshal Loudon; and was only completed with effort, “because I [Mozart] found the project detestable…”

After 1783 or 1784, Mozart did not write fugues simply for the sake of fugal composition. One should not regard the finales of the G Major String Quartet (K. 387) or the great C Major Symphony [K. 551] as fugues. These reflect something new, different; and for their creation Mozart was reflecting Haydn’s “dialogical quartets” and their development sections. From Haydn, Mozart learned to treat polyphony and counterpoint with humor (or lightness), as good-natured play – and still as an object of the greatest seriousness.

Since 1780 Haydn had not written fugal finales for a quartet or symphony, as he often did before. When he wrote a minuet in canon form, as in the String Quartet op. 76, no. 5, it was done with grim humor. For Mozart, counterpoint remained more often serious. Perhaps only in the G Minor Symphony minuet is the counterpoint more [dense and] grim, as one might hear 4 or 5 voices, yet from an effect of only 2:    [ex. 23]

ex. 23

Mozart much preferred to disguise the “artfulness” of counterpoint, to avoid the appearance of artificiality. This was part of his nature. What did he write about the performance of the violinist Franzel in Mannheim (Nov. 22, 1777)? “… he plays difficult things, but you don’t know they’re difficult – you believe you can do the same; and that is true skill…” [das Wahre]. So one hears in Mozart’s music, after 1783, some “difficult” things, but without noticing them because they are handled with such finesse. And if we want to know what Mozart thought about obviously “learned” music, we can read his judgment of a concerto for two flutes by the Augsburg music director Friedrich H. Graf (Oct.4, 1777): “… the concerto is not really listenable, not natural. He often leads the notes too – stodgily or heavily; and without any effect of “sorcery”. When the performance was over I offered real praise; and this was earned. The poor fellow certainly made the effort, and had clearly studied enough…” Here we have the core of Mozart’s aesthetic view. Music should not “sweat”, it should show naturalness in its higher forms. And so things come about as in “Cosi fan tutte”, the most comic of his comic operas [opera buffa]: as in the A-Flat canon of the second finale, “E nel tuo, nel mio bicchiero…”. Here the “typical” listener will not know, as the experienced would, there is a double function here: it is a quieter lyrical moment in the active whirl of the finale, and it reveals a glowing beauty, as a symbol, that everything in this drama is only appearance; a sweet and painful feeling of the irreality of the action.

We also find examples like the combinatorial beginning of the Prague Symphony allegro. This aspect is made clear in Mozart’s sketch. Almost a dozen motifs are combined here, yet for the listener the structure is direct, showing naturalness; there is “no scent of learned effort”. Nothing like this is found in Haydn, who favored simpler beginnings. He presented groups of themes directly, in order to show what could be made of them in a long, clever, and often intense development section. Haydn is a musician of surprises. This is not true for Mozart. For Haydn the reprise [sonata form recapitulation] is almost always the result of a dramatic process, appearing more like lightning from a cloud. With Mozart the development section usually leads back to the recapitulation, or the reprise is already present (as unnoticed), as in the first movement of the G Minor Symphony.

Wyzéw and Saint-Foix have criticized Mozart’s shorter development sections, as something inherited from his father. – As something inherited from the father, from whom the son learned so little? And why, with knowing works of Haydn, did Mozart not extend his development sections? Is brevity a mistake? Does the Prague Symphony, with its ongoing combinatorial features, require a longer development section? And is this development section not an intensification of these combinatorial qualities to greater strictness and density?

In the slow movement of the Prague Symphony, there is yet another example of the extraordinary melding of the “galant” and “learned”, achieved by Mozart in his final years. This unison motive appears in the exposition: [ex. 24]

ex 24

— which is both extended in canonic dialog between violins and basses, and filled out with simpler harmony by remaining strings and horns. But in the development section, this is intensified; through the chromaticism of the canon, and also with the “filling out”, which becomes more rich and agitated, shown by the second violins: [ex. 25]

ex 25

There are such things in Mozart’s works by the hundred, or thousand. They bear witness to that “second naivety”, for which only a few masters in any art are predestined. Yet this usually requires a long life – which with Mozart is all the more remarkable, as he only lived 36 [35] years.

Sometimes he showed his art more openly, as at the end of a movement, in adding to the motivic material another contrapuntal part. This can be almost jubilant, as in the finale of the E-Flat String Quartet (K. 428): [ex. 26]

ex 26

— or show real inward feeling, as in the coda of the andante cantabile in the C Major Quartet (K. 465). Here the first violin reveals what appeared hidden in the combinatorial/dialogic play of the subsidiary theme. One might compare such examples with the assertive, accomplished polyphony of the “Meistersinger” Prelude – and one will sense what is meant.