Wednesday, May 27, 2009

S.Q. Daily #13: Mozart No. 17, K.458

S.Q. Daily: A Composer's Listening Journal

Day #13: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
String Quartet No. 17 in Bb Major, K. 458, "Hunt"

Today's composing task: finish the A section (and possibly A') of my Movement II.

Today's S.Q. Daily review: Mozart's "Hunt," K. 458.

It's about time I turn to some of the "Classics" (with a large C). Quartets No. 17/K. 458 ("Hunt") and No. 19/K. 465 ("Dissonance") are probably the most famous of Mozart's twenty-three total quartets, and are part of the six Haydn Quartets, dedicated to Joseph Haydn, father of the genre.

Today, "Hunt." Perhaps "Dissonance" will be tomorrow. The Takács Quartet performs.

I. Allegro vivace assai
Compound meter such as this (here, 6/8), is often reserved for third-movement scherzos, yet the quick pace and absence of "joking" material allows this to function as a first-movement sonata. A "hunting call" is at times passed among all four players, giving the work its nickname.

The memorable tune (A section) that begins the 8.5-minute movement returns literally at 2:06, ornamented at 5:09, and then significantly varied at 7:27. Even in this light-hearted opening, the basic material is only heard once every 2.5 minutes on average. Composers would be wise to take this as a classical model for a minimum proportion of development sections.

The form is extended through multiple layers of repetition: 1-2 bar motives, 4-6 bar phrases, and 8-bar periods. Takács skipped a number of repeats in the work as a whole, yet it was not detrimental to the form.

II. Minuetto
A little less interesting melodically, but it works.

III. Adagio
I think Takács took the tempo down to grave, yet it holds up well enough. Another method for development and the extension of phrases includes passing short melodic fragments among the various voices, particularly featuring an echo of the first violin in the cello.

ABA form is at play in countless works, from simple dance and song forms, to the skeletal structure of the grand sonata-allegro form itself (A - Exposition, B - Development, A - Recapitulation). Don't overlook this trusty form.

IV. Allegro assai
Another interesting yet simple way to vary the music and challenge listener expectations is to repeat previous material with a significantly altered orchestration. Double the melody in octaves or low in the cello. Write a new accompaniment pattern. This happens near the end of Movement I, as well as in Movement IV.

This latest tip, like all those listed above, applies to tonal, quasi-tonal, and non-tonal works alike.

"Hunt" was fun and a good lesson, but I'm more looking forward to "Dissonance" tomorrow. Mmm... delicious.

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