Monday, December 10, 2007


(My apologies if I owe you an email... Things have been pretty crazy lately. Up at 4 am a lot, not from worry per se, but either excited about the new gig or awakened by my Neanderthal neigbours.)

In 1994, my GF and I joined a mail-order book club. 10 books free! The last one that I chose was a lark: What to Listen for in Mozart (click here).

The book changed my life. It explained the structure of classical music (in particular, the sonata form), and described Mozart's life in riveting detail. I plunged into a period of intense devotion to Mozart. I remember watching Amadeus during this time and noting historical inaccuracies. For about 3 months, I listened to Mozart every day.

The book analyzed 3 pieces, including the 41st symphony, known as The Jupiter. This was one of three symphonies written in a 6-week span in 1788. To this day, no one knows why Wolfgang wrote these symphonies: he had no 'buyers' for a work and was seriously down on his luck (he would die 3 years later).

As a birthday gift, BryGuy took his Pa and I to see the 41st at Powell Hall on Sunday. It was wonderful. A special treat was that the conductor/musical director gave an hour lecture before the performance. Among his thoughts on the 41st:
  • Mozart had been studying Bach's fugues (playing melodies against themselves) at this time. The influence appeared in many places, but none more so than the finale of The Jupiter. Wolfgang develops 5 distinct melodies and plays them off one another. With some study, it is easy to identify each of them: they pop up like old friends.
  • In the recap of the finale, Wolfgang pulls out all the stops and juggles all 5 melodies in various sections of the orchestra. To quote the conductor: "If you have taken a formal class in music theory, you know that writing a 5-part harmony is theoretically impossible". Such is Mozart.
  • Quoting the conductor again: for all the things the human race has done of which we cannot be proud, Mozart holds up The Jupiter as a shining example of what we can accomplish.
Thanks, BryGuy. It was a wonderful performance.

Check out Mozart's 41st symphony on iTunes. The first and esp. 4th movements are where it's at. If you like it, you may want to check out the magnificent 40th, a rare work in a minor key. I could write pages on the 40th. It is much more sinister, and even more gorgeous.


Ali said...

So for a gal such as myself who knows nada about Classical music, except what I think sounds "nice" where do you suggest I start to get a better appreciation? Any other books you'd recommend as well?

Chairman Mom said...

There's something about a guy named Wolfgang, eh?

Vic said...

I just now finished watch Amadeus, it was this month picks for my Movie Club. Freaky....

CaptainCanuck said...

@Chairman Mom, Vic... thanks for the notes, eh?

@Ali Robert Harris later wrote What to Listen for in Beethoven but what I love about the Mozart book is that he shows excerpts of sheet music. It's really easy.... He walks you through the familiar Eine Kleine Nachtmusick and explains what's going on. It's like seeing for the first time.

We understand today's structure: verse, verse, chorus, guitar solo, verse. The classical era had its own structure but we don't know it.

It even has a sense of 'guitar solo' -- not for instrumentalists but rather for composers. The point of the 'development' section is to take the themes established and then do weird things to them in different keys: showcasing the composer's skill.