Friday, January 27, 2006

Mozart: Piano Concerto in Eb, K. 482, last movement

Piano Concerto in Eb, K. 482, Last movement: Allegro
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Eb Major, 6/8 time
First 8 bars


I did not plan for the first few Unconquered Sound analyses to have a common theme. Yet they do: music that has obvious charm, but that also has a less obvious psychological intensity that builds up after the first few measures.

The beginning of this theme has a remarkable floating quality. Various notes in mm. 1-2 (and, analogously, in mm. 3-4) are accentuated: the Eb on the downbeat of m. 1 as a starting place and a metric strong point; the Eb on the downbeat of m. 2, as the target of the preceding Eb's; and the final G in m. 2, which is the highest note so far and is notable simply for being different from Eb. No one of these accentuated notes seems to dominate the others, so that the whole theme seems to hover in a state of continuous, moderate accentuation. Even the last three repeated Eb's in m. 1 maintain this state, simply by being Eb's. If they weren't all Eb's, then individual notes would jut out:


mm. 3-4 repeat mm. 1-2 a step higher, on F and Ab. Because the analogy between mm. 1-2 and mm. 3-4 is so clear, it is easy to hear rising stepwise motions across the four measures, from Eb up to F and from G up to Ab. These rising motions don't seem especially dramatic or intense; they have the feeling of a natural, unforced expansion.

The next step in this natural expansion would be to reach G and Bb in mm. 5-6. This in fact does happen. Yet Bb comes early, on the downbeat of m. 6 instead of on the fourth beat. We can tell slightly ahead of time that this will happen, because the 32nd-note turn appears on the last beat of m. 5.

For me, the downbeat of m. 6 is the moment at which the whole theme really comes to life. Here are some relatively simple reasons why the Bb is energized:

- The pattern established in mm. 1-2 and mm. 3-4 has been broken by Bb coming early. This is a small surprise, creating a little burst of emotional energy.

- By reaching its highest note (Bb) earlier than expected, the theme suddenly pulls upward more strongly. (It doesn't seem to want to pull upward beyond Bb, though.)

- The Bb is the first note so far to be fully, unequivocally accentuated. It's on the downbeat of m. 6, and there isn't any note on the fourth beat to counterbalance it. Because it is also the highest note, it's quite a forceful stroke. (At the same time, it's quite delicate on the piano at a modest dynamic!) The theme still floats, but now a note stands out from the floating background.

Yet these reasons don't seem to me to tell the whole story. They show why the m. 6 Bb is energized, but not why the whole theme comes to life. When m. 6 arrives, I hear all of mm. 1-6 take on a stronger character, become more three-dimensional.

Here is a reason why this might be so:

The most obvious motion leading the whole theme up to Bb is the stepwise motion G-Ab-Bb. But by falling on the downbeat of m. 6, Bb becomes analogous to two other earlier events: the Eb on the downbeat of m. 2, and the F on the downbeat of m. 4. It's possible to hear Bb as the climax of the motion Eb-F-Bb, a more buoyant and expansive motion than Eb-F-G or G-Ab-Bb.

Eb-F-Bb might seem arbitrary, the result of "picking out notes" rather than a real musical experience. It doesn't have the advantage of being stepwise like Eb-F-G or G-Ab-Bb; stepwise motions are easy to appreciate because their pattern is so simple and direct.

But there is reason to connect F and Bb, beyond their falling on analogous downbeats. The m. 4 F is harmonized by V; the m. 6 Bb is harmonized by I. Both F and Bb are the fifth degrees of their harmonies. This is the first time in the theme that two notes have expressed the same degree of different harmonies. (I'm putting aside the little low-Bb upbeats to m. 1, 3 and 5.)

This relationship between F and Bb may not seem like much to go on. (And it doesn't have anything at all to do with Eb.) But the rest of the theme (mm. 6-8) reiterates the relationship clearly and boldly. We come back down from Bb to F to Eb, reversing the Eb-F-Bb motion. And Bb and F each have triads arpeggiated below them: Bb-G-Eb (I) in m. 6 is followed by F-D-Bb (V) in m. 7, hammering home the fact that Bb and F are each the fifth degree of their respective harmonies.

So we are left with two hearings of the theme. In one hearing, we move upward by step in mm. 1-6: Eb-F-G and G-Ab-Bb. In the other hearing, we realize that we have moved upward from Eb to F to Bb in mm. 1-6, and we come back down the same way (Bb-F-Eb) in mm. 6-8. These two hearings coexist in the same way that the two hearings of "Let it Snow!"'s first eight bars coexist (see 1/11/06): in analysis they get separated, but in normal listening they fuse.

It's the fusion of these two hearings that gives the theme the character that I described as stronger and more three-dimensional. The coexistence of two patterns itself has a character of richness, above and beyond the patterns' individual qualities. If you cook, you may have had similar experiences: putting multiple kinds of hot pepper in a dish, for instance, can create a deeper, more subtle spiciness than any one kind has by itself.

Here's a nice trick to help you hear Eb-F-Bb in mm. 1-6. These are the first bars of La Marseillaise, in Eb:


Listen to them first, and then to the K. 482 theme. This analogy will make your sense of Eb-F-Bb in K. 482 stronger than normal, but it works at all because Eb-F-Bb is already there.

In retrospect, it was only half true to pick out the downbeat of m. 6 as the moment when the whole theme takes on a stronger character. The Bb-F-Eb descent in mm. 6-8, with triads arpeggiated below Bb and F, had not yet occurred at the downbeat of m. 6--so it had not yet reinforced the parallel Eb-F-Bb ascent in mm. 1-6.

Once again, I hope you've enjoyed the analysis! My favorite recording of K. 482 is with Annie Fischer on piano and Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting, reissued on Seraphim (#5 68529 2, a 2-disc set that also includes K. 466, 467, and 488).

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