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The Clarinet Quintet k581 of September 1789 is a late manifestation of the ‘Classical’ style of the mid-1780s, and in particular of Mozart's ability to create and weld together a diversity of gestures over the course of entire paragraphs and entire movements. This is most notably the case at the arrival on the dominant in the first movement: a rest in all the parts – more a signal to stop the action after a tutti arrival than an indication of any particular length of silence – is followed by a pizzicato cello line outlining the tonic and fifth of the harmony, long held notes in the second violin and viola that seem almost to emerge from the preceding silence and a new lyrical melody in the first violin. The re-entry of the clarinet with the same melody signals further changes: a shift to the minor mode, lower dynamics and syncopations in the strings. All of these lead to a confrontation between the clarinet and the rest of the ensemble, an outbreak of semiquavers and a conclusive trill, on three instruments, resulting in the firmest cadence in the movement to that point. The effect is to drag the listener along on a wave of increasingly agitated activity; in this respect it resembles the increasingly elaborate waves of pianistic activity that animate the first solo of the Concerto k467.
Yet the Clarinet Quintet is not generally representative of Mozart's prevailing style at the time, which is often characterized as ironic, restrained or serenely detached. Some commentators date the origin of this style to the time of the last three symphonies, others to that of Don Giovanni or even the two string quintets of 1787. No doubt there are similar elements in other works of the period 1784–8: the Concerto k503 is sometimes described as neutral or cold. But on the whole the late works can be characterized as noticeably more austere and refined than the earlier works, more motivic and contrapuntal, more economical in the use of material and texturally less rich. There are fewer new themes in development sections or in exposition codas, and second-group material is frequently derived from primary ones by some form of extension or contrapuntal treatment.
This is particularly true of the late quintets k593 and 614. k593 has a first movement in a style more spare in texture than that of the preceding quintets but polyphonically richer, most obviously in the recapitulation, where the exposition material is extended and elaborated. The same can be said of k614, the minuet of which is canonic; more impressive still is the finale, the development section of which includes a double fugue. At the same time, both quintets selfconsciously exploit similar topics – each first-movement Allegro begins with a passage imitating horns, while that of k614 retains something of a wind serenade atmosphere – while making use of textures in novel ways. The Adagio of k593, not unlike the slow movement of the G minor Quintet k516, is a study in sonorities: each of its five large paragraphs is similarly structured around a recurring pattern, beginning with the full ensemble, reducing to three parts (the violins and viola alternating with the violas and violoncello) and then returning to five. k614 is novel in a different way. Here the first movement can be seen as a contest between the first violin and the rest of the ensemble, achieving rapprochement only in the final bars. (A similar principle is in evidence in the Piano Trio k502, where the exposition, development and recapitulation each represent an increasingly complex dialogue between piano and violin, with the cello fully participatory only after the second theme.) The textures of the late quartets, however, seem tame by comparison. Mozart must have realized that the new, elaborately wrought four-part quartet style he had previously cultivated would not serve for the concertante quartets popular in Berlin, and for the last two movements of k589 and the last three of k590, presumably conceived in the first instance for the cello-playing King of Prussia, the idea of the cello's prominence seems virtually to have been abandoned. It may also be that hopes of a preferment there – or of successfully completing the commission – had faded.
The notion of a contest in the first movement of k614 suggests that play on genre, consisting in this case of tension between the brilliant and ‘Classical’ styles identified by early writers on string chamber music, is also selfconsciously present in Mozart's works of the late 1780s (it had been there earlier, as well, in the Piano and Wind Quintet k452, a concerto in all but name, and in the final movement of the Piano Sonata k333, which includes a concerto cadenza). But there is a twist: in some instances Mozart manipulates not merely markers of genre, but markers of form and procedure as well. The slow movement of the E Quintet k614, ostensibly a theme and variations (and among the most popular of Mozart's late variation sets, as several contemporaneous arrangements for keyboard show), takes over characteristic gestures of the rondo (including tonic restatements of the main theme) and, more importantly, the sonata. The passages linking the variations are typical sonata transitions, while the climax of the movement, which includes some of the sharpest dissonances in all of Mozart, corresponds to the increase in harmonic tension characteristic of a sonata development. A clear return to both tonic and main theme characterizes the final variation, which is followed by a sonata-like coda, drawing together the main procedural gestures of the movement.
Mozart's interest in Baroque counterpoint, so evident in the late quintets, may have been rekindled by his Handel arrangements for van Swieten and his trip in 1789 to Leipzig, where he renewed his acquaintance with Bach's works. Although the influence of Bach had been strong during the early 1780s, when Mozart also transcribed several preludes and fugues for van Swieten, a truly classical, integrated counterpoint of a Bachian sort appears to have become a regular feature of his music only in the late 1780s. Sometimes the counterpoint is explicit, as in the central fugato of the overture to Die Zauberflöte or in the chorale of the Men in Armour; for the most part, however, it is subsumed within larger forms and textures. In the Variations k613 the introduction and the theme, the song Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding, are combined contrapuntally in the coda, while in the Piano Sonata k576 the main secondary material of both outer movements is contrapuntally derived from the primary material (the first movement also includes significant contrapuntal working in the development and recapitulation).
Chance dictated that Mozart, in his last months, should compose works in three genres with which he had been little occupied for almost a decade: the Singspiel Die Zauberflöte, the Requiem and the opera seria La clemenza di Tito. Until the 1960s Mozart scholars were inclined to dismiss Tito as an opera written hastily and with distaste. Yet there is no reason to imagine that Mozart had reservations about composing it; serious opera had always attracted him, and many composers were setting Metastasio's classical librettos modified to meet contemporary taste through the addition of ensembles and choruses. Certainly the opera is written in a style more austere than that of the Da Ponte operas, but it is appropriate to the topic. It is clear that the aria lengths were carefully planned. In Act 2, both the prima donna (Vitellia) and the primo uomo (Sextus) have full-length rondò arias; Sextus's arias involve progressive increases of tempo, no doubt intended to represent the screwing up of his courage. The arias for the other characters, including Titus, are much shorter, while the trios embody some degree of simultaneous representation of different emotions, as in the opere buffe. The Act 1 finale, however, moves in a sense opposite from that of the traditional, accelerating opera buffa ensemble of confusion. It starts Allegro and ends Andante, with the principals on stage bewailing the betrayal of Titus while the groans of the populace are heard in the distance.
Die Zauberflöte and the Requiem appear on first hearing to be dramatically different in conception – no work by Mozart is more heterogeneous or displays as broad a range of stylistic references as the opera, while the Requiem seems to refer uniquely to its own rarefied spiritual domain – yet both exploit contrast to an extreme. The opera's fugal overture, with its key of E and three introductory chords, is symbolically masonic; other ritual music, including Sarastro's songs, the choruses and some of the ensembles, also derive from freemasonry. Papageno's strophic comic songs, on the other hand, are in the cheerful manner of other contemporary Singspiele. The songs for the serious characters, while rarely using the extended forms of Italian opera, are more italianate; among these are Tamino's lyrical Portrait Aria and the Queen of Night's two bravura arias. Pamina's lament, ‘Ach, ich fühl's’, falls in between. Its simple, intimate manner reflects her more universal, idealized character. The remarkable Orator's Scene in the Act 1 finale, however, is sui generis (while at the same time recalling Mozart's interest in declaimed musical settings, first evident in the late 1770s).
The Requiem, by contrast, hides its diversity. Nevertheless the three prevailing textures – homophonic or chordal as in the ‘Dies irae’ and ‘Rex tremendae’, contrapuntal as in the ‘Requiem aeternam’, the Kyrie fugue and the ‘Recordare’, and cantabile as in the ‘Te decet hymnus’ and ‘Tuba mirum’ – are juxtaposed almost kaleidoscopically, often succeeding each other in response to single phrases of the text. At times, the enharmonic and chromatic modulations are extreme, notably in the ‘Confutatis’ (from bar 25), where the successive lines of text are given in A minor, A minor, G minor and then, via F major, F major (Wolff, I1991). The make-up of the ensemble, including basset-horns, bassoons, trumpets, timpani and strings (with obbligato trombone in the ‘Tuba mirum’), but no flutes, oboes or horns, lends itself to an extraordinarily beautiful, dark-hued sound. In the ‘Rex tremendae’ and in particular the ‘Confutatis’, the orchestra represents a character in its own right.
Mozart: (3) Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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