Monday, October 14, 2013

Bored, perhaps?

We now interrupt pianonoise's scheduled blogging for one of the great musical mysteries of all time.

(My mother thinks I could have been in advertising. If it turns out that this blog entry, on account of that opening, becomes the most popular post of all time, I will clearly have missed a calling. But I still won't be sorry. Also, you folks are too easy.)

Ok, maybe I'm the only one who has wondered about this. This concerns a curious little minuet that Mozart wrote late in his life. But first you have to understand a thing or two about the minuet.

It's a dance for the upper crust. Kings and princes, and so forth. And as a keyboard piece it also became quite popular with composers. Many a piano sonata from the classical period has a Minuet (or menuet, or menuetto) in it. It's a very civilized dance in 3/4 time. Not usually very far ranging, and, although it occasionally explores some dark territory, it doesn't stay there very long.

Mozart wrote a few of these when he was very young. I wrote an essay about it several years ago for, for which I played what at one time was thought to be the first handful of pieces the young Mozart ever wrote, all of 4 or 5 years old. If you'd like to catch up on them, here they are. The first one is the longest, and the rest are less than a minute each. The third one is actually given the title "Allegro" (fast and/or happy) and the rest are Minuets.

Mozart: Five pieces

notice how tame and pretty they are. You may have heard one of them before if you or some little person you know has taken piano lessons. But I'll bet they didn't go around playing the one that you're going to hear next.

That's because, apparently, Mozart wrote this one as an adult, after a gap of perhaps a couple of decades. That's because the K number which catalogs each work by Mozart is much higher. K, or Koechel numbers (named after the fellow who did all the work) are supposed to be chronological, in the order Mozart wrote the pieces. They are, however, largely guesswork, and several attempts have been made to revise the catalog as more research is done and better guessing is possible.

Based on that supposition this is supposed to be a much later work. And it certainly is quite a bit different. Not only does it stick out from the rest of Mozart's piano minuets (which, besides the ones you just heard, contain only a couple of sonata movements, and miscellaneous pieces; the man was not exactly a minuet cranking out machine the way, say, Haydn was. Each of his early piano sonatas contains a Minuet movement)--not only is it very different from the earlier pieces he wrote, but it doesn't sound like anything else in the Minuet genre, either. It is filled with strange dissonances, phrases that don't end up where you think they are going and various other pleasant or unpleasant surprises. Have a listen.


See what I mean? What's that all about? Was he tired of writing to form? Trying a bit of musical rebellion? Experimenting a little? Who knows.

By the way, the reason there are two different "K" numbers there are that the original catalog placed the piece's composition much earlier than a later revision. That way you could describe the piece as a kind of mid-life crisis (which for Mozart was in his early twenties) or a later attempt to break the mold, contemporary with his last piano sonata and paving the way for his last, sublime works.

Or maybe he was just having a little fun one afternoon or pulling somebody's leg. I'll give him one thing. You don't need your nose to play all the notes in this one.

But that's for another rainy day.

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