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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000901.txt from 2000/07

From: "Tony Pay" <tony_pay@-----.com>
Subj: [kl] Mozart's slow movement
Date: Wed, 26 Jul 2000 07:31:24 -0400

There's been some discussion of the Mozart concerto, particularly
the slow movement, and of how difficult it is to play and
understand. Some people have even suggested that an extended
experience of life is necessary to play it satisfactorily.

Personally, i think that the difficulty has been overstated. I don't
think that the slow movement is very difficult, or requires great
maturity from the performer.

It does however require a view of musical meaning that depends
rather more heavily than usual on the context in which the solo line
is played, rather than on what the solo line actually consists of.
Good young performers are well capable of intuiting this -- it is, after
all, what any musical talent really consists of -- but they are
not always given the opportunity to do so, because they mostly study the
solo line in isolation.

It is this that is the difficulty, not that they play the piece too
early, or that it is in some way impenetrable. How difficult can it
be, when it speaks to us so clearly?

Essentially, the Mozart concerto slow movement is not 'locally'
particularly beautiful. You cannot find great magic within any
particular bar. (The attempt to do so often ruins it, in fact.) Its
quality depends rather on how more extended parts of it relate to each
other, including the way in which the solo part relates to the orchestra,
and is thus in a way more abstract and eternal.

I'm not going to try to spell this out in detail. But I may be able to
indicate something of what I mean by talking about what has been a connected
issue here: namely, the 'correct' tempo for the movement.

I don't know whether anyone has seriously investigated what determines the
limits of possible speed of a piece of music. Obviously some notion of
'workability' comes into it, and that requires a judgement of what 'working'
is. It may be that, like fashion, some of this comes down to what we are
used to. And it's at least possible that some of it is quite the opposite
of fashion, and is determined by analogy with things in our direct
experience that do have quite definite limits of speed -- like walking, for
example.

As a performer, it's useful to have a conceptual handle on how changes to
the way we perform a piece can make different tempi more or less viable.
Seeing and playing a group of notes as constituting a larger whole makes a
faster tempo seem more convincing, because it reduces our sense of change,
even when the harmony is itself changing.

In the case of the Mozart slow movement, I find that there are two
contextual realisations that are helpful.

One is to see that the speed of harmonic movement changes quite suddenly
from bar to bar. It's true at the beginning, between bars 1 and 2, but it's
perhaps more clearly seen in the second solo section, beginning at bar 17.
The clarinet line is totally simple in bars 17 and 19, occurring over just
one chord in each case, but the orchestral answers in bars 18 and 20 are
more complex, in the sense that Mozart writes a different harmony for each
beat.

So for someone who appreciates this, unconsciously or not, it becomes
necessary to represent the 'simple' not only in and of itself, but also then
as a response to the more complex orchestral answer -- without getting more
complex in turn.

Mostly players do that by subtle and progressive changes in tone colour
within a flowing tempo, and students can usually appreciate that that is
what is called for. And when they have appreciated it, they don't then want
to make what already has meaning in its context, meaningful in some other,
'mucked-around-with' sense. They don't feel they are 'doing nothing',
because they can hear that their simplicity is *already doing something* in
relation to the orchestral responses.

The other thing, more difficult to explain in words, but very easy to
'feel', is that the whole movement gets an added sense of space and freedom
if you trade speed at the ends of bars for speed at the beginnings. That
means that the orchestra plays the two initial eighth notes as a unit
(rather than lingering on the first eighth, as is often done) and helps us
to play the initial rising fourth as an entity -- an *interval* -- that is
repeated in bars 5 and 6. There are many other advantages as the music
progresses, not least of which is the added space and lightness at the ends
of bars, which allows us to negotiate the floaty gestures that Mozart often
writes there.

This is a different sort of context -- the context of the style of the
period. But you don't have to be a 'period performer' to appreciate it.
It's a matter of degree. It amounts to the idea that at least a part of
Mozartean style is that the music 'dances' in some sense.

Good performers have always known that. And it's not particularly difficult
to understand, or communicate.

Tony
--

....This sentence was in the past tense.
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