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The Origins Of The Classical Symphony And The Classical Orchestra

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Claire Michelle Walsh – Level 1 – History Project 2

Listen and follow Mozart’s Symphony No.40 in G minor K550. Describe the character and form of each movement. Go on to write down the instruments used and explain why this is considered a “classical’ orchestra.

You will need to research the origins of the classical symphony and the classical orchestra. The question is really asking for an analysis of the symphony but to concentrate on the large – scale forms. However you will have to show how movements fit the forms and this will also include a certain amount of harmonic and motivic analysis

The orchestra that had taken shape during the baroque period began to expand and become more balanced. During the early eighteenth century the four part string ensemble became established which has remained mainly unchanged. The harpsichord was set aside by the end of the eighteenth century due to larger scale of the orchestra and the invention of the piano.

By the end of the eighteenth century the standard large orchestra consisted of: two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two or four horns, two trumpets, timpani and a full string section.

The Symphony originally in three movements became four movements, incorporating a minuet and trio. The movement structure was the same as instrumental sonata form.

Movement one is usually at a fairly fast speed usually in sonata form in contrast to the second movement which was played at a slower tempo, with a singing melody line. This was often in ternary, variation or sonata form. A minuet and trio in ABA form was the basis of the third movement, concluding in the final movement which was either in rondo, sonata or variation form.

Mozart wrote forty one symphonys during his life. Symphony No. 40 in G minor is exceptionally well known and has been used widely in television and film. An early critic of Mozarts music, Otto Jahn called it “a symphony of pain and lamentation”(scribd.com/doc/7742485). Whereas another critic, Kramer stated that it was “nothing but joy and animation” (scribd.com/doc/7742485). These two quotes are of the extreme in describing its mood and character.

It is the second of his last three symphonies, which were composed between June and August in 1788. The work is said to have been written without a commission and was written at the height of his expressionist phase.

The instrumentation is written as we would find in the standard eighteenth century classical orchestra: one flute, two oboes, 2 clarinets, two bassoons, two horns. The string section consisted of: two first and two second violin players, two violas, one cello and one string bass. The instrumentation does not include any percussion or weighty brass. What we are expecting to hear includes an extra flute, two trumpets and timpani as found in a typical Johann Stamitz composition. It was he who

The horns are used for effect to emphasize the crescendos and sforzando.

The work is in four movements, in the usual arrangement (fast movement, slow movement, minuet, fast movement) for a classical-style symphony:

  1. Molto allegro
  2. Andante
  3. Menuetto: Trio
  4. Allegro assai

Every movement but the third is in sonata form, the minuet and trio are in the usual ternary form.

Molto Allegro

The first movement of the ‘Symphony No. 40 in G Minor’ by W.A. Mozart is written in Sonata form. The piece begins with perhaps the most recognisable openings of any of his symphonies.

The movement in cut common time, in the key of G Minor, commences with the first theme in bar one, played by the first and second violins, played piano in the tonic key. Bar 14 sees the woodwind section enter for the first time, still piano. The first dynamic change happens in bar 16 with a forte woodwind entry; the violins then repeat the first subject, piano in bar twenty. The key then modulates in bar 28, to the relative Major of B-Flat for a bridge passage, it is her that we hear a forte dynamic for the first time which leads to the 2nd theme. In bar 43 Mozart uses a silent bar across the whole orchestra, having created the tension this is then dissipated.

The 2nd theme begins in bar 44 until bar 72, the clarinet and bassoon playing a piano melody initially which is then passed to the strings. This melody is a more lyrical feminine passage that is very chromatic throughout.

This codetta commences at bar 77 in the dominant key and is based around the first 3 notes of the first theme and is played by the clarinet and then imitated by the bassoon. This four bar phrase concludes with the strings playing a variation of the phrase concluding with a strong IV – I cadence. This is then repeated with the oboe and bassoon taking the lead and again concluded with the strings. Commencing at bar 88 there is descending quaver runs throughout the orchestra leading to rising crotchets. In bar 100 there is a repeat back to the beginning.

Bars 72- 75

The Development begins in bar 101 with the key now in F-Sharp Minor, modulating in bar 115 to the key of E Minor. It is at this point we can hear the melody in the Bassoon and the Bass line with contrapuntal writing in the upper woodwind. The harmony now expands and changes key very two bars, through A, D and G minor, C major for one bar followed by one bar of F Major, until reaching Bb Major. The violins then play the 1st theme in a falling sequence, whilst the lower strings introduce a counter melody. The movement builds with use of a pedal A in the Bass line, expecting the Recapitulation the Bass line creates a stretto which is then climaxed with a forte in bar 152. Here all parts are all competing to get their idea heard. The sudden dynamic change in bar 160 releases the tension with the commencement of the Recapitulation in bar 164.

The Recapitulation back in the tonic key begins with the upper strings which are joined by the lower strings in comparison to the beginning of the movement, this is then joined in bar 168 by the bassoon playing a new countermelody . The 2nd theme is then reintroduced. Mozart uses suspensions commencing at bar 199 to create tension, to further this he uses imitation at the half between the upper and lower strings. Further tension is heard in the bass line at bar 218 with minims alternating between Bb and A. In bar 226 there is another silent bar throughout the orchestra. Bar 228 sees the reintroduction of second subject still in the tonic key. It is during this we hear in bar 247 new ideas played in the First Violin culminating in Diminished and dominant seventh chords.

Bar 260 sees the return of the first theme passed between all the woodwind parts

and after a chromatically rising syncopated passage throughout the orchestra, the dynamic drops to a sudden piano the first theme is once again heard in the first and second violins. In bar 293 the whole orchestra plays a rousing forte for the last seven bars.

Andante

The second movement is a lyrical work in 6/8, in E flat major. The orchestration is the same except that the horns are now in E flat. It commences with the violas playing a quaver motif, a bar later this is taken up by the second violin. A bar later the first violin plays this in imitation. This passage is one of the main themes in this movement.

Bars 1-8. Theme A

A demisemi-quaver motif then begins in bar 16, which acts as a bridging passage to theme B. This rhythm plays an important role for the movement of this whole movement. Theme B at bar 20 is played by the first violin and answered by the flute, the texture is very thin and simple.

At bar 27 there is a three way conversation between the woodwind ending in the first violin ending the conversation at bar 35.

A smooth theme is introduced in bar 37, which is briefly interrupted at bar 43 by a bar of semi-quavers, but soon returns to its previous texture before the section is repeated.

The development section of the 2nd movement begins, with the earlier demisemi-quaver motif, which is enforforced by the bass, playing a rising chromatic figure for bar 56- 62.

The recapitulation commences in bar 74. We hear small segment from both themes played until a final theme is heard in bar 108.

Menuetto

This third movement is in Minuet and Trio form and commences in the key of G Minor. Unlike a traditional dance Mozart uses the whole orchestra which remains full throughout. He uses a hemiola, a 2/4 feel in a 3/4 time signature, with a rising melody line.

The movement opens with a strong melody played by the strings and the woodwind, consisting of two, three bar phrases followed by two, and four bar phrases, which is then repeated back to the beginning. The second section in B flat Major it is a variation of the first, played contrapuntally.

The trio modulates to G major where he has thinned the texture for the first section. The second section sees the return of the Horns bringing a contrasting texture to the end of the trio.

Finale – Allegro assai

The final movement, Allegro Assai, begins almost like a Baroque Concerto Grosso, with contrasting piano string and forte tutti passages alternating every two bars. An important quaver motif, heard in bar 3 can be heard repeatedly throughout the movement, for example the bridge passage at bar 32.

Bars 1-15

Theme B is introduced in bar 71 in the key of B flat Major. It is more thinly scored with a lighter feel. The melody is played by the first violin, being handed to the clarinet at bar 85, who plays a duet with the bassoon.

Bar 101 sees the coda played forte and continues until bar 124 with growing intensity where it is repeated back to the beginning.

Bars 125 – 134 includes a bridging passage that is very different to anything we have heard earlier, this leads into the development phase of the movement.

Bars 125-141

A piano theme is then heard, which is passed around the woodwind and first violin parts with lower string accompaniment. This acts as a bridging passage before we hear a fugal section commencing at bar 152 in the strings which modulates through many different keys. Bars 205 -206 are primarily silent before the beginning of the recapitulation in the key of G Minor. Theme B can be heard again in bar 247 before a closing section which can found at bar 277. This consists of a forte passage with running quavers in the violins, which is dramatically dropped to a piano four bar passage at bar 286. The symphony concludes with a burst of energy at bar 290 whilst the running quavers are a constant until the last three separate chords from the whole orchestra.


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