Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Quick Tour through Twinkle; Thoughts on Mozart's Variations on Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star

Mozart's twelve variations on "Ah vous dirais-je, Maman" K. 265/300e are a showcase of compositional styles:

The theme is presented in a stately and spare two-voice scoring that sings. Then the collection bursts into motion with five variations that group together through the development of etude figuration and textural oscillation.

The patterning is systematic. The 16th note figuration in the first variation [0:34] is played by the right-hand; the second variation [1:03] by the left-hand.
Variations 3 and 4 spin slower, using a triplet motor, but follow the pattern; triplets in the third variation [1:33] played by the right-hand, then by the left in variation 4 [2:01].

The pattern is broken [2:35]. Mozart compresses the pattern into a single variation of immediate dialog between the hands. The fifth variation expresses humor in purely sonic context.

The broken pattern is a large-scale cadence to a textural process that links the first five variations into a larger stanza.

The second stanza of Mozart's Variations is a gallery of topics.

Variation VI [3:02] is like an eighteenth-century quickstep with figuration that sounds like the drums on wipeout by the Safaris. Eccentric perhaps, but this movement is a bridge from the systematic into a new collection of attitudes.

Variation VII [3:29] is set in the brilliant style with rockets balanced by throws. The broken chords at the cadences return in the figuration of the tenth variation and in modified form in the final cadence of the work.

The learned style is explored in the next two variations, first [3:57] with an unaccompanied motive in the parallel minor answered in the subdominant. A modified bass entry on the dominant balances harmonic fields. An austere and graceful dancing fills these lines which seem to continually fall, weighing against quick-rising motives.

Variation IX [4:33] seems a variation of the prior variation: it dances on the surface, losing its learned in rustic temptations.

Variation X [4:59] is an etude for left-hand crossing, balancing touch, and the challenge of matching voicings between the hands.

A gorgeous essay in the singing style follows [5:26]. The gentle syncopated background and the orchestral shifting among registers can be made unforgettable. The figure that opens the second half of the variation [6:05] also appears(transposed to G) in measure 9 of the Andante of his piano sonata K. 283.

The final variation [6:53] introduces music in 3/4 time. Trills on the third beat emphasize the new meter. A playful passage in doubled 16ths [7:14] momentarily suspends the strong dance impulse, but it re-emerges with clever third-beat hiccups four measures before the return.

A short cadenza samples textures from several variations to bring the set to a close.

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