Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Two levels of syncopation in Mozart's early G Minor Symphony

The opening of the first movement of Mozart's early G minor symphony K. 183 is arresting. Its vibrant syncopated beginning is used as a symbol of shock during the unexpected discovery of Salieri's suicide attempt in the movie Amadeus. The syncopation is expressed as a kind of tearing with the violins and violas pulling against the celli and basses. The suddenness of melodic motions is dizzying. This movement is all about intensities.

The movie is edited to correspond to sections within the sonata form expert that is played. The lengthy transition is greeted by a blinding overheard shot of an indoor ballroom lit with real candles in the chandeliers.

As the second theme group begins a massive double-door is swung open.

But in a symphony of intensities, even the musette which comprises the second theme group in B-flat major is connected to the opening gesture by the use of syncopation--in this case a syncopation that happens at the phrase level rather than syncopation within the measure:

In the photograph above, I marked the first four measures of the second theme group beginning in the fourth measure of the top system. Count those measures in hypermetric 8th note language with two articulations per measure (ONE-and-TWO-and-THREE-and-FOUR-and), and the phrase structure becomes apparent. It has the same properties that each individual measure has at a different scale of time.

One the second system the balancing phrase is cut short by one-half a measure, and the restatement of the second theme group begins on the second part of the measure--it is a metric-level syncopation (AND-one-AND-two-AND-three-AND-four) (AND-one-AND-two-AND-three-AND).

The metric syncopation resolves at [4:03] on a downbeat that in turn launches us into closing gestures.

I had the great opportunity to study and work with Lukas Foss. He used to say of Mozart that while anyone could put notes together that belonged together, that Mozart "was the kind of genius that could put ideas together that did not belong together and make them work."

What better example of this than the sense that ideas can connect by using syncopation to communicate urgency and intensity at different distances from the musical surface.


  1. I love Amadeus. One of my top five films of all time. Who cares if it is true? It says everything needed to be said about genius and mediocrity.

    After watching that clip, I think I need to go back and watch the whole thing again.

  2. Amadeus is a movie that will pull you in every time. It also is the first movie to actually portray musical thinking.


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