Notes from the mozart and well beyond CD booklet:


The enormous number of minuets that Mozart composed in his relatively short life can be divided into two categories: those for actual dancing, and those for concert performance, which reference only the idea of dancing. The latter group, most familiar to Mozart lovers as interior movements in many of his symphonies, large-scale instrumental works, and chamber works, also includes the finales of eight of his nearly 40 concertos for solo instrument(s) and orchestra.

Because two measures of music in 3/4 time are required for a dancer to complete the set of steps that comprise a single pas de menuet à deux mouvements, Mozart’s more than 90 minuets for dancing are almost entirely constructed in two-measure phrases (the exception being the very occasional four-measure phrase which is danced simply as a set of two two-measure phrases). Concert minuets like the Rondeau / Tempo di Menuetto from K.191, however, were only danced in the listener’s mind; thus Mozart was freed from the conventions of coordinating phrases with real dancers’ movements. Given that the Rondeau's first audience would have been trained in the formal dancing of the minuet, they must have been delightedly surprised to hear Mozart suddenly interrupt two-measure phrases halfway through m.40, only to balance these abandoned first halves of phrases a few moments later with repetitions of second halves of phrases m.42, none of which could he have done had real dancers been dancing.

But this wouldn’t have been the only cause for delight. The Rondeau's orchestral introduction (which appears in truncated form between the solo episodes) follows very precisely the internal rhythmic pulses of the pas de menuet à deux mouvements: long–, short, short, long–. However, in the solo episodes many phrases mix up the familiar patterns of long and short pulses, sometimes even using differing patterns for the soloist than for the ensemble. The resulting rhythmic tension, appreciatively referred to in the ballroom as dancing “against the music,” must have charmed 18th-century audiences who would have associated this kind of inventiveness with only the most accomplished of solo dancers.

© 2004 Michael Sweeney




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