Month: July 2015

Opera Without Words

As promised, the discussion below contains a character analysis of the opening Allegro from Mozart’s Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major based on my workshop, “Opera without Words,” hosted at the Canadian Flute Association Convention in Toronto this past June. Thank you to all that attended this lecture and I sincerely hope its content proves valuable to your own interpretations of these works.

An article based on this workshop, covering the flute concerti in G and D Major, is presently under submission at Flutestock, the official journal of the Canadian Flute Association.


PAPER ABSTRACT: The ingenuity of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s compositional design transcended numerous musical mediums, most notably that of opera. Intricate relationships, particularly those between men and women, serve as preeminent themes in operas such as The Magic Flute and The Marriage of Figaro. “Character” development can also be found in Mozart’s instrumental works where dynamics, rhythmic figures, changing styles, patterns of articulation and ornamentation serve to illustrate masculine (or dominant) and feminine (or non-dominant) qualities of the musical line. Mozart’s Concerti for Flute and Piano in D Major, G Major and the Concerto for Flute and Harp in C Major outline such character distinctions within the solo flute line using sharp staccato rhythms and forte dynamics to initiate strong, antecedent phrases (masculine) which are often followed by legato, melodic consequent replies ranging from mezzo piano to mezzo forte dynamics (feminine). This paper addresses the various compositional techniques used in Mozart flute concerti that depict masculine and feminine “characters” and how these “characters” interact with one another to create an instrumental opera without words. In this regard, Mozart shows us that music does not necessary need a libretto to convey intricate relationships between multiple characters.

After resigning from his position with the Archbishop of Salzburg in 1777, Mozart embarked on a tour of Europe with his mother, arriving in Paris in 1778 shortly after his residence in Mannheim. Here he taught composition and accepted various commissions that came his way. One of his most notable composition students was the daughter of amateur flutist, the Duc de Guines, who commissioned Mozart to write a series of concerti for flute and for harp for himself and his daughter to play. Writing to his father, Mozart explained that, “the Duc de Guines plays the flute extremely well, and his daughter plays the harp magnificently. She has a great deal of talent and even genius.” Mozart composed the Concerto in C Major for Flute and Harp for this duo. Musicologists such as Alfred Einstein have referred to the work as, “an example of the finest French salon music.” According to historians such as Michael Thomas Roeder, “The work clearly shows the immediate impact of Paris. The solo instruments are favorites of the French, and the form Mozart adopted is the syphonie concertante, the first he had composed that is extant. The style is also that of light French Salon music and, like his “Paris” Symphony, K. 297-300a, of the same period, it is full of melody.” Indeed the melodic construction of this concerto echos the previous flute concerti yet the shifting character call-and-response phrase structure also follows the same patterns we have already examined in the Concerto in G Major and the Concerto in D Major. This suggests that the dialog Mozart created from a single solo line was used to create an endless string of drama in his concerti as he did in his operatic works.

The opening movement of Mozart’s Concerto in C major for Flute and Harp begins immediately in the first measure with a short, masculine (dominant) introduction outlining a broken C major chord, supported by a strong forte dynamic marking, to assert the dominant key of the piece. This is continued by an orchestral tutti until measure 44 where the opening masculine phrase is repeated and subsequently answered in measures 46-53 where a feminine/non-dominant melody moving in longer slurred passages, predominantly in a softer piano dynamic, features slower moving quarter notes followed by elongated whole notes outlining the C Major tonic chord.

Mozart C Ex. 1a

Mozart C Ex. 1b

This is again interrupted by a masculine/dominant line in measures 54-58 that speeds up the rhythmic motion to running, articulated 16th notes.  In measures 62-66 the feminine/non-dominant voice moving in slower 8th notes and quarter notes lengthens the melody using syncopated quarter note rhythms, which as we have already seen in the Concerti in G and D Major is a reoccurring trait of the more lyrical line.

Mozart C Ex. 2

Measures 68-78 bring a return of the masculine/dominant character as faster moving rhythmic lines focusing on 16th note motion again explore scale-wise patterns that are ornamented with grace notes ornaments of the 16th note variation of the underlying melody. This is followed in measures 80-86 with a slower moving feminine voice moving in isolated slurred quarter notes lengthens the melody.

Mozart C Ex. 3

Whole notes in measures 89-91 briefly suspend the melodic drive until measures 91-94 where a faster moving masculine line interjects with staccato 8th notes introduced by grace notes ornamenting a variation of the melody. In measures 95-101 the rhythmic motion again slows down to slurred, syncopated quarter notes. Half notes in measures 100-101 briefly suspend the melodic motion until measures 102-120 where a masculine/dominant line speeds up the rhythmic motion with the presence of scale-wise 16th notes emphasized by staccato 8th note in measures 103 and 106.

Mozart C Ex. 4

Mozart C Ex. 5

This is followed by grace notes that decorate another variation of the melody until measures 115-116 where a brief interjection by the more melodic syncopated voice moves in longer quarter notes. This is followed by a return to the scale wise motion in the more masculine voice concluding at the cadence in measure 120. The solo flute line returns in measures 135-136 with a brief interjection of the more lyrical, feminine voice featuring a longer slurred melody which is taken over by the masculine/dominant voice in measures 137-140 as the rhythmic direction speeds up with the incorporation of 16th notes, thirds in displaced octaves in measure 138 and grace notes once again decorating the 16th note variation of the primary melody.

Mozart C Ex. 6

A brief feminine/non-dominant interjection follows in measure 143 which is again interrupted by faster moving 16th notes in measures 144-149 that make use of heavier articulated scale-wise motion, particularly in measure 146, leading to a passage in 147 that features grace notes decorating a 16th note variation of the melody. Displaced octave 3rds in measure 148 make use of a very wide 2 octave range in this passage. The feminine voice responds in measures 156-161 where the rhythmic motion of the line slows down to half notes and whole notes, thus bringing the focus from melodic direction to drastic changes in dynamics.

Mozart C Ex. 7

Measures 162-163 feature a brief return to the masculine/dominant voice where the rhythm  speeds up to scale-wise running 16th note sequences followed by the lyrical feminine/non-dominant response in measures 164-169 where slower moving dotted rhythms are decorated by brief grace notes highlighting the primary melodic line. Trills moving in scale-wise motion elongate the C major melody until the cadence in measure 169.

Mozart C Ex. 8

The solo flute again enters in measures 175-187 as the lyrical feminine/non-dominant character varies the melodic motion using 8th note slurred octaves that elongate a scale-wise pattern over 4 measures. The rhythm slows even further in measures 179-182 where whole note chord tones are followed by syncopated quarter notes similar to the previous phrases. Measures 189-201 bring back the masculine, more dominant, voice to the texture as faster moving articulated 16th notes moving in scale-wise motion drive the melody forward while 16th note grace notes are added to the already ornamented sequences in measure 200.

Mozart C Ex. 9

The next entrance of the solo flute line in measures 202-214 feature the more feminine, lyrical voice moving in a slower quarter note slurred passages while whole notes suspend the melodic motion in measures 212-213. This is interrupted in measures 214-217 where the masculine line, introduced by staccato 8th notes, moves the rhythmic motion forward again with running 16th notes and grace notes decorating the faster moving variation of the melody. The feminine character follows in measures 218-224 with slower, syncopated quarter notes placed in longer, slurred passages.

Mozart C Ex. 10

Mozart C Ex. 11

Half notes briefly suspend the melodic motion until the masculine character interjects in measures 225-236 speeding up the predominant motion to running scale-wise 16th notes, staccato 8th notes (particularly in measures 225 and 229) and grace notes decorating the 16th note variation of the melodic C major scale in measures 231-233. This is followed by a return to the slower moving melodic voice in measures 237-239 highlighting quarter notes followed by syncopated quarter notes that elongate the melody. Finally the primary tutti section of the work comes to a close in measures 240-243 where the masculine/dominant character moves in faster articulated 16th notes to the final cadence in measure 243.

Mozart C Ex 12a

Mozart C Ex 12b

As in the previous two solo flute concerti, concluding cadenzas are highly individualized but as we can see from the cadenza issued by Gerhard Krichner in the Barenreiter edition, one may make ample use of the two character voices by call-and-response style juxtapositions using many of the compositional characteristics that Mozart has incorporated thus far in the work:

Mozart C Concerto

The presence of “characters” within the flute solo line shows us that each concerto is not conceived merely as a string of music but rather as a self-contained dialog. As Charles Rosen explains in his book The Classical Style”:

“In every way, Mozart made the soloist of his concertos even more like a character from an opera than before, and emphasized the dramatic qualities of the concerto.” (pg. 200)


Can you hear character voices in this concerto? Does this change your approach to performing these works? Have you constructed a cadenza based on these “voices”? Please share your experiences below!