Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto, Part 18. Musical Style. Contrasting the style of Mozart’s Concerto with concertos by Vivaldi, Weber, and Jacob. By Terry B. Ewell, Bassoon Digital Professor. BDP #229. With Elaine Ross, piano.

<music: “Mozart Mashup” with Terry Ewell and Elaine Ross.>

1. Welcome, this is Terry Ewell. Is there such a thing as a musical style to Mozart’s compositions? Does the Mozart Bassoon Concerto need to be performed differently than the concertos by Vivaldi, Weber, or Jacob? Should the bassoon project a different tone and character to the music? I think the answer to all of those questions is a hearty, “yes!” So, how then do we define the characteristics of Mozart’s music?

2. Although Mozart was a Germanic composer, his musical style was greatly influenced by Italian vocal traditions and in particular what is termed bel canto style of singing. There is a fine definition of bel canto given in the Harvard Dictionary of Music:

3. Bel canto is "…the Italian vocal technique of the 18th century, with its emphasis on beauty of sound and brilliancy of performance rather than dramatic expression or romantic emotion... it must be considered as a highly artistic technique and the only proper one for Italian opera and for Mozart.”
(Willi Apel, The Harvard Dictionary of Music, Second Edition, Revised and Enlarged, Cambridge Massachusetts, Belknap Press, 2000, p. 88.)

4. Perhaps you can better understand the Mozartian style of performance by contrasting the Bassoon Concerto with other concertos for bassoon. The Concerto by Mozart is quite different in style from Vivaldi’s bassoon concertos, for instance. The Vivaldi concertos are less vocal, much more influenced by string techniques. For instance, consider this passage from the opening of Vivaldi’s E minor Concerto, RV 484

<Music: Vivaldi, E minor Concerto, RV 484, opening, mm. 14-15.>

5. In addition, there are often more “schizophrenic” moments in Vivaldi’s music as seen in the proximity of widely contrasting musical materials. Consider this example where in a few measures the bassoon solo presents lyrical and virtuosic music, and then recapitulates the opening string riffs.

<Music: Vivaldi, E minor Concerto, RV 484, mm. 22-25.>

6. This is not at all similar to Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto, where musical contrasts are much less abrupt.

7. The style of the Mozart Concerto also differs from the Weber Concerto and his Andante and Hungarian Rondo. The Weber compositions are much more dramatic and even brash at times. This passage from the Andante and Hungarian Rondo illustrates the dramatic mood swings never seen in Mozart’s work. Notice the tension created in the serious ending of the first movement. Then suddenly the bassoon enters in a jovial and even joking mood with the theme of the Rondo.

<Music: 1984 Performance with the Seattle Youth Symphony Orchestra. Terry B. Ewell, bassoon; Vilem Sokol, conductor.>

8. These forceful changes in mood are not contained in the Mozart Bassoon Concert.

9. In addition, the style of the Gordon Jacob Concerto greatly contrasts with the Mozart Concerto. The first and third movements feature great rhythmic energy and require boisterous playing by the bassoon performer.

10. The second movement, with the high register solos, possesses an eerie, other-worldly quality.  This contrasts with the Mozart Concerto that is always warm and of this world.

11. Each of these concertos; those by Mozart, Vivaldi, Weber, and Jacob; should be played in a manner most appropriate to their style and historical context.

12. So, in summary, the style of the Mozart Concerto should be beautiful, cultured, and always with affection. Above all seek to perform it in a vocal style. However, this vocal style features less vibrato variety than I would perform in the Weber and Jacob concertos.

13. In addition to these important considerations of style, the performer must be aware of the most prominent type of musical gesture in Mozart’s music. Furthermore, this the most frequently employed ornament throughout the Common Practice Period. This ornament is called the appoggiatura.

14. In one of the most important treatises on performance practice in the 18th century, Quantz addresses the appoggiatura first, indicating its prominent position among all of the ornaments.

15. Spending some time recognizing appoggiaturas will help you not only to perform music by Mozart, but also compositions throughout the 18th and 19th centuries and even some in the 20th century. In order to understand how to phrase this music you must recognized appoggiaturas.

16. Appoggiatura comes from the Italian verb appoggiare, which is translated into English as "to lean upon." These are metrically stressed notes, usually occurring on downbeats. These notes are dissonant and resolve downwards. Let’s examine some examples from the Concerto and then see how the appoggiaturas signal appropriate musical phrasing.

17. The opening solo in the first movement features several appoggiaturas. Here I have indicated them with red “A”s above the notes. The most important stresses or “leanings” occur on the downbeats of measures 38 and 41. These moments are the climaxes of the phrases and they should be the result of musical shaping leading up to them.

<Music: Mozart Bassoon Concerto, Opening to the First Movement Solo>

18. Likewise, appoggiaturas are featured often in the second movement. Each of them should be slightly stressed.

<Music: Mozart Bassoon Concerto, Opening to the Second Movement Solo>

19. In the third movement, one of the most significant appoggiaturas participates in a cadential 6/4 chord in measure 50. This appoggiatura signals the end of a section in this Rondo movement.

<Music: Mozart Bassoon Concerto, Third Movement, Appoggiatura in Measure 50>

20. Learn to recognize appoggiaturas by ear and by sight. Once you master the quick identification of this ornament, then you can move the phrase toward this important musical gesture, which is often the climax of the phrase. Appoggiaturas are essential to the style of Mozart’s music, and to perform the music well you must understand where they are and how to express them.

<music: “Mozart Mashup” with Terry Ewell and Elaine Ross.>