Mozart’s Flute Concerto No 1 in G major K313 – The Mannheim School and the language of music

Posted on September 2, 2013

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The name denotes the group of eminent musicians that created a leading orchestral group in Mannheim in the eighteenth century, initially under the patronage of Charles III Philip, Elector Palatine from 1720 to 1742 and later under Karl Theodor, who was described as a less charismatic leader, but a person much interested in philosophy, theatre and music who preferred to generate political capital by culture rather than wars. The group was essentially a large orchestra, which attracted virtuosic musicians under the visionary and disciplined leadership of violinist / composer, and later director (from 1750) Johann Stamitz. The musicians at Mannheim were offered good payment and good working conditions, were well respected and had more liberal contracts, enabling them tour and keep an open door towards the rest of Europe. Many of them were notable composers, like Carlo Grua and later Christian Cannabich, Ignaz Holzbauer, Franz Xavier Richter, Anton Filtz, Karl Stamitz and Franz Beck.

According to contemporary reviews, the success of the Mannheim Orchestra was due to their astonishing and disciplined virtuosity, expanded orchestra with a broader range of tone colours, increased role and independence assigned to wind instruments, their innovative techniques of using graded dynamical changes (the so called Mannheim crescendos and diminuendos, mainly the influence of Niccolò Jommelli), energetic ascending and descending passages (called Mannheim rocket, M. roller, M sigh etc.), sudden pauses, which were delivered in highly coordinated manner. Famously, the English music historian and critic Charles Burney called them “an army of generals”.

Aside their technical virtuosity, twentieth century musical literature (i.e. Hugo Riemann, Vladimir Helfert, Jens Peter Larsen) emphasized the groups importance as a link between the High Baroque and the established Classical style. Often the stylistic elements used by the Mannheim orchestra were previously documented as being used elsewhere, so they cannot be attributed solely to this group, however, it seems that the Mannheim group had a great visionary power to bring them together coherently and further refine them to create music that was the best fit to the galant style, so much appreciated by the contemporary public. These stylistic innovations include:

–       the use of clear melodic lines in the forefront, symmetrical phrase structures (organized periodically in 2, 4, or 8 bars) built over a slower harmonic rhythm.

–       improvement of the classical musical format, i.e. the sonata form

–       building up of the tension of the music towards the middle to the “development section” of sonata form (in contrast with Baroque music, where tension is higher at the beginning and at the end of the movements)

–       the inclusion of the Minuet as the fourth movement of the sonata cycle

In the twentieth century, there was also a lot of debate about the “national” origins of the group – several composers, including Stamitz, Richter, Jiri Cart had important biographical (and perhaps musical) links to Bohemia. However, the musical idiom that became known as “the Classical Style” is essentially cosmopolitan. It has its origins in the Italian opera, with predominant Austrian-Germanic exponents like Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, influenced by French musical theatre, of course, with contribution from composers from smaller countries and occasionally containing some vague folkloric elements from here and there. When hearing a composition from the Classical period one could hardly ever tell the ethnicity of the composer.

The stylistic elements characteristic to the Mannheim orchestra were clearly present in the music of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Although it is unlikely that Haydn could come in contact directly with the Mannheim school (being rather isolated in Eszterhaza), the latter two composers clearly had connections to Mannheim musicians, and elements suggestive to the Mannheim style can be found with abundance in their works.

Mozart Flute Concerto No 1in G major K313

This concerto was commissioned by a wealthy Dutch surgeon and amateur musician named Ferdinand De Jean, whom Mozart met via Johann Baptist Wendling, a virtuoso solo flutist of the Mannheim orchestra. This time Mozart aimed to write relatively easy (I am not sure about this one), good humored and moderately dramatic music, which would charm and entertain performers and listeners, connoisseurs of the timely fashionable musical formulae.


W. A. Mozart: Flute Concerto K. 313 in G major, Emmanuel Pahud (solo flute), with the Haydn Ensemble

The piece is scored for a standard string orchestra, plus two flutes and two horns, and is arranged in a three-movement (fast-slow-fast) cycle – first movement Allegro maestoso, second movement Adagio and third movement Rondo form. As it happened so often in the Mannheim orchestra, a wind instrument (the flute, in this case) plays the leading role, being in a “dialogue” with the rest of the orchestra. Quite obviously, such a dialogue is the backbone of any concerto, and looking at the score would allow us some insight into the “language” of classical music. Another source of understanding for me was an essay authored by Tara Caitlin Schwab about similarities between oral Rhetoric and Music. These sources made me reflect upon the similarities between the language of music and that of spoken (or written) language.

In a musical piece, just as in a theatrical storyline or in rhetoric speech, we can identify structures of different levels. The whole of the piece would present us a dramatic scenario and takes us to some resolution through tension and catharsis. At the level of the movement we can hear the different melodic ideas being introduced one by one and then confronted with each other, revealing their similarities or contrasting traits before they are brought to resolution. At the level of single melody lines we can observe combinations of specific segments – patterns of notes (phrases) – similar to words in a sentence, completing or contrasting each other, moving from a starting point towards an end-point or a temporary end point.

These patterns are characterized by a succession of notes with specific dynamics and modes (schemata) that were commonly used – a large number of such schemata became a shared stock of knowledge among musicians before and after the classical era. Some of these schemata are outlined in Tara Caitlin Schwab’s essay (e.g. Romanesca, Meyer, Monte, Fonte, Ponte etc.).  Following Mozart’s score for the flute concerto we can see a great variety of melodic patterns, which form the basis of the dialogue between the solo instrument and the orchestra. These melodies exploit to a great degree the technical abilities inherent to the flute – arpeggios and leaps between the low and high notes, lots of slurs, trills, staccatos, stepwise passages, syncopated rhythms, changing dynamics, which give us a sense of heightened emotionality and sophistication. The melodic patterns are linked together in longer syntactic units corresponding to sentences in spoken word, and are clearly delimited by punctuation marks – cadences and clausulae – returns to the starting key (complete resolution, authentic cadence) or finding a resting point in a different key, (often the dominant or an related key (temporary resolution, half cadence). Other “punctuation marks”, like false (deceptive) cadences or inverted cadences are able to increase or sustain the tension accumulated in the music and carry it forward to the next syntactic unit.

It appears to me that the musicians of the eighteenth century Mannheim were able to collect and refine the available musical stock knowledge available at their time, greatly contributing to the development of the language of classical music, which Mozart spoke with such great fluency and ingenuity. According to the descriptions available today, most of the elements described above were clearly present in the music of the Mannheim school – a large stock of melodic patterns (word thesaurus), clear, periodic articulation that was easy to follow (syntax of sentences), dramatic musical narrative (storyline) and dynamic changes of powerful effect (affective intonation of the speakers voice). Mozart’s beautiful and light-hearted flute concerto is a masterly application of the musical trends of his age.

Tibor Kovacs, Open College of Arts student

References:

Schwab, T. C. A flutist’s handbook for the development of a rhetorical approach to W.A. Mozart’s flute concerto in G major, K. 313 A lecture document presented to the School of Music and Dance of the University of Oregon, April 2012. Available online on http://www.taraschwab.com/page7/files/a-flutist0027s-handbook.pdf [Accessed 26th August 2013]

Toff, N. (2012) The flute book: a complete guide for students and performers. 3rd ed. US New York, Oxford University Press.

Encyclopaedia Britannica (2013) Mannheim School [online] Wikipedia website. Available from: http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/362596/Mannheim-school [Accessed 27th August 2013]

Wikipedia (2013) Mannheim School [online] Wikipedia website. Available from: http:// http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mannheim_school [Accessed 28th August 2013]

The Free Library (2013) The Mannheim school: phenomenon and myth [online] The Free Library website. Available from: http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+Mannheim+school%3A+phenomenon+and+myth.-a0173466649 [Accessed 28th August 2013]

Conservapedia (2013) Mannheim School [online] Conservapedia website. Available from: http://www.conservapedia.com/Mannheim_School [Accessed 28th August 2013]

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