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Customer Discussions > Classical Music forum

Why are Mozart's works in minor keys held in such high regard?

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Showing 1-25 of 31 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 19, 2012 2:49:23 AM PST
For instance the two (out of 27!) piano concertos in minor keys are often being discussed and rated highly around here. Same thing with the two symphonies in G minor (25 and 40). When it comes to popularity among performers and audiences the two piano concertos mentioned and symphony number 40 are very often being recorded and played at concerts. (I think maybe symphony number 25 isn't quite as popular, but it is still the most highly regarded among Mozart's early symphonies).

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 6:20:42 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 19, 2012 6:26:15 AM PST
scarecrow says:
Also the A-minor Piano Sonata can be added as the most widely played and discussed, the Requiem as well, all the minor keys there. . and the G-minor string quintet. . incredible. .
.I guess we crave anxiety, and darknesses for the modern age (Columbine to Sandy Hook), , , , , major keys simply doesn't do it for this age of uncertainty , there is another thread on the Elgar Cello Concerto, again the ''lament'' of the age. . . But major keys are also part of being human, to go on; I have close love one with MS, and I don't crave minor keys. . .I listen to the most hardcore modernity there is; because it is also very human, the energy the complexity, the freedom of modernity is also human. .

It should be noted that Mozart was a pretty positive upbeat kinda guy, with a utopian-like disposition, same with Beethoven . . . the minor keys in Mozart I think are cherished moments, places, situation for Wolfy, same with Beethoven and Haydn, , , ,

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 6:54:03 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 19, 2012 6:54:22 AM PST
>>I guess we crave anxiety, and darknesses for the modern age <<

Then the Dissonance Quartet should be the work for our age - shouldn't it? - - Too bad it is in C major.

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 7:15:19 AM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Nov 26, 2013 10:12:00 AM PST]

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 7:15:24 AM PST
Skaynan says:
Take for example Tchaikovsky's attitude: He adored Mozart, and had said so in many occasions. But what Mozart did he really adored? A serious research (according to Roberrt Greenberg) asserts that "Don Giovanni" was the only Mozart Opera he knew. It's hardly surprising, considering that all throughout the 19th century composers (and the general public) were NOT thoroughly familiar with Mozart's entire output. Far from it. The works that were regularly performed are indeed those mentioned so far in this thread. I guess that can provide a hint to the question in the OP. and btw, "Giovanni" is another great work in minor (at least the overture, but all throughout is much more "minor" dominated then was the standard at the time).

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 7:15:58 AM PST
Roeselare says:
the interval of the minor third is derived by multiplying a reference tone by 6. Six times! This is right on the edge of human powers of perception. For the human brain to differentiate between 5 times the fundamental tone and 6 times, it causes consternation, uneasiness etc.

It's an unconscious response but in young children it might be more disconcerting, or maybe they can't hear it at all. Music using major thirds seems to be more appropriate for children, but when minor thirds are employed we laugh with them and we're careful to reassure children - because of the powerful effects.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 7:49:02 AM PST
>>in young children it might be more disconcerting, or maybe they can't hear it at all<<

The Danish avantgarde electronic composer Else Marie Pade (the grandma of Danish electronica) told this story on the radio:
She sung a song to her baby which was in minor and it cried - then afterwards she changed it to major and the kid stopped crying and started smiling - going back to minor the baby cried again etc...

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 8:05:11 AM PST
Roeselare says:
I would think that if that could be well-correlated for a few days we would have something, but it's difficult to know what a baby reacts to. A mother's reaction and odd behavior and then emphatic reassurances can change a baby's reaction very quickly.

With older children in a classroom setting, the differences between them is striking. Some of them follow the music, some are looking around - wondering what the attentive focus among others is all about. As teachers, we don't always understand that a sensitive child might have a quick change of mood from the major to minor music. It passes very quickly anyway..

Is it possible to reliably study the early 'recognition' of music by toddlers in different cultures?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 8:08:57 AM PST
Well, werranth I think you have a point there - it's difficult to say if the baby's reaction is really about the music or something else in the surroundings.

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 8:36:08 AM PST
Dichterliebe says:
Let's list Mozart's works in the minor mode as the tonic:

Symphony no. 25 in g minor K. 183
Symphony no. 40 in g minor K. 550
Masonic Funeral Music in c minor K. 477
Piano Quartet no. 1 in g minor K. 478
String Quartet no. 15 in d minor K. 421
String Quartet no. 13 in d minor K. 173
Adagio and Fugue in c minor K. 546 *transcription made in part from the c minor fugue for two pianos K. 426
String Quintet no. 2 in c minor K. 406 *transcription of the wind octet K. 388 in the same key
String Quintet no. 4 in g minor K. 516
Serenade no. 12 for wind octet ("Nachtmusik") in c minor K. 388
Adagio and Rondo for glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola, and cello K. 617
Violin Sonata in e minor K. 304
Violin and Piano Variations in g minor ("Helas, j'ai perdu mon amant") K. 360
Fugue in g minor for organ K. 154
Fugue in g minor for organ K. 401
Adagio and Allegro for organ K. 594
Fantasy in f minor for organ K. 608
Piano Sonata no. 8 in a minor K. 310
Piano Sonata no. 14 in c minor K. 457
Fantasy for piano in c minor K. 396
Fantasy for piano in d minor K. 397
Fantasy for piano in c minor K. 475
Rondo for piano in a minor K. 511
Adagio for piano in b minor K. 540
Piano Concerto no. 20 in d minor K. 466
Piano Concerto no. 24 in c minor K. 491
Kyrie in d minor K. 90
Kyrie in d minor K. 341
Offertorium in d minor K. 222
Mass in d minor K. 65
Mass in c minor ("Waisenhaus") K. 139
Mass in c minor ("Great") K. 427
Requiem Mass in d minor K. 626

Those are the ones I can think of but I had to look up some of the Kochel numbers. In looking them up, I found I had forgotten a few of the early pieces such as the Missa Brevis in d minor. I know this isn't everything. Please correct any mistakes and add to this list.

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 9:48:21 AM PST
Here is a column in Financial Times by Harry Eyres about Mozart in minor:

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 9:49:12 AM PST
If that's it, Dictherliebe, then there are very few.

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 10:02:46 AM PST
Here is an interesting article about Fantasy and Sonata c minor K. 475/457 by Paul and Eva Badura-Skoda:

and the A minor:

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 11:32:20 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 19, 2012 11:42:11 AM PST
Every major scale has its relative minor, where the minor scale starts a minor third below the major tonic, and contains the same notes as the major scale. Also known as an Aeolian mode scale.

For example, A is the relative minor of C and the minor third is the interval from A to C.

When I think of the minor third that way, it doesn't seem so harmonically complicated. It's an interval that already exists in the major scale but used differently.

Historically, it seems to me that the Ionian (major) mode is something of a newcomer, compared to, say, Phrygian mode, though I haven't confirmed my hunch.

I especially like the Fantasies and Rondo.

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 1:12:05 PM PST
Auntie Lynn says:
Maybe off topic, but Mozart is widely held to be the greatest genius who ever lived. Aside from his music, he had mind/mental capacities barely grasped by Joe Sikspak.

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 3:02:06 PM PST
i agree with march that at least part of it is the relative rarity of minor key works, especially with mozart and that period in general. i frequently seek them out. in fact, i have a playlist on my ipod of all the minor key symphonies of haydn, as well as another of various minor key works from different composers. not that all major key works are sunny, but i do have a thing for minors. perhaps that partially explains my love for rachmaninov. aren't all his major orchestral works in a minor key?

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 3:05:59 PM PST
For a while I listened to so much Haydn that I ended up not being able to digest music in minor keys - even Haydn's own Rider quartet (G minor) was too austere for me!

Posted on Dec 19, 2012 3:25:53 PM PST
rasmus, my very very favorites by haydn are the slow stuff in minor keys. the opening adagio of the d minor symphony #34... sublime! my all time favorite slow piece.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 19, 2012 3:28:52 PM PST
I will try to listen to that one - you know some of those early symphonies are a bit rusty from lack of airing...

Posted on Dec 20, 2012 6:34:19 PM PST
DavidRFoss says:
Mozart's major key works are pretty darn good, too. :-)

Posted on Mar 13, 2014 6:35:28 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 13, 2014 6:42:42 AM PDT
When thinking about this last night, the initial reaction was that maybe when Mozart began a piece in a minor key, he had his mind set to create music that was more personal, deep and serious. Perhaps for him, it was a mental trigger to dig deep and do his most expressive writing.

The particular minor keys leave hints that he might have even expressed specific characteristics that come from each different key.

This would require some serious study and I don't claim the knowledge to undertake this properly. On a superficial level though I can throw out some generalities.

1) Many musicologists and music writers have pointed out that Mozart often would put out groups of compositions within a specific genre and within those groups would be related keys and one minor key piece. For example; The Piano Quartets, one in Eb Major, one in g minor. The final 3 symphonies, Eb Major, g minor and C Major. (note the Eb and gm grouping again) The 2 viola Quintets K515 and K516, C Major and g minor.

2) Singular pieces in a key he used only once. The Adagio for piano K540 in b minor. Or twice but in the same specific genre never done again before or after; The Fantasies for mechanical clock in f minor, K594 and K608.

3) Mozart was observed to be very sensitive and we probably don't know how strongly the darkening effects of the minor mode may have been on his delicate temperament. One clue is that he often would end even his darkest creations with sunny major key endings. This practice confounded many critics who had trouble reconciling why he would end the Viola Quintet K516 with such a bouncy, happy almost trivial Finale. Rosen argues it was just his Classical Style where everything is balanced. Still it does give pause and reasons to wonder. Only the cm piano concerto K491 (#24) doesn't end in major.

So at the very least, Mozart has left us some interesting anomalies to decipher.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2014 12:02:49 PM PDT
Roeselare says:
I've assumed that the musical germs of ideas came first and then whatever key they aligned comfortably and cleverly with dictated the key label of the whole work. This seems plausible at least from Bach to Beethoven's time, but I could be very wrong about this. Was it the same routinely? I don't know how Mozart personally approached the creative process. Maybe he heard whole opening themes in his head, because he was sensitive to something specific going on in his daily living, and then the notes just continued to flow into the middle sections of the first movement.

It would've been nice if Mozart wrote something about this in a letter but it was probably very automatic for a guy like him, with his experiences. And he assumed that the people around him knew that it 'just flowed'.

LvB and Chopin struggled with their pieces to attain a polished work. But that's quite different than choosing a key signature.

Pianist Helene Grimaud says she sees colors for chords, or maybe it's keys?

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2014 1:56:42 PM PDT
Hi barbW -

Well there's the "trumpets and drums" thing that goes with the brighter keys of C and D major. Of course Mozart was aware of this and it is actually in his writings. Mozart was very conscious of key and because of the tunings used in his day, some keys had "wolf" notes. His extreme sensitivity seems to have influenced an avoidance of the keys with "wolfs' because he never ventured beyond 4 flats or 4 sharps. Of course during a piece he would modulate through remote keys but I wouldn't be surprised if he was extra careful about the pitches used during those modulations so that "wolfs" are minimized or avoided altogether.

I've read in several different places that Mozart had absolute pitch. (or "perfect pitch" as it is commonly known...The most accurately descriptive term is "pitch memory") It appears his pitch memory was very highly developed. From letters and comments of his contemporaries and fellow musicians, they all said he had the greatest musical talent and the most amazing ears. He was able to memorize all the parts of Allegri's Miserere from one hearing. Melodic dictation of one line is one thing, hearing several parts perfectly and remembering every note is miraculous.

The point I'm getting to is that I believe Mozart would hear his creations in his head in a specific key. I think his ideas came to him with specific pitches and he immediately knew exactly what those pitches were. He wasn't beyond transposing an aria for a specific singer's voice but beyond those considerations, I think his new ideas were not only shaped with regard to the intervallic values, I think he heard them in his head in specific keys before he wrote them down.

I am certain of this because of experiences I've had with musicians who have finely tuned pitch memory. They hear specific notes in their head when they write or improvise, and they know the key and actual names of those notes. People with relative pitch likely do the same thing except they sometimes have to do a little mental "counting" to be certain what note they are hearing. The person with pitch memory hears the actual note name along with the note. It isn't just "hmmmm" for them, it is "Deeeee".

Well that's a lot of rambling words but I hope it makes sense.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 13, 2014 2:32:41 PM PDT
HB says:

My favorite Mozart String Quartet is K. 421 a.k.a, No. 15. It is in D minor but the work seems pretty sunny in the first two movements. Then the minuet turns really dark. The finale is a set of variations of incredible beauty but like the first movement, its darkness is somewhat limited.

Posted on Mar 13, 2014 3:01:38 PM PDT
HB - Yes, I agree!

Supposedly, Contanze was going into labor in the next room and her expressions of pain influenced W A M's writing.
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Discussion in:  Classical Music forum
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Initial post:  Dec 19, 2012
Latest post:  Mar 14, 2014

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