Concerto as Drama

In this piece, I analyze the dramatic elements of three Mozart concertos.

December 2021

This analysis will be considering and comparing the first movements of Mozart’s Flute Concerto in G, Horn Concerto in F, and Clarinet Concerto in A.  For each piece, three main questions will be discussed: 1) What is the role of the soloist in the ensemble?  2) How do the musical themes in both the solo and orchestra parts compare to each other?  3) How do the differences in the solo and orchestra roles connect to form a coherent concerto?

In the opening bars of the Flute Concerto, the soloist plays the main theme with the orchestra, which sets the scene for the solo being a lead in the ensemble.  Like most concertos, it steps out of the spotlight occasionally so that the orchestra holds the reigns for a bit.  Interestingly, this is a characteristic which does not appear in the other two Mozart concertos.  Of the three, the flute is the only soloist to play at the very beginning of the movement.  This presence immediately gives a hint to the listener that the soloist is the leader of the ensemble (see Figure 1). 

Figure 1

The soloist makes a statement to start the music, and then takes a step back for the ensemble to continue.  When the soloist returns in m. 31, it is the ensemble’s turn to drop out to simple 8th notes while their leader carries the melody (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

This trade-off puts the audience in a mindset that the flute is the important one to pay attention to.  Dramatic entrances and exits of a particular instrument, especially a soloist, captures awareness from the listeners.  They know when to tune into the main attraction (the soloistic passages).

Aside from the opening, the melody is rarely played in complete unison by the soloist and orchestra members.  The flute leads the rest of the instruments in the main theme and then allows them to play alongside it, in the form of countermelodies, throughout the movement (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

While the orchestra’s role is primarily accompaniment branching away from the melody, it does return to play in unison with the soloist in the last bars of the movement (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Although there are points throughout the music that feature the soloist and orchestra playing in unison, the most prominent moments when this is done is in the opening and closing measures.  By using this technique, Mozart states that the soloist is the leader of the ensemble, but also shows how the orchestra supports it by playing countermelodies and joining in the main theme to finish.

Throughout the movement, the orchestra seems to go off on its own path, winding back around to the main theme at the end.  Looking closer, though, there are moments when Mozart connects the two paths of the soloist and ensemble so that they are unified the entire time.  Beginning at m. 129, the accompaniment has dropped out almost entirely, but comes back in for various ornamental touches.  Specifically, the brief trills on the last beats of mm. 129, 131, and 133 (see Figure 5). 

Figure 5

These trills match up with the solo part, binding the instruments together even though they are playing independently.

Like the flute, the clarinetist in the Clarinet Concerto is clearly the leader of the ensemble.  The main way that Mozart makes this obvious is by having the orchestra play the same melody at the beginning which the soloist plays throughout, but with fewer embellishments.  Even though it is accomplished slightly differently, he once again starts the piece with a declaration of who is lead instrument.    

Figure 6

When introducing the main theme at the beginning of the movement, the orchestra plays a half note and 8th notes (see violin part in Figure 6).  However, when the clarinet enters at m. 57, it adds 16th notes I between the 8th notes (see Figure 7).

Figure 7

The orchestra opens with the main theme, but once the solo enters at m. 57, most of the ensemble is just accompanying with 8th notes, quarter notes, whole notes, and occasionally more complicated rhythms involving 16th notes (see Figure 8).

Figure 8

The clarinet entrances usually have an introduction to the theme from the ensemble, then takes the solo and steals the spotlight.  In a way, it follows the lead of the orchestra, even though the main melody and attention is on the solo.

Of these three Mozart concertos, the Clarinet Concerto starts the solo the latest, at m. 57.  This is more of a build up to the virtuosic entrance of the clarinet, and the style of performing in a leadership capacity continues throughout the movement, with the clarinet always having a strong and loud presence and adding embellishments to the main themes.

Mozart’s Horn Concerto in D is a little bit different than his concertos for flute and clarinet.  In this work, the soloist is much more a part of the orchestra rather than a virtuoso.  The other concertos feature parts of or simplified versions of a melody in the orchestra before the solo, but in this one, the ensemble plays the exact same theme before the horn enters (see Figure 9). 

Figure 9

As seen in the beginning, the melody is shared more evenly between the soloist and the ensemble, with the horn taking over at m. 22.  It also balances between various countermelodies and themes, such as the 8th notes in mm. 68-71 and the solo entering with a new theme in m. 72 (see Figure 10).

Figure 10

This horn part does not sound quite like a traditional concerto solo.  The soloist is almost just one of the orchestra members, so gently and inconspicuously are the solos woven into the rest of the piece.  Yet, it is also a leader, though in a different way than the flute and clarinet. By playing the main theme and having the rest of the ensemble imitate the exact rhythms and style, the horn is leading by example.

The soloist comes in gently at m. 22, refraining from the virtuosic style which might be expected from a concerto solo (see Figure 11).  This style enters more at m. 72, where the horn presents a new theme which the orchestra has not heard before.  Taking more of the spotlight than it did before, the audience realizes that this soloist is not just blending in with the crowd, but suddenly comes out in the open with a bold and rich solo, in a strong forte for the first time in the piece.

Figure 11

Given that the melody is shared more equally between the soloist and the ensemble (see Figure 9), it is clear that the Horn Concerto does not express the same showy sentiment as the other concertos.  While this piece is no less impressive to play, it has less soloistic character and more humility than the flute and clarinet appear to contain.

Considering these Mozart concertos, it is interesting to note that while they differ in specific details—such as when the soloist enters the piece and how the themes recur throughout—there are also certain similarities which carry across all three.  Each one has a distinctive solo voice which presents itself differently from the others, as well as contrasting parts which come together so all of the pieces connect.  In all of these, the various instruments, harmonies, themes, and countermelodies complement each other to make up beautiful music.

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