Some of what makes this symphony so interesting is its intent to destabilize the listener’s experience by consistently introducing the unexpected. Let’s have some fun with just two examples of this!
The third movement is called Menuetto. This is a type of social dance which preceded the waltz and had steps designed around a consistent “ONE two three ONE two three” pulse pattern. Right away Mozart messes with the listener, who is expecting to hear a “normal” Menuetto pulse, by making the melody sound like it’s in a “ONE two ONE two” pattern while the harmony parts are in “ONE two three ONE two three.” This technique, displacing the expected pulse, is called ‘hemiola.’
Watch and listen to Colorado Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Yi Zhao and Assistant Principal Viola Catherine Beeson play the normal pulse pattern Mozart could’ve chosen, and the displaced pulse hemiola version he decided to go with.
Experiment with this at home! Establish a steady pulse by tapping your toe, clapping, or speaking “ONE two three ONE two three ONE two three.” Make sure to emphasize “ONE” each time. Now have a quarantine buddy jump in over that pulse with a steady “ONE two ONE two ONE two”, making sure the initial “ONE” lines up together. Easy, right? Has an interesting sort of swing to it? Make it more challenging! This time layer a steady “ONE two three four ONE two three four ONE two three four” over the “ONE two three” pattern. This makes a reeaallyy sllooww heemioolla. Try finding your own ‘in between’ steady pulse patterns to layer for even more idea breaking. Breaking stuff with musical ideas doesn’t cause injury or even the actual breaking of anything so go for it!
About halfway through the Finale movement, Mozart decides to shake things up by throwing some really wacky notes at us in a little bit of a weird order and with funky dramatic pauses. It’s like he’s all of a sudden using musical Yoda grammar! As listeners we ‘get’ what he’s saying but it takes some effort to decode. Here is an example of Mozart using normal musical grammar to begin the movement, and then the Yoda grammar he uses in the middle.
Watch and listen to Colorado Symphony Assistant Concertmaster Yi Zhao and Principal Viola Basil Vendryes demonstrating.
Pretty different kind of musical sentences! One interesting thing to point out here is Mozart complicates his Yoda version by leaving out one ‘word.’ In his out-of-order musical sentence he uses every note except the one that is the name of the symphony – G. Mysterious, this is. Complicating musical grammar, it does. #4everyodaheartemoji
Have some fun with this concept at home. Write down a sentence from a book, or make a sentence of your own. Now pass it to a quarantine buddy and ask them to jumble it up by reordering the words. Next pass this version to another quarantine buddy, asking them to cross out an important word and add a slash (or two or three!) where a dramatic silence should go. Finally, perform the original sentences and then the jumbled ones for each other.
Did any of them still make sense?
How were the changed versions different from the originals?
Were any of them funny? Annoying? Confusing? Beautifully poetic?
Consider the effect of this activity when you listen to the Finale movement!