Mozart's use of themes and motifs in the key of C Major

Mozart’s String Quartet #19, K. 465, Piano Concerto # 21, K. 467, and his Symphony #41, K. 551, are all in the pleasant key of C major. K. 465 was written in 1785 and is the last quartet in a set of six quartets dedicated to Haydn. K. 467 was also written in 1785 and is Mozart’s last piano concerto. K. 551, the Jupiter Symphony, was finished in 1788, and is the last symphony Mozart wrote. Although these three works are in the same key and were written in close proximity to each other, they have very different and distinctive motifs and themes.

Mozart’s String Quartet #19 (K. 465) was finished on January 14th, 1785 as the last in a set of six quartets dedicated to Joseph Haydn. This set of six quartets was inspired by Haydn’s Opus 33, which Haydn completed just before visiting Vienna in 1781. Mozart’s six became known as the ‘Haydn Quartets’ (Pauly 90). K. 465 is commonly referred to as the ‘dissonant quartet’ (Pauly 168).

Mozart started writing the Haydn Quartets in 1782, one year after Haydn’s Opus 33. This was a very busy but productive time in his life. In the three years it took him to write the set he wrote a multitude of other works, married Constanze Weber, and had two children with his new wife, of which only one survived. After hearing these quartets, Haydn stated to Mozart’s father: “Before God, as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name. He has taste, and, what is more, the greatest knowledge of composition.” It is because of this statement that Mozart dedicated these quartets to his “most dear friend,” Haydn. (Anonymous 705).

The Haydn Quartets were Mozart’s first mature quartets, noted by the new style of writing he had developed. For the first time, Mozart uses counterpoint as means for intensification in the music. These quartets also show his like of dissonant and chromatic lines. This is very clearly stated in the first eight bars of the first movement of K. 465 (example 1) (Anonymous 705). This is the first and only time that Mozart wrote a slow introduction in a string quartet, which is probably why it is such a memorable piece. The main theme is stated in measures 23-30 by the first violin (example 2), and is repeated throughout the piece in various textures.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21 (K. 467) was finished on March 9th, 1785, two months after he finished the Haydn Quartets. This time in his life was “the peak of his reputation as a composer and pianist.” At the time this work was finished, Mozart was having financial difficulties, even though most of his music was either published, in print, or in manuscript copies. (Anonymous 708) The history of this work is much the same as the history of K. 465 because they were finished within two months of each other.

The first phrase, a short march-like motif, is repeated throughout the piece. It is used as a main melody, as well as a bass and background figure, and is repeated, to some degree, in all instruments. This motif is illustrated in example 3, measures 1-7 of this piece. This is the start of the piece, a very quiet, happy motif from the strings before the rest of the orchestra comes in. A few measures later, in mm. 12-19 (example 4), this motif is being used as a counterpoint figure in the violas and cellos to the melody line in the violins. The first measure of the motif is bounced between the low strings and the violins in mm. 148-152 (example 5), transposing each time, and seeming to keep the listener on edge because the phrase is not completed.

Mozart’s last symphony, Symphony #41 (K. 551), was finished August 10th, 1788, the third symphony finished in less than two months. At this time, Mozart was having financial troubles as well as psychological issues. In regards to the financial troubles, Mozart asked his friend, Michael Puchberg for loans, but he never sought medical advice for his psychological problems, which included mourning over his six-month old daughter, Theresia, his worsening health, and the depression he was suffering from (Anonymous 710; “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart”).

K. 551 is more commonly know as The Jupiter Symphony; this title was not coined by Mozart, but by Johann Peter Salomon, for unknown reasons ("Symphony No. 41 (Mozart)"). In 1786, Mozart’s health took a turn for the worse, and played public concerts less frequently, which meant less income. Because of this, he and his family moved from Vienna to Alsergrund in 1788. Less than six months before the move, Mozart’s wife Constanze gave him a daughter, Theresia, whom he loved very much, but she died after the move to Alsergrund, devastating her father. (Anonymous 710).

The first movement of this concerto changes styles quite often: “Within a short space of time the opening of the C major concerto, K. 467, migrates through march, cantabile style, and counterpoint.” (Irving 120). This is not strange to Mozart, and the piece flows freely throughout the styles. The opening of the first movement of this symphony is grand, and very memorable, but it is not thematic material, it is used to draw the listener in, and the first theme is stated later. A second theme is stated in the violins in measures 101-105 (example 6), and then goes right into a development of that same theme. Measures 81-83 (example 7) is foreshadowing measures 269-274 (example 8), which seems like a short break from the constantly moving violins. Also, this break is in a minor key, as opposed to C Major around it. Mozart uses a lot of dotted quarter note and eighth note rhythms, almost giving the piece a jazzy feel. This is shown in measures 277-279 (example 9).

Although K. 465, K. 467, and K. 551 are all in C Major, they have very different themes and motifs. Mozart is known to write interesting and complex motifs in his minor keys, while the simple themes in these C Major works are bright and playful. The themes stated here are both simple and complex, some sounding more complex, while easy to play, and some sounding light and airy, while difficult to play.
In the opening to K. 465 (ex. 1), the cello beats constant eighth note pedal tones, and seems as if it will be used as more of an accompaniment instrument throughout the piece. On the other hand, in the opening of K. 467 (ex. 3), the cello is treated as an equal to the other string instruments, making it seem as if it would be used as more of a counterpoint instrument instead of being used for accompanying chords. In the examples we have for K. 551, the cello seems to be mostly used for accompanying chords, and an occasional break into small counterpoint gestures (ex. 6).
Although these pieces were only finished within two months of each other, K. 465 and K. 467 are quite different. Other than the fact that they are both in C major and are completely different types of works, they possess different qualities. K. 465 is a very dissonant quartet written with quite a bit or counterpoint throughout. K. 467 is an enjoyable piano concerto with complex parts to offset the light and airy textures.

K. 551 was finished more than three years after K. 465 and K. 467, and there are many factors that changed his writing in those three years. In 1786, Mozart’s health worsened, and the number of public concerts he participated in were lower, therefore producing less income for him and his family. In December of 1787, his wife gave him a beautiful daughter, Theresia (Anonymous 710). Because of his declining health, and the sub-par amount of money Mozart was making, he and his family moved to a suburb of Vienna called Alsergrund to cut costs. However, this ended up not having any effect on the income. Only a couple months after moving, Mozart’s six month old daughter, Theresia died from unknown causes, devastating her mother and father. It seems as if Mozart was suffering from depression at the time he wrote this symphony, probably because of the death of his only daughter, his declining health, and the fact that they were poor.

It seems that right before his daughter died, Mozart started writing letters to Michael Puchberg, four in total, pleading for a loan, saying that he will be paid back quickly, when Mozart has planned concert series running. This concert series probably never took place. The loan was starting to be paid back just before Mozart died, the rest of it paid back by his wife, Constanze after his death, when she sold off his scores. This was at least the second loan Mozart asked for, another one was asked for in November of 1785 from his friend E.A. Hoffman (Anonymous 708)

Mozart’s depression and worsened health did not affect the amount of writing he did, it only affected the writing itself. In K. 551, Mozart starts with full orchestra, and the thematic material doesn’t enter until the twenty-fourth bar, which is quite different than K. 465 and K. 467, where they start with thematic material right from the beginning of the piece. K. 551 is also a good representation of rests creating atmosphere as much as sound. In measure seventy-nine, Mozart stops all of the action on a half cadence, and has five beats of rest before re-entering with a slow minor feel, which almost sound like the next movement, but then he jumps back into the thematic material from before, only really resolving the chord until measure ninety-three. This is probably why it is described as in the “spirit of the comic opera” (Sisman 46).

These three works were written in what the The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians calls the peak of Mozart’s reputation as a composer and pianist (708). Although they were all in C Major and written in close proximity to each other, they really are quite different.

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