Not all Minuets are the same.
In the creation of his work, Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) uses the power of sound, synchronization and technical application of composition to interject his personal emotions of the time into his work. When first listening to this piece there is an impression of sadness or possibly a solemnest feeling. The more you listen, the more it has a somewhat haunting drama quality that plays against or in contrast to a courtly facade. The first notes of the haunting scale are played in forte as an announcement of what's to come. And following this announcement, are chromatic chords scaling downward dragging the listener with it; only to be interrupted by a momentary few bars of syncopation and light brightly played dance. This is an example of how Mozart tells a story and makes a statement with his music: he makes his music an experience. He brings the listener into the music by eliciting their emotions while traveling a long road of sound and imagination until it reaches its' final destination
In Minuet No. 6 for Piano, in D Major, Mozart strays from the standard minuetto. He has taken two parts with the second being repeated, and creates a structure that is not a bright or a lively piece; as is typical of most of his other minuets. It is better to break-down the structure of this piece even more than the major parts just mentioned.
- Measures one through four, start this piece with a sad slow melody followed by measures five through eleven with the right then left hand answering the other with haunting melodies, while the other sustains a note that sounds almost off-key from the scale the piece is written.
- Measures twelve through sixteen are played lightly, lively, and typical of his other minuets; however, only now we hear the standard syncopation of the courtly dance.
- Measures seventeen through nineteen prepare for a more dramatic run of sixteenth notes still using chromatic chords seemingly to be careful to maintain the haunting and dramatic like atmosphere.
- The right and left hands playing together in a more dramatic run of sixteenth notes in measures twenty-five and twenty-six, and finish off by the left hand in measure twenty-seven.
- Measure twenty-eight begins the sad and melancholy melody the piece began with, but not exactly with the same notes, comparing measures twenty-nine and thirty.
- Measures thirty-three through thirty-nine return to the dramatic and haunting melody until the forty through forty-four measures when we find ourselves back in the courtly dance.
- Then, the piece repeats beginning at measure seventeen, again, running through to the end at measure forty-four.
Listen to this version of KV 355 Minuet for Keyboard
Not a traditional Minuet.
A Shorter Minuet
This minuet, by the virtue that it is shorter and unlike most minuets (most are usually a dance or break in a larger piece), does not seem complete. It is not that the piece itself is unfinished, but that it seems to belong to some other larger work such as is suggested in the book Thinking about Music. Of course, Mozart wrote several minuets that stand alone as dance music. Yet, this piece is the most chromatic of the minuets I've had the opportunity to hear; only small portions of this piece are dance-like. It would seem that you cannot judge this minuet's completeness without knowing of his other works. I took the opportunity to listen to all eleven singular minuets of K. 175 and twelve minuets for K.103 of which, minuet No. 11 of the latter is the only selection that seems to stray from the courtly flavor of the dance like minuets.
So what does it mean or what is Mozart's intent
There are two distinct pictures being built by the notes and the timing. One is the picture of a typical courtly event and the other a picture of possibly an unsettling emotion. It does not have the intensity of many of his minuets that separate, yet still enhance the power of his symphonies. Let's take for example the boldness of his Menuetto: Alegretto from Symphony No. 40 in G minor K. 550 or the soft and building emotion of Symphony No. 41 in C major K. 551. Nor, does the minuet it seems to serve the purpose of a dance unless he was trying to express his mood at a particular time in his life. The meaning of this piece appears tied to the structure as outlined in question eight above.
This minuet is unusual in the extent of the use of chromatic chords as compared to many of Mozart's other minuets, and as well, the works of others during this period. Mozart appears to be using these chromatic harmonies to create and express emotions. The message seems to be consistent only in that he is expressing two contradicting or co-existing visions. His chromatic harmonies are easy to spot in a score and segregate the courtly portions of this minuet. According to Harris, only the best composers are able to handle these chords: "They can provide a dramatic sense of dislocation in a piece, but they must be controlled by an even stronger sense of fitness” (Harris, 97).
The sonata (K. 576) generally stays true to the normal scale notes of the key of D major. Yet, from time to time Mozart uses chromatic chords or harmonies to play off these standards. This use of chromatic chords does not create the same eerie feeling that is present with the minuet in D-major K. 355. It is possible that he intended to use this minuet as a diversion or mode change to the sonata. However, based on the catalog number K. 576 for this Sonata, the Minuet K.355 was projected to have been written well before the Sonata. This does not constitute proof that there is no association between the two pieces. This may have been a project that was evolving over a long period of time, though Mozart was known to work quickly from start to finish on most of his work.
As stated in the outset of this article, Mozart was known for trying to make an impact on his audience. He tries to stir the emotions in the listener. He starts out with a simplistic melody for this piece that sounds as if he was trying not to create a happy or upbeat mood to the music. In fact, he makes extensive use of sharps in his movement, the effect of which is a sad maybe discontented feeling, even a somewhat eerie impression. Then we hear what seem to be a contradiction or changing in sound and feeling in measures twelve through sixteen. This minuet plays with sharps and flats, leaning away from the traditional notes that are a part of the D Major scale, creating a sense of an almost discomforting feeling; and, I'm sure this sense of discomfort is Mozart's intent.
Certain sounds and combinations of sounds have meaning to each of us. These meanings are not always the same from one person to another. In Mozart's case, he mastered the art of assembling sounds in such a way that all listeners can achieve a similar music and emotional experience. Mozart's work is regularly referred to as having a purpose beyond entertainment music. You must listen to this piece several times to get past the initial discomfort in order to really try and hear, and discern his message. Though the real meaning may be argued, this minuet stays true to his insistence on keeping the music thought provoking, emotional, interesting, and to avoid boring the audience.