First, if you aren’t a classical music lover, this TED talk is for you! Afterward, please enjoy my analysis of one of Mozart’s piano concertos.
Benjamin Zander: The transformative power of classical music
Here is my analysis of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, conducted by Murray Perahia. These two movements are 21 minutes long, which gives you ample time to sink in and really see the music. Enjoy!
In Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, conducted by Murray Perahia, there are many instruments playing, including violin, viola, cello and bass instruments from the string family. There are also supporting instruments from woodwinds and brass, including flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn and trumpet. There is even percussion with the timpani. But the feature instrument is the piano. This creates a rich, theatrical sound that has both high spirits and deep emotion at different times in the movements.
The melody works in the major key of C, with some minor flourishes at different times, such as at 6:30. As conductor Benjamin Zander* says, “the job of the C is to make the B sad.” It alternates between conjunct and disjunct as the movement develops, giving unity to some parts and variety to others — and helping the audience stay interested and engaged for the duration.
This concerto has a regular rhythm in a duple format, or what could be characterized as quadruple, with four beats per measure.
The harmony is mainly consonant, leading to a pleasant listening experience. On occasion, the emotion is made more tense by the introduction of dissonant chords, as at this point: 3:45. As conductor Benjamin Zander says, “If you have a deceptive cadence,be sure to raise your eyebrows. Then everybody will know.”
While each instrument (except for the piano) is monophonic, the texture of the overall piece is polyphonic, except at interludes where fewer pieces play and it is homophonic, having two parts.
The tempo of this piece alternates between fast and driving, and slow and serene. This contrast gives the audience a richer experience. The conductor encourages rubato, or small increases and decreases in speed for artistic effect, at various points, particularly in his own piano part.
There is a wide range of dynamics in this piece, at times loud (and fast) and alternately slow and soft. The piece spends more time in the forte or loud dynamic, punctuating softer opening sentences (with few instruments) with whole-orchestra exclamations. Transitions between loud and soft are often smoothed by crescendo on the way up or decrescendo as the volume goes softer, but at other times the piece surprises with a sudden shift in dynamics.
Perhaps because of too many viewings of Fantasia, I felt the form of these movements told quite a theatrical story. The characters, represented by the various melodies, took turns traveling across the minds’ stage, sometimes heavy and smooth like a hippo on ice skates, sometimes trilling and light like a hummingbird gathering nectar. Other characters made their journeys by leaping from stone to stone across a pond or by spinning, dancing, skipping and strolling. Often, a smaller character (higher, lighter sound) was followed step by step by a larger one (played by a lower instrument) in echo.
So many adventures happened that it gave the sense of travelling far away and afield. The sense of coming home is accomplished by the slower, softer, serene cadences, such as at 16:30. Overall, these two movements by Mozart lead the listener through several tests and trials on a journey that has some cheer and excitement, some danger and foreboding, some sadness, some time to catch one’s breath before being whisked into the next adventure, and finally the return to quiet glades and, perhaps the comforts of one’s own hobbit-hole.