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Category: Mozart

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, X

Joseph Haydn, 1791 - Thomas Hardy

        Joseph Haydn” (1791)


                 Thomas Hardy





though I’ve focused especially, during

this introduction to Classical music,

on Mozart, a second great pillar of

that era is Haydn1732 – 1809


here is one of his 62 piano sonatas,

which expresses more than anything

you’ve heard here yet the definition

of what music was at the time, or

should be, tonality, as I’ve earlier

said, tempo and repetition were



listen for or the rigidity of the tempo,

the consistent melliflousness of

the melody, and therefore tonality,

and the repetition of all the

component tunes


I remember going to a drum recital

once, here in Vancouver, a guy was

expressing his artistry in a formal

venue, I was sitting in a forward

row, saw him set up his music on

his music stand, and I thought,

he’s going to have to turn the

pages, which he did, a drummer


that’s all I remember of the

presentation, but that was enough,

an entire revelation


in this Haydn sonata, the pianist

turns the pages of his score, back

and forth, an interesting visual

expression of the imperative of

repetition in that era’s music,

having to return to what had

been written on the previous



also note that trills abound


note too in the second movement,

the adagio cantabile, the sudden

introduction of arpeggios,

transcendent, as though angels

had just appeared


which prefigures the metaphysical

aspirations of the Romantic Period

which ensued, see, for instance, 



note also that we’re on fortepiano

here, a period instrument, a cross

between the harpsichord and the

modern instrument


thoroughly enjoy



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, IX

The Spanish Guitarist, 1897 - Pierre-Auguste Renoir

          The Spanish Guitarist” (1897)


                  Pierre-Auguste Renoir




just as I was about to relegate the trill

to Mozart and the Classical Period, I

inadvertently came upon something

wonderful by Joaquín Rodrigo, a

Spanish composer, 1901 – 1999, a

concerto for guitar


the trill had been decorative, meant to

appeal to aristocrats frequenting



then the French Revolution happened,

and the growth of the Middle Class,

and consequently popular avenues

of entertainment for the liberated,

concert halls, for instance, looked

for a more emotionally powerful

experience, arpeggios took care of



the trill died


but in 1939, nearly two centuries

later, Rodrigo wrote his Concierto

de Aranjueza descendent pays

homage to an elder, trills abound


it should be stated that a guitar can

play only one note at a time, it might

be that trills lend themselves better

to such an instrument than an

arpeggio would


then again, I’ve found that Spanish

music, the tango, the tarantella, for 

instance, see above, has held more

rigidly to the imperatives of Western 

music I’ve spoken of here before,

tempo, tonality, repetition, it is not 

Debussy, Ravel, it is not even

Chopin, it is peripheral, maybe, to

the cultural establishment, but

potent, steeped in blood and



here’s Rodrigo giving you Mozart





R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, Vlll

Polonaise, 1934 - Konstantin Korovin


         Polonaise” (1934)


                  Konstantin Korovin



cause the pickings are slim among the

shared musical formats between Mozart

and Chopin, Mozart, for instance,

composed eighteen piano sonatas to

Chopin’s mere three, Chopin’s First

even having been more or less 

disregarded since for being promising

maybe, but not at all inspired, where

Mozart meanwhile also wrote 27 piano

concertos to Chopin’s only two, though

both, his, entirely mighty


Chopin, however, pretty well establishes

the nocturne, the scherzo, the prelude,

the étude, the polonaise, the mazurka

as musical forms, while Mozart never

establishes a thing, apart from his own

supreme talent


but here are a couple of fantasias that

they both share, Mozart’s Fantasia

no 3 in D minor, of four, Chopin’s

Polonaise-fantaisie in A-flat major,

Opus 61, Chopin blending here his

fantaisie to the beat of a polonaise,

dance form of his native Poland,

see above


listen for trills in the Mozart, which

admittedly show up only near the

end of the piece, otherwise he

sounds a lot like, I’ll admit, Chopin


listen for arpeggios in the Chopin


a follow-up exercise in listening,

trills, notably, up against arpeggios


consider, enjoy



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, Vll (cont.)

The Music Lesson, c.1769 - Jean-Honore Fragonard


          The Music Lesson” (c.1769)


              Jean-Honoré Fragonard




having spent too much time, perhaps,

giving context, from Classicism to

Romanticismin my last communication

brought on by the worlds that open up

to me when l Iisten to this kind of music,

rather than imparting specific information

about how to sharpen one’s aesthetic

sensitivity, about listening rather than

just hearing, this time I’ll get technical,

if you’ll allow, with the help of the same

two pieces, Mozart’s 16th piano sonata,

Chopin’s 3rd, how are they different,

how are they similar, how do they



first, similarities, they are both sonatas,

pieces of music consisting of more than

one segment of music, traditionally, three

or four, Mozart here has three, Chopin



Chopin doesn’t diverge from the trinity

of imperatives that Mozart set up

during the Classical period, tempo,

tonality, and repetition, the pace of

the music remains constant within

the parameters established by the

directions at the top of the page,

an adagio doesn’t change its beat

throughout the movement for either,

nor would an andante, a presto, an



this will change


neither does any element of the

music produce discords, tonality

remains mellifluous throughout

for both, lilting, harmonious ever,

even often, in either, enchanting


this will also change


and everywhere, a flight of musical

invention will eventually return to

its original source, and you find 

that you’ve come back from a sonic

adventure to home base, where the

whole thing starts all over again,

repetition, a condition considered

essential, until relatively recently,

to  the definition of music


this will also change


but how are they different


listen to the decoration, Mozart

applies trills to individual notes,

a flutter of adjacent tonalities 

to set the central one off, like

glitter, the twitter of birds

punctuating, here and there, 

the stillness of a forest


Chopin colours his entire

keyboard with arpeggios rather,

runs up and down the scales,

turning melodies into not only

delights, but stepping stones to

entirely other dimensions,

extrapolations from the original

tune, seemingly spontaneous

evolutions, the first burgeonings,

incidentally, of jazz, before returning,

notably, to his original air, much as

Mozart does, to his core statement,

fulfilling the Classical requirement

of repetition


here’s Mozart, trilling


here’s Chopin, arpeggiating


how to tell your Chopin from your

Mozart, how to sharpen your

aesthetic sensibility, listenlisten



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, Vll

The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 - Caspar David Friedrich


        The Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog” (1818)


                 Caspar David Friedrich




by now, if you’ve been listening,

you’ll probably easily tell your

Chopin from your Mozart, even

without looking


if not, the one who isn’t Mozart

is Chopin, the one who isn’t

Chopin is Mozart, cause you’re

likely to recognize the one if not

the other


here’s Mozart’s Piano Sonata

no 16 in C major, K. 545from

1788, which even Mozart

deemed “for beginners”, but

its very elementary qualities

suit, here, my purposes


here’s Chopin’s Piano Sonata

no 3 in B minor, Op. 581844,

some sixty years later, the

epitome of the Romantic Era


Mozart is Classical, the foundation

of the shape and sound of music

in the West, think of Oriental music,

Chinese, for instance, opera, as an

alternative inspirational direction


he sets, along with Haydn, incidentally,

the parameters of Western music, I

call it its grammar, tempo, tonality,

and repetition, its hallmarks, its sine

qua non, as we say in Latin, its trinity

of imperatives, its without which there

would be no Western music as we

know it


Romanticism, after two revolutions,

the French and the American, comes

along to turn all of that into literature,

prompted by the spirit of democracy,

the first expressions of it since Caesar,

Ancient Rome, where earlier,

everywhere, kings had ruled, and by

extension, even more autocratically,

the Church, for monarchs had

received, morally, and consequently

politically, from it, their mandates

from God


one man, one vote, even theoretically,

upended that entire metaphysical

construct, therefore Romanticism


everyone had a voice, everyone had

a story, the birth of the individual,

and of, by extension, human rights,

for better or for worse, see above


therefore Chopin


listen, Chopin is the new Jesus,

prophet, but for a new age 


stay tuned



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, Vl

The Potato Eaters, 1885 - Vincent van Gogh

            The Potato Eaters” (1885)


                   Vincent van Gogh




where do you start with Chopin, he is

in our Western cultural bloodstream,

as identifiable in music as, say, van

Gogh is in painting, you don’t need 

to be interested in any kind of art to

have not been given even only a

whiff of these iconic artists


nearly anything I might present here

of Chopin you’ve probably already

heard somewhere before, if only in



of van Gogh, well, he goes back in

the public imagination to at least

Vincent1971, the song, no one

doesn’t know about him, when I

heard it playing in Amsterdam at

the museum, with the first piece I

saw, The Potato Eatersdominating

the first wall, insisting on van Gogh’s

vision, his prophecy, his profound

compassion, I cried, I understood

what art is, see above


Chopin exerts a different kind of,

however equally potent, magic


Mozart might sound like Haydn,

Beethoven might sound like

Schubert, all of the Impressionists

sound like all of the Impressionists,

be they Ravel, Debussy, Satie, or

Saint-Saëns, to the untrained ear


but no one sounds like Chopin,

he’s, culturally, a North Star


here’s one of his nocturnes, the

moonlit one, in E flat major  


here’s a polonaisehere’s an étude,  

in English, a study, a finger exercise,

an iconic, here, prestidigitation


here’s an impromptu, his very,

indeed, Fantaisie-Impromptu, just

to get your categories going


consider its construction, having

some information already about

fantasias, a work of the imagination,

open to any experimentation within

the confines of one movement, with

an impromptu, something purported

to have been created on the spot,

also in one movement


the answer requires you to sharpen

your aesthetic pencil, always a

delight – an impromptu, a

spontaneous invention, a fantaisie,

a work of the imagination, how do

they differ, which part is a fantaisie,

which an impromptu, how do they

nevertheless coalesce


this exercise is the first step in






R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, lV

Fantasy - Sergey Solomko



               Sergey Solomko




trying to find a quick piece, nothing

ostentatious, like a symphony, or a

concerto, nor even a sonata, that

would get in the way of my point, 

the difference between, by way of 

the intermediary, and transformational,

Chopin, Mozart and Prokofiev, I found

the fantasia, the only musical form

that was carried forward, among them,

during the intervening years, a good

hundred and fifty, Mozart, 1756 – 1791,

Prokofiev, 1891 – 1953, Chopin, 1810 –



what’s a fantasia, a musical form

consisting of one movement,

no breaks, but with, otherwise,

unlimited compositional liberties,

see above, only circumscribed by

the temper of the times


Western music has since its

Classical inception, and even

earlier, had a trinity of

commandments, that regulated,

even defined, what was meant

to be music, tempo, tonality,

and repetition, the history of

music in the West is the

chipping away at those



here’s Mozart, Fantasia in C

minor, K.475establishing the

form, but also the foundation,

the grammar, that aspirants

would follow in the footsteps

of so great a master, children

and grandchildren of their

erudite elder


Chopin followed, here’s his

Fantasy in F minor, Op.49,

in this instance, a historical

moment you won’t want to

miss, when Van Cliburn, an

enemy American at the time,

played it for Nikita Kruschev,

First Secretary of the Communist 

Party of the Soviet Union then, in

Moscow, and tempered thereby,

for an incandescent moment –

ticker-tape parades in New York

City ensued – the very Cold War


reliving it, I cried


the greatest difference between

Mozart and Chopin, I thought,

was volume, a consequence

of the development of the piano,

Mozart never gets as loud, also

tempo was much more expanded,

again a development of the piano,

neither was repetition with Chopin

so much in evidence, but shrouded,

less manifest


also Chopin wears his heart on

his sleeve, idiosyncratically


with Prokofiev, his Fantasia on

Themes from Scheherazade

tests tonality, gives us musical

conjunctions that are askew,

discordant, though completely

in syncopation with his own,

testy and unsettled, times


compare, consider, enjoy



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, lll

Flowering Garden in Spring, 1920 - Henri Martin


            Flowering Garden in Spring” (1920)


                     Henri Martin




violin sonatas, apart from a few notable

exceptions, are accompanied by, usually,

a piano


the violin, as do a great many other

instruments, can only play one note

at a time, the piano can play as many

as you’ve got fingers, a harmonization

is a valued component of any musical

composition, therefore the piano


here’s a violin sonata of Mozart, here’s

a violin sonata of Prokofiev, you’ll

recognize Mozart, he’s the one you’ve

already got in your bones, the one we

grew up with, however ephemerally,



Prokofiev is the other one


let me point out that Mozart is foursquare,

the music is straightforward, tonality and

pace, which is to say tempo, are never

eccentric, just delightful, while repetition,

another defining element of Classical

music, the recurrence of a theme, is

unmistakable, and often too often

reiterated, we get it, we want to

tell Mozart


Prokofiev is no longer any of those

things, but the underlying vocabulary

is the same, the rules set out by the

forefathers but extrapolated, turned

into unexpected, exotic flowers, just

as spring delivers its ever distinct,

and surprising, even astonishing,

blossoms every new year, see



we are so very blessed



R ! chard

how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach, cont.

The Stolen Kiss, 1788 - Jean-Honore Fragonard


        The Stolen Kiss (1788)


       Jean-Honoré Fragonard





if you listened to the couple of pieces I

recommended in my last commentary,

you would’ve indeed recognized, if

even only subconsciously, that the

first work wasn’t composed by the

composer of the other, that different

spirits infused either


a visual representation of the same

thing might be to juxtapose a

contemporary painting of the one

epoch with a corresponding painting

of the other


over a hundred years had passed

between Mozart and Prokofiev,

Mozart’s Piano Sonata no 18, K576

– his last piano sonata, incidentally,

he died a short two years later –

was written in 1789, the year of the

French Revolution, a still safe

distance from Vienna, where

Mozart could still cater to an,

however endangered, species


Jean-Honoré Fragonard, a contemporary

painter, 1732 – 1806, had been doing the

same thing, The Stolen Kiss, 1788, for

instance, a mere year earlier, see above


meanwhile, over a hundred years later,

inches only away from the First World

War, Matisse is doing in art what

Prokofiev is doing in music, taking the

temperature of his own time, Seated

Riffian (1911 –1912) – a Riffian, a Berber,

a North African tribesman – see below,

to corroborate Prokofiev’s equally

emblematic vision of their shared era


you can hear this in the music


mostly through the difference in the use

of volume, languorous softs, thunderous

louds, but also in the more expansive use

of pace, fast, slow, the rapidity of some

notes, the embrace, the extended caress,

of others, in the later composition


which, in a word, follows the development

of the piano from harpsichord to the

instrument we’re used to today


Mozart still had the harpsichord in his ear,

he was writing for the fortepiano, which

evolved, through the pianoforte, to the

piano we know of today, no flexibility of

pace, no flexibility of volume then, listen,

hearyou can hear it in the juxtaposition


we hear a lot more than we think we




R ! chard





Seated Riffian, 1912 - 1913 - Henri Matisse


        Seated Riffian (1911 – 1912)


                Henri Matisse



how to listen to music if you don’t know your Beethoven from your Bach

Music, 1895 - Gustav Klimt



            Gustav Klimt





how to listen to music if you don’t know your

Beethoven from your Bach


the first thing to do, I would suggest, is to stop

and listen, spend the time with the work you’re

listening to, it’s no different than spending half

an hour with a friend

but you have to be there, listen, as you would

with a friend, no cell phones


the next thing I suggest is to compare, put your

work up against a different composer, a

different interpretation, a different version of

the piece you have on hand

I learned this as I learned to tell one artwork

from another, while I turned European art

museums into personal art history classes,

spending hours comparing one painting

with another, doing so chronologically,

century after century, imbibing thereby the

history of Western art


it’s not necessary to know who you might

even be listening to, just listen, hear,

later the names will come


here’s some Mozart, here’s some Prokofiev,

for instance, you’ll tell the difference

instinctively, forget about the composers,

just surrender to the magic

here’s a poem which says more or less

the same thing


How to Read a Poem: Beginner’s Manual

   First, forget everything you have learned,

  that poetry is difficult,

  that it cannot be appreciated by the likes of you,

  with your high school equivalency diploma,

  your steel-tipped boots,

  or your white-collar misunderstandings.


  Do not assume meanings hidden from you:

  the best poems mean what they say and say it.


  To read poetry requires only courage

  enough to leap from the edge

  and trust.


  Treat a poem like dirt,

  humus rich and heavy from the garden.

  Later it will become the fat tomatoes

  and golden squash piled high upon your kitchen table.


  Poetry demands surrender,

  language saying what is true,

  doing holy things to the ordinary.


  Read just one poem a day.

  Someday a book of poems may open in your hands

  like a daffodil offering its cup

  to the sun.


  When you can name five poets

  without including Bob Dylan,

  when you exceed your quota

  and don’t even notice,

  close this manual.



  You can now read poetry.


                    Pamela Spiro Wagner


music is also like that


R ! chard