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Symbolism in Mozart's Music 

 

 

Mozart's music is often filled with symbolism, and the trademark phrase was probably used by

Mozart symbolically as a natural progression of that effort.

 

The piano sonata K.511 seems to be a very personal piece, seeming to express a feeling of loneliness

and despair. And in the middle of all the chromatic modulations in one section of this piece, what do

we find? A trademark phrase (Example A13). This might mean that Mozart may have used the phrase, at

times, not simply as a trademark to be associated with his music, but as a symbol to represent himself, at

times; IE, as a metaphor for himself. To find the trademark phrase in this piece is quite significant, I believe.

Had the phrase been absent from such a melancholy, despairing and rich piece, while present in so many

other pieces, I would have to question the "trademark" meaning of the phrase. But as we know, it IS

present.

 

In the Magic Flute, Tamino uses the trademark phrase, while the Queen of the Night is only allowed to

use a variation on the trademark phrase. There is the possibility that Tamino represented Mozart, in a sense.

In such a case, Mozart certainly couldn't have Tamino's enemy - the Queen of the Night - using the same

"special" phrase as Tamino used. Whatever the reason, Tamino uses it, and the Queen does not.

 

To briefly summarize a FEW types of musical symbology used by Mozart, we have:

 

1. Music symbolizing life: Emotions, events, characters, royalty, etc, in operas and other pieces are      

    symbolized by Mozart's music (and by other composers). Some of those are love, hate, jealousy,

    anger, sadness, honor, craftiness, hurt, over-confidence, affection, fear, guilt, silliness, majesty,

    nobility, callousness, bravery, death, servitude, devotion, justice, stupidity, passion, penance,

    excitement, obedience, defiance, terror, prayer, mockery, healing, serenity, festiveness, betrayal,

    snobbishness, wisdom, maturity, youthfulness, eagerness, compassion, obsessiveness,  

    compulsion, a care-free attitude, insistence, being doomed, weeping, hope, joy, relief,

    determination, victoriousness, etc. All of these are portrayed symbolically in Mozart's music.

 

2. Masonic symbolism: Masonic symbolism is profuse in The Magic Flute opera, according to

    knowledgeable Freemasons.

 

3. The overture to an opera:  It's an expression of the ambience or "the feel" of the opera.

    In short, it's a summary of the opera itself.

 

4. Camouflage: Mozart camouflaged the intent of Don Ottavio and the others as they strolled past

    Don Giovanni's palace by having them sing the same music as was playing in the ballroom -

    entirely the opposite of their feelings at the moment. Thus, the music was used as a symbol

    for camouflage and deceit (deceit for an honorable purpose).

 

5. Instability: When Don Giovanni toasts wine, women and song yet again during the supper

    scene, the orchestra, which had supported him before, becomes weak and spindly, like a

    bridge with barely enough support. Here, Mozart uses that effect to symbolize the instability

    and weakness of Don Giovanni's position.

 

6. Tying related ideas together: Mozart frequently tied related ideas together by using the

    same or a similar theme, or by inverting the theme. Thus, references to the original theme

    are symbols of a relationship.

 

    For example, his sketch for an "Amen" theme for the Requiem (discovered in 1960) is an

    inversion of the theme for the Introit. This might be interpreted as "Introit - Eternal rest"

    and "Amen - Approval of eternal rest".

 

    It could also mean "The Introit was the beginning of what needed to be said, and the 'Amen'

    is the end of the text, with the thematic inversion symbolizing a period at the end of the sentence".

 

    Amen means "so be it", or verily, or truly. It's a loose equivalent of "The End".

    But "The End" lacks the depth of meaning of "so be it, verily, and truly".

 

    Preceding the "Amen" were: The Introit, Kyrie, Dies Irae, Tuba Mirum, Rex Tremendae,

    Recordare, Confutatis. and Lacrimosa. The Amen refers back to all of them,

    but if one had to produce music somehow linking back to the thoughts from

    the preceding eight numbers, a variation on just the first one - the Introit -

    would be doable, logical, and sufficient. Thus, Mozart produced a variation

    on the theme of the Introit for the "Amen". By saying "Amen" to the Introit, he was

    saying "so be it, verily, truly" to all 8 preceding numbers.

 

    The Introit and Amen numbers are both in d-minor, further tying them together.

 

    The placement of the "Amen" number would have come immediately after the Confutatis and

    Lacrimosa, replacing the basic "Amen" at the end of the Lacrimosa, and marking the end of the

    "threatening and stressful" numbers in the Requiem (though not the end  of the "mass for the dead"

    text), being followed by the Domine Jesu and the Hostias.

 

    Whatever the meaning, the relationship of the "Amen" theme to the Introit theme was no accident.

    It symbolizes a relationship between the two ideas. So, even in the Requiem, we see the subtle

    use of symbolism.  

 

    Sound clips:   Begin: K626--Requiem Introit    

                        End:    K626--Requiem Amen Sketch - Introit theme inverted (lengthened)

 

 

7. The 25 notes in K.608:  A metaphor for the piece (see FAQ, Q13).

    Sound clip:   K608---The-12-Tones-of-the-Scale-in-25-Notes

 

8. The trademark phrase as a composer-identification symbol: 

    May have been used to uniquely stamp many of his works as "his".

    That is, the phrase represents Mozart's music to some extent, and can be construed as a

    symbol of his music.

 

9. The trademark phrase as a personal-identification symbol: 

    May have been used in some pieces (such as K.511, and Tamino in the Magic Flute)

    as a metaphor for himself. If the trademark phrase represents Mozart's music, and Mozart

    was consumed with music, then he was symbolically consumed with the trademark phrase,

    in a sense, and it could therefore represent Mozart himself. Mozart was "music", and his music

    had a symbol: The trademark phrase. It would only be a small step for him to identify himself

    with his trademark phrase.

    Sound clip of K.511:  K511

 

Thus, the concept of Mozart using a "trademark phrase" is consistent with some of the other musical

symbology he used. He apparently used the phrase as a musical trademark, and possibly as a symbol of   

himself.

 

And "musical symbolism" is, of course, one of the things Mozart's music is all about.

 

Mozart spent a lifetime converting ideas into musical symbolism. It only seems logical and natural that

he would create a symbol for himself, or use one he had already written. If he did so, the only musical

symbol interesting, short, accurate, and complex enough would be the trademark phrase. In short,

Mozart's musical trademark probably came to symbolize Mozart himself, as a symbol in sound.

 

 

 

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