Mozart's dance music

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John F
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Mozart's dance music

Post by John F » Tue Jul 10, 2018 7:11 pm

This music is not for ballet but for ballroom dancing. When Mozart finally got a job with the emperor's court, it was to compose dance music for the balls at the Redoutensaal during the carnival period before Lent. He said of his salary, "Too much for what I do, too little for what I could do." But there was nothing perfunctory about the minuets, contredanses, German dances, etc. that he composed. He himself was an enthusiastic dancer and particularly enjoyed the costume balls that were a feature of the season; he also held dances in his home for his friends. The music for the Redoutensaal dances provided a showcase for his compositional talents to the aristocrats and well-to-do bourgeois who attended the balls.

Back in the 1970s, Decca/London recorded Mozart's complete dance music on 7 LPs with Willi Boskovsky leading the "Vienna Mozart Ensemble," no doubt consisting of colleagues from the Vienna Philharmonic. These have been reissued on CDs in Philips's complete Mozart box and as a 6-CD set in their own right. And some have been recorded by no less than Bruno Walter, Erich Kleiber, and Eugene Ormandy.

Can you imagine going to a dance and being greeted by music of this grandeur?


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ySjr6ZM9zls

I imagine that many would have stopped dancing and just listened. Some of the dances are novelty numbers, like this one which evokes a sleigh ride with sleigh bells and a posthorn.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSvTmA6kcpE

Now a lovely contredanse in E flat - when Mozart writes in E flat you know to expect something special.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JgBeMRL6Zro

On one of his visits to Prague, Mozart observed that the city was Figaro-crazy, that "Non piu andrai" was on all the barrel-organs in town. Most likely this was Mozart's greatest hit during his lifetime. So he used it to lead off a set of five contredanses for the Redoutensaal.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A52l0nOnM8

Four of these are on the Young People's Records discs I discussed in a different thread, and which I listened to at age 10 or so.

Haydn and Beethoven also wrote music for dancing at the carnival balls, and some of it was around the house when I was growing up. Two by Haydn were on the Haydn Society sampler "Let's Listen to Haydn," and amazingly, my parents owned the Felix Weingartner recording of Beethoven's 11 Viennese Dances. I suppose this was the 18th century equivalent of modern movie music, music for use composed for the money. I don't remember any of that music so I can't have listened to it often, while I remember all the music on those Young People's Records discs of Mozart contredanses.
John Francis

jbuck919
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Re: Mozart's dance music

Post by jbuck919 » Thu Jul 12, 2018 2:15 am

There is of course a danceable minuet in Don Giovanni, written many decades after the form had become stylized in the baroque suite. When I was in college I took some dance lessons. I never got very good at it, but even then I knew when I was dancing a waltz to the music of a minuet, and complained about it. (The other problem was that my partner, who is still a good friend, had absolute pitch and couldn't tolerate the in-betweenness of the recorded music sound.)

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

John F
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Location: New York, NY

Re: Mozart's dance music

Post by John F » Thu Jul 12, 2018 3:32 am

Back in 1991, one of Lincoln Center's programs for the Mozart bicentennial was about the dances of Mozart's time, with demonstrations by a period dance group - not just the minuet but the German dance (precursor of the waltz) and contretanz, which also are part of the "Don Giovanni" Act I finale. As you say, the minuet is nothing like the waltz. And I realized that I had never seen a performance of "Don Giovanni" in which those simultaneous dances were done correctly.

A paradox of our time: the obsession with historically informed musical performance is contradicted by the obsession with productions that contradict what the opera plainly says. This is the opposite of what I want, which is a production that is faithful to the words and actions of the opera but a musical performance which is as dramatically and emotionally expressive as possible - in effect, the Salzburg Festival "Don Giovanni" of 1954 conducted by Furtwängler.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPYjqz7nToY
John Francis

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