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Mozart Rondo in A minor K511Kenneth Drake
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Kenneth Drake plays Mozart Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 on the Fortepiano (1795 Reproduction by John Lyon)

The Rondo in A minor, K. 511, dated March 11 1787, offers an indication of the direction Mozart’s creative gifts would have led him, had his untimely death not deprived us of the repertoire he would have left us. One might argue that chromaticism creating a suspension of a sense of tonal direction, extensive dynamic indications and use of counterpoint, not to mention the emotional depth of the piece, predict the craft of Chopin.

The Mozart A-minor Rondo, K. 511

The unhappy disposition or troubling event that may have moved Mozart’s mind to write such a deeply felt piece must remain a matter of conjecture. Of immediate importance is the player’s response – yours or mine – to the tonal imagery: the turn and dotted falling figure, the ascending chromatic fragments, and the descending two-note slurs. Mozart expressed within a line of the score a sequence of human experience – depending upon the meaning that the notes have for the reader – of despair, longing and resignation that in everyday life might span days or years. For that matter, the Rondo itself as a piece of music is a work of significant length. Does one’s awareness of the art/life relationship strain the regularity of an absolute beat throughout the 10 minutes-plus of subtlety of mood and sophistication of musical craft?

The absolute tick of the metronome, when internalized, is bent by the musician’s mysterious intuition for meaning within the score. Expressive playing bends the absolute beat, but how much? The choice is subjective, and whether or not convincing depends on perceiving life between the notes, the phrases, and the formal sections of the piece. It is only with long playing of the piece and intervals of remaining fallow that one becomes drawn to a flexibility of tempo that is no longer an andante of eighth-notes but an andante of phrases and harmonic movement.

For example, do the turn to major, the more active subdivision, and the feeling of relief in the section beginning in m. 9 encourage a feeling of moving ahead? Is the same true of the long section (47 measures) beginning in F-major with its steady 16th note subdivision? Shouldn’t the tempo accommodate the increasing ornamentation of the theme in the recapitulation beginning in measures 129 to the end? How much bending of the absolute beat? Enough that the listener hears the architectural impact of the emotional close of the piece.

The dynamic indications in the score – both in number and specificity – sound the concentration of the composer’s thought, as does the il filo, the use of a thread of continuity that Leopold taught his son. As an example, the descending line from c to f at the beginning of the F-major segment, m. 31-33, sounds derived from the falling fifth figure with which the piece begins, as does the composing-out of the turn figure in m. 69-70 and in the left hand in m. 177-181 to the inverted turn with which the piece begins.

One could point to the harmonic/melodic descent in m. 69-75 as derived and extended from the chromatic fragment that first appears in m. 2-4 and again in m. 37, as also the wrenching descent through the sequence of augmented German sixths and the diminished seventh chords in m. 118-122.

As a piece of music the A-minor Rondo may be always beyond an exhaustive revelation of its potential for meaning.

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