Friday, June 10, 2011

Mozart Mashup Medley

My last post/video reminded me of how much fun it can be to create horizontal mashups. Though the word mashup generally refers to a piece which layers two or more existing works on top of each other, it can also be enlightening (or, at least, fun) to weave back and forth between two pieces. In my last post, I was showing how Bernstein's "Somewhere" can be generated by gliding from a Beethoven piano concerto into a Strauss piano concerto. This reminded me of several other little projects from my blogging past.

Rachmainoff  Tchaikovsky

Britten  Lerner/Loewe

Haydn → Rodgers/Hammerstein

Tchaikovsky → Mendelssohn

But all these years, I've had a bigger project in mind. Mozart's last three violin concerti (#3-5) are all pretty equally well-known and oft-played; at least, I've accompanied each of them many times. I like them enough, but it's always struck me how interchangeable they seem to be in the kinds of passagework they feature. The joke is often made (unfairly) that Vivaldi wrote one concerto hundreds of times. Well, I'm not saying that Mozart wrote one great violin concerto three times, but he does seem to be working with the same set of building materials in each case, especially in the first movements. Actually, I can never hear the slow movement of the 5th concerto without feeling that it's trying to be (and, simultaneously, trying not to be) the slow movement of the 3rd concerto. I even proposed once that my ideal Mozart violin concerto* would be the outer movements of #5 sandwiched around the slow movement of #3. [Here's a playlist that lets you try it out.]

My goal here, however, is to combine the first movements of the these three concerti into one (sort of) seamless movement. The biggest trick is that they are each in different keys: G, D, and A. At least they're closely related keys, so without getting into too much theory mumbo-jumbo, there are plenty of ways to get from one concerto to another. In fact, that's the way I like to think of it, as if each piece has a series of little portals through which a violinist can pop into a different world. [Insert Narnia and/or videogame analogies here.] I've sometimes wondered if violinists who play all three pieces ever find themselves accidentally tripping into the wrong universe.

If so, then maybe violinists shouldn't listen to what follows**, but though it might seem that I'm making light of Mozart, the truth is that doing all this cutting and pasting has made me appreciate all the more how many beautifully crafted passages there are in these pages. It's certainly not my goal to improve on what Mozart has done - in fact, I decided pretty early on I'd rather explore as many portals as possible, at the risk of leaving some ugly seams showing. Not only is it tricky to merge separate recordings into one (though the tempi in these performances by violinist/conductor René Köhler are close enough not to be a problem), but there are all sorts of considerations of harmonic motion, phrase structure, orchestration, overall structure, etc.

So, what we have here is a bit of a Frankenstein's monster - if you know the pieces well, you may find it jarring it at times; and even if you don't know them well, there are a few comically awkward moments. But, of course, those moments are some of my favorites. (Yes, I've also found myself thinking about a more multi-layered mashup, but let's save that for another day.) In all, there are more than fifty cuts, so given that, I think things hold together remarkably well. Here it is:

I'll probably want to create a YouTube version at some point [UPDATE: done!] that will reveal where all the splices happen, but for now you're on your own...which is kind of the point.
UPDATE: And here it is:

* A case might be made that the Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola is Mozart's greatest violin concerto - and, no, that's not a viola joke.

** For the record, my lovely violinist daughter has taken a great interest in this project (whereas she usually thinks I've lost my mind when I'm using up good computer time mangling music). At this point, she's only studied the G Major concerto, but she's genuinely interested in playing a performing version of my little monster. Having kids is the best!

P.S. Obviously, this kind of project could be tried out on all sorts of genres - Mozart piano concerti, Vivaldi violin concerti, Beethoven symphonies, Schoenberg piano pieces, etc. But, I think there's something particularly satisfying about this little set. Three is a nice, manageable number, and as I've said above, these pieces really do live almost interchangeably in the violin world. So there's something natural about exploring ways in which they're connected.

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