Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

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Guitar Slim Jr.
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Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Guitar Slim Jr. » Wed Jul 05, 2017 4:45 am

Here's a paper I wrote a few years ago for college on Sor's "Variations on a Theme of Mozart." It's a form paper, not a harmonic analysis, although it does, of course, discuss harmony as well. Hopefully, it will be of some interest...

A Marvelous Symmetry: Fernando Sor's "Variations on a Theme of Mozart"

Fernando Sor (1778-1839) is remembered today primarily for his guitar music. During his life, however, he was equally well known as a composer of operas, songs, ballets, symphonies, string quartets and more. His songs and salon works were published internationally, and his concert pieces received favorable reviews and encore performances in London, Paris, Moscow and his native country of Spain. (Jeffery. 2012.)

Sor's "Variations on a Theme of Mozart" was first published in London in 1821 as part of Sor's Opus 15, and was originally titled "The Favorite Air 'O cara armonia' from Mozart's Opera 'Il Flauto Magica' Arranged With Variations for Guitar," (Jeffery. 2012.) A tangled publication history followed. A French version of the work, published in the same year as the original, presented a simplified version and left out one variation. By the early 20th century, anthologized versions routinely omitted the introduction, and some continued to change the order of the variations. Performers, including Andres Segovia, omitted the intro as well. Only after the 1977 publication of Brian Jeffrey's The Complete Guitar Works of Sor and Frederick Noad's modern performance edition of the variations, did guitarists routinely begin to include the introduction in performances. (Sor and Jeffrey. 1977) (Sor and Noad. 1977)

Thank goodness they did. Played out of sequence and without the introduction, the variations are just a handful of short, flashy pieces. But, as this paper will show, when played in the proper order, and with the introduction, the work is transformed into a marvel of balance and symmetry, and is a fine example of the classical composer's art.

Introduction: The brooding introduction is a stark contrast to the sunny Mozart theme, yet it foreshadows many elements in the following variations.

Marked "andante largo," the introduction opens forcefully with forte E-minor chords played across all six strings. The last chord in the cell is preceded by a sixteenth-note pickup -- a rhythmic element that will be heard again and again throughout the piece.

The next section is in eighth-note triplets and has a sense of forward momentum quite different from the block chords of the previous phrase. Triplets will be heard again in the last two variations and the Coda. A pedal-tone E in the accompaniment is later replaced by chromatic figures that alternate with the stately notes of the melody. Similar alternation between melody and accompaniment, as well as chromatic lines, will also be heard again in later variations. The section ends with a diminished chord resolving to B, a harmonic element that will return in later variations.

The final section is coda-like alternation between tonic and dominant. In this phrase we first hear a few broken parallel thirds coupled with open strings, another feature that will be heard again and again throughout the piece.

Theme: After the foreboding introduction, the sweet and simple theme in E major makes its entrance like a ray of sunshine through gray clouds. It should be noted that the "theme" here is actually a variation itself, and is not a direct transcription of Mozart's original melody.

The theme is simply harmonized in parallel thirds with very little activity in the bass. The thirds alternate with a pedal point on the open B string. This open B-string pedal tone is a prominent feature throughout the work.

The harmony of the theme is also quite simple, moving between the I, IV and V chords with no substitutions and no secondary chords (with one exception noted below). The second section starts predictably on the dominant and both sections end on tonic. At the end of the final repeat a secondary diminished chord precedes the IV chord, replacing the tonic chord from the first repeat. A similar harmony was heard in the introduction.

Variation 1: The first variation is quite literally ornamental, with the melody expressed in ornament-like figures that sketch out the theme. This is likely a development of an isolated ornament heard in the first phrase of the theme. The final note of each ornament is harmonized in thirds and is often followed by the open B string, again echoing the theme. Fast ascending scale passages are also heard for the first time in this variation, and will be heard again in the Coda. The harmony of the theme is unchanged and again there is very little activity in the bass.

Variation 2: The next two variations are character variations. The first starts in the parallel key of E minor and opens with an exact re-statement of the theme in minor, including the pickup figure. The bass-line is substantially more active than the previous variations, and the harmony is more colorful thanks to chromatic non-harmonic tones in the bass and inner voices. The first section ends with a D7 chord that resolves in a V-I cadence to G, the relative major of the tonic key.

The harmony in the second section is richer still, opening with an E7 chord once again resolving to A minor. B major is then tonicized by a preceding A# diminished chord (the same harmony noted in the introduction), and the B progresses through a sequence of dominant chords before finally resolving back to E minor.

Variation 3: The next variation returns to the home key of E major. Clearly a character variation, this sparkling melody is quite different from the theme or Variation 1. The melody is characterized by ascending arpeggios that span more than an octave, alternating with repeated notes and chromatic lines. The chord progression is basically the same as the theme, but feels more sophisticated thanks to chromatic notes in both the melody and the harmony and some chromatic movement in the bass (another element first seen in both the introduction and variation 2). The playful quality of this movement is perhaps more Mozart-like than the theme itself.

Variation 4: Following the two character variations, the music returns to a recognizable ornamental variation of the theme. Here the melody is outlined by a sixteenth-note triplet, ending once again on a simple harmonized third. These fragmentary bursts of melody alternate with thirty-second note arpeggios and ornamental figures reminiscent of Variation 1. Once again alternation between stopped strings and the open B string plays a prominent role.

Variation 5: The final variation combines a number of elements from previous movements: parallel thirds, triplets, chromatic movement, B-string pedal points and certain technical elements.

Starting with the now familiar pickup figure, the melody is heard as the high note in a relentless series of triplet arpeggios. Once again the melody is harmonized in thirds, followed by a pull-off slur on the open B string. The pattern changes in the second half of the phrase but still proceeds in fast triplets harmonized in thirds and played on adjacent strings. There are chromatic tones in both the melody and the harmony, and the harmonic thirds often parallel the melody without changing quality, creating a planing effect. The harmony is identical to the theme, and there is no bass line at all.

The theme is more recognizable in Variation 5 than in any other variation. The harmonization is also identical in the first part of each phrase, the only difference being that the thirds are broken up as part of the triplets instead of being played simultaneously.

Coda: The final variation moves without pause into the coda, which at first appears to be yet another variation with the melody of the theme inverted. The coda develops over a pedal point on the low E string, with arpeggios that now span all six strings, creating a much richer texture. Interspersed through the coda are fragmentary references to elements heard in previous movements: significantly, the pickup figure and pull-offs to the open B string.

The theme eventually disappears, replaced now by pure technical showmanship: arcing arpeggios that cover more than two octaves, alternating between fast ascending scales and dramatic block chords. As in the introduction the music once again oscillates between tonic and dominant, with an occasional diminished vii chord. The coda ends with a pair of powerful V I chords that span all six strings, echoing the first series of chords in the introduction.

Conclusion: A close examination of these variations reveals a deep, multilayered symmetry. At the center of the piece are the two character variations, which create a striking contrast between the darkly dramatic and the playfully light. These two variations are bracketed by pairs of ornamental variations. The entire set of variations are in turn bracketed by the pensive Introduction and the dramatic Coda. Going deeper, close similarities can be observed between these bracket "partners". For example, Variations 1 and 4 are similar in their use of short bursts of melody alternating with arpeggios or scales. Variation 5 is very similar to the Theme in both melody and harmony. And while the Introduction and the Coda represent a dramatic contrast on the surface, both conclude with a similar vamp between the I and V chords, and the Coda ends as the introduction began, with powerful block chords. A graphic representation of these relationships may make the symmetry more clear:

Introduction

.....Theme

..........Variation 1 (ornamental variation)

...............Variation 2 (character variation 1)
...............Variation 3 (character variation 2)

..........Variation 4 (ornamental variation)

.....Variation 5 (Theme clearly restated)

Coda

When played in proper sequence, and with the introduction, the result is an entertaining work of dramatic contrasts, welded into a greater whole by the Classical virtues of symmetry, balance and form. Sor's "Variations on a Theme of Mozart" is a great example of what a good composer can do with a very simple set of variations. It has earned its important place among classical-guitar works, and is equally deserving of respect in the broader Classical repertoire.


References

Jeffery, Brian. "Sor, Fernando." Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. Web. 18 Oct. 2012.

Sor, Fernando, and Brian Jeffery. Complete Works for Guitar. New York: Shattinger International Music Corp, 1977. Musical score.

Sor, Fernando, and Frederick Noad. "Variations on a Theme of Mozart." London: Ariel Publications, 1977. Musical score.
Last edited by Guitar Slim Jr. on Wed Jul 05, 2017 7:40 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Stephen Kenyon
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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:06 am

Yes, I appreciate the observation about the symmetry especially. I wondered how you arrived at the definition of "character variations" and whether your thesis relies upon this particularly.

I was a bit surprised to see no mention of the tempo changes. Would you say they support or undermine the argument?

Presumably well outside your remit, but did you consider the place and content of the theme within the opera e.g. its text, its context within the drama?

Equally, did you consider the position of Op 9 within the guitar solo works of the composer, the nature of the writing in the context of other sets of variations, or the broader range of solo pieces?
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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Guitar Slim Jr. » Wed Jul 05, 2017 5:34 pm

Steven, thank you so much for taking the time to read this and to respond.

To answer your question, "ornamental" and "character" variations are formal terms typically taught in most form and analysis classes. In an ornamental variation, the theme is clearly recognizable, but ornamented or elaborated upon. This what most listeners think of as a typical variation.

Most theme-and-variations also include at least one "character" variation -- that is, a variation that is NOT a clear statement of the theme, and in which the connection to the theme can be more subtle. The second and third variations in this work are clearly - and formally - "character variations." And yes, the distinction is central to understanding the overall form of the piece.

Regarding tempo, good catch. The full-length version of the paper did mention the tempo change to andante moderato at the start of the theme, but was deleted during editing. There is actually something of a dearth of tempo information in the original edition, with no tempo changes marked anywhere in the intro, despite the drama, and no tempos marked after the andante moderato except for a couple of piu mosso's later in the piece. Important information worth mentioning in this type of paper.

Finally, this is just an analysis assignment. Don't mistake it for a research paper -- the Grove Dictionary is my only source after all! The bio and historical info at the start are just some window dressing required by the professor.

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Guitar Slim Jr. » Wed Jul 05, 2017 7:58 pm

Stephen Kenyon wrote:
Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:06 am
did you consider the place and content of the theme within the opera e.g. its text, its context within the drama?
Well, no, but in researching the paper I did stumble upon a video of the original tune from "Magic Flute." I figure you're probably familiar with it, but I had never heard it before :oops: .

Note, the very first notes you hear are the pickup figure Sor exploits throughout the entire set of variations.


Youtube

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Stephen Kenyon » Wed Jul 05, 2017 8:37 pm

Guitar Slim Jr. wrote:
Wed Jul 05, 2017 7:58 pm
Stephen Kenyon wrote:
Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:06 am
did you consider the place and content of the theme within the opera e.g. its text, its context within the drama?
Well, no, but in researching the paper I did stumble upon a video of the original tune from "Magic Flute." I figure you're probably familiar with it, but I had never heard it before :oops: .
Well the whole really quite huge question of precisely how Sor arrived at using the melody found in Op 9 is very vexed ... you may have come across all this;
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic ... QXEKvNDTg8

...meanwhile, sidestepping the detail of origins, my take is laid out here;
http://jacaranda-music.com/Op9discussio ... chor751543
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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Guitar Slim Jr. » Wed Jul 05, 2017 10:04 pm

Stephen Kenyon wrote:
Wed Jul 05, 2017 8:37 pm
Well the whole really quite huge question of precisely how Sor arrived at using the melody found in Op 9 is very vexed ... you may have come across all this;
https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic ... QXEKvNDTg8
I was unaware of this whole story. It seems Sor and his publishers decided to take the high-toned route and cite Mozart, when in reality the theme is a pop song only loosely based on the Mozart tune. It's kind of like a Rachmaninoff theme that Barry Manilow got his hands on. :wink:

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Mark Clifton-Gaultier » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:59 am

Stephen Kenyon wrote:Well the whole really quite huge question of precisely how Sor arrived at using the melody found in Op 9 is very vexed ... you may have come across all this; https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic
Guitar Slim Jr. wrote:I was unaware of this whole story. It seems Sor and his publishers decided to take the high-toned route and cite Mozart, when in reality the theme is a pop song only loosely based on the Mozart tune.
I gave a lecture on this very subject a couple of years ago (part of a small guitar festival). It is clear to me that many (perhaps not all) amongst the contributors to this and other similar debates have little or no knowledge of the Mozart at first hand. Though some may have listened to "Das Klinget" they certainly don't know the opera well.

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Sor's variations were heavily influenced (even inspired) by the singing of Angelica Catalani but ... the suggestion we find in these threads - that Sor did not know the original opera - is not only speculative but highly doubtful.

If the subject is of interest please don't be misled by ill-informed arguments - listen to Mozart yourself, get to know it - read about Sor's life in London, his love of opera and fame as a writer of songs. During his time in London Sor published (as well as four ballets) at least 52 songs and 69 piano works which were anticipated by the music buying public far more than anything he wrote for the guitar.

Having got to know "Die Zauberflöte" listen to Sor's Op.9 again. A musicological analysis will illuminate several instances of possible inspiration - these are always subjective of course - but there is one absolutely glaring example that anybody can hear clearly illustrating Sor's acquaintance with the original opera.

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Tom Poore » Thu Jul 06, 2017 11:35 am

Certainly “Das klinget so herrlich” is a source. But there’s another part of Die Zauberflöte that seems a likely source. It’s the place where Papageno first encounters Monostatos. Here he sings “Schön Mädchen, jung und fein.” The accompanying texture is the same that Sor used in his Op. 9 setting of the theme.

Judge for yourself—skip ahead to the 34:00 minute mark:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVogegL8_FY

Not sure why anyone would argue that Sor didn’t know Die Zauberflöte. It was immensely popular throughout Europe in Sor’s time. And in his Op. 19, Sor himself arranged six arias from the opera.

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Guitar Slim Jr. » Fri Jul 07, 2017 3:32 am

Tom Poore wrote:
Thu Jul 06, 2017 11:35 am
Not sure why anyone would argue that Sor didn’t know Die Zauberflöte. It was immensely popular throughout Europe in Sor’s time. And in his Op. 19, Sor himself arranged six arias from the opera.

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I certainly wouldn't argue that. Mozart was the composer Sor revered above all others, according to the Grove article cited above. Sor was also an opera composer himself. I can only presume Mozart's operas were well known to him.

But then, who can keep track of the every aria and chorus in an opera by name? I suppose it's possible that the composer mistook one tune for another and the wrong one ended up on the title. It's also possible he didn't quite remember the tune correctly, or intentionally modified it.

Still, those first three notes of 'O cara armonia' -- the dotted pickup followed by the downbeat, is pretty much the heart of the theme, and it's a motif or "cell" that works its way into almost every variation. I think that's a good argument that 'O cara armonia' had at least something to do with the variations, and that the original title of the variations was not an error.

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by hpaulj » Mon Jul 10, 2017 10:25 pm

Mark Clifton-Gaultier wrote:
Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:59 am
....

I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that Sor's variations were heavily influenced (even inspired) by the singing of Angelica Catalani but ... the suggestion we find in these threads - that Sor did not know the original opera - is not only speculative but highly doubtful.
...
I gather this is the same Mdm Catalani that is named in the title of Giuliani's 'Three themes and variations', (Boije 186)http://carkiv.musikverk.se/www/boije/Boije_0186.pdf. He uses the glockenspiel theme that starts 8 measures earlier in the opera.

That Google discussion also mentions a ' opera pastiche Mysteres d'Isis', which is in the title of Carcassi's variations on the same theme as Sor (Boije 624) http://carkiv.musikverk.se/www/boije/Boije_0624.pdf

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by David Norton » Tue Jul 11, 2017 12:47 am

I am curious about one thing: in your research, did you find evidence of any performances of this work "After Sor and before Segovia'?" I believe that Op. 9 was the subject for Segovia's very first recording on May 2, 1927. It seems natural that he'd be inclined to promote this juxtaposing of a Spanish composer for the guitar (Sor) and a well-known classical icon (Mozart), plus two Bach tracks, for his very first disc.

That said, I wonder if it were played by others pre-Segovia? Arcas, Tarrega, Llobet? Any of the German or Italian CG pioneers? Anyone from the Rio de la Plata, where Segovia spent 1921-22? I suspect not but would be curious if that were really the case.
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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by hpaulj » Tue Jul 11, 2017 1:29 am

Looking up Les Mystères d’Isis, I found a 2015 review of a performance in The Guardian:

https://www.theguardian.com/music/2015/ ... oot-is-fun
Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte was not performed complete in Paris until 1829, 38 years after its first performance. But in 1801, much of the score had been included in Les Mystères d’Isis, an adaptation for the Opéra de Paris by the Bohemian composer and horn player Ludwig Wenzel Lachnith, with a new French text by Étienne Morel de Chédeville.
I'm listening to Tube rendition of Les Mystères d’Isis. I recognize a lot of the music. But for some reason it's reminding me of Rameau. Maybe it's just the French lyrics and dialog, and all the other French operas that I know are much later. I haven't come across this Sor theme yet; apparently it's been transformed into a Papagena (renamed Mona) aria. (it's in Act II Scene VII)

While this French production might have influenced Carcassi, it might have had less of an influence on Sor. His version was published in London in 1821.

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Re: Sor/Mozart Variations, College Term Paper

Post by Mark Clifton-Gaultier » Tue Jul 11, 2017 9:00 am

hpaulj wrote:I gather this is the same Mdm Catalani that is named in the title of Giuliani's 'Three themes and variations'
Yes - and the same Catalani who shared the stage at Sor's début performance in London (Saturday 20th April, 1815).

hpaulj wrote:He uses the glockenspiel theme that starts 8 measures earlier in the opera.
Worth mentioning that when he (Giuliani) incorporates a suggestion of the "real" theme (the one that we all recognise from Sor's Op.9) he bases this on the original material whereas Sor uses the anglicised form shaped to fit the words of "Away with Melancholy."

hpaulj wrote:That Google discussion also mentions a ' opera pastiche Mysteres d'Isis', which is in the title of Carcassi's variations on the same theme as Sor
This was playing in Paris at the same time that Sor lived there.

David_Norton wrote:I am curious about one thing: in your research, did you find evidence of any performances of this work "After Sor and before Segovia'?"
Not sure who your're addressing David but for myself? No, though that's a very interesting question; I was specifically interested in Sor's inspiration.

"Away with Melancholy" had first been printed in London in 1794, just three years after the opera premiered and twenty-seven years before Sor's publication (though he obviously performed the work prior to this).

The "song" in English remained hugely well known (on both sides of the Atlantic) at least 25 years later and was still being published 35 years beyond that (though sometimes under the title "O Dolce Contento"). There are two copies of an arrangement for piano by Wolsieffer in the Library of Congress dated 1854 and 1876. The sheer commercial longevity of such an inconsequential snippet is quite amazing.

What's more surprising given its apparent popularity amongst the general public - guitarists until quite recently had no idea of the source of the theme - even drawing a blank after listening to the Mozart.

I'm interested to hear what you come up with should you research performances pre Segovia. Surely he must have heard it somewhere himself? Or perhaps he was drawn to it due to his quest to give the guitar some musical kudos and after spotting the name Mozart on the title page. Maybe he rescued it from obscurity.

In which case, which edition did he use? Did that first recording omit the introduction? Lots of questions ...

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