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:
..........Variation 1 (ornamental variation)
...............Variation 2 (character variation 1)
...............Variation 3 (character variation 2)
..........Variation 4 (ornamental variation)
.....Variation 5 (Theme clearly restated)
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.
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.