Bach and Mozart (2)

I find Mozart, a composer of the Classical period, much easier to play on the piano than Bach, the master of the Baroque. By the time Mozart was a rising star, musical taste had rebelled against the complexity dominant during Bach’s day. People wanted simpler, easy-to-listen-to melodies and accompaniments. Mozart and Hayden, the two leading composers of the Classical period, complied with seemingly straight forward and direct compositions that met the expectations of listeners. Both stressed music with a repeated accompaniment figure and a simple, single melody.

But both introduced more complexity as they matured. Mozart’s last three symphonies, the 39th, 40th, and 41st, are both perfect examples of music from the Classical period and among his longest and most complicated works. And his Requiem, which he didn’t live to finish, is rich in intricate composition and reaches a level of dissonance only hinted at in his 39th symphony. One can only wonder what he might have moved on to had he lived beyond 35 years, his age at death.

Bach, by way of contrast, was the master of complexity. He emphasized polyphony, also called counterpoint, that is, multiple melodies all going at the same time. The form he is best known for is the fugue. That form requires beginning with a melody, then starting the melody again while the first version continues, then a third and finally a fourth sounding of the same melody, all going at the same time. The four different versions are sounded in different tonal spans called “voices,” that correspond roughly to the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass ranges of the human voice.

Bach is vastly more difficult to play at the keyboard than Mozart. Keeping all four voices going and sounding like separate, distinct, and individual entities is, for the most part, beyond my skill level. As a result, I play his preludes more often than his fugues. He wrote two sets of preludes and fugues, together known as the Well-Tempered Clavier. Both sets include a prelude and a fugue in each major and minor key for a total of 24 per set.

More tomorrow.

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