Mozart 2. RHYTHM


Good Vibrations  

The music is not in the notes,
but in the silence between.


CHAPTER AIMS: Introducing Rhythm’s relationship to Melody.

                               Getting to know the first minute of our piece.


This chapter, we’re going to turn to Rhythm as our guide. Specifically, we’re going to take the first minute of the piece and explore it a number of times in increasing detail, so that we can appreciate how vital Rhythm is to the shaping of Melody.



Compare and Contrast

Jupiter Symphony Finale, First Minute

Let’s start in general terms. How do we describe this music?

It’s pleasing to the ear, no doubt. It’s been designed that way. But try to think about this rhythmically. And I don’t mean how many beats there are in the bar or it’s time signature or whatnot.

Think about the rhythmic fabric of the music. Think about the music’s personality in rhythmic terms.



There’s real guts and gusto to the piece. It possesses energy and vigour in abundance: the tempo is fast as the music scurries forward. This is exciting music.


However, this is not an intense rhythm, nor a frantic one. There is drive, but the music never lags. Any risk of that, and the music accelerates.

And when it does so, it intensifies together, with the whole orchestra joining together.


It means that despite the exuberance, everything remains in balance. There is always proportion. If something ticks, it will also tock.

And if we get too fast, we are cushioned slower…

…sometimes to a total stop.


Let’s compare our new piece to some music we should already know: our Bach piece.

Bach’s Brandenburg no 2  

Bach’s music beats to a consistent clock. It’s a quality that most identifies the music of his age, the Baroque.

We begin at a certain tempo and continue at that speed all the way to the stop that comes with the end of the piece.

Of course there are different and beautiful rhythms ticking inside this Bach piece, but they are bound together, like a thick mattress beneath the sound.


Now listen to our Mozart again, and compare it to our Bach. Think about the rhythm of the music, its shape:

Mozart Jupiter Symphony, finale  

Something clearer, something more singular is emerging from this music.

Primarily there is more unison playing by the instruments than the Bach. The orchestra uniting together gives it a particular form of articulation.

It is also the stops and starts, in a way that is different to the Bach. Quick accelerations and the small pauses in the rhythmic flow of the music.


Listen at 0.30. Or 1.01, or a number of other occasions: the music actually stops before starting again. This is a process known as Cadence, and it gives the music a very different character to Bach’s.

A voice, an individual voice is emerging out of this sound. That gives the music a more personal and expressive quality. It makes the orchestra sing.

It’s a voice we usually describe as Melody. 



Unchained Melody

In order for this voice to be articulated and individuated, it needs to be differentiated. It needs clarity, force, phrasing, cadence: all effects that come from the injection of rhythmic invention into melody.


Requiem: The melodies stand out (4th & 5th rows)

When you listen to this music, do you hear how clearly the melody stands out? There is a sharp crispness to the voice of this symphony, and that comes from rhythmic accents that constantly stipple the music.

And there are the pauses and silences, techniques that foreground melody, but techniques that are actually rhythmic in nature.

Melody, by acquiring its own rhythm, is being unchained. Melody takes precedence in this music far more than with our Bach, where Melody is overlaid, and therefore more rhythmically enmeshed.


Take an even earlier piece of music, the Palestrina we used in Bach 6 HERE. This is 16th century music written more than two hundred years before Mozart’s symphony:


The music staggeringly beautiful, no doubt, but this is music that places harmony above melody. And we can tell that through the way rhythm works.

The rhythm here is serving the benefit of Harmony. That means long notes playing together in long sequences: there’s no singular rhythmic patterns to give the music a more individual accent, but rather a slow looping rhythmic pulse, which suits the communal and contemplative character of the music. And of course which suits Harmony.


If we return to our Bach, composed some 150 years after Palestrina:

Bach’s Brandenburg no 2  

Now the rhythm is faster. This is music with the rhythms of dance. There is more individuation coming from the music. We can hear melody articulated more clearly.

However, the pace is still uniform, and the melodies are laid across one another. Although there is a greater articulation of melody, the rhythmic nature of the music locks those melodies together into a more complex harmonious whole.


Now let’s return to our Mozart piece, keeping its rhythm shape in mind:

Mozart Jupiter Symphony, finale  

With our Mozart, rhythmic strokes constantly give character and definition to the voice. Like a painter using strong bold lines to draw colour and life from the canvas.

mozart_headphones1-300x300We feel much more individuation from the music: with the singular voice comes personality, and with that all the wit and invention we associate with Mozart’s music. This music feels like a direct relay of the composer’s personality, as opposed to the more transcendental timbre of the Palestrina. Mozart’s own individual character is more present in the music.


Rhythm is so fundamental to music, it’s amazing how often we forget it’s even there. How it is deployed dictates our immediate emotional response. If a piece of music is romantic, it will have long sweeping rhythms, with rises and falls, swells and sighs. If a piece is exciting (like this) we get fast rhythms. Suspenseful or dramatic music requires rhythmic tension, the coiling up and holding of the beat. Likewise grandiose, inquisitive, humorous…there will always be individual rhythmic patterns hard-wired into the music that makes it feel the way it does.

So when we take a concept like melody or harmony, and really pull it apart, we usually see the mechanics of rhythm ticking away underneath.


To see this in practice, let’s take our first look at this first minute of our piece.

Let’s just start with the first thirteen seconds…



The First Thirteen Seconds

Finale, first minute  

We’ll start by looking at one of the rhythmic blocks that forms the foundation of the piece: a simple rapid four beat pattern that appears in the first few seconds. TA-TA-TA-TAAA.

Here it is in isolation:

5 seconds in  


Now let’s turn back to the few seconds of our piece, paying attention to this particular rhythmic phrase:

Finale, first minute  

  • 0.03   First sight of our four note figure, TA-TA-TA-TAAA from the opening melody’s fifth note.
  • 0.10   Here it is again. TA-TA-TA-TAAA
  • 0.13   And again.

Is this a melody? We can sing it. But notice how the first time we hear it (at 0.03) the final note goes down. But the next two occasions (0.10 and 0.13) it stays the same. It’s really the rhythmic identity that gives voice to this music, as opposed to the exact notes being played.

Also notice how this short pattern (the technical term is Motif) is repeated, three times very rapidly. That is immediately different to Bach.

Gone is the polyphony of Bach. This is music that is happy to repeat itself in order to make its voice clearly heard, even on a first listen. And once again, as so often with Mozart’s music, that lends power to Melody.


And when I say these phrases are repeated, I really mean it. Listen to how this same rhythmic unit is used, a little later (1min 37secs) in the piece. These happen fast, so listen to the clip till you make sure you can distinguish them:

1m 37s  in  

  • 0.00   Violins play the rhythm
  • 0.00   Immediately followed by wind and brass repeating the phrase. Told you it was quick!
  • 0.01   Again violins play it
  • 0.02   Again repeated by wind instruments.
  • 0.03   Again from the violins,
  • 0.04   Again repeated by wind.
  • 0.06   Now we hear it played in the lower strings
  • 0.07   Answered by the wind instruments, which continues a number of times before…
  • 0.10   The orchestra now plays it in unison.

This is music that has been chiseled with big bold rhythmic strokes.


With that in mind, let’s now introduce a second phrase, again as much a rhythmic unit as a melodic one. For this we’re going to need to delve a little further into our first minute…



The First Twenty Seconds…

Finale, first minute  

  • 0.03   TA-TA-TA-TAAA, for revision…
  • 0.10   And again, and again at 0.13
  • 0.16   Here it is, our second phrase: DUN-Di-DUN.
  • 0.18   DUN-Di-DUN again.
  • 0.20  And again.


This DUN-Di-DUN is another motif that will figure constantly throughout this movement.

Here is a section from later in the piece:

4m 52s  in  

  • 0.00   We here the phrase immediately
  • 0.04   And again: DUN-Di-DUN
  • 0.08   And again
  • 0.12    And again
  • 0.17   Played once more just in the violins (sounds almost cheeky)
  • 0.20   And again
  • 0.22   And again
  • 0.24   And a final time

It is a section of contrast, even of strife. There are two different rhythms, one strident and the other gentle, that seem to jar when just bolted together so crudely. It gives the music a fragmented almost schizophrenic quality, which is fascinating and rather unusual for Mozart.


There’s another reason, rhythmically, this music doesn’t quite hang together neatly.

Listen again, but this time pay close attention to each of our DUN-Di-DAAs. If you listen carefully, you should be able to hear that the phrase is actually being played more than once, in rapid sucession.

And I mean very rapid succession. In fact it is three times, but the third one is really hard to distinguish. But you should still be able to hear two clearly:

4m 52s  in  

  • 0.00   Low instruments play (drums are loudest) it first, followed by violins.
  • 0.04   This time violins first, rapidly followed by those deeper players. Again the drums are the loudest. Notice how they come in just after the violins.
  • 0.08   Cellos first, violins right after
  • 0.12   This time violins first, cellos second.
  • 0.17   Violins, alone.

The fact this last appearance in the violins is alone gives the music the ‘cheeky’ quality mentioned earlier. The phrase has been caught naked, stripped of support for the first time on its own.

This quickfire repetition of the music is a technique known as a “Canon“, and they appear all across this movement so it’s worth a digression!





Different spelling!!

In musical terms, a “Canon” is a repetition of a melody, in quickfire succession so that the melodies tumble together. Think Frère Jaques or London’s Burning.

That sounds like a melodic tool, but the layering melodies so closely together inevitably employs repetition for its effect, and so is inherently rhythmic. Once again, rhythm operates beneath the music, acting as the driving force.


This rhythmic patterning – the canoning of melodies – is wired into the DNA of this piece. It gives the music much of its momentum, with canons tearing off so rapidly, one on the heels of the other. The effect of chasing gives the music excitement and pace.


Here’s a more gentle example, from about a minute into the movement:

1m 12s  in  

Here the canon happens fast, between the high and low wind instruments. Ignore those rather excited violins, listen closely behind the strings to hear the woodwind in action.

Although it is a queiter moment in the music, these canons still gives the music a sense of creeping excitement and anticipation.


Here’s an another louder example from just a few seconds later:

1m 19s  in  

In this case, the higher strings lead, followed quickly after by lower strings. This happens all the way through 0.00-0.10 in the clip above.

And just listen to how the music manages to reconcile these two competing rhythms from 0.10-0.14, so that by the end we are always travelling together? It’s a tremendous skill Mozart possesses, to control the ebb and flow of such energetic music with so deftly.


Let’s now turn to the latter parts of that first minute.


The First Forty-Five Seconds…

Finale, first minute  

  • 0.03   TA-TA-TA-TAAA. Again at 0.10 & 0,13, yes we know.
  • 0.16   DUN-Di-DUN, again at 0.18  and 0.20, yup noted them already.
  • 0.22   The rhythm always maintains a balance between speed and rest, energy and order. It drives on at high energy…
  • 0.28   …before an expert application of breaks. The music appears to stop…
  • 0.30   …and restart…only it doesn’t.

The music now proceeds to spring happily off on a separate jaunt of its own. ‘Spring’ is an appropriate word: listen to how that skipping rhythm tickles its way through all the strings.


It’s worth paying more attention to this beautiful section:

0.30 seconds in  


Do you hear the skipping rhythm? If you can’t it, here it is played once (the second time it appears):

Skipping Melody  



How many times can you hear this five note skipping phrase being played in the section?

0.30 seconds in  

Click For Answer
The answer is in fact 16, but if you counted 12, that’s correct. The other four are played simultaneously by different sections of the strings. I can’t distinguish them by ear myself.


The intricacy of the rhythmic fabric of the music is like a fine lace, bright and resplendent from afar, yet highly patterned and ordered when glanced at closer.


Let’s now just go over that first minute for a final time this chapter. It should all hopefully now be starting to sound a little more familiar…



The First Minute 

Finale, first minute  

  • 0.03   TA TA TA TAAA, again at 0.10 and 0.13 been there…
  • 0.16   DUN-Di-DUN, repeats at 0.18 and 0.20, got the t-shirt…
  • 0.30  Piece appears to start again…
  • 0.32  Springing section.
  • 0.46  Ooh, a canon, can you hear it?
  • 0.54  Another DUN-Di-DUN, before the section rounds off neatly to an end.


If you missed it, here’s that canon on it’s own:

44 seconds  in  

The canon starts in the higher strings, with the lower strings follow close after. The result is energy and kinetic drive. There is a sense of the music chasing its own tail, a sense brought to a satisfying resolution by the dovetailing of the two rhythms at the end of the extract.


That’s a lot we’ve covered this chapter, get yourself a chocolate biscuit as a reward.

But before you eat it, a quick quiz…



Listen to the two clips below. Think of the rhythmic shape of both pieces, which belongs to Bach, and which to Mozart?

Quiz clips 

Click For Answer
The first is Bach’s, and the second Mozart. Do you hear how the first maintains that regular clock-work beat, whereas the second uses pauses and orchestral tuttis (everyone playing together) to create a more singular and individual rhythmic personality?

Both pieces are different movements from our own pieces: the Bach is the finale of our Brandenburg No 2, and the Mozart the opening movement of our Jupiter symphony.


Next chapter, we’ll turn to a subject you cannot avoid with Mozart: Melody….




QUIZ If you want to know the pieces from that clip we have: