Mozart and Barber, a Comparison

Upon first hearing Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, I would have to say I found it pretty annoying. It sounded exactly like all other music I’ve heard by him: something you would hear playing in a fancy five-star hotel. The melody is extremely repetitive, with only a few different variations recurring throughout. It brings to mind some sort of scene in which royalty are playing croquet while sipping imported tea on a perfect day.

The tempo is constant and rapid in Mozart’s piece; all notes are kept short. What’s more, there isn’t much dynamical range. Most of the song is either very loud or very quiet. It lacks any sort of build-up, climax, or resolution. The only part that might be considered a climax occurs about halfway in, when there is a sudden, loud section. However, this is immediately followed by the same melodies from the beginning, as if nothing had changed. Despite all of these supposed failings, and after a few more listenings, the song somehow did it for me. Although repetitive, enough variation was added to make it enjoyable overall.

In stark contrast to Mozart’s piece is Adagio for Strings by Samuel Barber. From the very beginning, it sounds completely different. While Mozart’s work jumped right into the main melody, Adagio offers a slow and graceful build-up. It creates a feeling of gloom, as if some great battle has just taken place, and the listener is “viewing” the aftermath. The melodies and notes are long and drawn out, unlike Mozart’s highly-repetitive, rapid style. Adagio also features an impressive dynamical range, with gradual increases from quiet to loud, which contrasts with Mozart’s abrupt changes.

While Mozart’s piece didn’t have anything that could definitely be a climax, Barber offered something impressive. Over a period of about two minutes, tension was built up, with higher notes being played louder and louder. This lead up to a sudden, unexpected silence that was quickly followed by the “peak” of the climax. Without that short moment of silence before the peak, in which the tension had finally reached maximum, the song might not have had the same amazing effect. Beyond this climax, there is another brief interval of silence. This leads will into the rest of the piece, which is similar to the beginning, but seems to have a slightly calmer or more serene tone than the initial build-up.

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