[1.II.25.2] Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca, from Sonata K300 (301)

I am going to assume that you have already done the HS homework, and begin with the HT part especially because HS play is relatively simple with most of Mozart's music. However, the issues of technical difficulties and "how to make it sound like Mozart" will be covered. Before starting on the details, let's discuss the sonata structure of the complete sonata because, if you learn its final section, you may decide to learn the whole thing, because there is not a single page of this sonata that is not fascinating.

The term sonata has been applied to so many types of music that it does not have a unique definition; it evolved and changed with time. In the earliest times, it simply meant something like music or song. Prior to, and including, Mozart's time, it meant instrumental music with one to four parts, consisting of Sonata, Minuet, Trio, Rondo, etc. This Mozart sonata (No. 16) starts with a Sonata first section, which consists of a theme and 6 variations. This sonata part is often called sonata-allegro, because it tends to start slowly and end faster. Therefore, each variation should be played a little faster than the preceding one, making the music more interesting as it unfolds. Then comes a break, which corresponds to the middle or slow movement of a Beethoven sonata. This break takes the form of a minuet-trio, a form of dance. The minuet originated as a French court dance with 3 beats and was the predecessor of the waltz. The waltz format also includes mazurkas; these originated as Polish dances, which is why Chopin composed so many mazurkas. They differ from the (Viennese) waltzes that have the accent on the first beat, in that their accent can be on the second or third beat. Waltzes started independently in Germany as a slower dance with 3 strong beats; it then evolved into the popular dances that we now refer to as "Viennese". Trios gradually went extinct as quartets gained popularity. Both the minuet and trio in our sonata have the time signature 3/4. Thus every first beat carries the accent; knowing that it is in a dance (waltz) format makes it easier to play the minuet-trio correctly. The trio should have a totally different air from the minuet (a convention in Mozart's time); this change in air gives the transition a refreshing feel. "Trio" generally refers to music played with 3 instruments; therefore, you will see three voices in this trio, which you can assign to a violin, viola, and cello. Don't forget the "Menuetto D. C." (De Capo, which means return to the beginning) at the end of the Trio; thus you must play minuet-trio-minuet. The final section is the Rondo. Rondos have the general structure ABACADA. . . , which makes good use of a catchy melody, A.

Our Rondo has the structure (BB')A(CC')A(BB')A'-Coda, a very symmetric structure. The time signature is a lively cut time; can you figure out the key of BB'? The rest of this Rondo is all in A, as is the formal key of this sonata. The entire sonata is sometimes referred to as a variation on a single theme, which is probably wrong, although the Rondo resembles Variation III, and the Trio resembles Variation IV. It starts with the "B" structure, constructed from a short unit of only 5 notes, repeated twice with a rest between them in bars 1-3; it is repeated at double speed in bar 4; he cleverly uses the same unit as a conjunction between these repetitions at the end of bar 3. It is again repeated at half speed in bars 7 and 8 and the last 2 bars provide the ending. Bar 9 is the same as bar 8 except that the last note is lowered instead of raised; this abrupt change in the repeating pattern is an easy way to signal an ending. The half speed units are disguised by adding two grace notes in the beginning, so that, when the entire B is played at speed, we only hear the melody without recognizing the individual repeat units. The efficiency of his composing process is astounding – he repeated the same unit 7 times in 9 bars using 3 speeds to compose one of his famous melodies. In fact, the entire sonata consists of these repeated sections that are 8 to 10 bars long, and constructed using similar methods. There are several sections that are 16 or 32 bars long, but these are multiples of the basic 8 bar sections. More examples of this type of micro-structural analysis are discussed in section IV.4 for Mozart and Beethoven. This type of analysis can be helpful for memorization and mental play – after all, mental play is how he composed them!

The technically challenging parts are (1) the fast RH trill of bar 25, (2) the fast RH runs from bar 36-60 - make sure you have good fingering, (3) the fast broken RH octaves of bars 97-104, and (4) the fast LH Alberti accompaniment of bars 119-125. Examine these elements to see which is the hardest for you, and start by practicing that element first. The broken octave sequence of bars 97-104 are not just a series of broken octaves, but two melodies, an octave and one-half step apart, chasing each other. Practice everything HS, without pedal, until they are comfortable before starting HT. Parallel set exercises are the key to developing the technique to play these elements and parallel set exercise #1 (quad repetitions) is the most important, especially for learning relaxation. For fast trills, go to III.3.a. The broken chords in the LH (bar 28, etc., and in the Coda) should be played very fast, almost like a single note, and match the RH notes. The HT practice should initially be without pedal until you are comfortable HT.

How do you make music that sounds like Mozart? There is no secret -- the instructions have been there all the time! They are the expression markings on the music; for Mozart, each marking has a precise meaning, and if you follow every one of them, including the time signature, etc., the music becomes an intimate, intricate conversation. The "only" thing you need to do is to suppress the urge to insert expressions of your own. There is no better example of this than the last 3 chords at the end. It is so simple, that it is almost unbelievable (a hallmark of Mozart): the first chord is a staccato and the remaining two are legato. This simple device creates a convincing ending; play it any other way, and the ending becomes a flop. Therefore, these last 3 chords should not be pedaled although some scores (Schirmer) have pedal markings on them. Better pianists tend to play the entire Rondo without pedal.

Let's examine the first 8 bars of this Rondo.

RH: The first 4 note theme (bar 1) is played legato followed by an eighth note and exact 8th rest. The note and rest are needed for the audience to "digest" the introduction of the unit. This construct is repeated, then the 4-note theme is repeated at double speed (2 per bar) in bar 4, and climaxes at the C6 played firmly and connecting to the two following staccato notes. This doubling of speed is a device used by composers all the time. In bars 5-7, the RH plays staccato, maintaining the level of excitement. The series of falling notes in bars 8-9 brings this section to a close, like someone stepping on the brakes of a car.

LH: The simple LH accompaniment provides a rigid skeleton; without it, the whole 9 bars would flop around like a wet noodle. The clever placement of the ties (between the 1st and 2nd notes of bar 2, etc.) not only emphasizes the cut time nature of each bar, but brings out the rhythmic idea within this exposition; it sounds like a fox trot dance step – slow, slow, quick-quick-slow in bars 2-5, repeated in bars 6-9. Because every note must be staccato in bars 6-8, the only way to emphasize the rhythm is to accent the first note of each bar.

Both notes of bar 9 (both hands) are legato and slightly softer in order to provide an ending, and both hands lift at the same instant. It is clear that we must not only know what the markings are, but also why they are there. Of course, there is no time to think about these complicated explanations; the music should take care of that - the artist simply feels the effects of these markings. The strategic placing of legato, staccato, ties, and accents is the key to playing this piece, while accurately maintaining the rhythm. Hopefully, you should now be able to continue the analysis for the rest of this piece and reproduce music that is uniquely Mozart.

HT play is slightly more difficult than the previous Moonlight because this piece is faster and requires higher accuracy. Perhaps the most difficult part is the coordination of the trill in the RH with the LH in bar 25. Don't try to learn this by slowing it down. Simply make sure that the HS work is completely done using bars 25 and 26 as a single practice segment, then combine the 2 hands at speed. Always try to combine things HT at speed (or close to it) first, and use slower speeds only as a last resort because if you succeed, you will save lots of time and avoid forming bad habits. Advanced pianists almost never have to combine hands by slowing down.

After you are comfortable HT without the pedal, add the pedal. In the section starting at bar 27, the combination of broken LH chords, RH octaves, and pedal creates a sense of grandeur that is representative of how Mozart could create grandeur from relatively simple constructs. Hold the last note of this section a little longer than required by the rhythm (tenuto, bar 35), especially after the repetition, before launching into the next section. As stated earlier, Mozart wrote no pedal markings; therefore, after practicing HT without pedal, add pedal only where you think it will elevate the music. Especially with difficult material such as Rachmaninoff's, less pedal is looked upon by the pianist community as indicating superior technique.