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Thread: Harmonic Similarities in Wagner and Mozart

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Default Harmonic Similarities in Wagner and Mozart

    Look at measure 18 in slow movement (A flat major, 6/8) of Mozart String Quartet K428:

    tristan0.png

    14:18



    if you transpose this up a semitone to A major, it looks like this:

    tristan1.png

    D -------------------------

    ---G#---A ---A#--- B --- C#

    ---B --- A ---G#-------

    --------- F ---E ----------------



    Now look at this passage in Wagner Tristan und Isolde Prelude (A major, 6/8)

    tristan2.png

    D--------------------------

    ---G#---A ---A# --- B --- C#

    B-------------

    F--------------E--G#-B---- E

    6:08



    Aren't they similar? What do you think?
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Oct-13-2019 at 19:03.

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    hammeredklavier - if you pause a YT video at the spot you want to reference and right click you can 'Copy video URL at current time'.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    A momentary similarity. A melodic figure of four-notes, rising chromatically, is an often-used motif in Tristan und Isolde, but other composers have used the figure, and it isn't "Wagnerian" in itself. What makes Wagner's use of it distinctive is context - the prolonged ambiguities and rapid modulations of his harmonic idiom. You can listen to the entire Tristan prelude and hear a striking variety of melodic permutations and harmonic adventures through which that simple motif leads, but all you really have to hear to realize the difference between Wagner's thinking and Mozart's is the very opening of Tristan, where the four chromatic notes, beginning in a chord so ambiguous that it's been named for the opera, lead us by sleight of hand through a rapid sequence of tonal centers. Had Mozart's successive iterations of the figure taken place at different tonal levels, in the context of an overall modulation, we might have had something more genuinely Wagnerian. Instead, it simply hovers on the dominant of Eb.

    That movement of Mozart's quartet contains some beautiful chromaticism. Maybe it's a mite closer to being Wagnerian in bar 8, where it fleeting - very fleetingly - suggests the possibility of moving to a distant tonal area.
    Last edited by Woodduck; Oct-13-2019 at 21:11.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    The Mozart passages are of genuine interest, but I do not feel that they create the same tonal ambiguity, the suspense and uncertainty of key like the Tristan chord does. The Mozart examples are not drawn out long enough to have that kind of impact though there is a beautiful working out of these harmonic passages. There is also an entirely different intent behind them that is certainly not dramatic in the Wagnerian sense despite there being a harmonic similarity. But it’s also true that Wagner was very much interested in Mozart’s music, perhaps highly influenced by it. Wagner was influenced by many different composers, even the ones that he didn’t personally like or he condemned later. I believe the difference between the classical and romantic era is that each had an essentially different sense of time and space. The romantic composers could draw out harmonic passengers in a way that the classical composers might never have conceived of. The sense of expanded space and time can also be found in Chopin’s music, such as in his Barcarolle and Fantasie in F Minor. The music seems to float and be suspended in the air, and on the scale that was used by Wagner and others, it was a revelation.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Oct-14-2019 at 08:52.
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    Senior Member howlingfantods's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Aren't they similar? What do you think?
    No, not even remotely.

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    Senior Member hammeredklavier's Avatar
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    Of course I'm not trying to suggest Wagner and Mozart wrote in the same style. I'm suggesting the possibility Mozart could have been one of many predecessors of Wagner that inspired Wagner in writing the prelude.

    Quote Originally Posted by Woodduck View Post
    other composers have used the figure,
    But the similarities of those specific passages are striking. The same notes laid out almost identically (deviated by a semitone), in 6/8 time.

    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    I believe the difference between the classical and romantic era is that each had an essentially different sense of time and space. The romantic composers could draw out harmonic passengers in a way that the classical composers might never have conceived of.
    I'm well aware (thank you) that the later composers were eager to learn from the old ways, but at the same time tried to move away from them to try new things.

    Although Wagner admired Bach, he ridiculed Brahms by saying: "Brahms wished he could compose like Bach".
    (Brahms's "Liebe und Frühling II", Op. 3, No. 3: A New Path to the Artwork of the Future?
    - Ira Braus)
    And Mozart wrote to his father: "musical taste is continually changing and what is more, this extends even to church music, which ought not to be the case."
    http://mrc.hanyang.ac.kr/wp-content/...2006_20_10.pdf
    Last edited by hammeredklavier; Oct-14-2019 at 16:42.

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    Senior Member Woodduck's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hammeredklavier View Post
    Of course I'm not trying to suggest Wagner and Mozart wrote in the same style. I'm suggesting the possibility Mozart could have been one of many predecessors of Wagner that inspired Wagner in writing the prelude.

    But the similarities of those specific passages are striking. The same notes laid out almost identically (deviated by a semitone), in 6/8 time.
    The moment you're pointing to in Wagner is a development of the material in his own prelude. Are you seriously suggesting that when he reached that moment in the piece he was suddenly thinking of a Mozart quartet?

    Wagner's expansive harmonic vocabulary takes in virtually the whole of the Western tonal tradition. I'm certain that if you were to search his works you would find a great many places in which he shared a chord progression or a pattern of notes with some previous composer. I could find you passages obviously influenced by Palestrina, Bach, Beethoven, Weber, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Berlioz and Liszt. The coincidence of this short bit of Mozart with a brief moment in Tristan doesn't suggest influence to me.

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    Originally Posted by hammeredklavier
    Of course I'm not trying to suggest Wagner and Mozart wrote in the same style. I'm suggesting the possibility Mozart could have been one of many predecessors of Wagner that inspired Wagner in writing the prelude.
    ---
    I also believe it's possible. But I don't consider it a difference in style but intent because they obviously had different styles, and Wagner took the harmonic progressions similarity and made it his own—that is, if he'd heard some of these Mozart passages and I doubt there's an absolute way of knowing exactly what he may have been influenced by unless he specifically mentioned that he'd heard Mozart's String Quartet K. 428 or similar works. Wagner had his own genius whether the ultra-conservatives are willing to grant him that or not. It's possible that the Tristan chord was inspired by something related to the context of Wagner's opera that was deeply subconscious rather than consciously appropriating a passage from Mozart. Nevertheless, Wagner held Mozart in high regard and was familiar with some of his work. One can only speculate on Mozart's possible influence even with the similarities.
    ---
    [quote] Wagner said: “Mozart’s music and Mozart’s orchestra are a perfect match."... On another occasion, he said, “Of Mozart I only cared for the Magic Flute. Don Giovanni went against my grain, because of the Italian text: It seemed to me such rubbish.”... On still another occasion, he said, “Mozart is the founder of German declamation. What fine humanity resounds in the priest’s replies to Tomino! Think how stiff such high priests are in Gluck. When you consider that this text, which was meant to be a farce, and the theater for which it was written, then compare what was written before Mozart’s time (even Cimarosa’s still famous Matrimonio Segreto)–on the one side the wretched German Singspiel, on the other, the ornate Italian opera–one is amazed by the soul he managed to breathe into such a text."... He also said: "The most tremendous genius raised Mozart above all masters, in all centuries and in all the arts." [unquote] Wagner obviously held him in high regard.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Oct-14-2019 at 09:16.
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    Similar but in context it's merely a coincidence I would say.

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    Senior Member Bwv 1080's Avatar
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    the Tristan chord is an altered V/V, same as the Augmented 6th chords, and there are alot of A6s in Mozart

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bwv 1080 View Post
    the Tristan chord is an altered V/V, same as the Augmented 6th chords, and there are alot of A6s in Mozart
    And therefore...?

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    The first example is a genius playing around saying, "Hey, look what I can do with the chromatic scale." And then he's done with it. Never comes back to it as far as we know! The second example, the "ghost chord," properly an appoggiatured augmented sixth chord, is a genius showing the logical breakdown of major-minor tonality. Unlike Mozart, Wagner would use that chord again and again to punch a whole in a system that was becoming boring. It's the Ars Antiqua giving way to the Ars Nova......in a single chord.

    Not the same!
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    The chromatic scale consists of 12 semi-tones. The limitations of the average human ear is in the range of 9 or 10 octaves, but the"comfortable" zone is basically two or two and a half octaves on either side of middle C -- ie 50 or 60 notes Given the hundreds of thousands of hours of Western music composed and the limitations of customary harmonic practice, the likelihood of two more composers creating completely independently the same sequence of a handful or more of notes approaches certainty -- as has been noted and seen in many many examples. This can both be intentional hommage and completely random chance, but in 90+% of cases nothing should be read into it. This why musical plagerism charges are often just so much smoke.

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Room2201974 View Post
    The first example is a genius playing around saying, "Hey, look what I can do with the chromatic scale." And then he's done with it. Never comes back to it as far as we know! The second example, the "ghost chord," properly an appoggiatured augmented sixth chord, is a genius showing the logical breakdown of major-minor tonality. Unlike Mozart, Wagner would use that chord again and again to punch a whole in a system that was becoming boring. It's the Ars Antiqua giving way to the Ars Nova......in a single chord.

    Not the same!
    Sigh. This old canard. If one is aware of each tonic that doesn't appear after the famous chord and the dominant it sets up, then one has composed a firmly tonal work. The Tristan chord and prelude don't assault tonality, they reaffirm it. The whole myth is just an artifact of a new religion's quest for a compelling and credible origin story.
    Last edited by EdwardBast; Oct-15-2019 at 14:25.

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