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So, while listening to the rondo movements of Mozart's piano sonatas, I found one that has a dance-like character to it, despite its development. That would be the rondo from Piano Sonata in Bb K 333. Here is what I know formally from listening to it a bunch of times with the score:

  • Bars 1-16 - A theme stated first quietly and then loudly as it arpeggiates to a cadence in Bb
  • Bars 16-40 - B theme with some of the motives from the A theme like for example the arpeggio motive at the beginning of the A theme
  • Bars 41-56 - A theme stated again
  • Bars 56-75 - Development of the B theme
  • Bars 76-84 - C theme, an example of important and new formal material in the development section before Beethoven(had this not had that C theme, it wouldn't feel as much like a rondo)
  • Bars 85-105 - Development of the A theme
  • 106-111 - B theme used to retransition
  • Bars 112-127 - A theme again
  • Bars 127-163 - B theme that then twists around, leading to a cadenza
  • Bars 164-170 - End of B theme, sounds like A theme is going to come next
  • Bars 171-198 - Cadenza with some material from both the A and B themes, when is A going to arrive?
  • 199-206 - Finally, at last the A theme, but this time it has the middle section of the theme cut out of it.
  • Bars 206-224 - Coda

So, basically, it is a rondo, but with the last B section so embellished that it sounds like it was split in half by a cadenza-like melody and with the Mozartian twist of not having the A section arrive when it sounds like it will.

Now why am I asking what it is about this rondo that gives it a dance-like character that other rondos I have listened to like for example Rondo in A minor K 511 or Rondo Alla Turka don't have? Well, it is because I had the idea to compose a Dance in Rondo, in other words a piece that on the one hand could be viewed as a dance and on the other hand is in rondo form. Most dances are in binary or ternary form. I know that I can't use just that single rondo to see how to go about writing my Dance in Rondo, I have to find at least a couple more rondos and compare them to dances like the Minuet and the Waltz and see where the similarities lie harmonically, rhythmically, and melodically and then apply those similarities to my own rondo themes. But, this rondo was the first that I found to have that dance like character.

Here is the video I kept listening to as well as the score(Rondo starts on page 13 of the PDF):

http://imslp.eu/files/imglnks/euimg/9/90/IMSLP456595-PMLP01849-Mozart,_Wofgang_Amadeus-NMA_09_25_2_04_KV_333_scan.pdf

So what is it about that Bb major rondo that I found that makes it have a dance like character despite all the development that occurs? Is it the bass not starting until the second beat, making the first beat sound like an anacrusis? Is it the rhythm? Harmonic rhythm? Melodic shape?

  • "Dance" character is almost entirely caused by rhythm rather than melody, form, or harmony. The reason is that dancing to music involves coordinating the timing of your steps with the beat of the music, but pitch, volume, harmony etc. have no direct equivalent in the dancer's performance. – Kilian Foth Mar 2 at 8:21
  • @KiliannFoth Well, I figured that even if rhythm is the primary contributor, that the rate of harmonic change and the melodic contour would both play a role, as most dances I listen to have a harmonic rhythm of 1 chord per bar(Even Chopin's dance pieces tend to have this 1 chord per bar harmonic rhythm) or 1 chord per half-bar(like in a waltz that is written in 6/8). And as for melodic contour, again most dances that I know of stick to mostly stepwise motion in their melodies with some leaping by thirds and sixths. You will especially notice that melodic contour in Minuets from Bach to Mozart. – Caters Mar 2 at 16:00
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Is it the bass not starting until the second beat, making the first beat sound like an anacrusis?

There is an anacrusis, but it's in the bass. There is also an elision. Beats 2-4 in bar 1, the bass, are the anacrusis. When that line continues to beat 1 of bar 3, it forms an elision...

enter image description here

...blue highlights elisions. First and second phrases in green and red.

I put a rest above beat 1 of bar 3 to show the elision is both the phrase ending F2 and a sort of implied rest beginning a second anacrusis phrase in the bass.

Is it the rhythm?

Yes. The phrasing is all about metrical placement which is an aspect of rhythm.

Harmonic rhythm?

I think is a factor. The harmonic rhythm - at least with the opening phrases - is one or two chords per bar. That's fairly lively.

Melodic shape?

I think contour alone doesn't matter. But if you think of the basic 2 bar phrase length as a short of shape aspect (small shapes, short lines) I think this adds to the lively feel.

You might also consider the anacrusis/elision/feminine endings elements part of shape. If you compared this to carpentry and wood joining, you have flush squared off endings complimented with overhanding edges. That's like shape, but not so much melodic contour.

So, short phrase lengths combined with skillful use of anacrusis and elision to reinforce the meter, with uncomplicated rhythmic figuration at a moderately fast tempo is probably what creates the dance quality you feel.

...other rondos I have listened to like for example Rondo in A minor K 511 or Rondo Alla Turka don't have

Personally, I think those other pieces have dance qualities, but different characters that K333. Those difference strike me first as a matter of tempo, and mode.

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  • I have seen that term elision get thrown around often with numbers before it, but when I see it in text, I'm like "What does that mean?" Now that I have seen your visualization of the first few phrases of the rondo, I think I know what elision means, it's a seamless overlap between phrases, right? – Caters Mar 2 at 17:39
  • And I never noticed a dance quality in K 511 or Rondo Alla Turka. What I hear primarily in Rondo Alla Turka is Mozart's version of triumph over struggle(A minor and F# minor vs A major). And in K 511, I hear a lot of slow melancholy and drama rivaling that of Beethoven. I don't typically hear slow melancholy in a dance piece, even if that dance piece is in minor outside of maybe the Sarabande in Baroque suites. – Caters Mar 2 at 17:44
  • Yes, that's right about elision. I think you should look for elided phrases inside the main sections of these larger works and then compare that the cadences ending those large sections where the music actually stops. So, in a first phrase group section of a sonata you might see lots of elision tightly knitting phrases together with continuous forward rhythmic motion, with cadence on the dominant is a clean break everything stop, no elision. – Michael Curtis Mar 2 at 18:28
  • You can also see that in a lot of short binary pieces, like minuet sets. Within an 8 bar phrase there can be elision, anacrusis, but each 8 bar phrase ends with a cadence. Basically, I think the classical idea was to use these rhythmic devices to keep the motion moving forward, driving toward the 1 beat of the meter, only stopping at the cadences. – Michael Curtis Mar 2 at 18:33

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