180 Days With Mozart And Me

A Survey Of The Philips Complete Mozart Edition…From Symphonies Through Theatre And Ballet Music

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Of Wrong-Gig Drummers and Musical-Dice Games (Theatre and Ballet Music, Box 17)

June 6th, 2010 · No Comments · Box 17: Theatre and Ballet Music, deest, deest (definition), Erik Smith, Musical Dice-game, Musikalisches Würfelspiel, Odds and Ends

Theatre and Ballet MusicToday has been a day of discovering quirky music.

A friend on my Facebook page posted a link to a YouTube clip titled “This drummer is at the wrong gig.”

I watched it and nearly fell off my chair laughing.

If you’re familiar with Animal from the Muppets, you’ll recognize this guy. He keeps perfect time. But I don’t see how given his antics. Take a look:

Obviously, this YouTube clip of the wild drummer has nothing to do with Mozart. However, there is a connection to a song on today’s CD – they’re both strange discoveries of mine. Read on and you’ll see what I mean.

Today’s Mozart CD contains terrific music that has more in common with sketches in DaVinci’s notebook than to symphonies in Mozart’s repertoire.

Two of the pieces, Track 7 (“Modulierendes Präludium,” K.deest ) and Track 9 (March to “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, K.deest) are deest compositions, which means they are likely spurious, not part of Mozart’s canon, not written by Mozart. The former is a very short piece for harpsichord. The latter is a delightful little march.

Three of the compositions, Track 5 (Tantum ergo in D, K.197/Anh. C 3.05), Track 6 (Tantum ergo in B flat, K.142/Anh. C 3.04), and Track 8 (Non più, tutto ascoltai – Non temer, amato bene, K.490 – for “Idomeneo”, K.366/Version for mezzo-soprano) feature vocals. Track 5 is a choir. Track 6 is a choir with a soprano soloist. Track 8 is a mezzo-soprano soloist.

The most bizarre track I’ve yet heard any any of Mozart’s pieces is the last one: Track 10 (Musical Dice-game, K.516f, reconstructed by Erik Smith).

I’m not even sure what this is.

It begins with a man introducing the composition, which consists of two people “playing dice.”

One player says: “I’m throwing my C-major dice. And Immediately I come up with a seven.”

The other player says: “Now, I throw the dice…”

It’s apparently two guys using dice to select passages of music to play. In short, a kind of John Cage approach to making music – randomness.

Complete with the sound of a bottle of wine being opened and poured.

Totally bizarre. It’s 6:21 of musical strangeness, bordering on tongue-in-cheek lunacy.

This is a very short CD, only about 30 minutes. But it’s worth having, if only for the strange Musical Dice Game.

On a lark, I decided to Google the term “musical dice game.” Lo and behold, there’s an entry on Wikipedia, which I reprint in its entirety here:

Musikalisches Würfelspiel

A Musikalisches Würfelspiel (Musical dice game) was a system for using dice to randomly ‘generate’ music (long before computer systems). These games were quite popular throughout Western Europe in the 18th century. Several different games were devised, some that did not require dice, but merely ‘choosing a random number.’ Other famous examples are Johann Philipp Kirnberger’s The Ever Ready Composer of Polonaises and Minuets (1757 1st edition; revised 2nd 1783) and Joseph Haydn’s Philharmonic Joke (1790).

Mozart’s Alleged Musikalisches Würfelspiel

The most well-known was published in 1792, by Mozart’s publisher Nikolaus Simrock in Berlin. The game was attributed to Mozart, but this attribution has not been authenticated. The dice rolls randomly selected small sections of music, which would be patched together to create a musical piece. A ‘computerised’ version of the Musikalisches Würfelspiel making a MIDI file is available here.

Mozart’s manuscript K 516f, written in 1787, consisting of numerous two-bar fragments of music, appears to be some kind of game or system for constructing music out of two-bar fragments, but contains no instructions and there is no evidence that dice were involved.

This is one of those discoveries (like tenor Nicolai Gedda or philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein) that makes my 6-month meandering through Mozart’s canon worth while. I’ve enjoyed these asides almost as much as Mozart’s music.

Here is what I listened to today, complete with the best guesses of scholars regarding where and when each composition was penned. This information was pieced together from The Compactothèque book + CD, which is an essential purchase if you want the fullest enjoyment from the Philips Complete Mozart Edition. It’s only about $8 and the sampler CD, alone, is remarkably enjoyable. But the booklet is gold, Jerry! Gold! Keep in mind, some of these places and dates are merely guesses. But I find it fascinating to see even guesses for some of these compositions. They help me put Mozart’s life and creative output in perspective.

For example, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born on 27 January 1756. With that in mind, take a look at where and when these pieces were composed. I’ll add Mozart’s approximate age in the parenthetical data below each composition:

1. Rondo in E flat for Horn and Orchestra, K.371 (compl. with discoveries by Marie Rolf (1990), orch. E. Smith) (Timothy Brown)
2. Larghetto in B flat for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Basset Horn and Bassoon, K. 452a – Manuscr. found 1900, compl. by E. Smith and ed. by M. Uchida (Mitsuko Uchida)
3. Contredanse in B flat, K.App. 107/K.535b – Completed by E. Smith (The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
4. Contredanse in D, K.565a – Completed by E. Smith (The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
5. Tantum ergo in D, K.197/Anh. C 3.05 (Rundfunkchor Leipzig)
6. Tantum ergo in B flat, K.142/Anh. C 3.04 (Monika Frimmer)
7. Modulierendes Präludium, K.deest (Erik Smith)
8. Non più, tutto ascoltai – Non temer, amato bene, K.490 – for “Idomeneo”, K.366/Version for mezzo-soprano (Andreas Röhn)
9. March to “Die Entführung aus dem Serail”, K.deest (Members of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields)
10. Musical Dice-game, K.516f (Erik Smith)

I highly recommend this CD. Musical Dice Game, alone, is worth the price.


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