Wolfgang Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, mvt. 3

Sonic Glossary entry on the minuet
A pdf version of the score can be found here.
In the classical era, the minuet was one of the most popular dance forms: a noble, charming, relatively cheerful dance in triple time. In music, the minuet is typically contrasted with a trio, also in triple time and so named because it was originally scored for a smaller number of instruments, usually winds. The minuet's popularity was reflected in the developing Classical Symphony where minuets and trios are typically the third movement. As the minuet was a courtly dance, and the symphony courtly entertainment, composers sometimes used the minuet to mock the peasantry. For instance, several of Haydn's minuets - written for the Esterhazy court - feature rollicking peasant rhythms. As the classical era aged and the old order succumbed to the new, the minuet began to lose its cache in the symphony. In many of Beethoven's symphonies the minuet is treated in an ironic way or replaced altogether by a scherzo, literally "joke."
The third movement of Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Nightmusic) is a particularly perfectly balanced example of a minuet and trio. Traditionally, the Minuet is followed by the Trio, which is followed by a return to the Minuet: a classic ABA form. On the smaller scale the form is slightly more complex. Each half of the minuet is repeated, followed by a similar procedure in the trio. When the minuet returns the repeats are traditionally omitted.
The balanced phrasing of the classical period are here put into the service of dance. In the minuet each step to the left must be answered by a step to the right, lest all the couples crash into the wall. The inherent balance in classical phrases allows for reciprocal movement on the part of the dancing couples and saves many bruised shoulders.
Mozart's Eine Kleine Nachtmusik was never intended for the musical pantheon that it now appears in. For Mozart, the work was a simple, yet beautiful, serenade that would have been performed while the members of the court were eating dinner. It was entertainment music for the nobles, pure and simple. Scored for the lean ensemble of string quintet (a traditional string quartet of two violins, viola and cello plus a bass) it has become a perfect example of all aspects of the classical style.

The Score in Mozart's Hand

The Mozart Family: Nannerl, his sister; Mozart; and Leopold, his father.
Things to Note
On your first hearing, listen to the sense of phrase, how the music stops and starts in expected ways; try to anticipate the end of a phrase and how it might continue. As you listen to it again, try to think about out the small and large scale structures. Now that you know how the phrases begin and end listen to how they balance against each other; perhaps try to dance along. Use the graphic representation below to try to orient yourself throughout. (The dots ( : ) in the graph represent repeats.)
Notice also the contrast between the minuet and trio. This contrast is reflected more in articulation (the way the notes are struck) and feel. The meter and tempo remain the same for both.

Listening Chart

Wolfgang Mozart: Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, mvt. 3 (1787)

0:00 Minuet (A): a - a stately 8 bar phrase which is repeated
0:21 Minuet (A): b - a contrasting phrase: more smooth (legato) leading into
0:26 Minuet (A): a' - a return of the "a" material in a slightly varied form.
0:31 Minuet (A): ba' - a repeat of ba' .
0:42 Trio (B): c - A nice tune with a simple accompaniment. It is also repeated.
1:04 Trio (B): d - a contrasting section that leads into
1:10 Trio (B): c' - a return of the "c" material in a slightly varied form.
1:21 Trio (B): dc' - a repeat of dc' .
1:38 Minuet (A):aba' - a repeat of the minuet without the internal repeats.

: a :: ba' : : c :: dc' : a ba'
Graphic representation of Minuet and Trio Form


All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.