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Mozart's dissonance

Mozart's dissonance

for flute, clarinet and string trio

1. Quasi una cadenza

2. Scherzo

3. Adagio

This composition was commissioned by the Oxalys ensemble. What Oxalys wanted was a composition that would be complimentary to the Mozart Clarinet Quintet. It was difficult to create a link with Mozart without effectively using his music, because it achieves absolute perfection.
That is why I looked for the link on the abstract level by identifying the dissonant chords in his music and, on the other hand, by taking the irregularities in the phrase structure as a starting point. Mozart's music contains beautiful dissonant sounds that arise through non-harmonic tones (in melodic ornamention), which time and again are absorbed in a consonant chord. But if you don’t resolve the dissonant chords and if you regard them as independent sounds, the result is more consistent with my own style. It is no coincidence that Mozart’s typical dissonant chords have been present in my music for years as 'consonant' chords. That is why in this composition I used about 15 dissonant tetrachords (and their inversions), all of which are literally in Mozart's music, but I placed them in a non-tonal context. Striking in Mozart's music is also the natural phrasing, which is seemingly symmetrical, but in further studies it appears to be surprisingly asymmetrical. This asymmetry has always fascinated me and became the basis of the rhythmic structure for this work.
The composition consists of three parts. It begins after a short introduction with an improvisational part (‘Quasi una cadenza’), in which the flute plays the leading role and delivers all the material to the other instruments. This is followed by a rhythmic 'Scherzo' in which the flute plays multiphonics and often disagreements arise among the five instruments (the English word 'dissonance' has a double meaning: 'dissonance' and 'disagreement'). There are snatches of Mozart in the "seufzer" motifs (typical Mozartian "sigh" motifs arising from two descending or rising sounds - 'Sekundschritt'), interrupted by repetitive notes that cheerfully disrupt the music, alternated with polyrhythms. In the last part ('Adagio') a walz motif is introduced which, by its striking simplicity, refers indirectly to Mozart, and in the coda the flute plays the first four notes of the Clarinet Quintet's first theme. Because this never was my intention and it came into being unconsciously, I considered this an additional reason not to change it.
10 minutes
  • Flute
  • Clarinet in Bb
  • Violin
  • Viola
  • Violoncello
Commissioned by


Zoersel, Festival der Voorkempen Zoersel