Contredanses, K. 609

            Mozart, like all composers before the nineteenth century, saw himself as more-or-less a craftsman, serving up what his patrons and audiences wanted and were willing to pay for.  Hence, in addition to Olympian masterpieces such as Don Giovanni and his last symphony, we also have a plethora of smaller, more modest compositions written for everyday social requirements.  His oeuvre includes not only serenades, but cassations, divertimentos, and also dance music, including German Ländler and contredances.   A contredance is one in which the couples face each other in two long lines.  At the end of the seventeenth century, many English folk dances crossed the channel and became popular in France.   By the time of Mozart they were favored in Viennese society, as well, and consequently he furnished well over a dozen of them for the frequent evening entertainments given by his patrons.   The five dances in this set (composed in the last year of his life) are scored simply—as would be typical for any small dance orchestra for those occasions—for two violins, stringed bass-line instruments, flute, and snare drum.   The patron, in this case, was the Royal Court, which finally had given him in 1787—but in a small way and at a reduced stipend—a court appointment.  His duty was to provide dance music for the Carnival season (Epiphany to Ash Wednesday), wherein the new liberal emperor, Joseph II, allowed all ranks of society to attend, identities hidden by masks.  So, these “country dances” were commissioned, and the genius of Mozart cast his pearls before . . .

--Wm. E. Runyan

© 2915 William E. Runyan