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Can you tell when this Mozart Symphony changes key?

Updated: Apr 25

In a provocative listening experiment on "The Art of Schemata" Facebook Group, Professor Vasili Byros posted a recording of the introduction to the 1st movement of Mozart's Symphony in G, K. 318 and asked the group when they perceived that the modulation to the dominant key (D) occurred.

The resulting responses fell into two camps: One group stating Bars 26-28+ and intriguingly another group that mentioned bars 20-23, well before any accidentals, notable "pivot" chords or cadences. Why the discrepancy in results?

Here's the answer from Professor Byros:

Photo Credit: Vasili Byros
"Picture 1: responses to this exercise tend to fall in two groups, a mm. 20-23 group, and a 26ff group. The latter hearing is easily explained using traditional methods, as seen below: Roman-numeral analysis, pivot chords, accidentals, chromaticism, cadence, etc."
"The first hearing, mm. 20-23, on the other hand, has no clear answer in the score: as seen in this picture, the passage is easily analyzed in G major, and there are no typical tonal signals for a modulation. In short, these listeners hear Gmajor6/3 followed by Dmajor6/4 not as I6 to V6/4, but as IV6/3 to I6/4. Why? Because they’re hearing a common schema…"
Photo credit: Vasili Byros
"Picture 2: Specifically, an inverted Modulating Prinner, which becomes a larger Indugio."
"The modulating Prinner was a sonata form cliché by the time Mozart wrote this symphony. Haydn used it in this way as early as 1761. The video contains examples from Mozart and Cimarosa."

You can hear Professor Byros discuss the experiment on his interview on the Nikhil Hogan Show at 32:10:

"I simply asked students and faculty to name the measure number or measure numbers at which they first hear a modulation in that symphony and then I did it again at the Society for Music Theory on a interest panel for corpus studies and the outcome is people very familiar with late 18th century music will have heard not only the prinner but also a particular species of the prinner, going back to this idea that schemas have a common formal location.
A modulating prinner that is typically used in the transition of a sonata form. If you are familiar with that context both the prinner and it's modulating variant in this formal locatian and again, building on this idea that a schema is a cognitive category. The mind kind of activates the whole pattern and by activating the pattern, you have already brought yourself into the new key well before any accidentals have been introduced.
That's the upshot of that argument so that a major triad is heard as a subdominant retroactively simply by perceiving it as the first stage of a prinner and that was my way of trying to flesh out through a different context the same principle underlying my main argument in the Eroica project, which is that if you recognize that the schema's there, you change key at the same time that you recognize a pattern so that schema recognition comes along with a perception of key.
Soon as you recognize a pattern you just immediately default into the normal key for that pattern depending on where it's pitched"

Music Schemata Theory is a burgeoning new field of music analytical research that is turning heads in Musicology, Music Theory and Music Education.

Popularized by Professor Robert O. Gjerdingen in his monograph on the 18th century,"Music in the Galant Style", Music Schemata Theory recognizes identifiable and common music patterns and labels with them specific names.

In addition to the "Modulating Prinner" mentioned above, other examples of Music Schema include the Prinner, Meyer, Heartz, Fonte, Quiescenza, Monte, and others.

You can hear an interview with Professor Gjerdingen on the Nikhil Hogan Show:

In addition to Professors Byros and Gjerdingen, Professor John A. Rice is an important scholar in this field of Music Schemata Theory.

Professor Rice recently appeared on the Nikhil Hogan Show discussing his work in this field and other topics:

Since it's explosion of interest since the publication of "Music in the Galant Style", Music Schemata Theory is here to stay and will indubitably have a major impact in the way we listen and teach 18th century music.







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