I have always loved Mozart. His vitality, joy, cleverness, and unmitigated exuberance attract and hold me. In fact, I have found myself trying to impart this love for Mozart to my students who often raise their eyebrows and look blankly at me when I share some of his music with them. One of my favorite compositions is his Symphony #40 in Gm.
The first movement of this symphony is based on Sonata form: exposition, development, recapitulation. In an effort to make essay writing feel a bit more organic for my students, I have introduced this formal writing process using this music. A sonata is a kind of musical argument. The first section, the exposition, introduces a theme (or two), usually repeated twice so the themes are firmly planted in the listeners’ ears. The development explores all the possible harmonic and textural possibilities of the themes introduced in the exposition. Finally, the recapitulation repeats the exposition but alters it, resolving the themes usually in the tonic key.
Comparing this to an essay— the exposition equals the introduction; the development equals the various points explored connecting to the theme/thesis; the recapitulation equals the conclusion. Do I think the students grasp this? Probably not. Is it worth the challenge and stretch? Absolutely. Besides just listening to Mozart’s music is supposed to make us all smarter, right?
Ah, yes. Our lives are all the richer when we make time for a little Mozart. And because his birthday is today, I have the perfect excuse (like I really need an excuse) to play some of his music in class today.
If you would like to explore this musical essay yourself, the introduction is from 0:50 to 2:43, which is repeated to 4:33. The development is to 5:48. The recapitulation is to the end of the first movement at 8:18.