Synesthesia: Mozart’s Four Flute Quartets

Synesthesia is a brain phenomenon that allows a person to experience a multi-sensory perception of music. Below is a visual of what I experienced when listening to Mozart’s Four Flute Quartets.

Mozart Flute Quartet No. 1 in D Major, K 285

The first movement is very anxious. It rushes to the goal and keeps chasing its way. Never satisfied with a temporary arrival, there is constant anxiety. This is a very unsettling piece and seems greedy. I want more, I want the red one, like they have, there on the other side. (@2:00) No matter what you give them, they keep running ahead, on tippy toes, too anxious to stomp, gain foothold, to take full manly steps on this path (@3:55). This trio of heavyset women are not looking to adapt, but are only after personal gain.

Adagio-Rondo: (@4:52) Finally, the individual is on a vast expanse of landscape, but the sun has set, so visibility is bad. With that, one cannot help but become in tune with the surrounding adjectives that nature offers. As you become more in tune with what the surroundings give you, you suddenly know where you are in space. The distant mountains are no longer your measure, but the nearest tree is.   With this, comes an awakening (@7:19). Oh! You’ve been here all this time, but I certainly didn’t see you, or appreciate you. Wow, look, another one of the same kind of tree. Ha, look this one has buds. Oh, wow, a whole row of them.  Is that edible? Ooh! Sweet, and tangy. Wow, how interesting. (@8:26) Oh look, a little creature, what kind is that? Wooops, it’s gone.  But ah, over there is a full colony of bouncy little creatures, zipping all around, and they too have gotten a hold of these edible buds (@9:20).

Now, if I can only zip around like them, but I can’t. I don’t want to trip on these rocks, but they know them well. I’ll just hold on to the branches, and throw myself from tree to tree, so that I am just a few inches above the ground, but not low enough to hit it.  (@10:05) Ah, I’m getting the swing of it. And the creatures are running underfoot, trying to match my pace. There, we’re in sync now (@10:11).  Will they prance with me the entire night? Until the morning? Well, let’s just keep going, because this feels safe.  Oh, oh, I’m at the end of the forest (@11:05). Now I know how to pass through, for next time.

Flute Quartet No. 2 in G Major, K. 285A

Andante: We open the scene in the grand ballroom, but the main room is vacant, people haven’t arrived yet. A servant scuttles along, adjusting a little tablecloth, lining up two vases (@:57). He then walks around in a circle, checking everything out from a distance. He then walks over  to the windows, and takes a look down the long road.  He is checking for people, but sees no wagons arriving yet. (@1:25) So he paces back and forth, making himself look busy, but he truly doesn’t know what he is supposed to do next. He looks here, there, he is worried for his job if things aren’t perfectly arranged. His thoughts are not very involved, and mostly superficial, and vague. (@1:49) Breezing through the room, he finally takes a final, and determined walk to one side (@2:00), and presses himself against the wall, making himself blend into the décor.

(@2:01) A second servant comes in and does the exact same thing, but this man is older, grayer, and with very furry eyebrows. His calf muscles are thick, taught, his silk stockings stretched to the limit. He is too old for the lady-like shenanigans pertaining to décor (@3:18). He is checking if the furniture is solid, strong, and in the right place.  He is satisfied, and with a nod to himself, and a small grunt under his breath, he walks out.

Tempo di Minuetto: (@8:26) But, he’s back. He is back with a cart, laden with books. He takes his time, rearranging them before finding their place in the grand library shelves.  He seems bored, ignoring the wealth of information in his hands. (@10:10) He is skimming the titles with nonchalance, indifferent to the sweetness of the story it tells. He is wondering about his next meal (@11:03). He is really getting bored, he considers this redundant repetitive work. He is nodding off, awakes, (@11:25) just as the books were going to fall out of his hands. He gets a grip, and finishes his job.

Flute Quartet No. 3 in C Major, K. 285B

The people arrived. Women, dressed in dark coats and furs to protect against the winter cold, sail into the ballroom, accompanied by their partners. Everyone  is rushing about, looking for the best place to sit, near the fireplace. (@1:29)More couples, still coming in. They keep coming through the entrance, not in a chaotic order, but in a mannered sequence, as if they rehearsed. There, all seated (@2:09). Nearly, a second later, they watch the procession of servants rushing about, with oversized trays, laden with wasteful amounts of foods. Sugar-glazed senseless mounds of food, in ostentatious hues. They worry about gorging themselves. Seriously? More food?  And more, it keeps coming. The servants suddenly are gone.

(@2:57) No kidding, household pets, dressed in costumes? Okay, that is quite hilarious. How long do you think that cat will remain standing upright in her missy gown? (@4:00) But now, look how they join paws, and resemble humans! Comical but entertaining at the same time. Ha, they’re pairing up, having themselves a little dance. Careful, don’t twirl so fast, you can trip on that ruffled gown. So now, they twirl in the opposite direction (@4:26). They are appearing a bit woozy. Still recovering @5:07), trying to twirl. A last effort at the dance, but, Ha! They all plop down!

Second Movement

Andantino: Here, let me help you get up. You, and you. Up. Oh, are you hurt? Never mind. You, get up. Oh good, you’re all getting up on your own. Great. Get up, and move to the side. No, don’t wiggle-waggle, just walk. In a straight line, preferably. You look drunk. Is it that you are all dizzy? (@2:04) No! No! No more dancing, no more twirling. Stop! Stop, you will fall again!

(@3:11) Oh, come on! Stop swinging from the chandelier! You, get off the window sill, it is not entertaining! You there, on the Persian rug, stop this game, it is not funny.  I will catch you!

(@3:33) Ha, you two, pretending to be human beings, but you are just a cat and a dog. You see? You have no grace, your arms don’t flex properly. This dance is not for your kind! That pretty winter white gown won’t help you a bit. So don’t flaunt it, you cheeky thing.

Allegro: (@3:55) Ah, here is the town poet, here to entertain us. What have you got for us? The story of the Count’s debate with the neighboring town’s minister. Each one with their perspective, a dialog ensues (@4:36). But wait, this is the proof. You see? I am backing it up. Here is my source. Ah, yes, but did you know that I saw that before you? When I saw it, it was a different shade of dark steel grey, with creases of amber. Really? Because the amber must have been your version, because I saw all steel, with silver ropes holding it together.

Oh, but when I was with all my cavalry, we were riding along on that path, and we saw none of it. (@5:33) We saw long roads, muddy, but not disturbing to our strong horses. We looked way out there, and we couldn’t see far at all. But what we did see was simple, unadorned, with hints of security. We cleared a path around it. We ripped out the weeds, and set aside the fallen leaves.  (@6:35) Yes! It was there, cleared and pronounced.

We were quite serious about this affair, and did not dally around. We checked and double checked to make sure we covered our bases. We loaded it onto the first wagon, and rode off, gaily in the night . (@7:44) The moon was shining silver beams, illuminating our path clearly. (@9:15) We  had no concerns at all, relying on the strength of our team. We rode like that for the rest of the night.

Flute Quartet No. 4 in A Major, K.298

Andantino: As we got closer to town, we saw the milkmen out early to milk their cows, fair maidens wrapped in their shawls on the way to collect the eggs from the henhouse. There were no children awake, but the simple townfolks walking half-asleep to their chores.

(@1:14) But ah, there! A beautiful young deer, elegantly darting around, nimble on his slender legs. We catch but a glimpse of it, before another one appears. (@1:31) One at a time, we see a family of deer passing through in the morning dawn. (@1:48) They joined each other in a pack, and merged as a team of beauty, dancing  back and forth, in figure eights, with pure carefreeness, oblivious to the awakening townspeople.

(@2:21) The mother stepped out of the circle, to show off a new dance step. They are not ready yet, they are still enchanted by watching her. So she keeps dancing, intensifying her moves. She is not tired yet, she gallops, and jumps, and runs around in circles, forming a story.

(@2:39) Wow, the young deer follow her, all trying to be synchronised, but not at all necessary. A cacophony of legs are flying, but basically lined up, enough to pass. The margin of error is acceptable, as they continue to imitate the very show they were presented.   The older ones are stronger and leap higher, the younger ones, finally quite down.

Menuetto & Trio:  (3:28) They are spent, but hungry. They shuffle about, noses to the ground, sniffing the leaves on the ground. Hoping for a berry, they leave no leaves unturned.  Not being successful, they intensify their search, kicking about, playfully, making a game of it just for fun. (@4:39) Perhaps if we go in groups of four, orderly, we can have strength to move larger rocks and bushes.

Rondo: Allegretto grazioso: It’s getting harder to keep the group all lined up, the young ones keep rushing about, doing their own thing. The older ones are trying to keep them corralled in.  They resist, one little one escapes (@5:20). They are quickly tucked back into line. Inside their circle, the resist and prance about, not standing still.  They get lectured, rebuked. Momentarily intimidated, they behave. The group moves along, but with the subdued baby deer, they moved slow and heavy. Finally, they get the go ahead to increase their pace, and everyone finds it easier to move this way. Finally, they are making headway. They moved along the meadow, coming all the way to the other side, where the grass is thicker, and lush. They scuttle around, but then hear a snort, a signal. Over there, to the other side. They all rush over, and are content with what they found.

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Notes & Neurons

Is our response to music hard-wired or culturally determined? Is the reaction to rhythm and melody universal or influenced by environment? Join host John Schaefer, scientist Daniel Levitin and musical artist Bobby McFerrin for live performances and cross cultural demonstrations to illustrate musics note-worthy interaction with the brain and our emotions.

This segment features an impressive display of improvisational harmony from Bobby McFerrin.

This event took place on June 12, 2009 in the Gerald Lynch Theater at the City University of New York. This is the first of ten segments.

The Pentatonic Scale

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the power of the pentatonic scale, using audience participation, at the event “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus”, from the 2009 World Science Festival, June 12, 2009.

For related content, please view the full “Notes & Neurons: In Search of the Common Chorus” program at our  website: http://www.worldsciencefestival.com/video/notes-neurons-full