Defining Mozart’s music
Mozart stands as an archetype of the Classical style, with music which is balanced, clear and transparent. Mozart wrote in every genre but was especially important in developing the piano concerto. He wrote opera in the buffa (comic, e.g. Le Nozze Di Figaro) and seria (serious, e.g. Die Zauberflöte) styles. His influence is evident in the work of Beethoven, who he apparently met in Vienna in 1787 and who wrote cadenzas to his Piano Concerto in D minor. Mozart’s position as the most famous figure in classical music is undeniable due to the sheer amount of music he wrote, the variety of styles he explored and his virtuosic talent as both a performer and showman.
Five Mozart works you should know:
Lacrimosa from the Requiem
Unfinished at his death on 5 December 1791 and completed and delivered by his pupil Süssmayer, the Requiem is one of the most performed and most popular pieces of choral music. Mozart is said to have died eight bars into the Lacrimosa. Its yearning, contemplative nature reflects the tragedy of a genius dying so young.
Sinfonia from Le Nozze di Figaro
Le Nozze di Figaro was written in 1786 with a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. It is in the opera buffa style, meaning a comic opera and is in four acts. You may recognise the Sinfonia – it’s been used in quite a few films including the Kings Speech and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major First Movement
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 16 in C major wasn’t published in his lifetime. Due to the work’s simplicity, it’s a popular piece amongst piano students and it is universally known as the “Sonata facile (or semplice)”. The lightness and simplicity of the work gives it a certain elegance, enjoyable for a young pianist.
Clarinet Quintet in A major Fourth Movement
The work (for one clarinet and string quartet) was written in 1789 for the clarinetist Anton Stadler and is Mozart’s only work with this combination of instruments. It is similar to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto which is in the same key and for the same soloist. Described by Alfred Einstein as “chamber music work of the finest kind”, the work ranks particularly highly in Mozart’s oeuvre.
Symphony No. 40 in G minor First Movement
Sometimes referred to as the “Great G minor Symphony”, the work was written in July 1788. The symphony exists in two versions, with one for a pair of clarinets. Both versions were bought by Johannes Brahms in the 1860s. The work apparently reached Beethoven and it is said he was inspired by the final movement when writing his Symphony No. 5.
Mozart the man:
A true talent
Natural talent and ambition are two key ingredients that make a genius, and Mozart possessed these in abundance. According to his older sister Nannerl ‘At four years old his father began to teach him a few minuets and pieces at the clavier…. He could play it faultlessly and with the greatest delicacy, and keeping exactly in time…’ His talent was quickly recognised and admiration and fame followed. Great composers of the time sang his praise, including Haydn who wrote ‘posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.’
Humorous and crude
What is definite is that Mozart had a sense of humour. He would often sign his letters Trazom Gnagflow, his name in retrograde, and the contents of these letters were sometimes entertaining and often crude. This sense of humour is also present in his music. His Divertimento for Two Horns has been nicknamed A Musical Joke as it is peppered with quirky moments that were written to make fun of sub-standard players of the time.
A loving husband
Mozart’s wife Constance was an inspiration to him, and his letters to her reveal a tender and loving side to the great composer’s personality. ‘I get all excited like a child when I think about being with you again — If people could see into my heart I should almost feel ashamed. Everything is cold to me — ice-cold. — If you were here with me, maybe I would find the courtesies people are showing me more enjoyable, — but as it is, it’s all so empty — adieu — my dear — I am Forever your Mozart who loves you with his entire soul.’
Born in 1756 to a family of professional musicians, Mozart was probably the most gifted child prodigy of the classical era. Educated by his father, Leopold, much of Mozart’s childhood was spent touring Europe, along with his older sister, Maria-Anna, (nicknamed Nannerl), as a piano and violin virtuoso. His performances and concert compositions made him a legend at the tender age of seven. At the age of eleven, commissions were already flooding in. Mozart’s musical mastery was twofold; coming firstly from technical genius and secondly from his instant assimilation of different styles. His unsettled childhood would have a lasting effect on his health, which ultimately contributed to his untimely death at the age of thirty-five.
A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent (which I cannot deny myself to be without being impious) will go to pieces if he remains for ever in the same place.
After fruitful but frustrated attempts to launch a career in Italy, Mozart’s first settled post was in the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, his hometown. He did not find this a tolerable position and was dismissed after going to Mannheim to supervise the performers of his first great opera, Idomeneo. Mozart soon settled in Vienna, Europe’s cultural capital, where sudden freedom and a dislike of teaching made it difficult for him to make a living.
Mozart’s main source of income was from concerts given in the homes of the wealthy. Opera was a good opportunity to make money and, after the success of Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, Mozart composed the sequel, La Nozze di Figaro. This was his first opera in over a decade and one which was exemplary of Opera Buffa in every way. Figaro was not a great success in Vienna but was a triumph in Prague, where it led to a commission for Don Giovanni. The Vienna revival of Figaro in 1789 led to another commission: Cosi fan tutti. Mozart continued to produce symphonic and instrumental works throughout this time.
I love Mozart like one loves a young girl. Thanks to him I lost my mind and did not die without having loved.
In 1791, the last year of the composer’s life, he completed two string quintets, two operas (Die Zauberflöte and La clemenza di Tito) and nearly completed his Requiem Mass. TheRequiem has also been subject to speculation, such as the idea (popularised by Stendhal) that it was commissioned by Death himself for Mozart’s own funeral. The truth is that it was commissioned by Count Walsegg, who intended pass it off as his own work. Though Mozart expressed fear that he had been poisoned, it is likely that he died from a relapse of a childhood illness brought on by overwork. His death was subject to great intrigue and conspiracy, popularly pointing towards Mozart’s friend and rival, Antonio Salieri. A one-act play by Alexandr Pushkin, entitled Mozart and Salieri became the source material for the play (and film adaptation), Amadeus by Anthony Shaffer. In spite of his accumulated debts, Mozart was not buried in a mass grave as is commonly believed but was given a basic funeral by the state. In order to pay his debts and provide for their children, Mozart’s widow gave the Requiem to one of his associates to be completed.