MOZART – the composer


W. A. Mozart – portrait by Giuseppe Cignaroli (also known as Fra Felice)

Why is Mozart so special amongst the hundreds of composers of the past and present? There are many reasons, but the one that always never ceases to amaze me is that never in human history has anyone who has lived for less than 36 years has created such marvellous works of art, and in such number and variety. It is truly a wonder of nature and human evolution that such a genius could have lived to create such music that thrills and moves millions of people over the centuries.

True, he had a maniac of a father (Leopold) who drove him endlessly when he discovered his son’s genius from virtually infancy. Here was someone who could compose music before he could read and write properly: at the age of six, had his first pieces written down, composed symphonies by the time he was eight and operas by the age of twelve. Of course the early works were probably “corrected” or edited by Leopold, but Wolfgang soon went his own way once he entered his teens, and developed his own independent style.

One of the earliest pieces of the fully developed Wolfgang’s style that I have loved since first hearing it in my own early teens is the Violin Concerto No. 1,K 207. He wrote his five violin concertos when he was still in the employment of the Archbishop of Salzburg, having just returned from a trip to Italy with his father. It is full of vitality and exuberance, of sunshine and confidence and reminisces of his recent trip. It is probable that he also wrote the violin concertos for himself, as he was proficient in that instrument too. After all, Leopold was one of the most well-known violin teachers of his age, having written a famous treatise on the subject.

The slow movement of the Violin Concerto No. 3, K 216 is one of the most moving movements in all Mozart. Listen to the interplay of the solo with the orchestra, and the “murmuring” of the string section. The slow movement is at 10:13:

The compositional process is a complex one. One needs to have a mastery of musical keys, form and structure, melody, polyphony and harmony, style and conception, skills which Mozart had in abundance. The other amazing thing about his compositional process is that he seemed to have written music straight out of his head, almost as if he was dictating music which already existed. He left very few drafts or music sketches, unlike Beethoven who left behind dozens of notebooks of musical sketches and drafts before being satisfied with the finished work. This does not mean that Beethoven’s works are inferior or vice versa, but they are just two different processes at work.

One of the best examples of Mozart’s compositional process comes from the film “Amadeus” where Salieri, a fellow composer discovers Mozart’s original manuscripts in his own handwriting, with not a correction in sight. In the film, Mozart’s wife, Constanze, has brought in his manuscripts to show Salieri her husband’s works so Mozart could procure a position at the Hapsburg court. The scene(probably apocryphal) shows Salieri’s amazement:

Another scene from Amadeus again shows how Salieri was amazed at his first sighting of another of Mozart’s music scores (the Serenade for 13 Instruments, K 361) and describes in detail how the music unfolds:

Here is the full version of the music:

The slow movement described in the scene is at:

One of the final scenes from the film shows Salieri actually dictating music (for the Requiem, K 626) from Mozart as he lay dying – an event which never happened! It’s more likely that Mozart would have dictated his music(if he actually did so) to his pupil –  Süssmayr, who actually completed the Requiem for publication. You can see how a little of the compositional process works: layer by layer, voices, bass and harmony etc:

And here is the music written line by line:

The section: Confutatis, maledictis from the Requiem, K 626 in full:

I have used quite a bit of illustrations from the film, “Amadeus”. While this is an entertaining film, do take it with a lot of caution as a lot of the situations are simply conjectural. I will explore this film in a later post and compare it with facts that we do know.

Finally, for a most magical moment in music, here is a Concert Aria (Song for a soprano accompanied by orchestra), with Obbligato piano (additional piano solo) – “Ch’io Mi Scordi di Te” (You ask that I forget you?”) K 505. After the long soprano and orchestral introduction, the entry of the piano always seems like a masterstroke of genius to me:

I hope you enjoy listening to these superb works. Do send some feedback as I would like to know what you think.




Mozart as a Chevalier of the Papal court

Mozart as a Chevalier of the Golden Spur conferred by the Pope

Opera. The word itself can send shivers down the non-musician’s spine. Screaming women wearing horned helmets and overweight men pretending to be lithe youths in love with a fair damsel. Well, these are a slightly out of date image of opera and of their participants today, though there are still one or two overweight tenors out there(!!). Opera today demands more realism on stage and opera audiences expect to see believably sized actors on stage, and opera directors and producers are putting on some really fine productions which the non-expert can delight in.

Mozart’s world evolved around opera. His instrumental works always have a vocal aspect to them, and it is this “singability” in all his works that make them so endearing and humane. He started composing operas from age eleven(or those that survive from that age) till his final year. His operatic works number about 23, although not all were completed, and many were composed in his youth on commission when he was travelling through Italy in his early teens.

His mature operas are the only 18th century works that remain in the general repertoire of the great International opera companies. The four “mature” operas: “The Marriage of Figaro”, “Don Giovanni”, “Cosi Fan Tutte” and “The Magic Flute” are universally loved by opera audiences. It is even more amazing to know that they are over 200 years old, but still relevant in today’s society, as they involve human emotions ranging from tragedy and loss through to love, joy and the comic. Mozart had this innate understanding of human nature and hence able to capture and portray these emotions through his music. Although he had to work with some silly and complicated plots, Mozart’s music manages to come through with all its magnificence and humanity.

A case in point is “Cosi Fan Tutte” (Thus Do They All)-  based on 2 men betting that their fiancées would not remain faithful if they were to leave them for a while. The 2 fiancées(who are sisters) would then be seduced by the other one’s partner in disguise. A rather silly plot but what music!! Listen to the opening of this scene when the 2 sisters realise that they are seduced by 2 “foreign” men and now are uncertain of their fidelity to their betrothed. They are being “egged” on by Don Alfonso who is the instigator of the wager – “Ah, che tutta in un momento”  (In a moment, all is changed):

Listen to the interplay of the woodwinds with the strings and voices. If this is not heavenly music, I don’t know what is!! Or what about this: “Soave sia il vento” (May the winds be gentle), as they bid farewell to their lovers:

Again the woodwinds come to the fore and suggest the breezes blowing through the trees as the sisters sing of their uncertainty. And again in this scene albeit in a modern production, as the 2 men prepare for their new engagement to their “new” lovers!! “Secondate, aurette amiche” (Friendly breezes aid my desires)

If you wish to view and listen to the complete opera this is quite a good version, and it has English subtitles:

Not all of Mozart’s operas have such a silly plot, but not many have such heavenly musical scenes!! Hope you enjoy this. Do let me know of what you think.


Music Terms



A little technical music discussion today: What do we mean when we say Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K 550? Let’s break that down: Mozart – of course refers to the composer – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. However there are 2 other Mozarts who have left their music behind – Leopold Mozart – Wolfgang’s father & Franz Xaver W.A. Mozart – Wolfgang’s son who went on to become a pianist & composer, although not on the same scale as Wolfgang. If the music refers to the other Mozarts, then their full names or initials would be used, otherwise it usually means music by Wolfgang.

Symphony – refers to music written for a large group of instrumentalists, usually an orchestra. The symphony only came about as a genre in the early 18th century, and is usually written in a formal structure called a sonata-form(more of that later).

No 40 – refers to Mozart’s 40th symphony. According to the usual “accepted”numbering of Mozart’s symphonies, he wrote 41 in total, however, research has shown they are closer to 50 as some that were written when he was younger have been “rediscovered”.

G Minor -refers to the “key” that the music is written in – there are 12 Major & 12 minor keys which composers can use. Each key has a distinct feature or “colour”. G minor was Mozart’s favourite for portraying passion and drive. More about keys in a later post!

Then K 550- this refers to the Köchel catalogue numbers. There were so many Mozart compositions left after he died that it was almost impossible to date them or to authenticate their authorship. So in the mid-19th century a German musicologist Dr Ludwig von Köchel, researched and listed all of Mozart’s authentic compositions from the very first – ie K 1 (a little Minuet written when M was 6 years old) to K 626, the Requiem left unfinished when he died in 1791. So the higher the K number, the more “mature” the work. In the early 20th century, another musicologist – Alfred Einstein(no relation to Albert) undertook a revision of the original Köchel numbers, as several “new” compositions came to light or others proved to be spurious. Nowadays not many people pay attention to the revised numbers as they have gotten used to the original K numbers.

Alright. Enough technical talk for the moment. Happy to broaden some of the issues raised here. Meanwhile treat yourselves to another of Mozart’s Clarinet masterpieces – the Clarinet Quintet K 581.

If you feel like something more “demonic” then try the PIano Concerto No 20 in d minor K 466: