MOZART – the composer

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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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI-sCX_cLWQ

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX4cYb3fw1Y

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:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vNaXQQbcgw0

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:

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pxgZcMGmkkI

Here is the full version of the music:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02c9IqGOoFA

The slow movement described in the scene is at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X7jEpsgpPLQ&list=RDvCY4ryE9uFU&index=10

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1b2pyEvp8ls

And here is the music written line by line:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UMwaiA581AQ

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

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CQUFQ_N0JI8

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRzfyUyXMiI

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

Music Terms

 

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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.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_8fX1LmqG8s

If you feel like something more “demonic” then try the PIano Concerto No 20 in d minor K 466:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yM8CFR01KwQ