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.