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: