Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Biography

Born: Jan 27, 1756; Austria   Died: Dec 5, 1791; Austria   Period: Classical
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not only one of the greatest composers of the Classical period, but one of the greatest of all time. Surprisingly, he is not identified with radical formal or harmonic innovations, or with the profound kind of symbolism heard in some of Bach's works. Mozart's best music has a natural flow and irresistible charm, and can express humor, joy or sorrow with both conviction and mastery. His operas, especially his later Read more efforts, are brilliant examples of high art, as are many of his piano concertos and later symphonies. Even his lesser compositions and juvenile works feature much attractive and often masterful music.
Mozart was the last of seven children, of whom five did not survive early childhood. By the age of three he was playing the clavichord, and at four he began writing short compositions. Young Wolfgang gave his first public performance at the age of five at Salzburg University, and in January, 1762, he performed on harpsichord for the Elector of Bavaria. There are many astonishing accounts of the young Mozart's precocity and genius. At the age of seven, for instance, he picked up a violin at a musical gathering and sight-read the second part of a work with complete accuracy, despite his never having had a violin lesson.
In the years 1763 - 1766, Mozart, along with his father Leopold, a composer and musician, and sister Nannerl, also a musically talented child, toured London, Paris, and other parts of Europe, giving many successful concerts and performing before royalty. The Mozart family returned to Salzburg in November 1766. The following year young Wolfgang composed his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus. Keyboard concertos and other major works were also coming from his pen now.
In 1769, Mozart was appointed Konzertmeister at the Salzburg Court by the Archbishop. Beginning that same year, the Mozarts made three tours of Italy, where the young composer studied Italian opera and produced two successful efforts, Mitridate and Lucio Silla. In 1773, Mozart was back in Austria, where he spent most of the next few years composing. He wrote all his violin concertos between 1774 and 1777, as well as Masses, symphonies, and chamber works.
In 1780, Mozart wrote his opera Idomeneo, which became a sensation in Munich. After a conflict with the Archbishop, Mozart left his Konzertmeister post and settled in Vienna. He received a number of commissions now and took on a well-paying but unimportant Court post. In 1782 Mozart married Constanze Weber and took her to Salzburg the following year to introduce her to his family. 1782 was also the year that saw his opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail staged with great success.
In 1784, Mozart joined the Freemasons, apparently embracing the teachings of that group. He would later write music for certain Masonic lodges. In the early- and mid-1780s, Mozart composed many sonatas and quartets, and often appeared as soloist in the fifteen piano concertos he wrote during this period. Many of his commissions were for operas now, and Mozart met them with a string of masterpieces. Le nozze di Figaro came 1786, Don Giovanni in 1787, Cosě fan tutte in 1790 and Die Zauberflöte in 1791. Mozart made a number of trips in his last years, and while his health had been fragile in previous times, he displayed no serious condition or illness until he developed a fever of unknown origin near the end of 1791. Read less
The Mozart Album / Netrebko, Quasthoff, Garanca...
Release Date: 08/08/2006   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 000673002   Number of Discs: 1
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Robert Casadesus Plays Mozart
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Sony (Nax615)  
Catalog: 7808372   Number of Discs: 5
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Mozart: Piano Concertos 18 & 19 / Uchida, Cleveland
Release Date: 09/02/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002130402   Number of Discs: 1
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Mozart: La Finta Giardiniera / Ainsley, Gens, Bolton
Release Date: 01/09/2007   Label: Deutsche Grammophon  
Catalog: 000814709   Number of Discs: 2
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The Berliner Philharmoniker Play Mozart
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 7761522   Number of Discs: 7
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Work: Concerto for Piano no 20 in D minor, K 466

 

About This Work
Mozart completed this work on February 10, 1785, and played the first performance the next evening in Vienna. Scoring adds a flute and two trumpets to winds, horns, timpani, and strings.

On February 11, 1785, Leopold Mozart arrived in
Read more Vienna after a wintry, bone-rattling, coach journey from Salzburg -- his first visit to the capital in 12 years and his last. On the same night he attended an Akademie by his celebrated son, who had just turned 29 and was at the peak of his popularity in ever-fickle Vienna. Leopold wrote to daughter Nannerl that, in the Casino on the Mehlgrube, he beheld "a vast concourse of people of rank.... The concert was incomparable, the orchestra excellent." After two arias by a singer from the Italian opera, there "came a new, superb piano concerto by Wolfgang, which the copyist was still writing when we arrived, and the rondo of which your brother hadn't time to play because he had to revise copies [of the orchestral parts]." This was the trailblazing D minor Concerto that survived the neglect of so much of Mozart's music during the nineteenth century. Beethoven, both smitten and influenced, played it publicly, with his own cadenzas in the first and last movements, where Mozart had improvised. No reports have survived of the audience's acceptance, but had they been hostile or even cool, surely Leopold would have reported this to Nannerl. His son's marriage without paternal permission in 1782 to Constanze Weber still rankled; so did their newfound independence. However, Papa's immediate and unreserved acceptance of Wolfgang's departures from tradition in the new concerto -- beginning immediately with an agitated, subtly changing bass line beneath the throbbing syncopation of violins and violas -- revealed a flexibility otherwise missing in his personal character. One can almost admire the manipulative Leopold for that.

In the first movement, Allegro (D minor, common time), Mozart's themes are motivic rather than conventionally melodic; more than two centuries later it remains a miracle that the soloist never plays exactly what the orchestra sets forth in the exposition, despite a rock-solid sonata structure throughout. When the piano finally enters in measure 77, it does so as an alien in a threateningly troubled land. Nor does the soloist take complete charge until the coda of the finale where, half-an-hour later, he coaxes the music into D major.

The second movement is a Romanza (B flat major, common time). Not to underrate Mozart's incomparable genius in music before this, nothing had equaled the unity of expression achieved in 1785 and after. Beyond integrating the outer movements, he made the slow movement part and parcel of the whole. This Romanza without tempo marking (but clearly Andante) is a rondo in ABACA form that plunges dramatically into G minor before the end couplet -- a significant harmonic departure not just here but in the concerto's overall context.

Mozart returns to D minor ion the third movement (Allegro assai; alla breve). Until the coda, we hear one of Mozart's rare rondos in a minor key. More precisely, it is an extended sonata-rondo (ABACDA, plus coda), since C is a development, with the reprise in section D. The development again as before in the second movement seeks out G minor -- the darkest key in Mozart's harmonic lexicon -- before D major is finally allowed to break through, albeit a whitish and wintry sun.

-- Roger Dettmer
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