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, Così 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 / Lang Lang
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 308253   Number of Discs: 2
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Mozart: Piano Quartets / Solti, Melos Quartet
Release Date: 10/29/2008   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 417190   Number of Discs: 1
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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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Robert Casadesus Plays Mozart
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Sony (Nax615)  
Catalog: 7808372   Number of Discs: 5
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Mozart: Requiem / Butt, Dunedin Consort
Release Date: 03/25/2014   Label: Linn Records  
Catalog: 449   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Requiem in D minor, K 626

 

About This Work
E.T.A. Hoffmann once wrote that "[Mozart's] Requiem is the sublimest achievement that the modern period has contributed to the church." Mozart's deathbed composition held a high appeal for the nineteenth century; in the supposedly more Read more rational twentieth, it ascended to truly iconic status. It did so despite fundamental mysteries of its composition and even its authenticity, mysteries still unsolved in the twenty-first century. Something in the music's gravitas and subtlety touches each successive generation.

A tangled skein of myths and fairy tales imagine the deathbed genius collapsing upon his manuscript (myths powerfully reinforced by the 1984 film Amadeus), but many facts about the piece are clear. The Countess von Walsegg passed away in February 1791. The Count commissioned a requiem mass from Mozart via a clerk (the "Grey Messenger" of Requiem-mythology). Mozart accepted the job for his unknown patron, having desired to compose some "higher form of church music" (his Ave verum corpus reflects the same wish). After working on the Requiem through October and Novmeber, however, Mozart fell ill and died without completing it. Mozart's widow, needing money, arranged for his friends and pupils to complete the other movements. The Count eventually received a complete Requiem, which he tried to pass off as his own composition; the bulk of this copy derives from the hand of Franz Süssmayr. Scholars have diligently attempted to distinguish Mozart's work from Süssmayr's mishandling of his intentions.

Mozart's Requiem contains five sections, each capped by a fugue: Requiem/Kyrie, Sequence ("Dies Irae"), Offertory, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei. Throughout, choral writing drives Mozart's music; even the four soloists rarely sing alone. The darkly colored orchestra supports the choir with often vivid motives. This pictorial aspect is most evident in the Sequence: "Tuba mirum" (solo trombone), "Rex tremendae" (regal dotted-rhythms), "Confutatis" (fiery accompaniment), and "Lachrymosa" (sighing strings). Not only do individual movements display an extraordinary level of motivic unity, Mozart carefully creates motivic relationships across the entire Requiem. The very first melody sung by the basses ("Requiem aeternam"), for instance, is repeated at the very end and also echoes throughout the work; the opening melody of "Dies irae" translates into major mode to open the "Sanctus." Mozart is never afraid, however, of acknowledging his debt to earlier traditions of church music. His fugues deliberately reference Bach, and in the first movement alone he quotes from Michael Haydn's Requiem, Handel's funeral anthem for Queen Caroline, Messiah, and the Gregorian chant known as the "Pilgrim's Tone."

-- Timothy Dickey
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