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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
Mozart: Piano Concertos 18 & 19 / Uchida, Cleveland
Release Date: 09/02/2014   Label: Decca  
Catalog: 002130402   Number of Discs: 1
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Opus Arte Mozart DVD 3-Pack
Release Date: 10/27/2014   Label: Kultur Video  
Catalog: 4990   Number of Discs: 6
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The Mozart Album / Lang Lang
Release Date: 09/30/2014   Label: Sony  
Catalog: 308253   Number of Discs: 2
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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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Mozart: Piano Concertos No 22 & 24 / Angela Hewitt
Release Date: 07/08/2014   Label: Hyperion  
Catalog: 68049   Number of Discs: 1
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Work: Jupiter Symphony, K 551

 

About This Work
The near-quarter century that separates Mozart's first symphony and his last -- the Symphony No. 41 in C major (1788) -- was marked by the composer's recurrent, if not ongoing, interest in the possibilities inherent in this form. Upon examination of Read more the chronology of Mozart's works, one finds that the composition of his symphonies tends to occur in irregularly spaced groups, of as many as nine or ten examples in a row, rather than regularly or singly. What this might suggest, aside from any financially based motivation, is that he employed these various periods specifically for the working out of the problems and challenges of the symphonic form. In surveying these works, one finds that the prominent benchmarks increase almost geometrically as time progresses, so that by the production of the "Jupiter" Symphony two years before his death -- as part of a group of three composed within the space of less than three months -- the full extent of the evolution which has taken place is striking indeed.

The Symphony No. 41 aptly embodies what is now identified as a paradigm of Classical symphonic form: four movements, the first and last in a quick tempo, the second slower, the third a minuet with trio. Unencumbered by norms suggested by any model, however, Mozart's deft imagination distinguishes this work from others in a similar cast. The first movement is characterized in part by the dramatic and effective employment of unexpected pauses in the rhythmic flow through the use of rests, a trait shared with and perhaps influenced by the symphonies of Haydn. After an initial regularity, irregular and changing phrase lengths contribute as well to the dramatic impetus. The serene F major quietude of the second movement's opening is soon disrupted, posed against more restless, rhythmically insistent minor-key episodes. This calm/dark conflict continues throughout, the initial spirit eventually prevailing. The falling chromatic theme and flowing, even accompaniment of the Minuet set a graceful tone for the third movement. The companion Trio provides an earthier, more overtly dancelike mood, which is, however, interrupted by a suddenly more serious tutti outburst. The final movement is exceptional for the richness of its contrapuntal language, a somewhat unexpected -- and, some of Mozart's contemporaries would venture, unfashionable -- attribute in a symphonic work of the time. The four-note motive that begins the movement is put through its paces in a number of guises, most prominently as the beginning of a recurrent canon and fugue subject which occurs both as originally presented and in inversion. The effect is one not of academicism but of great tension and dramatic impulse which, borne bristling and in search of resolution, finds its resting place only in the final bars.

-- Michael Rodman
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