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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 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.
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Composition Type: Operas
Work: Le nozze di Figaro, K 492
About This Work
Lorenzo da Ponte wrote the libretto for Mozart's Figaro after falling out with Antonio Salieri, who, as imperial court composer, had obtained the position of court poet for da Ponte. At the time of the opera's composition and first performances, there was a climate of antagonism among factions of Italian musicians and poets living in Vienna, among whom was counted Salieri. Although the efforts of the anti-Mozart Italian clique did not succeed in having Mozart's Figaro banned from the stage, the opera did receive fewer than ten performances in Vienna immediately after its première at the Burgtheater on May 1, 1786. Figaro would have tremendous success in Prague, however, before spreading to other parts of Europe and becoming a classic of the opera buffa repertory. So began the fortuitous Mozart/da Ponte relationship, from which would come two further masterworks, Don Giovanni (1787) and Così fan tutte (1789-1790).
Mozart admired Pierre Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais' politically radical play Le mariage de Figaro (1781), the second play in what would become a trilogy based on the autobiographical character Figaro. Beaumarchais' Le barbier de Séville had been performed in 1775 and the third play of the trilogy, La mère coupable, would be premièred in 1793. In his Figaro plays, Beaumarchais, who himself was a participant in the Revolution, working towards anti-aristocratic revolutionary ideas, sharply spoofs pre-Revolution French society.
Mozart's music for Figaro consists of conventional dry and accompanied recitative, aria, and ensemble pieces. The overture, despite having no development section, is essentially in sonata form. Mozart musically conveys the range of Figaro's perturbation in his Act One cavatina, "Se vuol ballare," by whimsically changing the character of his music to correspond with Figaro's machinations. Mozart also imbues Figaro's rondo-form aria, "Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso," with colorful musical depictions of Cherubino's forthcoming military service through dotted rhythms and trumpet arpeggio fanfares. The Countess' cavatina, "Porgi amor," conveys the character's elevated social status through its graceful melodic language. The duet ("Aprite, presto, aprite") between Susanna and Cherubino in Act Two bristles expectantly with its moto perpetuo string writing and nervous, patter vocal declamation. In the Count's and Susanna's Act Three duet ("Crudel! Perchè finora"), the minor mode conveys the Count's initial grief and a shift to major mode, after Susanna agrees to come to the garden, confirms a sense of momentary resolution. Later, in the Count's accompanied recitative ("Hai già vinta la causa!"), the orchestra adds an extra emphasis to his verbal expression of anger and agitation through impetuous dotted rhythms and string tremolos. Through furiously rapid-scale passages and trills, the orchestra maintains this angry intensity in the Count's vengeance aria ("Vedrò mentr'io sospiro"). Barbaina's Act Four cavatina, "L'ho perduta...me meschina!" introduces a minor mode melody of classic Mozartean pathos. The finale of Act Four brings the principal characters to beg the Count's forgiveness and the music swells from a pious hymn-like ensemble to a triumphant fanfare-laden exultation.