Quote of The Week

“We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be”

Kurt Vonnegut


Music Workshop at Stony Brook

Classical Music: a thousand year history
OLLI Spring 2018
Session four: March 21, 2018
The Viennese Classical Style: Part II
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (conclusion)
Born: January 27, 1756, Salzburg; Died: December 5, 1791, Vienna

Mozart’s life has been almost overwhelmed by his legend. His genius for music was extraordinary, and perhaps unique. In the short period of thirty five years, he produced more superb music than a dozen other composers. Yet his actual life was difficult and, in the end, tragic.

As a child prodigy, Mozart was both encouraged exploited by his musician father, Leopold. The boy could compose, and play the piano and the violin by the time he was six. He could also memorize long and complicated pieces of music. As a result, Mozart and his talented sister Anna Maria were sent on tour in 1762, and Mozart never had a normal child’s life after that.

The boy played in front of the Empress Maria Theresa, and the young Marie Antoinette, and he astonished the aristocratic courts of Europe. He composed his first symphonies at the age of eight (they are still played), and his first opera at the age of eleven.

After many of these exhausting tours, Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781, and remained there. Unlike Haydn or Salieri, he never obtained a secure job with the church or at court, perhaps because of his rather immature personality. He eked out a precarious living by selling his music, by giving lessons, and by borrowing money from his friends. In spite of these difficult circumstances, Mozart produced a string of masterpieces in the 1780s, including the comic operas “The Marriage of Figaro” and Don Giovanni,” several symphonies, and at least nine great piano concertos.

Mozart composed so fast that it is often said that he seemed to write down works already fully-created in his mind. Yet it would be a mistake to imagine that music came to him without effort, in some miraculous way. He studied and wrote day and night, and overwork may have been responsible for his early death.

In one extraordinary year, 1788, Mozart composed his three greatest symphonies (numbers 39-41), the popular “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” (A Little Night Music), the string quartet in G minor, and the lovely Clarinet concerto in A.

He continued to compose at this breakneck speed into the last year of his life. His death, dramatized in the 1984 movie “Amadeus,” was theatrical enough. A mysterious visitor came to his door to commission a Requiem Mass. Mozart, already ill, thought that his was a summons from God. He succumbed to a terrible fever, and died a few weeks before his thirty sixth birthday. The exact location of his grave has never been identified. There is no historical truth in the story that Mozart was poisoned by a jealous Salieri.

Mozart excelled in every genre, from opera to chamber music, and he left us a legacy of immortal works. His genius for harmony and melody was unique, and his music is full of human feelings. The distinguished theologian Karl Barth wrote: “When the angels sing for God, they sing Bach; but I am sure that when they sing for each other, they sing Mozart – and God listens.”

Music selections

The Magic Flute (selection)
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C “Jupiter” K551 (First movt. Allegro vivace & final molto vivace)
The Marriage of Figaro (selection)
Ave verum corpus (motet K618) sung by choir of Kings College, Cambridge
Clarinet concerto in A K622 (second movement, adagio)

From Phil Grabsky’s documentary “In Search of Mozart”

Concerto No. 13 in C for keyboard
Rondo in D for keyboard
Mass in c minor
Quartet in d for strings
Sonata in B-flat for keyboard
Symphony No. 36 in C
Concerto for keyboard in G #17
Quartet in C for strings
Concerto # 20 in d
Concerto #24 in c