Unearthing the Greats: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). This is a name you are probably familiar with on some level; he is, after all, one of the most famous composers of the Classical era (roughly 1750-1820ish, but that is a discussion for another day). A child prodigy, Mozart began playing the piano around three or four years of age and composing soon after. He wrote over 600 pieces of music including, but not limited to, operas, symphonies, chamber works, and sonatas. If you want to know more about his life, click here. I’ve been listening to a lot of Mozart this week, so let’s take a look at some of his pieces.

The first work I want to share is the minuet from his Divertimento No. 17 in D major, K.334. The term “divertimento” is defined as a lighthearted piece of music, typically composed for a small ensemble to be played at a social gathering. Mozart possibly wrote this particular divertimento between 1779 and 1780 for a friend’s graduation from university; the elegant nature of this minuet certainly implies something noble. The stately opening creates images of a 17th century social dance where the girls wore huge dresses and giggled behind fans and everyone sported tall powdered wigs. There are some surprising melodic and harmonic changes in this movement, though, especially in the trio section as the solo violin takes over. These contrasts are one of the aspects of Mozart’s musical style that make him stand out as a composer. (Also, check out this website to learn more about the musical structure of a minuet.)

Next is the third movement in Serenade No. 12 in C minor K. 388 for winds, composed sometime in 1782 or 1783. (Side note: this movement also happens to be a minuet.) What’s cool about this piece is that it’s a canon (a fancy term for a musical round, like “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”) – the oboe enters with the melody, and then one measure later the bassoons answer with the same melody. And wait, it gets better. The trio section is also a canon, but this time the response is upside down. This is what is known as a mirror canon – the second entrance of the melody is an upside down mirror image of the first melody. There are a variety of contrasts in this piece, ranging from crunchy-sounding dissonances to an exchange of serious and playful harmonies. )If you want to read an in-depth analysis on this work, click here.) What do you think of this minuet compared to the minuet in his Divertimento No. 17?

Many composers wrote a large body of music for church worship – specifically for Mass. Mozart himself wrote some stunning music for church. However, not much is known about his Kyrie in D minor, K. 341 (the Kyrie is an important part of religious Mass). Possibly composed in the winter of 1780-1781, this piece was largely ignored during Mozart’s lifetime. It is thought, however, that this Kyrie was going to be the start of a new Mozart-ian Mass to celebrate his new job as Kapellmeister (a person in charge of writing and conducting music for a specific organization, such as a church or a noble family) of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. Unfortunately Mozart died before he could start the job. Thankfully, we do have this Kyrie to listen to and enjoy, even though he died before he could finish the Mass. This piece is full of drama, as evidenced by the forceful “Kyrie” contrasting with softer, swirling sections. Mozart clearly wrote this piece with the acoustics of St. Stephen’s Cathedral in mind, and I hope you enjoy the full, rich sound.

So, what about Mozart? We’ve only just begun to tap into the surface of his life and works, but Mozart is a force to be reckoned with. He was an extremely influential composer whose name has lived on for centuries. But more importantly, his music has depth; it just takes a little digging and listening and thinking to uncover. That, my friends, is Mozart.

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