We might say that the Lieder informs most of Schubert and that every
Tchaikovsky symphony is ripe with ballet. With Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart,
almost all is a sublime opera. The piano of his concertos is the
protagonist be it in either an opera buffa or seria, the slow movements of
his string quartets are love arias and duets, and the last movements of his
piano sonatas are the denouements of high comedies. Drama is the essence
of Mozart and his characters express a universality of emotion akin to the
gods of classic mythology. His music moves with an unparalleled grace and
unveils its truths with a suppleness and subtlety only exceeded by Nature
One of the greatest prodigies in music history, Mozart had the good fortune
to be born in 1756 at a time when tonality and harmony in western music had
evolved to a level of purity and sophistication that makes the 18th century
the envy of more than one great composer born later. No less a figure than
Franz Joseph Haydn had paved the way by showing the endless possibilities of
the mature classical style. The less fortunate aspect of Mozart's fate was
to be born to an overbearing and ambitious father anxious to exploit his
Leopold Mozart, a moderately successful vice-kapellmeister at Salzburg was a
good enough musician to know how extraordinary his son was. By three,
Wolfgang was picking out tunes by ear at the piano and by six he was
composing. And from that age he was almost constantly on the road being
exhibited as a piano virtuoso to the courts of Europe and denied any kind of
normal childhood. Mozart grew to have a love-hate relationship with his
overbearing father and never developed a normal adult balance in conducting
the affairs of everyday life. As his first biographer noted in 1793 - "For
just as this rare being early became a man so far as his art was concerned,
he always remained-as the impartial observer must say of him-in almost all
other matters a child."
Throughout his childhood, Wolfgang was always in the news and extravagantly
praised. He was well aware of how special he was and was unable to keep his
opinions to himself about any mediocrity he encountered. His letters are
filled with detailed and humorous critiques of the many court musicians he
met in his travels and he developed a lifelong capacity for making enemies
of those with less talent, and that meant almost everyone. He spent his
life looking for a well paying high court job that was certainly his due,
but his naive arrogance and impulsive behavior undid him at every turn.
Leopold's letters to Wolfgang are like those of Polonius to Hamlet. They
are filled with the righteous and rigid homilies of a conventional mind
trying to reason with and control a genius. And they are often about money.
Apart from music, Mozart grew up to be undisciplined, unworldly and a soft
touch. Money went through his hands like water.
In 1777, Wolfgang went on a long tour for the first time with his mother
instead of his father. In Mannheim, he met the Webers, a family with four
daughters who lived the Bohemian life of musicians. Mozart fell in love
with the eighteen year old Aloysia. Even Mozart's mother, a gentle soul,
complained "When Wolfgang makes new acquaintances, he immediately wants to
give his life and property to them." Mozart continued to Paris where his
mother became ill and died in 1778. On his way back he stopped in Mannheim
where Aloysia had now become a prima dona of the opera and had no time for
Wolfgang. He returned defeated to Salzburg declaring that "I will no longer
be a fiddler. I want to conduct at the clavier and accompany arias."
Instead Mozart became a disgruntled court organist at Salzburg. However,
these are also the years of his early maturity as a composer with works
including the "Coronation" Mass and the wonderful "Sinfonia Concertante" for
violin, viola and orchestra. His first major opera commission "Idomeneo,"
an opera seria in the Gluck tradition, was premiered in Munich in 1781.
Meanwhile Mozart, betrayed by the secretary to the Archbishop, was dismissed
from his position. He wrote with a flair worthy of the stage that "he (the
secretary) may confidently expect from me a kick on his arse and a few boxes
on the ear in addition. For when I am insulted I must have my revenge."
This never came to pass of course, and Mozart settled in Vienna where he
moved in with the Webers who now resided there.
In December, 1781, Mozart wrote to his father that he was in love with
another Weber-the middle daughter, Constanze. His father's worst fears had
come to pass-Wolfgang was married in August into a impecunious family of
questionable reputation. Constanze was no better than Mozart in the ways of
the world, but by all accounts it was a good marriage and the beginning of a
distinct chill in Mozart's relations with his outraged father.
This was a fertile period musically with Mozart getting commissions and
students and at this point producing masterpieces in every conceivable
genre. In 1776 he met Lorenzo da Ponte, a poet who could supply him with
worthy librettos and three great operas resulted: "Le Nozze di Figaro"
(1786) (Overture), "Don Giovanni" (1787), and "Cosi fan tutte" (1790). Mozart as a
successful opera composer and piano virtuoso must have made a good bit of
money at this time, yet he and Costanze could hold on to none of it and
changed residencies eleven times in nine years. He also became a Mason.
By the end of his life, the Mozart's were desperate for loans and
commissions. "The Magic Flute," to a Masonically inspired libretto, is for
many the quintessence of Mozart, and was a great hit in the suburbs of
Vienna. The money it should have brought in was too late and Mozart died of
overwork and kidney failure on the 5th of December, 1791 while still
ironically at work on the "Requiem Mass" (Confutatis) for an unknown patron. He received
the cheapest funeral possible and was buried in an unmarked grave. The body
has never been found.
There is of course not enough room in a short essay to even list most of
Mozart's important works. Among the instrumental music, the 27 piano
concertos (especially after no.9) which were written as personal vehicles
for the composer, consistently contain Mozart's most sublime orchestral
writing with particularly beautiful wind music in the mature concertos
No.23: Allegro con spirito).
The symphony at this time was not the highest pursuit that it would become in
the 19th century, yet Mozart's last six works in this genre (no.37-41) are
supreme personal statements
No.41: Molto Allegro).
The "Six String Quartets" dedicated to Haydn
integrate Mozart's discovery of Bach's counterpoint into classical forms and
were followed by four more quartets that continue this highest level.
Perhaps the greatest single group of chamber works are the Six String
Quintets (including the string arrangement of the Cmi Octet for winds).
This is not to mention the Clarinet Quintet
the Eb String Trio, the
Serenade for Thirteen Winds and numerous other works that contain the
perfect Mozartian balance of taste, formal clarity and emotional intensity.
Mozart wrote with a luxuriant abundance of ideas. Unlike Haydn and
Beethoven, who economically develop pithy germ cells into entire movements,
a Mozart first theme in a sonata form may really be a profusion of themes.
In the opening of the Sonata in F, K.332,
we have a song like melody
which is followed by a minuet that leads to a "sturm and drang" transitional
passage that finally takes us to the dominant where a new minuet and an
"empfindsamkeit" passage are just the beginning of the so called second
theme. Here we have a panoramic view of eighteenth century characters from
high to low consorting on the stage of a sonata form in music that sounds so
effortless and natural that our only problem is in taking it for granted
like we do the world itself.
Allen Krantz is a composer and classical guitarist with degrees from the San Francisco Conservatory and Stanford
University. He is on the faculty of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA where he lectures on music history
and heads the guitar program. Krantz's works range from solo piano
and chamber music to a number of orchestral pieces. Recordings of his compositions and arrangements are on
the DTR label, and his guitar transcriptions are published by International Music.