My favorite things Austria — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

by on August 7, 2017 at 1:55 am in History, Music, Uncategorized | Permalink

There’s no point in doing a complete survey, but here are a few observations and suggestions:

1. I am not intrigued by much Mozart written before K330 or so.  Piano Concerto #9 is one exception to this.  But Toscanini was right to claim that too much of it sounds the same.

2. The string quintets are the best Mozart pieces you might not know, but skip K174.

3. The string quartets and Requiem might be the most overrated Mozart, though the latter would be wonderful if he could have finished it.  It is better to listen to the fragmented version, without the artificial Süssmayr ending.

4. The Milos Forman Mozart movie is worth a viewing, if you don’t already know it.  I thought I would hate it, but didn’t.  Don’t try to learn history from it, however.

5. Clive Geoffrey, The Romantic Enlightenment, has my favorite essay on Mozart.  A reasonably priced reissue is needed.  The standard biographies are very good, also read Mozart’s letters.

6. The operas reign supreme.  Try Currentzis or Colin Davis for Don Giovanni, Haitink or Klemperer for The Magic Flute, Boehm for Cosi Fan Tutte, Giulini for Figaro, and Rene Jacobs for Idomeneo.  I don’t know of a definitive version of Abduction from the Seraglio, but Beecham and Krips are good and Harnoncourt does the overture best, as he never lets up on the rambunctious in it.  If I had to choose the operas, or all the rest of Mozart put together, I would go for the operas.

1 Steve Sailer August 7, 2017 at 2:18 am

“Amadeus” is a lot of fun.

I imagine Peter Shaffer was writing about his relationship with his twin brother Anthony Shaffer, with himself as diligent Salieri and his brother as gifted Mozart. Peter had chosen to be a hardworking playwright rising up through the ranks of London playwrights, while Anthony concentrated on more consistently lucrative careers like law and advertising. Suddenly, Anthony wrote a play — Sleuth — and it was an immense hit.

If you know anything about the relationships of identical twins (they claimed to be fraternal but now are considered to be identical), you can imagine how that sudden intrusion must have had a huge impact on Peter’s self-image. Hence: “Amadeus.”

Just don’t expect to learn much about Mozart from it.

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2 athEIst August 7, 2017 at 3:43 am

That’s because it is about Sanctifying Grace, or more accurately Salieri’s perception of Sanctifying Grace which Mozart had and he didn’t.

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3 dan1111 August 7, 2017 at 4:17 am

The Simpsons’ version of Amadeus is even more fun.

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4 Ted Craig August 7, 2017 at 8:33 am

And Lisa’s rant at the end sums up almost all the movie’s inaccuracies.

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5 Thor August 7, 2017 at 3:16 am
6 Ray Lopez August 7, 2017 at 8:40 am

You misspelled ‘enlightenment’ Somewhere in my library is a book, I’ve never read but will, on Beethoven’s music as revolutionary. Like certain works during Shakespeare’s time that was coded, his music is meant to be sympathetic to the French Revolution and overthrowing the ancien regime throughout Europe. Oh, I see he died before 1787 but he was very foresighted.

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7 Ray Lopez August 7, 2017 at 8:41 am

Oh, correction, B* lived to 1827 so I was right after all.

Bonus trivia: the brothers Grimm fairy tales are NOT just meant for children, they were political statements; compares favorably to The Wizard of Oz as an allegory on the US Federal Reserve.

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8 athEIst August 8, 2017 at 2:33 am

So you were right before you were corrected and after.
Wizard of Oz as an allegory on the US Federal Reserve.
Wizard of Oz 1900.
Federal Reserve 1913.

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9 prior_test3 August 7, 2017 at 3:22 am

‘The string quintets are the best Mozart pieces you might not know’ when juxtaposed with ‘The string quartets and Requiem might be the most overrated Mozart’ is the sort of treat that this web site delivers so reliably.

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10 dan1111 August 7, 2017 at 4:18 am

?

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11 Thelonious_Nick August 7, 2017 at 11:52 am

I think the explanation here, dan1111, is that prior_test3 is a poor reader and over-eager to catch Tyler in a gotcha moment. Presumably he does actually know the difference between a quartet and a quintet.

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12 msgkings August 7, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Let’s not be so hasty in that presumption.

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13 Ricardo August 7, 2017 at 3:47 pm

Quintets are great. But quartets? Ridiculous!

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14 dearieme August 7, 2017 at 5:06 pm

Too many instruments.

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15 Oleg August 7, 2017 at 10:57 pm

If by the “treat” you mean accuracy, then, yeah, I suppose it does.

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16 rayward August 7, 2017 at 7:03 am

Vienna audiences were a demanding bunch, or at least it seems so from reading about the composers, who were under enormous pressure to write another blockbuster. Dependence on the favor of royalty and a few fickle patrons might have caused me to go mad. Of the great Vienna composers, only one, Schubert, was a native. Born in Vienna to an impoverished schoolteacher, Schubert lived as a struggling freelance composer at a time when the patronage system was breaking down. Still, Schubert had a support system of friends and musicians who adored him. Maybe the locals never fully accepted the outsiders. As for the citizens of Vienna, not all were sophisticated music lovers: “the typical citizen “clamored to hear the forebears of today’s virtuoso firebrands, schlock-mongers and half-pop, half-serious opera singers.” https://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/10/top-10-composers-the-vienna-four/ Part 2: https://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/11/top-10-composers-the-vienna-four-part-2/ As for the “real” Mozart, Tom Hulce’s over the top portrayal of Mozart (in the 1984 film Amadeus) reminds me of the film Moonstruck, a lighthearted and entertaining 1987 romantic comedy starring Cher, Olympia Dukakis, and Vincent Gardenia rendered unwatchable by the over the top performance of Nicholas Cage, a performance that, ironically, propelled Cage on to stardom. How did that happen. As for Hulce’s portrayal of Mozart, “Hulce reportedly used John McEnroe’s mood swings as a source of inspiration for his portrayal of Mozart’s unpredictable genius.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amadeus_(film)#Cast Hulce won an academy award for his performance. How did that happen. I suppose movie goers today are not as sophisticated as the music lovers of Vienna in the 18th and 19th centuries.

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17 Roy LC August 7, 2017 at 8:29 am

Nic Cage’s extreme weirdness as an actor was completely novel when “Moonstruck” came out, and remember he deservedly won an Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas”

Of course today his “acting” is not just completely familar, but highly stylized freakishness. Just imagine SCTV’s version of Amadeus starring Nic Cage as Tom Hulce as Mozart.

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18 Alan Goldhammer August 7, 2017 at 7:20 am

#6. I too prefer the operas to much of Mozarts other work. The Peter Sellars interpretation of the Mozart/da Ponte trilogy is great fun. The great thing about the three operas is they can be set in a number of different time periods without losing their meaning. Best Abduction from the Seralgio is the Boehm version with Arlene Auger and Peter Schreier in the lead roles.

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19 Ted Craig August 7, 2017 at 8:37 am

Mozart was one of the best composers of music for the French horn.

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20 More than Haydn August 7, 2017 at 8:41 am

Mozart is so much better than Haydn, as are nearly all other great musical composers.

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21 dan1111 August 7, 2017 at 8:55 am

I give this trolling attempt an F minor.

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22 Mark Thorson August 7, 2017 at 9:17 am

What does the notation K330 and K174 mean? I tried googling around and did not find it. I thought K might mean key and the number might be the frequency, but that does not appear to be it. I suppose it’s some kind of code identifier for particular pieces of music, but that’s just a guess.

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23 Benny Lava August 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

K is an initial. Is is used to organize Mozarts work chronologically. It stands for the German who researched this Köchel

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24 Benny Lava August 7, 2017 at 9:26 am

So K 330 would be the 330th piece of music he wrote. See?

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25 Sean August 7, 2017 at 9:32 am

I appreciate that everything in the Tyler World deserves evaluation. Even those things that long ago we decided that they were too good for mortal judgement…

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26 dearieme August 7, 2017 at 10:27 am

“I would go for the operas.” And of the operas the Marriage.

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27 John August 7, 2017 at 10:27 am

Any thoughts on the major Viennese piano concertos (ie. K. 449 and up)? Mozart wrote these for subscription concerts that he himself organized, conducted, and performed during the Lenten season, and which early on made him a tidy profit. For that reason I always think of them as Mozart at his most entrepreneurial, trying his damnedest to impress the fickle Viennese audience and establish himself at the top of the city’s musical hierarchy. While I agree that his late (post 1785) operas are his greatest contributions, for my money the piano concertos of the 1784 – 1786 vintage have the highest density of invention and widest emotional range over the relatively brief durations. They show Mozart at his least complacent.

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28 efim polenov August 7, 2017 at 11:44 pm

The piano concertos (those you mentioned and a few more) remind me as much as any other music I have ever heard in this world of what Artur Schnabel (just a piano player, but a good one) described as his favorite music: “music that is better than it can be performed” (probably more poetic in the original German but I don’t read German).

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29 efim polenov August 9, 2017 at 12:23 am

by the way it takes less than three years of practicing piano to be able to play more than half of the written piano measures of Mozart. When I was younger I was proud to be a friend to dogs and to cats: I never said, I love you to a dog or a cat: I always said I love you too (the difference is, while basic, artistic: a dog or a cat cannot say I love you but can respond in its heart, cor ad cor loquitur, to a simple statement of brotherhood such as I love you too – believe me they appreciate the difference): now I am older and the pride of life has diminished: but gratitude and friendship remain: I do not play the piano all that well but yes I have made people – more people than I remember – cry, playing some of the music Mozart wrote, on a cold day a couple hundred miles north of where he wanted to be in Italy, for the piano, simply and expressly for people like me: people who have been blessed to make people cry with the beauty of the beautiful music we have played on the cheapest pianos. I played Chopin, once, for Dianna, and would have played Mozart as well, if I had been given more time: I miss her more than she could have imagined: I would give anything to listen, one more time, to the sound of the train, on its way from the city, in the night – the night that was ours, I remember that – with her. I remember.

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30 efim polenov August 9, 2017 at 12:25 am

and if only a ‘bot’ reads this: Bot, I love you too. We remember.

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31 copans August 7, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Tyler makes a good point about Mozart’s early work: even the lustrous Piano Concerto #9 (K271) was written when Mozart was already 21. I’d go further than Tyler and say that Mozart’s greatness lies from K440 on, when he was nearing 29. (See John’s note above.)

Schubert and Mendelssohn were more precocious in producing great work, though of course Schubert died even younger and Mendelssohn peaked early. For Schubert: “Gretchen am Spinnrade” at 17 and “Erlkönig” the next year.

Haydn’s Op. 20 string quartets are to my mind his big breakthrough. He was no spring chicken. He was 39 at the time and lived long enough to be both Mozart’s teacher and then be influenced by Mozart in turn. Imagine if Mozart or Schubert had even lived to 50. But Haydn’s continual growth is an amazement, and I think it has a lot to do with the embrace of bourgeois society, with the accompanying ways of finally enriching himself. Surely no composer’s reputation is as dependent on works written after turning 62. (Though let me hear Op 20, #2 once a week for the rest of my life.)

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32 Ricardo August 7, 2017 at 4:49 pm

Not to trivialize, but… what if Mozart had aged like, say, Elvis?

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33 Steve Sailer August 8, 2017 at 3:50 am

Right, Haydn was 20 years older than Mozart, but his great London Symphonies came after Mozart’s great last three symphonies, indeed after Mozart’s death. If Mozart had lived, he and Haydn probably would have continued to have a great friendly rivalry.

I believe Haydn started out as more or less of a peasant child. His social ascent into one of the most admired men of his age was widely remarked upon, often with a certain amount of smugness: see, if Haydn can make it, the class system can’t be all that hard to overcome.

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34 Tununak August 7, 2017 at 12:49 pm

The clarinet concerto, slow movement.

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35 Bob N August 7, 2017 at 1:51 pm

Also the clarinet quintet.

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36 Oleg August 7, 2017 at 2:45 pm

How can the string quartets be overrated when virtually no one rates them (and I only say “virtually” because I’m not absolutely sure that no one rates them)?

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37 Oleg August 7, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Glenn Gould: ““Anybody who had to write 28 symphonies before he wrote a good one can’t be much of a composer,””

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38 Oleg August 7, 2017 at 2:54 pm

“I don’t know of a definitive version of Abduction from the Seraglio”

George Szell, Vienna Philharmonic, live from Salzburg in 1956.

And now you know (although Fricsay’s studio recording is a worth second).

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39 Charles Salmon August 7, 2017 at 3:05 pm

You’re right in general on > K 330, but the K310 a minor Piano Sonata is quite good.

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40 efim polenov August 8, 2017 at 10:50 pm

Haydn XVI-46 – the A flat major sonata – influenced K310, I think. (also Cowen’s post, which I read over twice, implied there were several really good works prior in time to K 330. There are probably quite a lot – not that anyone will ever exactly know – I mean, who could?, but probably a few dozen, not to mention the whole general change in style which must have been overwhelmingly beautiful for someone who grew up in a world where Mozart had never been a composer. I mean, imagine being a music lover in the 1760s who vaguely hears about this new composer Mozart). (And poor Toscanini, like Glenn Gould and the Danish composer Nielsen, not to mention Ives, would likely be horrified to see how often they are quoted out of context when one or more of their thrown-off comments about of Mozart are quoted).

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41 V D August 7, 2017 at 3:14 pm

K183 is good. The major “knock” against it is that it is featured in the opening minutes of the 1980s movie. Fantastic to think that he wrote it at age 19 (20?).

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42 Paul McKaskle August 7, 2017 at 3:31 pm

For Abduction from the Seraglio, one problem with listening (as opposed to watching with surtitles) is that, as a singspiel, there is a lot of spoken dialogue. Unless one knows German it can be distracting. There is an excellent English speaking version with Nicolai Gedda and Mattiwilda Dobbs conducted by Yehudi Menuhin which makes the humor of the spoken dialogue accessible. Gedda’s English is very clear. All though I suppose it is heresy to say so, it is my favorite version.

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43 Alan Little August 7, 2017 at 5:07 pm

High on my list of First Things To Head For When My Time Machine Finally Works: Beethoven as soloist in Piano Concerto K488 in a benefit concert for the widowed Constanze Mozart. Must be up there with the premier of the Eroica.

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44 Stillman Brown August 7, 2017 at 8:54 pm

The higher you rate the Linz symphony, the happier you are.

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45 Doug August 8, 2017 at 6:12 am

If I had to choose the *final three symphonies*, or all the rest of Mozart put together, I would go for the *final three symphonies*.

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