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Tonight I will attempt to bring Mozart, the man, to life and give a brief history of the symphony. Each of the next four Wednesdays will cover one of the four movements of the symphony that we will be performing. My purpose in presenting this material is to enhance our understanding of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a person and the culture in which he lived and also to understand the musical forms employed in his G-minor symphony so that we might better appreciate and enjoy the music we will be performing. I also hope that by exploring these topics we might become inspired to hear what Mozart was conveying and to communicate his vision to our audience. Like any of us Mozart was a person with strengths and weaknesses. And he, like Beethoven, was born on the threshold of political changes that would bring an end to the Monarchy and birth to democracy. At the time of Mozart’s birth the aristocracy was still very much in charge. Court musicians, like his father, were part of the servant class. Court musicians were held in high esteem and their job was to musical entertainment for the court. Music that was light and melodious was the style that Mozart was trained to produce. But there was an emerging professional class that was gaining in power, influence, and independence. By the end of the 18th century the new middle class’s rise was being felt all over Europe. Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria on January 27, 1756 to Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl Mozart. Baby Mozart was baptized Johannes Chrisostomos, Wolfgangus Theophilus. Theophilus (Gottlieb in German or Amadeus in Latin) means “beloved of God”. Mozart preferred the Latin version and in his early twenties, during a stay in Paris, began to sign his letters, “Amadei”, because it was a French custom at the time to use the first name initial and middle name spelled out. I have often wondered what it would have been like to speak with Mozart. Given the fact that the
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W. A. Mozart – A sketch of his life and times Mozart’s were Austrian I’ll bet that if he were standing before us tonight, explaining his symphony he wouldn’t sound much different from our current governor. As we all know young Wolfgang was a very talented prodigy and in 1762, when Mozart was six years old, Leopold took him and his older sister, Nannerel, on their first tour. Nannerel was a very accomplished keyboardist in her own right and the three of them wowed audiences wherever they went. More tours followed that became longer and further reaching. I find it interesting that in 1764 – 8 year old Mozart met King George III of England, the very king who reigned during the American Revolution. Tours continued periodically until 1778 when Wolfgang was 22 years old. During this period his relationship with the Archbishop of Salzburg became increasingly strained and much to his father’s dismay, Wolfgang resigned his post in 1781. After 25 years, under Leopold’s tutelage, management, and support young Mozart was ready to make his mark in the world. San Francisco Music Conservatory’s Robert Greenburg, in his lecture series How to Listen to and Understand Great Music said that the compositions that Mozart produced during his first 25 years, though the work of a great genius followed the norms of the established style – nothing really revolutionary. Mozart’s own voice began to flower when he left Salzburg and started his own life in Vienna. So, you might say that his greatest contributions to music were produced during a ten year period from 1781 to his death in 1791. Mozart’s first years in Vienna brought much success and recognition. There he met and married Constanze Weber with whom he had two children. He also met Joseph Haydn and, along with Karl Ditters Von Dittersdorff and the Bohemian composer Johann Vanhall enjoyed playing string quartets together. In these sessions Wolfgang played the viola.
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W. A. Mozart – A sketch of his life and times By 1785 Mozart had a great following of the Viennese intellectual middle class, he was the toast of Vienna, and was earning lots of money. But just two years later his troubles had begun to engulf him. His father’s death in 1787 was a devastating blow. It is believed that Wolfgang may have never felt forgiven by Leopold for having married a woman of lesser social standing. Leopold never warmed up to Constanze or accepted their children. Wolfgang’s inheritance was also smaller than Nannerel’s and that sealed the wedge that had been growing between them for years. Just before his father’s death Mozart also lost two other very close friends. Not only did he loose people but he was loosing lots of money as well. Mozart’s money troubles were the result of an extravagant lifestyle rather than because he was not earning money. It was during these depressing final years that his penultimate symphony, the G minor, was written. The themes show great sadness and an unsettled mind, which we will explore in later sessions. During Mozart’s lifetime the symphony as a musical form underwent a great evolution. In Compleat Mozart: A guide to the Works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Neal Zaslaw states, “These style changes were closely related to a gradual shift in the function and valuation of symphonies, from works intended to provide entertaining but conventional introdutions to plays, operas, ballets, concerts, serenades, and a variety of other social, religious, or civic events, to works viewed as art for art’s sake and the principal attractions of formal concerts.” The word sonata comes from the Greek which means “a sounding together”. Sonata and sinfonia were names often used interchangeably to refer to instrumental works. Before 1630, in the middle Baroque, the sinfonia was used to denote instrumental preludes or interludes in predominantly vocal works. After 1630 these forms began to evolve into separate instrumental compositions, usually containing three sections of quick-slowPage 3 of 5
W. A. Mozart – A sketch of his life and times quick tempi. The Baroque sonata usually employed two to four instruments with a basso continuo (keyboard and viola da gamba). These early sonatas consisted of either dance rhythms (sonata da camera) or church use (sonata da chiesa). Later up to six or eight instruments with continuo were used. In these works the term “sinfonia” was used to identify the introduction section followed by other movements. By the end of the 17th century a distinction was made between chamber and orchestral music. Chamber music was for smaller gatherings using one instrument per part while at grander affairs multiple instruments played a single part – as in an opera orchestra where the sinfonia evolved into the overture. The orchestral suite, usually a collection of dances, and the concerto, solo instruments supported by an orchestra, emerged in the late Baroque. J.S. Bach’s orchestral suites and Brandenburg Concerti are well known examples of these forms. Joseph Haydn, said to be the “father” of the modern symphony, established the symphony as a four-movement work structured as follows: 1. Quick/Happy (often sonata-allegro form) 2. Slow 3. Minuet 4. Quick (often a rondo) During Mozart’s lifetime the symphony evolved from simple and pleasing (almost background music) to complex, provocative, and emotionally deep works. Neal Zaslaw notes three basic changes to the sinfonia over this period: 1. “A key technical and stylistic change was the dissolution of the composite bass line into independent parts for cello, double bass, and bassoon.” 2. “Another noteworthy development was the definitive separation of the overture-sinfonia and the concert-sinfonia. These two genres were intertwined for most of the eighteenth century, not only in their forms and functions but in the
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W. A. Mozart – A sketch of his life and times interchangeability of the labels ‘overture’ and ‘sinfonia’. The last opera overture refurbished by Mozart as a symphony was Il re pastore of 1775 (age 19). The last concert symphony used as an overture with his consent was K. 318 of 1779 (age 23). “Orchestration changed as well. Wind instruments in the Baroque doubled strings or opposed the strings in concerto grosso, or were soloists. Their new function became ongoing participation in the presentation, fragmentation, and development of important thematic materials.”
Events in U.S. history: Benjamin Franklin performed his lightning experiment – 1750 • In the year of Mozart’s birth – 1756 -- the French and Indian war was in full swing. • 1781 – When Mozart resigned his Salzburg post and victory in the battle of Yorktown • In 1789, about 6 months after the G minor symphony was written George Washington was elected first president of the United States. • 1791, the year of Mozart’s death, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, was ratified.
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