Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My first post about Mozart

So I like to think that this blog will give pretty good representation to different styles of music and stuff, but there is a good chance I will be paying special attention to a few particular composers as things move along. One of them is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who is undoubtedly the world's most famous child prodigy. He had a legendary career that was engineered by his dominating father Leopold (who was a musician in his own right, composing the Toy Symphony as well as writing a treatise on playing the violin). Mozart toured Europe until his twenties, doing some hilarious things on the way such as proposing to Marie Antoinette when they were both something like 7 years old. If anyone has ever seen the movie Amadeus, it's plot is mainly nonsense - Salieri never poisoned Mozart - but in an unusual twist for a semi-autobiographical film, it actually got the characterizations of the main characters down perfectly. Mozart really was a man child who never really emotionally grew up, and as part of that, he paved the way for future composers to live freelance because he didn't like working under a boss, instead of being court employees, but he was not really responsible enough to do it successfully, dying young and being dumped in a pauper's grave. His letters to the family were full of scat humor, which is why it is extremely mind boggling that he could create such amazing music in contrast.
The piece I'm including here is the opening to his "Great" Symphony #40 in G minor. It, along with his 41st and final Symphony, Jupiter, are basically considered to be the best examples of Mozart's orchestral writing at the height of his powers. This work is in a very rare minor key, which was not what people usually wanted to hear during the time period because of it's more somber qualities. This work is notable for not including any timpanis or trumpets in the scoring. In general, the orchestras in Mozart's time were much smaller than what you would see a century later, so instruments like the trombone, some more percussion besides timpani, and some woodwinds like the English horn were not really used at all during this timeframe. It is to Mozart's writing credit that he is able to get so much emotion out of the relatively tiny orchestra, but this work does a good job of balancing strength with the time period's lilting melodies and need for refined entertainment that was later abandoned in favor of raw emotion.
The recording I've found is by the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra. My personal recording is of James Levine and the Chicago Philharmonic.

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