Beethoven’s “Choral Fantasy”: A Grand Hybrid

It’s part piano improvisation, part piano concerto, and part grand chamber work. Oh yes, and there’s a full chorus at the end. Beethoven’s Fantasy for piano, vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra, Op. 80, a piece I played over the weekend, is a fascinating and genre-defying hybrid. It was written for a benefit concert that was performed on December 22, 1808. At the end of the concert, Beethoven pulled together the evening’s disparate forces with this …

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Mozart and the “C-D-F-E” Motive

Towards the end of the finale of Mozart’s last symphony (the “Jupiter,” No. 41), there’s an extraordinary moment when five independent musical themes combine to form an explosion of counterpoint unlike anything else in the symphonic repertoire. This dazzling display of musical fireworks culminates Mozart’s symphonic output with a celebratory bang. But one of this finale’s most prominent motives- the four notes, “C-D-F-E” which open the movement– has roots much earlier in Mozart’s writing. Go back and …

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Mozart’s Gift to Prague: Symphony No. 38

The first performance of Mozart’s Symphony No. 38 took place in Prague on this date, January 19, in 1787. Intensely dramatic, celebratory, and bursting with counterpoint, this is music on a grand scale. Its premiere at the Bohemian capital’s Estates Theatre was the result of happy circumstances for the composer. While Mozart’s popularity was in decline in Vienna, The Marriage of Figaro created a sensation in Prague. Mozart arrived in the city as a rockstar, noting in a letter, …

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Mozart’s Journey in the Footsteps of Bach

When the name, “Bach,” was mentioned in the late eighteenth century, the first composer to come to mind would probably have been Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, the second son of Johann Sebastian. Mozart was referencing CPE, not J.S Bach, when he commented to his Vienna patron, Gottfried van Swieten, “Bach is the father. We are the children!” At the time, the dense complexity of baroque music was viewed as outdated, while the galant style of CPE and JC …

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Mozart’s Mass in C Minor: An Unfinished Monument

Some interesting questions surround the creation of Mozart’s “Great” Mass in C minor. First, it was written in Vienna between 1782 and 1783 at a time when Mozart was in demand for operas, not sacred music. He had resigned his post in Salzburg in August, 1777, escaping the provincialism of an Archbishop with a penchant for unsophisticated church music as well as his overbearing father, Leopold. Then, there’s the question of why Mozart left …

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Beethoven’s “Les Adieux” Sonata: Saying Goodbye in Three Chords

Listen carefully to the three opening chords of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 26 in E-flat Major, Op. 81a. For Beethoven, these chords outlined the three broken syllables of the word “Le-be-wohl,” or “Fare-thee-well,” which he inscribed in the manuscript. If the music from Monday’s post is still in your ears, you’ll notice the tantalizing similarity between this opening and the three chords which open Brahms’ choral lamentation, Nänie -another “farewell” piece. Beethoven’s opening chords suggest the wide-open intervals …

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Mozart and the Spirit of Figaro

In the aria “Non più andrai, farfallone amoroso” (“You shall frolic no more”), from the first act of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Figaro teases Cherubino about the abrupt end of his carefree, flirtatious life at the palace. The Count is concerned that Cherubino has developed a fondness for the Countess and has banished him to distant military service. One of the most memorable passages in this jovial aria is this ascending arpeggio motive. It’s a …

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