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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Remembering Dmitri Hvorostovsky

The Russian operatic baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky passed away this week following a two-and-a-half-year battle with brain cancer. He was 55. Here are some highlights from his distinguished career: In the aria, Ja vas lyublyu, from the second act of Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades, Prince Yeletsky pours out his love for Liza while lamenting her inability to trust him fully. Listen to the way this aria moves from majestically soaring passion to the depths of despair as the …

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The Bach Motet that Inspired Mozart

On Friday, we considered the musical influence of J.S. Bach on Mozart. Born in 1756, six years after Bach’s death, Mozart became fascinated with Bach’s counterpoint around the time he moved from Salzburg to Vienna. In 1789, he traveled to Leipzig and performed on the organ Bach had played at St. Thomas Church (pictured above). Bach was music director of the church from 1723 until his death in 1750. According to an eyewitness, the German …

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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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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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