Mozart’s “Kegelstatt” Trio, K. 498: Music Conceived at the Bowling Alley?

In a memorable scene from the 1984 film, Amadeus, the fictionalized Mozart composes at a billiards table. Although Mozart’s phrases unfold with an uncanny crystalline ease, the composer’s creative process probably was not as casual and effortless as the scene suggests. Perhaps in an attempt to further the legend, Mozart’s widow, Constanze, destroyed all but ten percent of her husband’s sketches, following his death. Regardless, Mozart loved to play billiards, as well …

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Beethoven’s Egmont Overture: The Heroic Struggle for Liberty

In 1809, Beethoven received a commission to compose incidental music for the belated Vienna premiere of Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s Egmont. The tragic play, set in five acts, freely interpreted the heroic exploits of the sixteenth century Count Egmont, a Dutch politician and soldier who championed the liberation of the Netherlands from the autocratic rule of imperial Spain. As a consequence of his actions, Egmont was imprisoned and beheaded in 1568. Yet, his martyrdom …

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Beethoven’s “King Stephen” Overture: A Hungarian Celebration

In 1811, Beethoven received a commission to compose incidental music for two Hungarian-themed plays by August von Kotzebue, King Stephen and The Ruins of Athens. The plays were written to commemorate the opening of a magnificent new theater in the Hungarian city of Pest on the banks of the Danube (now the eastern part of unified Budapest). The theater’s construction was funded by Franz I, the last Holy Roman Emperor and the …

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Mozart’s “Il Re Pastore”: Excerpts from a Youthful Opera

Mozart’s two-act opera, Il re pastore (“The Shepherd King”), K. 208, written to a libretto by Pietro Metastasio, tells a fanciful story in which love and faithfulness triumph over ambition. The following brief synopsis is provided by Opera Online: Alessandro, king of Macedonia (soprano), having just conquered the city of Sidon, wants it to be ruled by Aminta (soprano), the young legitimate heir who became a shepherd after he was removed from the throne …

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Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 in G Major: David Oistrakh in Concert in 1968

Mozart’s earliest childhood performances as a violinist were recounted humorously by Johann Andreas Schachtner. In a 1792 letter to Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna, or “Nannerl,” Schachtner, a close friend of the family, recalled an occasion when he was invited to play second violin for an informal chamber music session at the Mozart house. Little Wolfgang asked to be allowed to play second violin. As he hadn’t had any lessons yet, your Papa …

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Schubert’s Third Symphony: Effortless Music from a Miraculous Year

1815 has been called Franz Schubert’s “miracle year.” In those twelve months, while working as a full-time schoolteacher, the 18-year-old composer wrote more than 20,000 bars of music. Among other works, he completed two symphonies (Nos. 2 and 3), two masses, a string quartet, two piano sonatas, and 145 songs (including the famous Erlkönig). Schubert’s biweekly composition lessons with Antonio Salieri during this period remind us that, even for the most intuitive …

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Beethoven’s Mass in C Major: Gentleness, Cheerfulness, and Humanity

Completed in 1807, Beethoven’s Mass in C Major came seventeen years before the premiere of the monumental Missa solemnis. In its way, it is a work which is equally mould-shattering. Beethoven, who seldom attended church, considered music to be “the mediator between intellectual and sensuous life…the one spiritual entrance into the higher world.” His Mass in C Major moves away from dogma to embrace the free, all-encompassing sanctity of the individual. A serene, …

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