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5.4: Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

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    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (b. 1756-91) was born in Salzburg, Austria. His father, Leopold Mozart, was an accomplished violinist of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s court. Additionally, Leopold had written a respected book on the playing of the violin. At a very young age, Wolfgang began his career as a composer and performer. A prodigy, his talent far exceeded any in music, past his contemporaries. He began writing music prior to the age of five. At the age of six, Wolfgang performed in the court of Empress Maria Theresa.

    Mozart’s father was quite proud of his children, both being child prodigies. At age seven, Wolfgang, his father, and his sister Maria Anna (nicknamed “Nannerl”) embarked on a tour featuring Wolfgang in London, Munich, and Paris. As was customary at the time, Wolfgang, the son, was promoted and pushed ahead with his musical career by his father. While his sister, the female, grew up traditionally, married, and eventually took care of her father
    Leopold in his later years. However, while the two siblings were still performing, these tours occurred from when Wolfgang was between the ages of six and seventeen. The tours, though, were quite demeaning for the young
    musical genius in that he was often looked upon as just a superficial genre of entertainment rather than being respected as a musical prodigy. He would often be asked to identify the tonality of a piece while listening to it or asked to sight read and perform with a cloth over his hands while at the piano. Still, the tours allowed young Mozart to accumulate knowledge about musical styles across Europe. As a composer prior to his teens, the young Mozart had already composed religious works, symphonies, solo sonatas, an opera buffa, and Bastien and Bastienne, an operetta; in short, he had quickly mastered all the forms of music.

    Back in Salzburg, Mozart was very unhappy due to being musically restrained by the restrictions of his patron the Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus von Colloredo. At approximately the age of twenty-five, he moved to Vienna and became a free artist (agent) and pursued other opportunities. Another likely reason for Wolfgang’s ultimate departure to Vienna was to become independent of his father. Though Leopold was well-meaning and had sacrificed a great deal to ensure the future and happiness of his son, he was an overbearing father. Thus at the age of twenty-five, Mozart married Constance Weber. Mozart’s father did not view the marriage favorably and this marriage served as a wedge severing Wolfgang’s close ties to his father.

    Wolfgang’s new life in Vienna however was not easy. For almost ten years, he struggled financially unable to find the secure financial environment in which he had grown up. The music patronage system was still the main way for musicians to prosper and thrive: several times, Mozart was considered for patron employment but was not hired. Having hired several other musicians ahead of Mozart, Emperor Joseph II hired Mozart to basically compose dances for the court’s balls. As the tasks were far beneath his musical genius, Mozart was quite bitter about this assignment.

    Screen Shot 2020-06-24 at 12.20.57 AM.png
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft. Source: Wikimedia

    While in Vienna, Mozart relied on his teaching to sustain him and his family. He also relied on the entertainment genre of the concert. He would write piano concertos for annual concerts. Their programs would also include some arias, solo improvisation, and possibly an overture of piece by another composer.

    The peak of Mozart’s career success occurred in 1786 with the writing of The Marriage of Figaro (libretto by Lorenza da Ponte). The opera was a hit in Prague and Vienna. The city of Prague, so impressed with the opera, commissioned another piece by Mozart. Mozart, with da Ponte again as librettist, then composed Don Giovanni. The second opera left the audience somewhat confused. Mozart’s luster and appeal seemed to have passed. As a composer, Mozart was trying to expand the spectrum, or horizons, of the musical world. Therefore, his music sometimes had to be viewed more than once by the audience in order for them to understand and appreciate it. Mozart was pushing the musical envelope beyond the standard entertainment expected by his aristocratic audience, and patrons in general did not appreciate it. In a letter to Mozart, Emperor Joseph II wrote of Don Giovanni that the opera was perhaps better than The Marriage of Figaro but that it did not set well on the pallet of the Viennese. Mozart quickly fired back, responding that the Viennese perhaps needed more time to understand it.

    In the final year of his life, Mozart with librettist (actor/poet) Emanuel Schikaneder, wrote a very successful opera for the Viennese theatre, The Magic Flute. The newly acclaimed famous composer was quickly hired to write a piece (as well as attend) the coronation of the new Emperor, Leopold II, as King of Bohemia. The festive opera that Mozart composed for this event was called The Clemency of Ti- tus. Its audience, overly indulged and exhausted from the coronation, was not impressed with Mozart’s work. Mozart returned home depressed and broken, and began working on a Requiem, which, coincidentally, would be his last composition.

    The Requiem was commissioned by a count who intended to pass the work off as his own. Mozart’s health failed shortly after receiving this commission and the composer died, just before his thirty sixth birthday, before completing the piece. Mozart’s favorite student, Franz Xaver Sűssmayr, completed the mass from Mozart’s sketch scores, with some insertions of his own, while rumors spread that Mozart was possibly poisoned by another contemporary composer. In debt at the time of his death, Mozart was given a common burial. As one commentator wrote:

    Thus, “without a note of music, forsaken by all he held dear, the remains of this Prince of Harmony were committed to the earth, not even in a grave of their own, but in the common fosse affected to the indiscriminate sepulture of homeless mendicants and nameless waifs.”

    footnote: 2 Crowest, “An Estimate of Mozart,” The Eclectic Magazine: Foreign Literature Vol. 55; Vol 118 P. 464

    5.6.1 Overview of Mozart’s Music

    From Mozart’s youth, his musical intellect and capability were unmatched. His contemporaries often noted that Mozart seemed to have already heard, edited, listened to, and visualized entire musical works in his mind before raising a pen to com- pose them on paper. When he took pen in hand, he would basically transcribe the work in his head onto the manuscript paper. Observers also said that Mozart could listen and carry on conversations with others while transcribing his music to paper.
    Mozart was musically very prolific in his short life. He composed operas, church music, a Requiem, string quartets, string quintets, mixed quintets and quartets, concertos, piano sonatas, and many lighter chamber pieces (such as divertimentos), including his superb A Little Night Music (Eine kleine Nachtmusik). His violin and piano sonatas are among the best ever written both in form and emotional content. Six of his quartets were dedicated to Haydn, whose influence Mozart celebrated in their preface.

    Mozart additionally wrote exceptional keyboard music, particularly since he was respected as one of the finest pianists of the Classical period. He loved the instrument dearly and wrote many solo works, as well as more than twenty pia- no concertos for piano and orchestra, thus contributing greatly to the concerto’s popularity as an acceptable medium. Many of these concerti were premiered at Mozart’s annual public fundraising concerts. Of his many piano solo pieces, the Fantasia in C minor K 475 and the Sonata (in C minor) K 457 are representative of his most famous.

    And Mozart composed more than forty symphonies, the writing of which extend- ed across his entire career. He was known for the full and rich instrumentation and voicing of his symphonies. His conveying of emotion and mood are especially portrayed in these works. His final six symphonies, written in the last decade of his life, are the most artistically self-motivated independent of art patronage and supervision that might stifle creativity. Mozart’s late and great symphonies include the Haffner in D (1782), the Linz in C (1783), the Prague in D (1786), and his last three symphonies composed in 1788. Mozart’s final symphony probably was not performed prior to his death. In addition to the symphonies and piano concertos, Mozart composed other major instrumental works for clarinet, violin and French horn in concertos.

    Focus Composition:

    Mozart, Don Giovanni [1787]
    The plot for Don Giovanni may be found at:

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to: ni/deh-vieni-alla-finestra/

    Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Librettist: Lorenzo Da Ponte
    Composition: Deh, vieni alla finestra, Testo (Aria) from Don Giovanni, in Italian
    Date: 1787, First performed October 29, 1787
    Genre: Aria for baritone voice

    Form: binary

    Nature of Text: Originally in Italian Translation from Italian to English available at: ni/deh-vieni-alla-finestra/

    Performing Forces: Baritone and Classical Orchestra

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    This is a really a beautiful love-song where the womanizer Don Giovanni tries to woo Elvira’s maid. The piece in D major begins in a 6/8 meter. The musical scoring includes a mandolin in the orchestra with light plucked accompaniments from the violins which supplement the feel of the mandolin. The atmosphere created by the aria tends to convince the audience of a heartfelt personal love and attraction The piece is written in a way to present a very light secular style canzonetta in binary form, which tends to help capture the playfulness of the Don Giovanni character.

    Other things to listen for:

    This piece could very easily be used in a contemporary opera or musical.

    Focus Composition:

    Mozart, Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466 [1785]

    Classical composers like Mozart took the Baroque concerto for soloist and orchestra and expanded it into a much larger form. Like Vivaldi’s concertos, Mozart’s concertos were generally in three movements, with fast, slow, and fast tempos, respectively. The first movements of Mozart’s concertos also featured the alternation of ritornello sections and solo sections, like we heard in the concerto by Vivaldi in the previous chapter. Mozart, however, also applied the dynamics of sonata form to the first movements of his concertos, resulting in a form that we now call double exposition form. In double exposition form, the first statement of the exposition was assigned to the orchestra, and the second statement of the exposition was assigned to the soloist with orchestral accompaniment in the background. The alternation between orchestra and soloist sections continues in the development and recapitulation. Near the end of the recapitulation and during the final orchestra exposition, the orchestra holds a suspenseful chord, at which point the soloist enters and the orchestra drops out. For a minute or longer, the soloist plays a cadenza. A cadenza is a solo section that sounds improvised, though sometimes composers or performers wrote these ahead of time, as is the case with this concerto (the recording cited by the text features a cadenza that was written by Beethoven). A cadenza normally ends with the pianist sustaining a chord (often with a trill) signaling the orchestra’s final entrance in the piece, playing the last phrase of the ritornello to bring the movement to a conclusion. You can see an example how ritornello form and sonata form were merged in a double exposition form:

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): Double Exposition Form

    Ritornello Form


    Solo Section


    Solo Section


    Solo Section

    Ritornello (including cadenza)








    The first movement of Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K. 466 is a good example of double exposition form. As the program annotator for the Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra puts it:

    The orchestral tutti opens with the D minor first subject. This suggests dark threatening skies, emphasised [sic] by syncopation and dynamic contrasts. For a brief while the louring mood is relieved by the second subject, which has modulated into F major. The solo piano makes its entry with a plaintive new theme back in D minor - a little theme that refuses to go away. As the development progresses Mozart reviews all his themes, and press- es onwards to a rather stormy climax leading to the cadenza. Mozart left no written cadenzas for this work. When the score came into the hands of Beethoven, he immediately decided that such a dramatic movement as this sorely needed one. He promptly sat down and wrote the shadowed bril- liance that will be played by today’s soloist. (3. footnote)

    footnote: 3 “Mozart: Piano Concerto no 20 in D Minor.” Burgess Hill Symphony Orchestra. Burgess Hill Sympho- ny Orchestra, n.d. Web. 18 December 2015

    You might also listen to and take notes on to the lecture recital about the first movement of the concerto at:

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:


    Martha Argerich, piano, with the Orchestra di Padova e del Veneto, conducted by Alexandre Rabinovitch

    Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

    Composition: Piano Concerto No. 20 in D minor, K466, First Movement 1. Allegro (Cadenzas by Beethoven)

    Date: 1785
    Genre: Piano Concerto
    Form: Double exposition form
    Performing Forces: piano soloist and Classical orchestra

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • It is in double exposition form.
    • At the end of the recapitulation, in the final ritornello, the orchestra drops out and the soloist plays a cadenza that sounds improvised.
    • The movement (like the concerto as a whole) starts and ends in D minor and is one of only two Mozart concertos in a minor key
    Timing Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture Text and Form
      Orchestra alone, in a minor key Orchestral Exposition throughout. Orchestral Exposition


    Spotlight on the solo piano, with some accompaniment from the orchestra; the key modulates to F majors.

    Solo Exposition


    Focus switches back and forth from solo piano and the orchestra while the music develops the themes, motives, and harmonies from the exposition.



    Back in D minor with the first themes from the exposition. Frequent alternation between the soloist and orchestra as they share the themes.

    Recapitulation: Ritornello & solo sections


    Orchestra begins the final ritornello and then sustains a suspenseful chord.

    Recapitulation: Final ritornello


    The pianist plays in a improvisatory manner, shifting suddenly between different motives, tempos, and styles. Listen for many ornaments such as trills and rapid and virtuosic scales. After a final, extended series of trills (starting at 12:17), the orchestra returns for...

    Recapitulation: Cadenza


    the final phrase of the ritornello and movement (which ends in D minor).

    Recapitulation: Ritornello con- cludes

    Focus Composition:

    Mozart, Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (1788)

    Like Haydn, Mozart also wrote symphonies. Mozart’s final symphony, the Symphony No. 41 in major, K. 551 is one of his greatest compositions. It very quickly acquired the nickname “Jupiter,” a reference to the Greek god, perhaps because of its grand scale and use of complex musical techniques. For example, Mozart introduced more modulations and key changes in this piece than was typical. The symphony opens with a first movement in sonata form with an exposition, development, and recapitulation. Listen to the first movement with the listening guide below.

    You can also find an animated listening guide providing guidance to various sections and identifying the different musical elements as they are introduced at:

    Listening Guide

    For audio, go to:

    (Video of live orchestral performance); The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt

    Composer: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
    Composition: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 — 1st Movement, Allegro Vivace
    Date: 1788
    Genre: Symphony
    Form: Sonata form
    Performing Forces: Classical orchestra

    What we want you to remember about this composition:

    • Listen to the different sections identified in sonata form.
    • During the development section you will feel the instability of the piece induced by the key changes and ever changing instrument voicings.

    Other things to listen for:

    • Its melodic line is mostly conjunct.
    • Its melody contains many melismas.
    • It has a Latin text sung in a strophic form.

    I: Allegro Vivace

    Time index follows the performance linked below:


    Performing Forces, Melody, and Texture

    Text and Form


    Full orchestra.
    Stated twice-First loud and then soft short responses.

    EXPOSITION: Opening triplet motive


    The forte dynamic continues, with emphasis on dotted rhythms. Winds perform opening melody followed by staccato string answer; Full bowed motion in strings.

    First theme in C major


    Motive of three notes continues; Soft lyrical theme with moving ornamentation in accompaniment.

    Pause followed by second theme of the exposition


    Sudden forte dynamic. Energy increases until sudden softening to third pause;
    Brass fanfares with compliment of the tympani.

    Second Pause followed by transition to build tension


    Theme played in the strings with grace notes used.
    Melody builds to a closing;
    A light singable melody derived from Mozart’s aria “Un baccio di mano”

    After the third pause, the third theme is introduced

    3:12   The entire exposition repeats itself


    Transition played by flute, oboe and bassoon followed by third theme in strings;

    DEVELOPMENT SECTION: Transition to third theme


    Modulations in this section add to the instability of the section; Starts like the exposition but with repetition in different keys.

    Modulation to the minor


    Slight introduction of third theme motif;
    Quiet and subdued.

    Implied recapitulation: “Tran- sition”


    Now started by the oboes and bas- soons;
    Now in C minor, not E flat major, which provides a more ominous tone.

    Recapitulation in original key: First theme

    9:29   Pause followed by second theme

    After a sudden piano articulation of the SSSL motive, suddenly ends in a loud and bombastic manner: Fate threatens;

    Re-emphasizes C minor.

    Third Theme
    10:53   Closing material similar to exposition
    11:09 Full orchestra at forte dynamic. Closing cadence for the movement

    It is impossible to know how many more operas and symphonies Mozart would have written had he lived into his forties, fifties, or even sixties. Haydn’s music written after the death of Mozart shows the influence of his younger contemporary, and Beethoven’s early music was also shaped by Mozart’s. In fact, in 1792, a twenty-something Beethoven was sent to Vienna with the expressed purpose of receiving “the spirit of Mozart from the hands of Haydn.”

    This page titled 5.4: Music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Clark, Heflin, Kluball, & Kramer (GALILEO Open Learning Materials) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.