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Mozart at his Zenith

Beginning in 1786 at the first hearing of Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro, we’ll explore the stream of masterpieces, including operas, symphonies, piano concertos, and chamber works that Mozart wrote in the last five years of his life. He was in his early thirties and navigating the political life of a court composer in Vienna while partying with the passion of the young man that he was, and all the while producing one masterpiece after another. On November 20, 1791, Mozart took to his bed, and still he brought in one of his protégés to write notes and phrases down. On December 5 Mozart died, with his requiem mass unfinished. From these years alone, Mozart left a body of work that expresses a universe of imagination and emotions.

Program 1

We begin on May 1786 at the first hearing of Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro. The work was originally a play by Pierre Beaumarchais from France, however, the play was banned and Beumanchais was thrown in jail. Mozart and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte turned the work into an opera after Da Ponte received approval from Emperor Joseph II.

In June of 1786, Mozart wrote the Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 4 in E flat Major for his friend Joseph Leutgeb. He wrote four concertos for Leutgeb.

The program concludes with the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 25 in C Major. This piece was conpleted on December 4, 1786.

Mozart: Le Nozze di Figaro, K. 492 (excerpts)
London Phil/Solti; Ramey, bs.; Popp, s.; Allen, bar.; Te Kanawa, s.
Lon 410150
10:45, 6:03


Mozart: Concerto for Horn and Orchestra No. 4 in Eb Major, K. 495, II & III
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Marriner; Tuckwell, hn.
EMI 69569
8:08, 3:02


Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 25 in C Major, K. 503, I
Cleveland Orch/Szell; Fleisher, p.
CBS 37762
1:24, 14:32


Program 2

On December 6, 1786, Mozart wrote that he began work on a symphony for Prague. Starting in January of 1787, he spent four weeks there, and supervised a performance of the Marriage of Figaro while he was there.

After that, he returned to Vienna and his wife and family. One of his most popular pieces, Eine Kliene Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music) was written there in 1787. It is heard here in its original setting for string quartet and double bass.

In October of 1787, Mozart returned to Prague with his opera Don Giovanni. The opera is difficult to categorize because of how funny and also how tragic it is.

Mozart: Symphony No. 38 in D Major, Prague, K. 504, I
Vienna Phil/Levine
DG 423086


Mozart: Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, II & IV
Guarneri Quartet, Levine, db.
RCA 63589


Mozart: Don Giovanni, K. 527 (excerpts)
London Phil/Solti; Pertusi, bs.; Terfel, bs. bar.; Groop, ms.; Fleming, s.; Lippert, ten.; Scaltriti, bar.
Lon 455500
5:25, 1:26, 2:53, 3:35, 7:41


Program 3

Though Mozart didn't write any operas in 1788, this was largely due to politics and the Viennese ecomomy. Austrian Emperor Joseph II made the mistake of taking on the Ottoman Empire, and the Viennese economy went into a tailspin causing all the opera houses to close. This forced Mozart to focus on other kinds of composition.

Mozart in fact wrote three public pieces without a commission in 1788, including his Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major. This piece was completed on June 26. Also completed on the very same day is his Adagio and Fugue in c minor for Strings.

Next, Mozart improves his fugue writing and includes one in his Symphony No. 41 in C major, better known as Jupiter.

The final piece of the program, Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello in E-flat major is dedicated to Michael Puchberg. Though Puchberg was Mozart's friend and fellow mason, he was also his financier. Mozart was never able to repay his loans to Puchberg, though he did dedicate several pieces to him.

Mozart: Adagio in b minor, K. 540
Brendel, p.
Phi 446921

Mozart: Symphony No. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543, I
CSO CD-94/2
Purchase Similar

Mozart: Adagio and Fugue in c minor for Strings, K. 546 (excerpt)
Berlin Phil/Karajan
DG 449515

Mozart: Symphony No. 40 in g minor, K. 550, I
Berlin Phil/Karajan
EMI 64327

Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551, Jupiter, IV
Cleveland Orch/Szell
CBS 42418

Mozart: Trio for Violin, Viola and Cello in E flat major, K 563, VI
Kremer, v.; Kashkashian, vla.; Ma, vc.
CBS 39561

Program 4

Despite his very busy schedule, Mozart always found time for his friends. One of his closest friends was clarinetist Anton Stadler, and Mozart wrote a lot of music for him. Performed here is the first movement of the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major. It was written in 1789.

Next, we hear several excerpts from Cosi fan Tutti which translates roughly to "that's what they all do." This opera premiered and was conducted by Mozart on his 34th birthday on January 26, 1790. Lorenzo Da Ponte was again the librettist, but Cosi fan Tutti is the last time he worked with Mozart on an opera. Mozart did go on to compose two more.

Jumping ahead one year to January 1791, the program ends with Mozart's final piano concerto, Concerto No. 27 in B-flat Major.

Mozart: Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A Major, K. 581, I
BSO Chamber Players; Wright, cl.
Phil 442149

Mozart: Cosi fan Tutti (excerpts)
Philharmonia Orch/Böhm; soloists
EMI 69330
4:45, 3:05, 18:34

Mozart: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 27 in B-flat Major, K. 595, I
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Marriner; Brendel, p.
Phil 412856

Program 5

Mozart was incredibly prolific during the last year of his life, 1791. He was working on two operas, The Magic Flute and The Clemency of Titus. Additionally, he was composing instrumental pieces and was given a downpayment to write a requiem mass from a mysterious stranger who came to his house.

On November 20, 1791, Mozart took to bed and never recovered. There is still debate about what caused his untimely death, but the most likely answer is rumatic fever. Mozart was still in the process of writing the requiem mass, and brought in one of his proteges so that he could dictate the music to him. On Decmeber 5, Mozart passed away, leaving the piece unfinished. What is played in today's show is the material that Mozart was likely to have written himself (not later completed by students).

Mozart: Quintet for 2 Violins, 2 Violas and Cello No. 6 in E flat major, K. 614, I
Guarneri Quartet; Kashkashian, vla.
RCA 7771-2

Mozart: Ave verum corpus in D major, K. 618
Vienna Volksoper Chamber Orchestra/Harrer; Vienna Boys Choir
Phi 462778

Mozart: “Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja” fr. Magic Flute
Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields/Marriner; Bär, bar.
Phi 426276

Mozart: Concerto for Clarinet in A major, K 622, II
Berlin Phil/Abbado; Meyer, cl.
EMI 56832

Mozart: Requiem in D minor, K. 626 (excerpts)
Atlanta Symphony Orchestra & Chorus/Shaw; Augér, s.; Ziegler, ms.; Hadley, ten.; Krause, bs.
Telarc 80128


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