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February 05
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JANUARY 27, 2012 4:47AM

Praise Song to Mozart

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


   "Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."           Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart


Chances are, the announcement “Mom, Dad, I want to be a composer” would not be music to the ears of most modern parents.  They might stare at their  beloved son or daughter with haunted eyes, envisioning them living in abject poverty all their lives, if they ever achieve financial self-sufficiency at all.  Sanguine parents might console themselves by thinking of their child getting a job writing the next catchy corporate jingle that sticks, such as Alka-Seltzer’s  “plop-plop, fizz-fizz, oh what a relief it is”.  Optimistic parents whose faith in their child is boundless, might envision that child’s Best Song contender being performed   at the glitzy annual tedium of the Academy Awards ceremony. Their child’s First Symphony being performed by the New York Philharmonic under the baton of a famous conductor would be a long, long shot for just about everybody. 


    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born in Salzburg Austria 256 years ago today, is not remembered because he was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Chief Executive Officer of a multi-national corporation. Nor was he Doctor W. A. Mozart, or W. A. Mozart, Esq. He was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Composer.  Given the rare degree of his musical genius--perhaps the finest musical mind there has ever been--for Mozart to have done anything else with his life would have been a tragic waste.   Leopold Mozart, a composer and violinist, realized his toddler son was a prodigy and a phenomenon early on, and had no compunction about carting his cute little boy all over Europe to perform for the amazement of royalty and nobility by the time Wolfgang was five.  He made such a wide-spread  impression  on the aristocracy, that the boy Ludwig van Beethoven’s drunkard father would come home from the tavern and force Ludwig to practice at the family piano far into the night hoping to  “make a second Mozart of him.”  


            Inevitably, Mozart grew older, less cute, and his marketability as a child prodigy decreased. It was probably a mercy for Wolfgang who was often exhausted and ill during those years of hectic travel. Staying  at home in Salzburg   playing piano duets with his older sister Nannerl gave him time to better learn his lessons as a musician and  composer.  He wrote his first symphony at age eight, and his first opera, Bastien und Bastienne, at age twelve. In 1770, at age fourteen, Mozart entered the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg, his first and last patron. Neither Mozart  nor the Archbishop found the association pleasant.  Mozart moved to Vienna in 1780 and married Constanze Weber in August 1782, shortly after the successful premier of his opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio.  The marriage was a mutually affectionate one, although of the couple’s six children, only two sons survived to adulthood.    


Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name; he has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition.

Franz Josef Haydn, to Leopold Mozart.


            Franz Josef Haydn and   Mozart were friends and admired one another profoundly, even given the difference between of their ages and personalities. Haydn,then in his fifties, had “made something from nothing” through his own lifetime of hard work.  In the employ of his patron, Prince Esterházy, he was not a free agent, but in return, he had security and freedom from money worries.  Mozart, then  in his  twenties, a musical genius practically from his cradle, was delighted to be living on his own in Vienna, free to compose what he wanted, rather than what the Archbishop required.  Very likely, he was also glad to be living independently of his father, the often disapproving and authoritarian Leopold.


Even in eighteenth century Vienna, as close to a golden age for composers as there has ever been, a composer trying to make a living without a wealthy patron  to fall back on was a concept so new as to be radical. Mozart was a musical genius, but definitely not a financial one, and Constanze had no natural ability in that area, either. In 1979, I visited Mozart’s Viennese home, found it a charming, but cramped and ordinary apartment. Although Mozart was constantly composing and conducting his own works in and around Vienna, and frequently traveled around Europe, the Mozart family lived modestly at best, even though the 1780’s were the most prolific and successful period of Mozart’s life. He wrote symphonies and concerti, chamber music, masses and other sacred music, and operas, proving that he could write instrumental and vocal music with equal ease.


The Operas


Designing an opera by Mozart is like doing something for God—it’s a labor of love.             

                                                                     Maurice Sendak



              In terms of musical samples, I will concentrate on Mozart’s operas, which are close to my heart, anyway.  In the late 1770s, Emperor Franz Josef was dismayed that the Italians dominated operatic composition. Just because they invented the art form, why should they have all the fun? The public needed some German operas, too.  And so, Mozart began composing  Zaide in 1779, but evidently, never finished it in favor of working on the more lucrative  The Abduction from the Seraglio—another story with the then-popular exotic setting of a Turkish harem.   The unfinished Zaide is virtually unknown, except the soprano aria, Ruhe Sanft. Zaide the love interest, is the favorite of a Turkish Sultan, but he is not necessarily her favorite.  She falls in love with a handsome young slave she finds sleeping in the Sultan’s garden, but rather than wake him, she simply leaves her portrait beside him where he can find it.  Performed bySoprano  Miah Persson.



             Given the merits of Ruhe Sanft,  I wish Mozart had gone back and finished Zaide; Instead, he kept ploughing forward; his best known works were yet to come.


            The Italian poet, Lorenzo da Ponte, wrote the libretti for three of Mozart’s best known operas; The Marriage of Figaro (1786),  Don Giovanni (1787), and Così fan Tutte (1790).  If he were alive today, Mozart would probably be much in sympathy with the 99%.  He was after all, a commoner  himself, a working man and never  wealthy in his own right. For  the 18th century, his political views were amazingly forward-thinking, although he was not overtly political  in his lifetime.  The common man and the servant is at least as likely to be his operatic hero as  a member  of the nobility. Figaro, the clever, resourceful eponymous hero of The Marriage of Figaro (based on a Beaumarchais play of the same name), and Susannah, his equally clever bride-to be, are the servants of Count and Countess Almaviva.  They are clearly portrayed as having better minds and better morals than their master,  Count Almaviva, a neglectful husband with a roving eye.  Figaro the Count’s valet, is not at all interested in sharing his bride with his master on their wedding night, thank you very much. Figaro, Susannah and the Countess plot together to trap the Count in a compromising situation.  For Count Almaviva's part, he is finally man enough to beg his wife's pardon by the final curtain. The opera was a tremendous success at its Viennese premiere.  With the French Revolution only three years in the future and political unrest already rumbling, it’s amazing Emperor Franz Josef made no protest, especially given the eventual fate of his sister, Marie Antoinette, and King Louis XVI.


            Count Almaviva’s are not the only roving eyes in the opera. In his aria  Non So Più, from Act I, the teenaged page Cherubino is in an overamped state of hormonal confusion, and confesses to Susannah, that it makes him fall in love with every woman. Performed by Mezzo-Soprano Joyce di Donato.



            At the close of Act I, the Count has caught Cherubino in one compromising situation too many, and he’s packed off to join the army. Figaro teases the  dismayed Cherubino about how much he’ll like  army life in  his aria Non Più Andrai.  Performed by Bass-Baritone Bryn Terfel.




            By Act III, in the palace gardens that evening, The newly married Susannah sings Deh Vieni Non Tardar urging her “lover” the Count to come to her without delay, knowing that Figaro is listening, and wants to pay him back for believing she was unfaithful to  him.  But the aria is lovely.  Performed by Soprano Barbara Bonney.



            Don Giovanni  premiered in Vienna in 1787.  It opens with Leporello, Don Giovanni’s  manservant keeping watch outside the Commendatore’s palace while Don Giovanni tries to seduce Donna Anna inside.  Leporello is another working man, complaining musically about his difficult life  in Notte è Giorno Facitar.  The hours are terrible, he never gets a decent night’s sleep or enough to eat, the pay is paltry, etc etc. It’s so unfair he’s not a gentleman of leisure. Performed by Bass  Feruccio Furlanetto, then with Bryn Terfel and Soprano Renee Fleming, when the Don's seduction doesn't go quite as he'd planned.





            Near the close of Act I, Don Giovanni himself sings Finch' han dal Vino and the mood is what a wicked good time he’s going to have at his party. With emphasis on the wicked. Performed by Ildebrando D'Arcangelo.




            In Act II, Donna Anna, the would-be victim of Don Giovanni reminds her betrothed Don Ottavio she is in mourning for her father who died in a duel protecting her honor from Don Giovanni (See Notte e Giorno above). If he’ll just be patient, she might cheer up, eventually. Non Mi Dir, performed by the great Soprano, Leontyne Price.




I confess, that Così Fan Tutte is my least favorite of Mozart’s operas.  Crusty, cynical old bachelor, Don Alfonso believes all women are faithless, and makes a bet with two young men friends, Ferrando and Guglielmo,  he can prove their beloved Fiordiligi and Dorabella, a pair of sisters, are also faithless. He does manage to prove this by the end of the opera, but through trickery and conniving with the sisters’ maid Despina--yet another clever, mildly disgruntled servant. At  the end of Così, what’s left are, four formerly happy young people can’t ever truly trust one another, again. Wouldn’t it have been better for everybody if the old misogynist had minded his own business? 


But Così has some beautiful arias in it—it’s Mozart, after all.  Since the sopranos, mezzos and baritones have had a chance, it’s time to let a tenor shine in  Un Aura Amorosa. Young Ferrando is pleased that at least after Don Alfonso's first test, his darling Fiordiligi has proved constant. Performed by Leopold Simoneau.




Give Mozart a fairy tale and he creates without effort an immortal masterpiece.

                                                                                               Camille Saint Saens.


            Switching gears  Mozart’s last opera, The Magic Flute,   is once again in German  with a libretto written by Emmanuel Schickaneder. It premiered in 1791, just months before Mozart's death.  Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night, has been abducted by Sarastro a wicked sorcerer.  The Queen gives the hero, Prince Tamino, her daughter’s miniature portrait and begs him to rescue her. Tamino joins forces with Papageno, the bird catcher/seller and together they go in search of Pamina.  Papageno finds her first, and since her guard, Monostatos, has never seen anybody quite as strange looking as Papageno, Monostatos obligingly runs away in terror.  In the duet Bei Männern, Pamina and Papageno sing of the joys of finding love.  Pamina—Lucia Popp/ Papageno—Wolfgang Brendel.




            By Act II of The Magic Flute, the audience can be forgiven for some confusion. At first, the  Queen of the Night  seems to be the wronged mother whose child has been abducted by the evil Sarastro. In Act II, one might wonder if they’ve completely reversed roles as the Queen of the Night comes to speak with Pamina with nothing like a tender mother and child reunion.  In Der Hölle Rache, she brusquely  orders Pamina to murder Sarastro or she’s no daughter of  hers  Performed by Soprano Sumi Jo.



 After the Queen disappears—presumably in a cloud of malevolence—the wise, benevolent Sarastro  comforts Pamina in the  Aria in Diesen Heil’gen Hallen. Performed by Bass Martti Talvela.




A world that has produced a Mozart is a world worth saving. What a picture of a better world you have given us, Mozart! 

                                                                  Franz Schubert



It may be that when the angels go about their task praising God, they play only Bach. I am sure, however, that when they are together en famille they play Mozart.

                                                                             Karl Barth

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Great read.

Wish I had time to listen to all the arias. Saved this for the upcoming weekend. Thanks for giving me that to look forward to.

Boy this is great I adore the symphonies r.
This is just delightful---the man himself is being played all day today on our local station. So tomorrow when that's over, I got your clips to look forward to.

I LOVE the Karl Barth quote. Thanks for this gift Melissa
Marvelous tribute and fascinating background, and this quote: A world that has produced a Mozart is a world worth saving. What a picture of a better world you have given us, Mozart!

Thank you, Shiral!
Love me some Amadeus! And that's the best definition of genius ever. I've read he had fallen into relative obscurity until a 20th century revival. Shocking! Great tribute, Shiral.
I really loved the Intro. Imagine him born and raised in today's world. This was fascinating and fed the brain cells. Thank you.
Wow, great piece. You sure know your stuff about Mozart or put a lot of research into this. Thanks for the info. R
Thank you, Melissa. This is quite a research, a tour de force. I love Mozart and remember reading "Amadeus" long time ago. Shared with my sisters.
Oh wow. :) Mozart was one of hubs favorites to play on the piano . . . hmmm . . . I miss hearing it.

This was a fun read, I learned something.

Hi Charlie, you're welcome, and thanks for reading and commenting. Hope you enjoy the clips!

Hi Jon, If Mozart wrote a piece I dislike...I haven't heard it yet! He was so prolific though, It just isn't possible to include everything I'd have liked. But the symphonies are wonderful!

Another AJ, you're welcome. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

Hi Roger, once again I envy you that radio station. I listened to my local classical station, this morning, and they played one Mozart piece. On his birthday, mind you! Hope you enjoy the clips! Thanks for stopping by. I thought the Barth quote was great, too. I'm ate Peet's Coffee House now, and they ARE playing Mozart, I'm happy to report.

Hi Chicken Maan! You're welcome. Nice to know Mozart was and is honored by his colleagues.

Hi Harry's Ghost, thanks for reading and commenting. But of course, it was easy for Mozart to say that, since he WAS a genius, already! He did give his music a lot of love, though.

Hi Fernsy, thanks for reading and commenting. Mozart is credited for making people smarter. I can't be sure it's true, but I'm sure his music doesn't kill off grey cells! I do find it sad and infuriating that children lose out on art and music in school. Of course, there are some people who appear to think they don't deserve nutritious lunches, either. Makes the intangible benefits of music a pretty hard sell.

Hi Gerald and Fusun, thank you both for reading and commenting. Let's just say I'm a veteran of a LOT of music history classes as a a former music major in College. I still had to look up things I'd forgotten, though!

Hi Lady Miko, thanks for coming by and commenting. Maybe Sesh and Wolfgang are now acquainted in the Après-Vie?
Thank you for this magnificent post!
I had to look for your post as I had seen it suggested by Matt on a different post on Jan 27,Mozart's birthday.
He is one of my favourite composers,too,and I was hoping for a post .Your post is a great tribute to this magnificent man and his outstanding music.
Barbara Bonney is one of my favourite Sopranos,and I have seen heard her live once.
The "Königin der Nacht" interpret would not have been my choice,but the others are OK.
I love the voice of Kathleen Battle.
Leontine Price and Martii Talvela are great interpreters.
The portrait of Mozart is unfamiliar to me.Who is the artist?
Mozart looks like a stranger to me.
I will come back to your post because you have provided us with so much detail that it is a joy to read your post.
This is a real treat for me as I love Mozart.Among the other composers,Beethoven is my love,too.
"The magic flute" and "Fidelio" have a lot in common;I love them both.
Thank you so much for sharing this your love with us.
What a great read! This post was packed with information, music, and love! Thank you so much for a fantastic celebration of Mozart! I've come away from it having learned so much. Thanks!
What a Great Keeper this will be.
Later - I'll download and Listen.
Last eve I listed to Mozart too.
Faire Is the Heaven - Choir of:
St. John's Church, Flora -
Noel Edison - Organ music -
Paul Halley is amazing . . .
It's a musical about danger
People seek to ruin others
Mozart heeds a inner muse

He gets into old sacred writ
Psalm 118 - Happy ate those
who are blameless and walk
according to a natural inner
law . . .
Glory be to Father, to the son
and to thee Holy Muse/Spirt
as it was in the beginning,
is now and ever shall be,
world without end. Amen.
I always recall if he listened
Mozart said:
He's g to the coat and hat rack
He could not find his head tho
He teased. Music elevated him
He's listen to other and trance
Mozart loved Beauty and Truth
That's all we need to know here
Thank you
I'll go visit
I got a Warn!
Pop Up @
from O.S.!
It read:

something went wrong
then - my private info
is at risk - "friendly"

false hack act friendly
a thought . . .
hack is below average
Kerry is butt or buck
naked editor
I get a bunch of pop ups
Kerry is a nasty ed. hack
he chew Red Mule. spits
Your music histories are always an education, my dear: Love the tidbit about Beethoven's father! And the closing quotation from Karl Barth: perfect!

Happy birthday (belatedly), Wolfie! And thank you!!
Your music histories are always an education, my dear: Love the tidbit about Beethoven's father! And the closing quotation from Karl Barth: perfect!

Happy birthday (belatedly), Wolfie! And thank you!!
A story that is both sad and sweet. I love the movie they made and will always cherish his genius.