The immorality of the characters in Mozart’s Così fan tutte, o sia La scuola degli amanti, K.588, has always been shocking to operagoers, and some have denounced Da Ponte’s plot as tasteless and vulgar; but the librettist did not invent the story—he simply borrowed the myth of Cephalus and Procris, enriching the tale by doubling the pair.
Others have maintained that the characters are mere puppets, not real people, so one may relax and enjoy the blameless music. However, Mozart drew fully developed musical characters for all of the roles, musically asserting their reality.
Ultimately, the work is a ruthlessly rational exposure of the instinctive irrationality of human behavior—and therein lies its ability to shock.
This according to “The truth about Così” by Donald Mitchell, an essay included in Tribute to Benjamin Britten on his fiftieth birthday (London: Faber & Faber, 1963, pp. 95–99).
Today is the 230th anniversary of Così fan tutte’s premiere! Above, a handbill for the first performance; below, an excerpt from Act II.
In his statements on the origin of Pulcinella, Igor Stravinsky leads the reader astray; none of the models used by him are, as he alleges, fragments, incomplete, or sketches, and none were unknown.
Stravinsky’s ballet is a parody based on 21 pieces transmitted under Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s name and taken from various contexts. Four are from Pergolesi’s Frate ’nnamorato, three from Flaminio, one from the cantata Luce degli occhi miei, and one from the violoncello sonata. The rest of the pieces have been incorrectly attributed to Pergolesi; one is a modern forgery.
The texts of the arias are distorted to the point of unrecognizability in Stravinsky’s ballet; the curious double text in the trio results from a misunderstanding of the manuscript source. Apparently Stravinsky became acquainted with the music from both of Pergolesi’s comedies in 1917 in Naples. The material that he took from these was later supplemented by primarily unauthentic pieces from printed sources in the British Museum.
This according to “Die musikalischen Vorlagen zu Igor Strawinskys Pulcinella” by Helmut Hucke, an essay included in Frankfurter musikhistorische Studien: Helmuth Osthoff zu seinem siebzigsten Geburtstag uberreicht von Kollegen, Mitarbeitern und Schülern (Tutzing: Schneider, 1969, pp. 241–50).
Today is Pergolesi’s 310th birthday! Below, Stravinsky’s suite from Pulcinella.
In 2019 A-R Editions completed its series Ballet Music from the Mannheim Court with a critical edition of two ballets by Christian Cannabich: Les fêtes du sérail and Angélique et Médor, ou Roland furieux.
Les Fêtes du sérail was probably based on Jean-Georges Noverre’s Les jalousies, ou Les fêtes du sérail, as described in his Lettres sur la danse. The ballet features several movements with “Turkish” instruments and the exotic setting of a harem.
Above, a portrait of Cannabich by Egid Verhelst; below, a suite from Les fêtes du sérail.
A member of Bach’s circle, long known only as Anonymous Vg, was identified early in the 21st century as Friedrich Christian Mohrheim.
From 1733 to 1736 Mohrheim was a documented boarder at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, where he studied with Bach. He later influenced musical life in Gdańsk through his extensive concert activity and his work as Kapellmeister at the Bazylika Mariacka.
This according to “Der Bachschüler Friedrich Christian Samuel Mohrheim (1719–1780) als Danziger Kapellmeister und Konzertveranstalter” by Karla Neschke, an essay included in Vom rechten Thon der Orgeln und anderer Instrumenten: Festschrift Christian Ahrens zum 60. Geburtstag (Bad Köstritz: Forschungs- und Gedenkstätte Heinrich-Schütz-Haus, 2003, pp. 210–21).
Today is Mohrheim’s 300th birthday! Above, the Bazylika Mariacka; below, Mohrheim’s cantata Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn from 1762.
William Herschel’s career shift from art to science can be regarded as a symbol of the change that music aesthetics underwent in the eighteenth century.
The traditional view of music’s dual nature as both art and science was widely accepted as the century opened, but it was challenged by a growing interest in issues such as genius and the role of inspiration in the creative process. The nature of musical expression defied rational explanation.
The conclusion that genius and inspiration were beyond the law of nature, and that music is not just an expression of natural order but a means by which feelings and emotions can be expressed and thoughts and ideas transferred, contributed to the philosophical background for the Romanticism of the nineteenth century. The arts and sciences had come to a crossroads, and Herschel chose to follow the path of science.
This according to “Music: A science and an art—The 18th-century parting of the ways” by John Bergsagel (Dansk årbog for musikforskning XII  pp. 5-18).
Today is Herschel’s 280th birthday! Above, a portrait by Lemuel Francis Abbott; below, his viola concerto in C Major.
A visitor to the 39-year-old composer’s Vienna apartment described Beethoven’s personal habits in notoriously disparaging detail—a picture curiously contrasting with the same reporter’s observations of his fastidious attention to his favorite beverage.
“For breakfast he had coffee, which he usually prepared himself in a glass machine. Coffee seems to have been his most indispensable food, which he prepared as scrupulously as the Turks. Sixty beans were calculated per cup and were often counted, especially when guests were present.”
This according to “Beethoven’s 60 coffee beans” by Leonardo Ciampa (The American organist LII/3 [March 2018] pp. 50-51).
Below, a highly caffeinated performance by Peter Schickele.