Tag Archives: Mozart

A rediscovered Mozart manuscript!

Kutatók éjszakája - Mozart-szonáta kéziratának egy töred

Balázs Mikusi, the chair of RILM’s Hungarian committee and the head of the music collection at the Országos Széchényi Könyvtár in Budapest, was recently leafing through one of the library’s folders of unidentified manuscripts when he encountered four pages of what looked to him like Mozart’s handwriting.

He soon realized that he had stumbled upon the original score of the piano sonata in A, K.331—one of Mozart’s most beloved sonatas, with the famous “alla turca” finale! The finding has additional significance because the score clears up long-standing questions regarding certain passages.

Congratulations to RILM’s own Balázs Mikusi! Below, Olga Jegunova performs the work in 2012.

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Sendak and Mozart

The beloved author and illustrator Maurice Sendak, who died yesterday, was deeply influenced by Western classical music, particularly by the works of Mozart.

“Art has always been my salvation,” he said in an interview, “and my gods are Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, and Mozart. I believe in them with all my heart. And when Mozart is playing in my room, I am in conjunction with something I can’t explain. I don’t need to. I know that if there’s a purpose for life, it was for me to hear Mozart.”

Above, Sendak’s Mozart in the garden (click to enlarge). Below, the full interview with Bill Moyers in 2004.

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Mozart and folk proverbs

Mozart’s epistolary style was based on spoken traditions, not written ones; his spontaneous use of language—including rich proverbial speech—gives his lively and telling letters their linguistic and emotional authenticity.

Examples include:

  • “Of what use is a great sensation and rapid fortune? It never lasts. Chi va piano, va sano. One must just cut one’s coat according to one’s cloth.”
  • “Now I sit like a rabbit in the pepper! The first act was finished more than three weeks ago…but I cannot compose any more, because the whole story is being altered.”
  • “Yes, my dear little cello, it’s the way of the world, I’m told. Tom has the purse and Dick has the gold; and whoever has neither has nothing, and nothing is equal to very little, and little is not much; therefore nothing is still less than little, and little is still more than not much, and much is still more than little and—so it is, was, and ever shall be.”

This from “‘Nun sitz ich wie der Haass im Pfeffer”: Sprichwörtliches in Mozarts Briefen” by Wolfgang Mieder (Augsburger Volkskundliche Nachrichten XII/16 [December 2002] pp. 7–50; an English translation is in Journal of folklore research XL/I [January–April 2003] pp. 33–70).

Mozart’s appreciation of folklore extended to music as well; below, Clara Haskil plays his variations on the folk song Ah, vous dirai-je maman.

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Mozart’s vitamin deficiency

Several hypotheses regarding the cause of Mozart’s death have been advanced, but until now none have noted the likelihood that a very low level of vitamin D in his system contributed to his untimely demise.

Mozart did most of his composing at night, so he must have slept during much of the day, minimizing his exposure to sunlight. Further, at Vienna’s latitude (48°N) it is impossible for the body to make vitamin D from solar ultraviolet-B irradiance for about six months of the year.

The composer died on 5 December 1791, about three months into the vitamin D winter; since the half-life of vitamin D in the human body is four to six weeks, his level of the nutrient would have been very low—an important risk factor for infectious diseases.

This according to “Vitamin D deficiency contributed to Mozart’s death” by William B. Grant and Stefan Pilz (Medical problems of performing artists XXVI/2 [June 2011] p.117). Below, Jerry Hadley discusses solar irradiance in “Si spande al sole in faccia nube talor così” from Mozart’s Il rè pastore.

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Mozart effect redux

“Spatial performance as a function of early music exposure in rats” (Third triennial ESCOM conference: Proceedings [Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 1997], pp. 688–694) reports on an experiment in which 90 rats were randomly assigned to one of three groups: The Mozart group (30 rats) was exposed to a Mozart piano sonata 12 hours a day for 21 days in utero and 60 days after birth. The Glass and White Noise groups were similarly exposed to the music of Philip Glass or to white noise. The rats’ spatial performance in a 12-unit T maze was then assessed; the Mozart-bred animals ran significantly faster and made significantly fewer errors than the Glass-bred or white noise-bred animals.

In “Do rats show a Mozart effect?” (Music perception: An interdisciplinary journal 21/2 [2003], pp. 251–265), Kenneth M. Steele points out that the in utero exposure would have been ineffective because rats are born deaf. Further, a comparison of human and rat audiograms in the context of the frequencies produced by a piano suggests that adult rats are deaf to most of the pitches in the sonata.

“Spatial performance as a function of early music exposure in rats” (Third triennial ESCOM conference: Proceedings [Uppsala: Uppsala Universitet, 1997], pp. 688–694) reports on an experiment in which 90 rats were randomly assigned to one of three groups: The Mozart group (30 rats) was exposed to a Mozart sonata for 12 hours a day—21 days in utero and 60 days after birth. The Glass and White Noise groups were similarly exposed to the music of Philip Glass or to white noise. The rats’ spatial performance in a 12-unit T maze was then assessed, and the Mozart-bred animals ran significantly faster and made significantly fewer errors than the Glass-bred or white noise-bred animals.

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Musicology and fiction

Throughout the nineteenth century, parallels between the forms and contents of individual compositions and a variety of poems and prose tales were discussed. Liszt, Strauss, and other composers cited literary classics in the titles of their works and even published excerpts in their scores. As a consequence, certain critics came out in favor of musical programmism, while others advocated musical absolutism.

More recently, such discussions have been amplified by suggestions that certain works of fiction themselves employ musical structural principles, particularly sonata form. Doktor Faustus by Thomas Mann (above) can be viewed in relation to Beethoven’s piano sonata op. 111, and several of Jane Austen’s novels can be compared with Mozart concerto movements. This approach suggests new ways in which musicologists might acquire a deeper understanding of such issues as musical representations of gender, the ways in which instrumental compositions may be said to embody character, and the problem of music and narrativity.

This according to “Musicology and fiction” by Michael Saffle, an essay included in our recently published Music’s intellectual history.

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Mangled Mozart

Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail was first performed in London at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on 24 November 1827. Stephanie’s libretto was translated into English and quite freely adapted, and one C. Kramer made numerous and inexplicable changes to the score, editing Mozart’s music, substituting his own numbers for some of the original ones, and adding entirely new numbers. None the wiser, audiences and critics received the mangled work with great enthusiasm.

This according to “The first performance of Mozart’s Entführung in London” by Alfred Einstein (1880–1952) in Essays on music (New York: W.W. Norton, 1956), a collection of his writings issued as a memorial volume; the book is covered in our recently published Liber Amicorum: Festschriften for music scholars and nonmusicians, 1840–1966.

Above, a nineteenth-century engraving depicting a production of the opera in London—perhaps the one that Einstein described. Below, Twyla Tharp and Milos Forman imagine the opera’s premiere in Amadeus.

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Mozart’s flyswatter

Franz Niemetschek’s legendary report that La clemenza di Tito was composed in 18 days was not seriously challenged until 1960, when Tomislav Volek published important archival materials relating to the chronology of the opera’s composition. Physical evidence from the autograph manuscript, including the remains of a fly squashed on the paper (probably by the composer in the heat of August), contributes to discrediting the hypothesis that Mozart’s work had begun before he signed his July 1791 contract for the opera.

This according to “The chronology of Mozart’s La clemenza di Tito reconsidered” by Sergio Durante (Music & letters, 80, no. 4 (Nov 1999): 560–594), where the evidence is described thus:

“On folio 114 of the autograph . . . a thick black spot in the shape of a cross is found. . . . On direct and close examination, the centre of the spot proves to host the remains of a fly (a kind of evidence not often found in music sources!). After a long reflection, my best guess is that the fly was smashed under the loose bifolium at the very time of composition, after it had unduly annoyed Mozart at work; he also provided a witty ‘service’ to the insect by marking a cross over it (‘requiescat’!); in any case, such was the force and determination of the action, combined with the gluing action of the ink, that the corpse is still stuck on the page after two hundred years of musicological investigations.” (p. 574)

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