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.
The catalogue arias of late eighteenth-century Italian opere buffe focus on lists; subjects may include enjoyable activities, foods, things for sale, or types of people (by nationality, social rank, occupation, personal qualities, and so on).
Their progress often involves shorter and shorter syntactic units: Sentences give way to phrases, then to one- or two-word groups, accelerating the rate of accumulated information—the comic frenzy is actually built into the text itself. This textual compression often involves two rhetorical devices: asyndeton (omitting conjunctions) and anaphora (beginning successive lines or phrases with the same word).
This according to “Catalogue arias and the ‘catalogue aria’” by John Platoff, an essay included in Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: Essays on his life and his music (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996, pp. 296–311).
Above, Lorenzo da Ponte, author of the celebrated catalogue aria Madamina, il catalogo è questo, from Mozart’s Don Giovanni; below, Luca Pisaroni does the honors.
On 27 May 1784 Mozart purchased a European starling (Sturnus vulgaris, above). The pleasure he expressed at hearing the bird’s song—“Das war schon!”—is all the more understandable when one compares his notation of it with the beginning of the last movement of his Piano Concerto in G major, K.453, which was written around the same time.
Three years later the bird died, and he buried it with much ceremony. Heavily veiled mourners marched in a procession, sang hymns, and listened to a graveside recitation of a poem Mozart had composed for the occasion.
Although many questions remain about starlings’ vocal capacities, a recent study supports a definite link between their mimicry and their lively social interactions, illuminating Mozart’s response to his beloved pet’s death.
This according to “Mozart’s starling” by Meredith J. West and Andrew P. King (American scientist LXXVIII/2 [May–August 1990] pp. 106–114).
Below, the concerto movement sung by Mozart’s starling.
In 2016 Peter Lang launched the series Medieval interventions: New light on traditional thinking with The power and value of music: Its effect and ethos in classical authors and contemporary music theory by Andreas Kramarz.
The series publishes innovative studies on medieval culture broadly conceived—works espousing, for example, new research protocols, especially those involving digitized resources; revisionist approaches to codicology and paleography; reflections on medieval ideologies; fresh pedagogical practices; digital humanities; advances in gender studies; and fresh thinking on animal, environmental, geospatial, and nature studies. In short, the series will seek to set rather than follow agendas in the study of medieval culture.
Since medieval intellectual and artistic practices were naturally interdisciplinary, the series welcomes studies from across the humanities and social sciences. Recognizing also the vigor that marks the field worldwide, the series endeavors to publish work in translation from non-Anglophone medievalists.
Below, Dr. Kramarz engagingly introduces himself and his subject matter.
BONUS: In an example of Apollonian aesthetics cited in the book, Tamino controls the elements with his magic flute in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte.
In 2015 Bärenreiter issued Requiem KV 626: Faksimile der autographen Partitur in der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, a complete autograph edition of Mozart’s Requiem.
The surviving manuscript reflects its dramatic history: Mozart’s handwriting and the supplementary entries by Süßmayr and others often appear on the same page. The corner of a page where Mozart wrote down one of his last musical ideas was later stolen; it is still visible in an old photograph. Each page is individually cut to match the manuscript, conveying a vivid impression of the original. A foreword discussing the genesis of the Requiem and a detailed description of the manuscript complement the facsimile score.
Below, an excerpt from the work.
The stunning success of Der dumme Gärtner aus dem Gebürge, oder, Die zween Anton at Vienna’s Theater auf der Wieden (12 July 1789) led quickly to a sequel in the same year, Die verdeckten Sachen (26 September). Like its predecessor, the music was a collaborative composition by Franz Xaver Gerl, Benedikt Schack, Johann Baptist Henneberg, and probably Emanuel Schikaneder, the librettist.
Mozart had high praise for what he called The Antons, and he composed his final set of piano variations on one of the most celebrated arias in Die verdeckten Sachen, “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt”. This edition presents this aria for the first time in its original orchestration. With the recent identification of performing materials for Die verdeckten Sachen in Rudolstadt, Thuringia, we can now investigate this opera in detail.
A new critical edition, drawing on this new source, has recently been issued as Two operas from the series Die zween Anton. Part 2: Die verdeckten Sachen (Middleton: A-R Editions, 2016).
Above, a portrait of Schikaneder (click to enlarge); below, Mozart’s K.613, performed by Gerhard Puchelt.
BONUS: The imaginary Schikaneder production from Amadeus.
In the opening duet of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro, Figaro makes Freudian errors in counting and in singing. Susanna, needing emotional support and sensitive to Figaro’s psychology, directs his therapy in a manner both manipulative and helpful.
The brief scene is paradigmatic for the opera as a whole, and the duet’s dramatic action is projected by the music at every level, from small details to aspects of global structure.
This according to “Figaro’s mistakes” by David Lewin (Current musicology 57 [spring 1995] pp. 45–60).
Le nozze di Figaro is 230 years old this year! Above, Lydia Teuscher and Vito Priante as Susanna and Figaro; below, the scene in question.