Tag Archives: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart: New documents

mozartnewdocs

 

Mozart: New documents is a collaborative project for the digital publication of new Mozart documents discovered since 1997, the date of the second supplement (the Neue Folge) to Otto Erich Deutsch’s  Mozart: Die Dokumente seines Lebens (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1961). This website is intended as an open working draft, and the editors welcome contributions and feedback from readers, who will receive explicit credit and acknowledgment.

Digital publication allows rolling out the content of the site over a period of months; it initially included 37 documents with commentaries, and at least 70 were scheduled to be added over the ensuing months. By the time the site is completed, it will include well over 100 new documents and addenda, and research is still ongoing.

When the site has reached a point of relative stability, it will be moved to a more permanent home with an institutional base; options for the print publication of some or all of the documents and commentaries on this site are under consideration.

Below, a recent contribution to Mozart documentation.

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W.A. Mozart, cartoonist

mozart sketch1

Mozart’s wittiness is famously illuminated through many of his letters. Less known are his small humorous sketches, which appear here and there throughout his correspondence.

The sketches range from mysterious stick figures to bizarre caricatures; some are still riddles to scholars.

This according to “Mozart, der Zeichner” by Gabriele Ramsauer, an essay included in Mozart-Bilder–Bilder Mozarts: Ein Porträt zwischen Wunsch und Wirklichkeit (Salzburg: Pustet, 2013, pp. 25–28).

Above, a drawing at the top of a letter from Mozart to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, known as Bäsle, dated 10 May 1780, titled Engel (Angel), with labels fig. I Kopf (head), fig. II Frißur (hairdo), fig. III Nasn (nose), fig. IV Brust (breast), fig. V Hals (throat), fig. VI Aug (eye); inscribed below VI: Hier ißt leer (Here is empty).

The full text of the letter (untranslated) is here; below, the finale of Mozart’s Ein musikalischer Spaß, which ends with his celebrated foray into polytonality.

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If it’s Mozart, it’s a masterpiece!

mozart-shades

Since the mid–19th-century discovery of the sinfonia concertante for winds, sometimes labeled K.297b, the work has been considered authentic by some and dubious by others, and its reception in the concert hall has paralleled these critical vicissitudes. An examination of 168 texts discussing this composition reveals that the authors’ reactions to the work are closely bound to their opinions on who wrote it.

For example, authors who believed that the work was by Mozart described it as strong, sturdy, and solid, while those that did not called it flimsy, arbitrary, illogical, and incomprehensible; those crediting Mozart rated the work highest level and a masterpiece, while those who considered it spurious rated it not first class; and the Mozart designators considered it delightful, celestial, and enchanting, while the non-Mozart camp described it as tasteless, inept, and cheap.

This according to “Musical attribution and critical judgment: The rise and fall of the sinfonia concertante for winds, K.297b” by John Spitzer (The journal of musicology V/3 [summer 1987] pp. 319–56). Below, we invite you to form your own opinion.

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Glass harmonica horrors

Although it was championed by the likes of Mozart and Benjamin Franklin, in its heyday the glass harmonica was also the object of considerable trepidation.

In the 18th century music was regarded by some as a form of nervous stimulation that could cause a range of maladies, and the glass harmonica was considered especially dangerous.

The glass harmonica player and composer Karl Leopold Röllig stated that the instrument could “make women faint, send a dog into convulsions, make a sleeping girl wake screaming through a chord of the diminished seventh, and even cause the death of one very young”, and physicians warned of possible ill effects including muscle tremors, prolonged shaking of the nerves, fainting, cramps, swelling, paralysis, and seeing ghosts.

This according to Bad vibrations: The history of the idea of music as cause of disease by James Kennaway (Farnham: Ashgate, 2012). Below, Thomas Bloch threatens you with Mozart’s adagio, K.617.

Related article: Mozart effect redux

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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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Schubert deltiography

Schubert deltiography, a database produced by The Schubert Institute as part of its Schubert ographies website, is an open-access online resource for postcards bearing images relevant to Schubert—portraits, buildings, and so on. In addition to reproductions of both sides of the cards, entries include detailed annotations for deltiologists and other interested parties.

Above, a postcard depicting Schubert playing the “trout” quintet (piano quintet in A Major, D. 667) with Mozart, Haydn, Bach, and Gluck in Heaven (click to enlarge). The audience includes Beethoven and Wagner; leave a comment if you can identify others!

Below, a terrestrial performance of the work’s first movement by members of the Amadeus Quartet with Clifford Curzon.

Related article: Postcards

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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'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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