Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a famous influential composer of the Classical era. Alongside Joseph Haydn, and Ludwig van Beethoven, he is recognized as one of the so-called Vienna Classics, a group of musicians who have strongly influenced polyphonic and symphonic music. Mozart was born in Salzburg, and was a child prodigy, composing piano pieces from the age of five. As a 17-year-old, he already started composing for the Salzburg court, and later on moved to Vienna, where he achieved the heights of his fame. He is well known for having composed a multitude of symphonies, concertos, and operas, and other pieces, all of which share a characteristic, ornamental style. Today, we invite you to look at our selection of 10 most celebrated pieces by Mozart.
1. Serenade No. 13 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
„Eine kleine Nachtmusik” was composed in Vienna in 1767, in an interval in composing the Second Act of the „Don Giovanni” opera. No one exactly knew why it was so, as it was not a composition which Mozart had planned beforehand. The serenade was meant to be played by a chamber ensemble, consisting of two violins, viola, and cello with optional double bass, but is nowadays interpreted more frequently by string orchestras, including a first and second violin group instead of single instruments leading the first and the second voice. The serenade was not published till about 1827, after Mozart’s death but has instantly become one of the most recognizable pieces by Mozart.
2. Symphony No. 40, 1st Movement “Allegro”
Sometimes referred to as the “Great G minor symphony,” in contrast with the“Little G minor symphony,” No. 25, this is one of the two minor key symphonies, which Mozart has composed throughout his life. The piece was completed in 1788, and consists of four major parts: Molto allegro, Andante, Menuetto. Allegretto – Trio, Finale. Allegro assai. Among these the first part is the best distinguished one, with a melodious, somewhat wistful theme occurring throughout the part. Some scholars say that Mozart has never heard his piece being performed. Other sources say that it was performed at the home of Baron Gottfried van Swieten, but „so poorly that the composer had to leave the room”. However, recent findings confirm that the piece was played more than once, and perhaps by a better orchestra as well.
3. Overture to “The Marriage of Figaro”
This is a very well-known opening piece to one of the most frequently performed operas in the world. „The Marriage of Figaro” continues to be an amusing spectacle, which is also quite accessible to everyone, because the libretto is fairly uncomplicated, and the theme of searching for true love – quite timeless. The opera had its premiere at the Burgtheater in Vienna on 1 May 1786, and everyone had instantly fallen in love with the cheerful overture, setting the mood for the romantic trials and tribulations of Figaro and his fellow companions, including Figaro’s employer Count Almaviva who wants to seduce Figaro’s girl Susanna. Today, the Overture is so famous, that it earned its right to be played as a solo piece, and still sounds equally compelling.
4. Piano Sonata No. 11 in A Major, „Rondo Alla Turca” (Turkish March)
The Sonata No. 11 in A Major actually has three parts, but it was the last part, which ended up becoming the „big, famous, piece”. To some, this is a case very resemblant to the accidental stardom of „Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. The academics studying Mozart tend to attribute this coincidence to Mozart’s playful composition style, which gained him more recognition than his other structured and formal pieces. „Rondo Alla Turca”, also known as „Turkish March” is a classical interpretation of pieces performed by the Turkish Ottoman military bands, which were apparently ‘the thing to listen to’ in Mozart’s era.
5. Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement “Andante”
The work on this piece was completed in 1785. The Piano Concerto No. 21 consists of three movements and is most recognized by its second movement, ‘Andante’. The opening movement is a march evolving into a more lyrical and ephemeral melody towards the end of the piece. Then the march returns, and a soloist plays. Following is a new piano theme in C major which quickly transitions to the G major scale. The piece contains series of rising and falling scales (arpeggios), very characteristic of Mozart’s compositions. The famous ‘Andante’ part also contains sections played pizzicato (with fingers striking strings) by the violin section.
6. Piano Concerto No. 20, 2nd Movement “Romanze”
This concerto was written by Mozart entirely in 1785 and had its premiere at the Mehlgrube Casino in Vienna on February 11 the very same year. The composer was featured as a soloist on the piano. By the time of the performance also Amadeus’s father, Leopold appeared in Vienna and praised his son highly for his talent and ambition, writing to his sister, that: he“[heard] an excellent new piano concerto by Wolfgang, on which the copyist was still at work when we got there, and your brother didn’t even have time to play through the rondo because he had to oversee the copying operation.” Mozart once again wrote a piece in a light, but delightfully emotional style, which feels like the melody is floating on its own.
7. Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”, 1st Movement “Allegro Vivace”
This was the last symphony, which Mozart composed, and also the longest. The work was finished by August 1788. The piece is scored for flute, two oboes, two bassoons, two horns in C, two trumpets in C, timpani in C and G, and strings. The summer of 1788 was very abundant for Mozart, as he composed three subsequent symphonies on a monthly basis, finishing the 39th in June and the 40th in July. But, that’s not all! He was also intermittently working on his piano trios in E major, and C major, his piano sonata No 16 in C – the so-called Sonata facile, as well as on a violin sonatina. The first movement is the best known piece to most of our lay ears.
8. The Requiem Mass in D minor, “Lacrimosa”
Whereas most of the works by Mozart fill us with cheer and make us want to enjoy life, the Requiem Mass finds us entering the dark side of Mozart’s genius. One cannot help but make a connection with the 9th symphony by Beethoven here. The haunting music of the Requiem reflects this perfectly. This is not your drawing room music. This is the sublime, the mystery of life and death touching upon the ears of the listener. Mozart did not ever finish the Requiem Mass and Franz Xaver Süssmayr helped the piece reach its final shape. Rumor also has it that it was commissioned by a persona who never revealed their face and at one stage Mozart got the idea that he was writing a piece for his own funeral. We do get goosebumps whenever we hear the story, and it is also included in a must-see film „Amadeus”.
9. Overture to “The Magic Flute”
„The Magic Flute” is probably the most successful opera ever written by Mozart. The spectacle transports the viewer into a world of fantasy and imagination, where birds talk, and the idyllic, Arcadian spirit is to be felt in the air. The overture to „The Magic Flute” is also one of the most recognizable pieces by Mozart. It’s vigorous strings and melodious feel introduce the listener into a world very far from their own. „The Magic Flute” in general makes much use of the composer’s liberty to create the impossible, with one of its pieces, the being very demanding vocally for the lead female singer. It namely uses the coloratura soprano, sounding like high-pitched pipes. This is just what „The Magic Flute” as well as the opening piece is all about, artistic imaginative creation without any boundaries.
10. Quintet in A major for Clarinet and Strings
This piece was originally written by Mozart for the clarinetist Anton Stadler and his assembly in 1789. Interestingly enough, there are two notations of it in existence, one complete in A major and one partial in B flat. Its first premiere took place on 22 December of the same year, during the four annual Vienna performances of the Tonkünstler-Societät, a charity organization which supported widows and orphans of musicians. Interestingly enough, Mozart’s work wasn’t the focal point. This title was granted to a cantata, Il natale d’Apollo, by Vincenzo Righini. Mozart’s Quintet was performed in intervals, and was less in the spotlight of the evening. However, today it seems to be the other way round and the most famous part of Mozart’s composition is the Larghetto in D major – the second movement of the piece.