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Meet the Composer - W. A. Mozart

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r. Bill: We've arrived safe and sound in 1786 in Vienna. We're in the studio of the great Mozart, who is talking with some of his students. Let's listen in:


(Message from Gallifrey: If you're using Internet Explorer or Navigator to read this you're hearing the variations from that concerto now (courtesy of the Classical MIDI Archives). If not, you can listen to the variations from the G Major Piano concerto by clicking here.)

Mozart's G major Piano Concerto

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

(born January 27, 1756, died December 5, 1791)

Heidi: Master, how old were you when you first began to compose?

Mozart: I was so young I can't remember. But my father tells me that I would make up little tunes on the harpsichord when I was three, and he would write them down.

Heidi: Well, you just taught me a minuet that I understand you wrote when you were very young.

Mozart: Ah, yes, the Minuet in F. That's getting very popular among young students and their teachers.

Anke: How old were you when you wrote it?

Mozart: Five--well, almost six.

Anke: WOW!

Helmut: Did you have any brothers and sisters?

Mozart: One older sister; her name was Maria Anna, but I called her Nannerl. She was a fine player also, and when I was six my father took us on tour all over Europe. We played duets, then I would play alone and improvise; and I would do stunts, like playing with the keys covered with a cloth, naming notes and chords with my eyes closed, transposing, singing--things like that. The people in the courts loved it.

Stefan: I heard you got into trouble in Rome once.

Mozart: That was later--I was fourteen. We heard a famous choral work at the Vatican called "Miserere" by the Italian composer Allegri, and when we got back to our inn I wrote it all down from memory. Then we found out it was secret, and nobody but the Vatican choir was supposed to see the music!

Heidi: Is your father a musician, too?

Mozart: He is a famous violinist, and he has written a book on violin playing which has become quite widely used.

Anke: Master, we wish we could see you more often; why can't you just stay here in Vienna instead of traveling all the time?

Mozart: (sighs) A composer can't just make music--he has to be a salesman as well, and travel around to play his music for as many people as possible. I don't dare send unpublished manuscripts, because some people would steal them and publish them as their own. This has happened to me several times. So I go all over, play the piano, recruit and conduct orchestras for my concertos and symphonies, rehearse and direct my operas, and all the while try to please as many noblemen and influential people as I can--it's a busy life.

Stefan: But, then how do you ever find time to compose so much music?

Mozart: Well, I write pretty fast, and I work it all out in my head first. Then too, I have to spend a lot of time traveling, and I've learned to compose in stagecoaches.

Stefan: But Master, how can anyone possibly write down music in a bouncing stagecoach, on those awful, muddy roads, and without a piano?

Mozart: I write it down in my head. I've been blessed with a very good memory, and so I compose in my head and store it there until I get some place where I can write it down. Sometimes I keep music in my head for months.

Heidi: And you remember it ALL?

Mozart: Yes.

Heidi, Stefan and Anke: WOW!!!

Mozart: Look, I've had to learn to compose ANYWHERE; for instance, do you remember hearing the Kegelstatt Trio I just wrote, at a concert last week?

Anke: I do, and I wanted to ask you what "kegelstatt" means.

Mozart: It means "bowling alley"--I called it that because I wrote it in a bowling alley one night, while I was bowling with some friends.

Heidi: You even compose when you're bowling?

Mozart: Oh, there's plenty of time between turns. You see, I am ALWAYS composing--I can't stop composing, ever; I can't remember a minute of my life when there wasn't music playing in my head.

Helmut: Do you do any other things just for fun, Master?

Mozart: I know you won't believe I have the time, but my Madame Costanze and I love to play cards with friends--our favorite game is whist. And I'm just crazy about billiards, too.

Helmut: My mom told me you have a horse; can we see it?

Mozart: Well, he's at the stable right now, but, yes, I love to ride my horse out in the countryside, and even when we can't ride I try to take a walk every day. It's important for a composer or anybody else whose work involves sitting still a lot, to get out and get some fresh air and exercise. Students too!

Helmut: Do you have any other pets?

Mozart: Two birds: a canary and a very talented starling.

Helmut: What does he do?

Mozart: He learned the theme from the variations of my G Major Piano Concerto--but he changed a G to a G-sharp, and now I can't teach him to get it right!


Stefan: Master, someone told me you don't like the harpsichord anymore.

Mozart: I will always love the harpsichord, but I like the new pianos-- especially Herr Stein's--ever so much better, because you can make all kinds of shadings and colors with just your fingers. You can't do that on the harpsichord, or even the organ. With a wonderful new instrument like the piano, I simply can't understand how some students--even some advanced players--are content to play it like a machine, without any phrasing or variety. That's why I got mad at Clementi that time we had the competition; he's brilliant, especially his thirds, but I didn't hear any SOUL.

Stefan: Your father said you wiped the floor with him.

Mozart: My father says I brag too much, and maybe he's right. But I feel very strongly about my music, and about piano playing.

Heidi: What is the most important thing in playing your music?

Mozart: Singing--always singing! It must SING, with beautifully shaped phrases that come out just like the punctuation in a well-spoken sentence. You wouldn't talk in a dead monotone, with no breaks or pauses at the periods and commas and no rise or fall in your voice, now, would you? So why play that way? Music is talking and singing and communicating, and you have to shape everything.

Anke: But Master, I heard a pianist play one of your sonatas the other day, and he shaped everything carefully but it came out sounding like he was playing a little music box or something, with no excitement at all.

Mozart: Ah, that's another thing I can't tolerate! Just because my music is clean and economical, without a lot of extra notes and bombast and crashing chords, a lot of players fall into the trap of treating it like a cute little toy, with no passion, and no real fortes or strong endings. That's a mistake I hate as much as playing mechanically.

Stefan: Papa Haydn says that no one writes greater music than you do, and that nobody has composed for the piano nearly as much. He says you practically invented the piano concerto.

Mozart: Ah, Haydn--such a great master! He has been a wonderful friend to me.

Heidi: Are there other good composers in Vienna now?

Mozart: Yes, but let me tell you something: a few years ago I auditioned a little boy from Bonn--he must be about fifteen now--who is going to be one of the greatest of all someday. An unkempt little ragamuffin he was, but how he played and improvised! Watch out for him--his name is Beethoven. Don't ever forget that name, because you are going to hear from him!

Anke: Master, we have to go now. Is there any special advice you can leave with us today?

Mozart: I truly believe that music is the greatest gift ever given to mankind. Learn to love and appreciate it, because its riches are inexhaustible, and it will inspire and thrill and comfort you all your life. And it will NEVER let you down.

If you liked this talk with Mozart, be sure to check out the other cool Meet the Composer interviews




I made this on: 9/3/97
Newest stuff added: 01/30/15
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Reprinting from the Piano Education Page The Piano Education Page, Op. 10, No. 1,
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