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.
Rovereto claims the distinction of being both the first stop in the series of trips that Mozart undertook in Italy—he arrived with his father on Christmas Eve in 1769—and the first city to erect a monument in Mozart’s honor.
The monument was designed by Giuseppe Antonio Bridi (1763–1836), a banker who had befriended Mozart and was passionate about music. Bridi’s relationship with Mozart and his family continued until his death, including a regular correspondence with Constanze that was carried out until 1833. The monument was erected in 1825 at Bridi’s villa in the suburbs of Rovereto.
This according to “Sulla via del ritorno: Il primo monumento alla gloria di Mozart” by Renato Lunelli, an essay included in Mozart in Italia: I viaggi, le lettere (Milano: Ricordi, 1956); the volume was issued to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
Today is Mozart’s 260th birthday! Below, the symphony K.112, composed during his first Italian sojurn.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.”
Below, the full interview with Bill Moyers in 2004.
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.
- “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.
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.