You never know who you're going to meet on the internet and I came to know Peter Tibbles (bio here) via email over the past couple of years. His extensive knowledge of most genres of music and his excellent taste became apparent only gradually (Peter's not one to toot his horn) but once I understood, I knew he needed his own column at Time Goes By - or, better, that TGB needed his column - which appears here each Sunday. You can find previous Elder Music columns here.
One source I read says that Mozart’s name at birth was Joannes Chrisostomos Wolfgang Gotlieb Mozart. Another thinks it was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Whichever it was, or even something different, in adult life he generally called himself Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, or just Mozart.
I’ll call him Wolfie just to annoy any Mozart scholars who may be reading this. He was the seventh child of Leopold and Anna Maria Mozart and only the second who survived childhood. The other was his big sister Maria Anna, called Nannerl by those who knew her well.
That’s the Mozart family - except for mum who must have been taking the snaps that day.
Leopold taught both his kids to play the piano (or what passed for a piano back then). He also taught them academic subjects including several languages – they were quite useful later on.
When Wolfie was six years old, Leopold took both the kids on what became a three-and-a-half-year tour of Europe playing anywhere that would have them (which was pretty much everywhere). People were taken by their precocious music talents, especially young Wolfie’s.
He had already started composing music and this is his first composition, the Andante in C for Keyboard K1a with a couple of other works he composed around the same time. He composed this when he was five. What were you doing at five? Pretty much the same as me, I’ll bet.
Skipping over a lot of years - Wolfie is now 18 - we get to what is probably the first of the great works, the Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat K271 where he turned things in the piano concerto game on their head and didn’t wait for the orchestra to fiddle around for some time, but came in with the piano almost immediately as if to say, “Hey, what about me? I want to play too.”
Then, when the piano comes in for real, it trills away for quite a bit as if wondering what to do next. This may seem normal now but was unheard of at the time. This is the first movement.
For some reason Wolfie decided not to write any more violin concertos after the first five. This is a bit odd as he was an accomplished violinist himself and he could have shown them off as he did with his piano works.
A couple of sketches of more violin concertos were found after his death but these are of very dubious provenance. Sounds like someone was trying to cash in.
However, there is a similar work he wrote later and this is one of his greatest masterpieces, the Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola & Orchestra K364. It sounds to me like a concerto for violin and viola but that’s not the name he chose. Whatever it’s called this is the sublime second movement from that work.
When Wolfie went out on his own, much to Leopold’s chagrin probably because he was losing his cash cow, he stayed for a while with the Weber family. There, he was rather taken by the oldest daughter but she was not interested in an out of work musician. So he checked out the other daughters and spotted Constanze.
Eventually they were married, much against Leopold’s wishes (he was turning into a grumpy old man by this time). The only people at the wedding were Constanze’s mother and a younger sister. Her father had died some years earlier. I’m telescoping these events considerably – they took place over several years.
By the record of the letters they wrote to each other, of which there are many still in existence, they had a loving and happy marriage. Old Leo eventually gave his grudging consent.
Constanze had a decent soprano voice and when Wolfie was commissioned to write a mass he wrote the soprano parts with her in mind. This is the Laudamus te from the Gloria from the Mass in C minor K427. Hmm, sounds like something a Victorian lady would take for a touch of the vapors. This isn’t Constanze singing. I couldn’t find any of her records.
Wolfie was in Paris in 1778, when he heard that his first son had died. The Piano Sonata No 13 K333 was the first piece he wrote after receiving this news. The second movement in particular shows a deep melancholy and a brooding, even menacing, tension that keeps hanging over the piece until the end.
The third movement relieves this mood but I’m going with the second movement. It’s a wonderful piece of work.
The Clarinet Concerto in A K622 was one of the very last of Wolfie’s compositions. It was the last concerto of any kind that he wrote. Some say they can hear that he had premonitions of his death in this work. That’s only because of the slow, sad second movement. The third movement is so optimistic and joyful it puts paid to that notion.
However, I’m going with the second movement because it is so lovely.