Mozart’s influence on his fellow composers is strongly felt, even today. Composers have paid tribute to this classical-era inspiration by re-working his music in various ways, creating imaginative variations and their own musical commentaries. Here are five of the most surprising revisions and tributes to Mozart’s music.
Tune in to 98.1 Classical KING FM all throughout the month of January for 31 Days of Mozart, our celebration of favorite works by the classical Wunderkind.
5. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart/Timo Andres: Piano Concerto No. 26 “Coronation” for Chamber Orchestra and Piano
Mozart’s “Coronation” Concerto has a unique feature: the manuscript lacks notes in the left hand. It’s assumed that Mozart didn’t need to notate it, simply providing his own improvisation in performances of the work. There is a standard completion, filling out the score for modern performers, but it stops short of the sure magic of Mozart’s on-the-spot virtuosity that audiences flocked to see. American composer Timo Andres has taken a novel approach to this work, adding a left hand part that is all his own and effectively creating a new work that is half Andres, half Mozart. This stunning transformation achieves unmistakable, if polarizing, results. If you find the first movement too much to handle, give the more lush and lyrical second movement a try.
4. Igudesman and Joo: Rondo alla molto Turca
These guys first showed us how much comic potential there is in adding little tweaks to Mozart’s music with their infamous Mozart Bond sketch. They’re back at it in this skit from their “AND NOW MOZART” tour, where they give the Rondo alla Turca movement of his Piano Sonata No. 11 a spicy twist. We hope that Mozart would have laughed as hard as this huge audience.
3. Apap Cadenza to Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major
The French violinist Gilles Apap’s cadenza to Mozart’s G major concerto veers quickly into anachronistic territory, adding virtuosic fiddling, stomping, drumming, whistling, and singing. In about eight minutes, Apap travels around the world and through at least three centuries. Genius, or nonsense? You decide.
2. Tribal: Mozart Meets Trap
We’re back to the Rondo alla Turca from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11, which has inspired all sorts of creations in the world of electronic dance music, ranging from pretty interesting to downright terrible. Whatever you think of this music, the launchpad controller technique here is a sight to behold, and it’s especially fascinating to see the DJ translate Mozart’s piano music directly to the keypad.
1. Arcadi Volodos: Rondo alla Turca “arrangement”
There’s not a whole lot of Mozart left by the end of this barn-burning encore piece, perfectly suited to the lightning fingers of Yuja Wang. It’s easy to get carried away by the party, as the innocent opening disguises an explosive few minutes of music.
Honorable Mention: Overture to Abduction from the Seraglio, expanded with Turkish music
The overture to an opera set in a Turkish harem, this work by Mozart included trendy, exotic musical sounds that evoked Turkish Janissary music. This performance of the work is truly something special, however; incorporating actual Turkish instruments and adding extended sections of Turkish music at the beginning, middle, and end, it goes beyond Mozart’s classical-era mock-up for an aesthetic much more authentic to the opera’s setting.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, born on January 27, 1756, was one of the greatest musical minds of all time. Known throughout Europe as a prodigy of the keyboard and violin, he rose to prominence as a composer who brought every classical-era musical genre to its apotheosis. Before his untimely death at the age of 35, he composed an astonishing 626 pieces. We won’t get to play them all this month, but we’ve chosen some of our favorites, playing on KING FM all throughout the month of January.
This Thursday, the Seattle Symphony celebrates the 113th anniversary of its first performance on December 29, 1903 under Harry West. Classical KING FM celebrates with a full broadcast of the orchestra’s recording of Gustav Mahler’s massive Symphony No. 8 at 8:00pm, hosted by Sean MacLean. The orchestra has had a history of both rocky patches (1921-22 season cancelled, mergers and then subsequent separations with Tacoma Philharmonic musicians in 1947-48) and huge successes (opening of the $120-million Benaroya Hall in 1998, 21 GRAMMY nominations and two awards).
It’s rare that 1,000 musicians are seen onstage for performances of this piece – the “Symphony of a Thousand” moniker was tacked on by a concert promoter, and was apparently abhorred by Mahler himself. The Eighth Symphony is certainly Mahler’s largest symphonic work in physical onstage forces, and represents a return to some elements of his earlier symphonies after the less programmatic, more existential Five and Six: it features long moments of innocent and breathlessly romantic music, and multiple combined choruses and vocal soloists that verbally articulate its philosophical content. Like all Mahler, we get fascinatingly disparate musical elements and thematic contradictions – the symphony’s first part is a setting of the medieval Latin hymn Veni, creator spiritus (“Come, Holy Ghost, Creator”) while the second part is a dramatic setting of the final scene of Goethe’s Faust in German that makes extensive use of the vocal soloists. Mahler didn’t write an opera, but the monumental second part of his Symphony No. 8 comes close.
In September, 2008, nearly 400 musicians assembled onstage in Benaroya Hall’s S. Mark Taper Foundation Auditorium to perform the work under the direction of then-Music Director Gerard Schwarz. Schwarz brought together Northwest Boychoir, Seattle Pro Musica, Seattle Symphony, Seattle Symphony Chorale and top vocal soloists including Lauren Flanigan, Jane Eaglen, Jane Giering-de Haan, Nancy Maultsby, Jane Gilbert, Vinson Cole, Clayton Brainerd and Harold Wilson for this historic performance in Seattle.
Here’s what Mahler had to say about his Eighth Symphony, speaking to the historian Richard Specht in 1908:
“Think, in the last three weeks I have completed the sketches of an entirely new symphony, something in comparison with which all the rest of my works are no more than introductions. I have never written anything like it; it is something quite different in both content and style from all my other works, and certainly the biggest thing that I have ever done. Nor do I think that I have ever worked under such a feeling of compulsion; it was like a lightning vision – I saw the whole piece immediately before my eyes and only needed to write it down, as though it were being dictated to me. This Eighth Symphony is remarkable for the fact that it unites two poems in two different languages, the first being a Latin hymn and the second nothing less than the final scene of the second part of Faust. Does that astonish you? I have for years longed to set this scene with the anchorites and the final scene with the Mater gloriosa, and to set it quite differently from other composers who have made it saccharine and feeble; but then [I] gave up the idea. Lately, however, an old book fell into my hands and I chanced on the hymn “Veni creator spiritus” – and at a single stroke I saw the whole thing – not only the opening theme, but the whole first movement, and as an answer to it I could imagine nothing more beautiful than Goethe’s text in the scene with the anchorites! Formally, too, it is something quite novel – can you imagine a symphony that is, from beginning to end, sung? Hitherto I have always used words and voices simply in an explanatory way, as a short cut to creating a certain atmosphere and to express something which, purely symphonically, could only be expressed at great length, with the terseness and precision only possible by using words. Here, on the other hand, voices are also used as instruments: the first movement is strictly symphonic in form but all of it is sung. Strange, in fact, that this has never occurred to any other composer – it really is Columbus’ egg, a ‘pure’ symphony in which the most beautiful instrument in the world is given its true place – and not simply as one sonority among others, for in my symphony the human voice is after all the bearer of the whole poetic idea.”
Procession: Hodie Christus natus est – Plainsong from Vespers of the Nativity
A Child Is Born in Bethlehem – Mode I Plainsong, 14th cent. – setting by Richard Proulx (1937 – 2010)
PSALM 98 – Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014)
HYMN: On This Day Earth Shall Ring – Melody from Piae Cantiones; arr. by Gustav Holst (1874-1934)
NUNC DIMITTIS: Marilyn setting – Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014)
ANTHEMS: O Magnum Mysterium – Gerald Near
Away in a Manger – arr. Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014)
Jeremy Matheis, director • Tyler Morse, reader • James Wilcox, cantor
Frederick Delius: Sleigh Ride
Earlier this week, you heard Leroy Anderson’s very famous “Sleigh Ride” and learned it wasn’t necessarily meant to be a Christmas song. But this particular “Sleigh Ride,” from English composer Frederick Delius, was indeed meant to be played during Christmas Eve. The composer actually gave his piece to the host and hostess of a Christmas Eve party in 1889—none other than Edvard and Nina Grieg!
Fanny Mendelssohn: Song Without Words, Op.8/3
It’s said that Felix Mendelssohn’s sister, Fanny, served as the inspiration for his series of short, lyrical piano pieces called “Songs Without Words.” Fanny herself wrote a few similar pieces, one of which can be heard here.
Giovanni Bottesini: Double Bass Concerto No.2 in B minor: I. Allegro moderato
The lowest and biggest instrument in the orchestra is, of course, the double bass—also called string bass, upright bass and—though we don’t know why—doghouse bass! At about six feet tall, it stands higher than its average player and has an enormous range, though is most familiar to us when it’s playing low notes.
There were two other Ludwig van Beethovens in the composer’s family.
When we refer to the great composer, we are actually referring to Ludwig van Beethoven III. Beethoven’s grandfather, a singer and pre-eminent music director in Bonn, was also named Ludwig. Ludwig was also the name of the famous composer’s older brother, who died at two weeks old.
His father Johann sought to replicate the success of Leopold Mozart, promoting his son as a prodigy.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s fame as a musical prodigy was well-known at the time of Beethoven’s birth, as his father Leopold toured the wunderkind and his sister all over Europe. Beethoven’s father wanted the same fame for his son (and the cash). He falsely promoted Ludwig as six years old at his first public concert, when he was seven.
As a child, he was hauled out of bed in the middle of the night to practice.
Beethoven’s father was famously an abusive alcoholic, and was Beethoven’s first teacher in music at age five. His father’s insomniac friend Pfeiffer was later employed as a keyboard instructor, and young Ludwig was often dragged out of bed in the middle of the night to play.
He may have struggled with simple math.
Beethoven left school at age 11 to help earn money for his family, and supposedly struggled with simple multiplication and division until the end of his life.
He played violin and viola.
Save the jokes. We know Beethoven as one of the greatest pianists of his generation, and a skilled improviser. However, he also played viola in the court orchestra of the Prince-Elector of Bonn as a young man, getting to know many operatic works by Mozart and others.
He wanted to study with Mozart, but got Haydn instead.
We know that Beethoven traveled to Vienna in 1787 seeking the tutelage of Mozart, but it is uncertain whether or not they actually met. Mozart died in 1791 and Beethoven was again sent to Vienna in 1792 to study with Haydn. The Count Waldstein, his friend and patron, wrote to him: “Through uninterrupted diligence you will receive Mozart’s spirit through Haydn’s hands.” They did not get along well.
He adored Schiller’s Ode to Joy and planned to set it to music from an early age.
Beethoven first considered setting Friedrich Schiler’s poem to music in 1793, at the age of 23. Composition of the Ninth Symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy” theme took place 29 years later.
He began to go deaf around 1796, at the age of 25, but wasn’t completely deaf until the age of 44.
Though Beethoven attributed the loss of his hearing to a severe fall in 1798, his deafness was more likely caused by sickness in his young adult life such as typhus or an auto-immune disorder such as systemic lupus erythematosus. Beethoven experienced tinnitus, a growing ringing in his ears.
Beethoven wrote the largely joyous Symphony No. 2 about the same time as the Heiligenstadt Testament.
The Heiligenstadt Testament is a letter written by Beethoven to his brothers Carl and Johann on October 6, 1802 detailing his acceptance of increasing, permanent deafness and his vow to continue his artistic creation. “I would have ended my life – it was only my art that held me back,” he wrote. It was on this doctor-encouraged stay in Heiligenstadt that he partially composed his Symphony No. 2 and a variety of piano sonata works.
After dedicating his Third Symphony to Napoleon, he changed his mind…and back again.
A symphony of greater scope, length, and musical innovation than any that preceded it, the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” of 1804 ushered in the Romantic Era. Beethoven was an intensely political person, and initially supported Napoleon, who he believed to be a proponent of Enlightenment thought. Eroica was at least partially inspired by Napoleon, and was originally dedicated to him. It was when Bonaparte was declared Emperor that Beethoven scratched out the dedication so vociferously that he tore through the manuscript. However, he is said to have changed his mind on Napoleon, remarking to Carl Czerny in 1824, “”Formerly I disliked him. Now I think quite differently.”
He suffered from a great variety of diseases and maladies throughout his life. We still can’t confirm what killed him.
Throughout his life, modern doctors believe Beethoven could have suffered from colitis, rheumatic fever, typhus, lupus, abscesses, a variety of skin disorders and infections, ophthalmia, inflammatory degeneration of the arteries, cirrhosis of the liver, jaundice, and chronic hepatitis. He underwent crude and painful treatments, everything from pouring hot oil in his ears to draining fluid from his abdomen. He may have been poisoned with lead from cheap wine or toxic salves.
Women both adored and shunned him. He withdrew from society as his hearing worsened.
Accounts of an aging Beethoven paint the picture of a highly respected genius who repulsed many he met. A woman he wooed once called him “ugly and half crazy,” and others complained of his foul smell and temper. Even still, he had many romantic encounters (often with piano students) and penned a secret letter to a still-unidentified “Immortal Beloved.” As his hearing worsened, his friends wrote in “conversation books” to communicate with him, and he became increasingly isolated from public life.
He fought with many of his friends and his patrons.
The composer’s tempestuous temperament meant that he was given both to episodes of great praise and great insult. In just one example, Beethoven flew off the handle after his friend and patron Prince Lichnowsky joked that he would be placed under “house arrest” if he were to refuse playing for a visiting group of French officers. Beethoven stormed out, traveled to a different patron’s estate in the region, smashed a bust of Lichnowsky and wrote him a scathing letter.
Famous nicknames of his works, such as “Moonlight” and “Emperor” were assigned later.
The Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor “Quasi una fantasia” of 1801 “Moonlight” Sonata didn’t get its nickname until after Beethoven’s death, when the critic Ludwig Rellstab remarked in 1832 that the first movement sounded like moonlight shining upon Lake Lucerne. The “Emperor” nickname assigned to his grand Fifth Piano Concerto may have been exclaimed by a French officer at a performance of the work, as the story goes – or it is the result of the editorializing of an early publisher.
Some of his greatest works were premiered in huge marathon concerts, and may not have sounded very good.
In one concert at the Theater an der Wien on December 22, 1808 lasting over four hours, Beethoven premiered his Fourth Piano Concerto (as soloist), Fifth Symphony, Sixth Symphony (“Pastoral”), Choral Fantasy (as piano soloist), and part of the C Major Mass. There had been one rehearsal. It likely wasn’t a great performance – there was even a train wreck in the middle of the Choral Fantasy, which had to be stopped and started again.
Geoffrey Larson is the Music Director of Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra, and Sunday morning host 12-9am on 98.1 Classical KING FM.
First Sunday after Christmas; The Feast of The Holy Name
ORISON: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence- (Tune: Picardy, French Carol) from Chansons populaires des Provinces de France, 1860
PSALM: 103 plainsong, Tone VIII
HYMN: Ring Out, Wild Bells (Tune: Deus Tuorum Militum) from Grenoble Antiphoner, 1753; Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892), arr. GWB
NUNC DIMITTIS: Plainsong, Mode V; harm. Padre Vincente Ripollès
I saw a maiden – Old Basque Nöel from the 15th cent; refrain by Edgar Pettman (1865-1943)
Resonet in laudibus – Jacob Handl (1550-1591)
Ken Pendergrass, director • William Turnipseed, reader • Kenneth Peterson, cantor