Category Archives: 04. Mozart and Great Music

Mozart—The Child, the Myth, and the Man

“Listening to Mozart, we cannot think of any possible improvement…21 piano sonatas, 27 piano concertos, 41 symphonies, 18 masses, 13 operas, 9 oratorios and cantata, 2 ballets, 40 plus concertos for various instruments, string quartets, trios and quintets, violin and piano duets, piano quartets, and the songs. This astounding output includes hardly one work less than a masterpiece.”
George Szell, Hungarian conductor

Chapter Playlist 3: Mozart and Great Music (16 videos, 6 hrs. 20 min)

How do we account for Mozart’s amazing skills as a composer and performer?

Perhaps if Johann Sebastian Bach were reborn as Mozart, we would have an explanation for Mozart’s amazing skills at such an early age.

Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born January 27, 1756. (He signed some letters in Latin as “Wolfgangus Amadeus Mozartus,” but as a playful joke.)

What happened next is stunning:

  • At age 3, he is drawn to his sister’s clavier (an early piano) and starts spending endless hours playing. His father, Leopold, a professional court composer, musician, and music teacher, begins giving him instruction.
  • At 4, he demonstrates his ability to learn a minuet and trio in thirty minutes. His father realizes he has a son unlike other children. Mozart writes his first composition (calling it a “concerto”), and invents his own system of musical notation.
  • At 5, he writes his first compositions that survive (K. 1a, 1b, 1c, 1d, 1e, and 1f). He begins learning Latin. His father takes him to Munich, Germany, for three weeks to play for music lovers, including the elector of Bavaria, Maximilian III Joseph.His very first surviving composition, nineteen seconds short and not fully formed, is remarkable in how it changes meter in the middle of the piece:

Video 1: K. 1a: Andante in C

This one, however, is perfectly formed:

Video 2: K. 1e: Minuet in G (scrolling score)

  • At 6, he teaches himself to play the violin, and performs second violin in a trio rehearsal in his home. He displays speed and accuracy, and an uncanny sense of time. People give him a musical idea for a fugue and he improvises variations on it for hours.To get a quick understanding of theme and variations, listen to this well-known Mozart tune that we know as “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”:

Video 3: K. 265: 12 Variations on “Ah, vous dirai-je, Maman” in C

His father takes him to Vienna, Austria, for three months, amazing the court of Archduke Joseph, later Emperor Joseph II. Mozart calls for the court composer Wegenseil and plays one of Wegenseil’s concertos while having the composer turn the pages.

The following keyboard piece reflects Mozart’s delight and playful approach to composition:

Video 4: K. 5: Minuet in F

  • At 7, he begins a three-year performance tour of Europe. His family is the guest of royal families, high nobility, and the cream of society.He demonstrates his ability to sight-read at the keyboard or violin anything composed by others up to that time.

    He begins learning French and Italian, in which he eventually becomes fluent.

    Here is a typical announcement, for a London performance:

“Miss Mozart of eleven and Master Mozart
of seven Years of Age, Prodigies of Nature;
taking the opportunity of representing to
the Public the greatest Prodigy that Europe
or that Human Nature has to boast of.
Every Body will be astonished to hear a Child
of such tender Age playing the Harpsichord
in such a Perfection—it surmounts all
Fantastic and Imagination [sic], and it is
hard to express which is more astonishing,
his Execution upon the Harpsichord playing
at Sight, or his own Composition.”

Mozart writes his first violin sonata (for violin and keyboard). His compositional complexity is developing rapidly:

Video 5: K. 6: Violin Sonata in C

  • At 8, he dedicates six Sonatas he composes for Harpsichord, Violin, and Cello to England’s Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III (K. 10-15).He sits on the lap of Johann Christian Bach (one of the famous composer’s many sons), and they improvise alternately on the same keyboard before the King and Queen for two hours.

    He writes his first symphony in three movements (K. 16):

Video 6: K. 16: Symphony No. 1 in E-flat

  • At 9, he becomes the family’s main source of income. He composes more symphonies, arias, and a keyboard sonata for four hands (K. 19d):

Video 7: K. 19: Symphony No. 4 in D

  • At 10, he plays violin up to concert standard, knows all the orchestral instruments, and is able to talk to performers in their specialized language. He also composes in Paris his first religious work, the 4-minute Kyrie in F:

Video 8: K. 33: Kyrie in F

  • At 11, he writes his first piano concerto (K. 37) and his first cantata Grabmusik (K. 42):

Video 9: K. 37: Piano Concerto No. 1 in F

Video 10: K. 42: Grabmusik

He also composes his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus (K. 38), a Latin musical comedy:

Video 11: K. 38: Apollo et Hyacinthus

He’s able to collaborate with other professionals, like Michael Haydn, the brother of the famous composer Franz Joseph Haydn.

  • At 12, he contracts smallpox, limiting his musical output to eleven pieces that still is enough music to fill several CDs, including another opera, three symphonies, and three religious masses:

Video 12: K. 49: Missa brevis in G

  • At 13, he writes another opera while in Vienna, several symphonies, two religious masses, and three cassations designed as light outdoor chamber performances.This simple and beautiful 27-minute Cassation for small chamber orchestra is in eight movements:

Video 13: K. 62a/100: Cassation in D

  • At 14, he has his first operatic hit, Mitridate, rè di Ponto (Mitridate, King of Pontus), written for the city of Milan, Italy (this work is three hours long):

Video 14: K. 87: Mitridate, rè di Ponto

In his excellent course for The Teaching Company, “Great Masters: Mozart—His Life and Music,” Professor Robert Greenberg outlines more of Mozart’s incredible skills:

“His ability to remember the most complex music after only a single hearing and to later write it down note perfect. His ability to improvise better than others could compose. His ability to compose entire symphonies and concerti in his head, and then write out the individual instrumental parts without having to first write out the score.”

So in the face of all of these incredible skills, exhibited at such an early age, the question arises:

How do people,
especially “experts” of past and present times,
explain Mozart?

  1. Satanic witchcraft: At a performance in Naples, one observer claimed Mozart wore a magic ring to aid his impossibly dexterous left hand. He sold his soul, trading a long life for great music.
  2. A creature of God: Divine music could not be created by a man, but someone all or partially divine.
  3. A musical monster: Created by his father, Leopold.
  4. A transmigrated soul: He reincarnated into this life already skilled.
  5. A genetic freak of nature: The man-child who cannot help what he is, and never became a real adult, as seen in the film

Whatever the case, Mozart was not the man-child depicted in Amadeus.

His later actions reveal an accomplished adult
in social, financial, and political life.

That’s not to say he didn’t gamble or face debts, or act politically incorrect to preserve the integrity of his music. Mozart’s temperament was that of a genius and artist, but not at the expense of being an adult.

Then why has the man-child myth endured?

When looking at a Mozart (or a Shakespeare or a Van Gogh), we may find it difficult to believe they are human like the rest of us. So we look for excuses to dehumanize them, making them either less than or more than human. Automatons or demigods.

Mozart had amazing talent, but he worked
extraordinarily hard to manifest that talent.

As a child he was known to compose every morning from 6:00 to 9:00 A.M. and play the clavier and compose music from 8:00 P.M. to midnight. In the middle of the day he would compose if he had to write something quickly.

He was curious to learn about everything: drawing, reading, writing, arithmetic, history, geography, and foreign languages (picking up English in his later years due to his popularity in England).

But his bias was music. And his father took advantage of that interest, supposedly for the good of the family, but more for the good of himself. Although Mozart’s mother and sister played a peripheral role in Mozart’s life, Mozart’s father served as a key character in Mozart’s development and early experience.

Mozart’s Family

Mozart’s mother, Anna Maria Mozart, died while she and Mozart were traveling. Mozart was 22. She seemed to prefer being in the background, so little is known about her. She married Leopold Mozart in 1747 in Salzburg. Although they had seven children, only two survived.

Mozart’s sister, Anna Maria Walburga Ignatia, was born 1751 and nicknamed “Nannerl” as a child. She died seventy-eight years later.

Mozart’s father was a composer and violinist, but did not have the musical success he wanted. So he lived it through his son. Leopold did not have his son’s skill, but he did have musical taste.

Here is Leopold’s Trumpet Concerto in D. Listen to it for a minute or two to get a sense of Mozart’s father’s rather mediocre but pleasant style. Mozart’s youthful compositions tower over his father’s compositions:

Video 15: Leopold Mozart: Trumpet Concerto in D

Leopold held authority in contempt, and therefore was a difficult man leading a difficult life. But he was driven. And seeing his son’s talent, he did all he could to help his son blossom, perform, and make money.

And perhaps just as importantly, he used his son for revenge—revenge against his own mother, who gave all of her children a dowry, except Leopold.

When Mozart was nearly two years old, Leopold was appointed court composer by the Salzburg prince-archbishop. Over the next few years, he had plenty of opportunity to show off his son. But Salzburg at that time had only limited public exposure. By the time Mozart was five, Leopold set his sights elsewhere.

He first arranged a three-week concert tour in Munich in 1761. In 1762, he arranged a three-month tour in Vienna, performances that started the child Mozart’s rise to fame and fortune. Apparently, Leopold did not do any more composition after this year.

In 1763, as if everything comes in threes, Leopold initiated the famous three-year concert tour of Europe. Mozart performed in eighty-eight cities across Europe. They spent fifteen of those months in London due to the incredibly positive reception given to the young 7-year-old Mozart.

This tour would have been dismissed as myth had not so many people in so many cities documented what they heard and saw.

The famous writer of Faust, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), saw the 7-year-old Mozart perform in Frankfurt in 1763. Goethe was 14 years old. He vividly recalled the “little man with his wig and his sword.”

Goethe lamented that Mozart never set his Faust to music. However, in 1775 Goethe did write a singspiel text, Erwin und Elmire, containing a German song that Mozart set to music ten years later.

Video 16: K. 476: Das Veilchen

Leopold appears to have been Mozart’s only formal teacher. However, while touring and performing, Mozart received the direct and indirect tutelage of Europe’s foremost musical composers. The foremost was Johann Christian Bach, whom he met in London.

The Mozart children (Marianne, nicknamed Nannerl, performed with him, but young Mozart stole all the press) received gifts and money wherever they performed.

And Leopold was right there
accepting the expensive gifts
and counting the gold and silver coins.

By the end of that tour, young Mozart became the primary financial foundation for his family. But Mozart never received the royal appointment that he richly deserved.

And Leopold, basing his dependence on his son, did all he could to keep Mozart with the family. Leopold later objected to Mozart marrying at a time when Mozart stood ready to leave the nest completely.

But Mozart left both his Salzburg home and his father. They wrote little to each other.

His father, a man of dearly held resentments, never recovered from Mozart making his claim of adulthood. He died an unhappy man, about four years prior to his son’s death.

Mozart, meanwhile, had his best years before him.

Next, we once again listen closely to a single work, in this case the overture to the opera The Magic Flute. Our focus this time is on musical architecture. The more you understand some musical architecture, the more jewels you will hear in Mozart’s music.


From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

The Mozart Effect and Healing

In 1997 Don Campbell published a book called The Mozart Effect. When people hear this, they think Campbell claimed that children raised listening to Mozart help children become smarter. Campbell’s actual suggestions, based on anecdotal evidence, are more specific: that music of the Viennese Classical period can connect with those who are mentally isolated from people, such as those with autism, and can help infants react and think better.

He also claimed that the music of Mozart in particular contributes to improved working of the higher brain functions, especially logical and mathematical concepts.

Although Campbell’s work is not science, interesting anecdotal evidence does point to Mozart’s music contributing to increased mental health.

Pioneering French listening researcher Alfred Tomatis, author of The Conscious Ear, studied how erroneous hearing could be the root cause of a variety of ailments. He believed that speech problems are often related to personal family problems and the resulting oral communication issues that can arise. One of his most famous patients was the French actor Gerard Depardieu.

In the mid-1960s, Depardieu was a tongue-tied young man still struggling to become an actor. He came from a dysfunctional family, experienced educational failures, as well as several personal tragedies. He wanted to be an actor, but stammered when trying to express himself.

He came to the Tomatis Center and Dr. Tomatis determined that Depardieu’s voice and memory problems resulted from deep emotional problems.

Depardieu asked what could be done to help him, and the doctor’s reply amazed him:

“For the next several weeks, I want you to come here every day for two hours and listen to Mozart.”

Depardieu started the next day listening to Mozart on headphones. After only a few sessions, his appetite improved, he slept better, and he experienced more energy.

Soon he began speaking more clearly. Months later, he returned to acting school demonstrating a new confidence, grace, and bearing.

He is now highly regarded as one of the great actors of his generation.

“Before Tomatis,” Depardieu said, “I could not complete any of my sentences. He helped give continuity to my thoughts, and he gave me the power to synthesize and understand what I was thinking.”

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

Why Is Mozart Great?

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb

Why Is Mozart Great?

“Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination
nor both together go to the making of genius.
Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.”

Chapter Playlist 1: Mozart and Great Music (3 videos, 17 min)

“In art there is Leonardo da Vinci,
in literature there is Shakespeare,
in music there is Mozart.”
Itzhak Perlman

Why is Mozart great?

Louis Armstrong was once asked, “What is jazz?”

He answered, “Man, if you have to ask what it is, you’ll never know.” Perhaps he would have said something similar about Mozart. But I think we can attempt a partial answer.

Violinist Itzhak Perlman puts Mozart in the company of Shakespeare and Leonardo da Vinci. And with good reason. Let’s look at Shakespeare and da Vinci.

Shakespeare seems to have surveyed the entire human experience, emotional and intellectual, in his drama and poetry. Later writers see Shakespeare as the banquet of writing in the English language, and they are left taking mere crumbs from his table. In other words, Shakespeare makes later writers feel like there is little left to write about.

One academic, Harold Bloom in his book Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human, goes so far as to claim that, in Western culture, Shakespeare has created humans as we know them today.

Da Vinci is the polymath who makes other polymaths appear normal. He transcends as a painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. He climbed several artistic peaks.

Mozart climbed a musical peak during the Classical era (1730-1820). Unlike many artists today, he was not much interested in charting out his own territory. Like Shakespeare before him, he took what already existed and refined it into greatness. And those who follow feel like there is little left for them.

That’s why beginning in the Romantic era (1780-1910) we begin seeing composers shift into approaching art as self-expression, trying to chart out new territory that has not been conquered.

The end-result in the twentieth century includes works like John Cage’s classical work 4:33 in which four members of a quartet come on stage and sit, playing nothing, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds. Or extremely dissonant atonal music that requires educated listeners for full appreciation.

All three—Mozart, Shakespeare, and Da Vinci—
are singular in their respective arts.
To others they appear more than human.

As American biographer Robert Gutman says of Mozart,

“Like all geniuses of his rank,
he stands as a law to himself:
incommensurable, incalculable, sublime.”

But Why Mozart?

Some may wonder why I’ve chosen Mozart rather than Bach, Haydn, or Beethoven.

First some background and dates.

There were four great musical periods in Western classical music before modern and contemporary music. I’ve included a few of the great composers of each period:

  1. Baroque era, 1600-1760
    Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643)
    Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
    George Frederic Handel (1685-1759)
    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
  2. Classical era, 1730-1820
    Joseph Haydn (1732-1809)
    Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
    Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827, also part of the early Romantic era)
    Franz Schubert (1797-1828, also part of the early Romantic era)
  3. Romantic era, 1780-1910
    Hector Berlioz (1803-1869)
    Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
    Frederic Chopin (1810-1849)
    Franz Liszt (1811-1886)
    Richard Wagner (1813-1883)
    Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901)
    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
    Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
  4. Impressionist era, 1875-1925
    Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
    Maurice Ravel (1875-1937)
    Frederick Delius (1862-1934)
    Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936)

Among all of these great composers who composed Great Art, Mozart stands unique.


Perhaps the only way to get at the answer in words is to see how various musicians, composers, conductors, biographers, and philosophers have attempted to explain Mozart. No other composer generates the kinds of responses that Mozart did.

Two words keep coming up when people speak of Mozart. The first word is some form of the word perfect.

“There is nothing perfect in this world
except Mozart’s music.” 
Thomas Love Peacock,
English novelist and poet

“Mozart tapped the source from which all music flows,
expressing himself with a spontaneity and
refinement and breathtaking rightness.
What we expect to find in Mozart is perfection
in whatever medium he chose to work.”
Aaron Copland,
American composer and conductor

“Mozart’s music is on the one hand so accessible,
so beautiful and so apparently simple that it can be grasped.
But at the same time and enjoyed on its first hearing,
it is so deep, so profound, so perfect
that one can spend a lifetime in it and continue
to be fascinated with it, even if it’s the
hundredth time you’ve performed it.”
James Conlon,
American conductor

“He is up to the present the most
perfect manifestation of musical talent…
His sense of form is almost superhuman.
Like a masterpiece of sculpture or art, his art,
viewed from any side, is a perfect picture.”
Ferruccio Busoni,
Italian composer

“When it comes to Mozart, you’re speaking of
the most extraordinary perfection that exists.
There isn’t anything that is more perfect in music.
And then on top of it the music is so complete;
there is never a piece of music by Mozart,
it doesn’t make any difference if he is 4, 5, 6, or 26,
it’s perfect, totally perfect.”
Pinchas Zukerman,
Israeli violinist and conductor

“It is hard to think of another composer
who so perfectly marries form and passion.”
Leonard Bernstein,
American composer and conductor

“As an artist, as a musician,
Mozart was not a man of this world.
To a certain part of the 19th century his work seemed
to possess so pure, so formally rounded,
so ‘godlike’ a perfection that Richard Wagner,
the most violent spokesman of
 the Romantic Period, could call him
‘music’s genius of light and love.’”
Alfred Einstein,
German-American biographer

The second word that keeps coming up when people speak of Mozart is some form of the word beauty. Not just that the music he writes is beautiful, but also that the music itself somehow embodies the ideal of beauty, the thing itself.

“Mozart’s music is so beautiful
as to entice angels down to earth.”
Franz Alexander von Kleist,
German poet

“Mozart is the greatest composer of all.
Beethoven created his music, but
the music of Mozart is of such purity
and beauty that one feels he merely
 found it—that it has always existed
as part of the inner beauty of the
universe waiting to be revealed.”
Albert Einstein,
German-born physicist and violinist

“Mozart does not give the listener time
to catch his breath, for no sooner is
one inclined to reflect upon a beautiful
inspiration then another appears,
even more splendid, which drives away
the first, and this continues on and on,
so that in the end one is unable to
 retain any of these beauties in the memory.”
Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf,
Austrian composer and violinist

“He is the most generous composer who ever lived.
He showered upon us melody after melody,
character upon character, beauty, upon beauty.”
Robert Harris,
English music critic

“What was evident was that Mozart
was simply transcribing music
completely finished in his head.
And finished as most music is never finished.
Displace one note and there would be diminishment.
Displace one phrase and structure would fall.
I was staring through the cage of those
meticulous ink strokes at Absolute Beauty.”
Peter Shaffer,
English playwright (Amadeus)

“In Mozart’s music,
all intensity are crystallized in the clearest,
the most beautifully balanced and proportioned,
and altogether flawless musical forms.
For one moment in the history of music
all opposites were reconciled; all tensions resolved;
that luminous moment was Mozart.”
Phil Goulding,
American classical music journalist

“Mozart’s mature instrumental music
represents our civilization’s sign for the beautiful.
We cannot think of him without thinking of beauty;
we cannot refer to beauty without recalling his music.
I believe this is so, not necessarily because his works
are more beautiful than those of other composers,
though this may well be true, but because he created—
or, at least, brought into the forefront of
aesthetic consciousness—a special kind of beauty,
one that thenceforth came to exemplify
the idea of superlative beauty itself.”
Maynard Solomon,
American musicologist and biographer

“If we cannot write with the beauty of Mozart,
let us at least try to write with his purity.”
Johannes Brahms,
German composer

But there’s more…

When speaking of Mozart, more than any other composer, people are likely to invoke heaven, the divine, God, miracles, or some other reference to, or experience of, the ultimate.

“Mozart has reached the
boundary gate of music and leaped over it,
leaving behind the old masters and moderns,
and posterity itself.”
Alexander Hyatt King,
English Mozart scholar

“The Mozartian legacy, in brief, is as good
an excuse for mankind’s existence as
we shall ever encounter and is perhaps, after all,
a still small hope for our ultimate survival.”
H. C. Robbins Landon,
American musicologist

“Mozart’s music is the mysterious language
of a distant spiritual kingdom,
whose marvelous accents echo
in our inner being and arouse
a higher, intensive life.”
E.T.A. Hoffmann,
German author, composer, music critic

“The most tremendous genius
raised Mozart above all masters,
in all centuries and in all arts.”
Richard Wagner,
German composer

“Mozart is an utterly unique phenomenon,
indisputably and forever on the
credit side of life’s ledger, so sovereign
and omnipresent that he reconciles
us somewhat to the debit side.
Indeed, Mozart seems to be reconciliation
itself, a kind of redeeming miracle.”
Wolfgang Hildesheimer,
German biographer

“Mozart resolved his emotions on a level
that transformed them into moods
uncontaminated by mortal anguish,
enabling him to express the angelic anguish
that is so peculiarly his own.”
Yehudi Menuhin,
American-born violinist and conductor

“In Bach, Beethoven and Wagner
we admire principally the depth
and energy of the human mind;
in Mozart, the divine instinct.”
Edvard Grieg,
Norwegian composer

“Mozart exists, and will exist, eternally;
divine Mozart—less a name, more a soul
descending to us from the heavens.”
Charles Gounod,
French composer

“Mozart’s joy is made of serenity,
and a phrase of his music is like a
calm thought; his simplicity is merely purity.
It is a crystalline thing in which
all the emotions play a role, but as if
already celestially transposed.”
André Gide,
Nobel Prize-winning French author

“Mozart makes you believe in God
because it cannot be by chance that
such a phenomenon arrives into this world
and leaves such an unbounded number
of unparalleled masterpieces.”
Georg Solti,
Hungarian conductor

“It is thanks to Mozart that I have
devoted my life to music…
Mozart is the highest, the culminating point
that beauty has attained in the sphere of music.
Mozart is the musical Christ.”
Piotr Tchaikovsky
Russian composer

“This is the music that they are going to
play for me when I enter heaven,
or wherever Mozart may be.”
Marcel Maurice,
French clarinetist on Mozart’s Quintet for Clarinet in A

“The angels, left to themselves, play Mozart,
and the dear Lord likes especially
to listen to them then.”
Karl Barth,
Swiss philosopher

“Others may reach heaven with their works.
But Mozart, he comes from there.”
Joseph Krips,
Austrian conductor and violinist

“Once, when filling out an application for a summer job,
on that line next to ‘other’ under the heading of Religion,
I wrote Mozart.
The personnel officer was not amused,
but then, I hadn’t intended it as a joke.
For there was a time when I was convinced that Mozart
was at least as divinely inspired as Moses,
Christ, the Buddha, Lao-tzu, or Mohammed,
and I suppose I still am. For in no other works
of the human imagination can the divine spirit
be heard more distinctly than in the
miraculous music this often vulgar, unpleasant,
and difficult man produced during
his pathetically brief thirty-five years.
Were this book to do him justice,
the section devoted to Mozart’s music
would take up more than half the total pages.”
Jim Svejda,
American music critic, in the 3rd edition of
The Record Shelf Guide to the Classical Repertoire

Are these writers over the top in their praise? Perhaps.

But there is something about Mozart’s music, given enough time and exposure, that elicits such intense reactions.

In the movie The Shawshank Redemption, there is a scene where an innocent man convicted of his wife’s murder goes into the warden’s office and locks everyone out.


To play a Mozart duettino (a song with two singers) for himself, and eventually, to play it for the entire prison population.

Watch what happens:

Video 1: “Duettino – Sull’aria” from Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro), from The Shawshank Redemption

Mozart, when conveyed through inspired performances, is capable of a kind of transport, a sublime movement, into a heavenly experience that transcends physical, emotional, and mental limitations.

Where others are loved for the mental and emotional craft of their music, with occasional passages and moments that arrive in heaven, Mozart appears to naturally dwell there.

Here’s one of the best examples of how a great composer takes listeners on a journey into a heavenly world of emotional and noble passions. In Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor, the transition at the end of the 3rd movement into the 4th movement marks one of the finest transitions ever composed into one of the most heavenly final movements ever.

Video 2: Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in D minor, 4th Movement Allegro

Mozart does not take one on a journey to heaven as much as he is already resident there at the start, unlike so many of his fellow musical composers.

And thus Mozart is unique among musical artists. He is the Shakespeare, the Michelangelo, the Da Vinci of music.

Perhaps there is no way to explain Mozart. Perhaps all we can do is accept the inevitable, as expressed by one Japanese classical pianist and conductor:

“Mozart is inexplicable.”
Mitsuko Uchida

But we are going to give it a try.

One thing to keep in mind is that musicians and conductors can look at a musical score and hear the music as they read the notes. Just as you can read a novel and hear people talk or see what they are doing.

Musical notation is a real language
with as much variety and communication
as the words, sentences, and
subtle meanings written on this page.

Let’s watch Salieri’s reaction to Mozart’s manuscripts in the movie Amadeus as he reads the scores and hears the music:

Video 3: Salieri’s reaction to Mozart’s manuscripts, from Amadeus

What is Salieri hearing? What moves him so profoundly? He knows that what he is hearing is the Divine Voice, and sadly, that he will never get as close to it.

In the next chapter, we focus on one musical example, going more deeply into key aspects of one work. In this way, you will begin to hear things you have not heard before, and you will capture a better picture of what a composer is capable of doing with such an abstract thing as music.

The chapters on Hearing Mozart may be more challenging for some readers. But your efforts will be rewarded. With a little bit of close listening, we can begin training your ear to hear in new ways.


Mozart and Great Music

From the book, Mozart and Great Music:

4. Mozart and Great Music thumb


The meaning of music lies not in the fact
that it is too vague for words,
but that it is too precise for words.
Felix Mendelssohn

YouTube – Playlist 0: Mozart and Great Music

If you learn one thing only from this little book, then let it be this:

You can directly experience
heavenly states of consciousness
listening to Mozart.

Contrary to popular belief, truly Great Art (such as that created by a Shakespeare, a Mozart, a Michelangelo, a Sesshu, an al-Mutanabbi) is more objectively great than most people realize, not just a matter of subjective opinion.

True, some people have preferences that may exclude Great Art. They may even have profound, sublime experiences with the works of artists that appear simplistic and trite to others.

Some insist that Pachelbel’s Canon in D, a favorite at weddings, is heavenly:

Pachelbel Canon in D

Pachelbel’s Canon can be moving and beautiful.

But it is not objectively Great Art. Not in a world that includes Mozart. Is this merely my subjective view? We will see in Chapter 1. But first, one question must be answered:

What makes Great Art great? The answer, paradoxically, points to how Great Art induces in someone rare and powerful subjective experiences.

Great Art transports one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”

Great Art can imbue a spiritual revelation
each time one experiences it.

Great Art carves out states of consciousness
that transcend the human.

Great Art embodies an eternal mystery.

Great Art catalyzes, transforms, and transfigures.

And more often than not, Great Art requires you to meet its demands before it unlocks its transfiguring mystery.

People who have never tried to meet the demands of Great Art (through education or training), or who have tried but stopped before the door opened, may call all art a matter of opinion. They may believe it all to be mere preference, without one preference being greater than any other.

Not true.

Pachelbel’s Canon in D may provide extraordinary pleasure for some, but it cannot possibly be defined as Great Art. The same can be said for most popular music today.

These works do not transport one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”

Don’t get me wrong. I spend more time listening to popular music than music that is Great Art. I love jazz, pop, ambient, rock, metal, alternative, and many genres beyond and in between.

I love The Beatles, John Coltrane, The Cars, Evanescence, Brian Eno, Ella Fitzgerald, Enya, Led Zeppelin, U2, Al Di Meola, Fever Ray, Robbie Williams, Devin Townsend, Steve Morse, Yes, Cirque du Soleil, Jon Mark, Peter Murphy, Rodney Jones, Larry Siegel, Dean Martin, Todd Rundgren, Adele, Blue Oyster Cult, Keith Jarrett, and many more artists.

But rarely do their creations rise to Great Art. (Occasionally, in my view, some jazz greats achieve it, like John Coltrane, Charlie Bird, and Dizzy Gillespie.)

Examples of Great Art include the likes of the already famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), 1st Movement allegro. (The “K” stands for the Köchel number, created by Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who catalogued Mozart’s works.)

525: Serenade in G major, Eine kleine nachtmusik, 1st movement (with score)

Or the achingly beautiful 2nd movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. This video with an animated graph helps you “visually hear” the individual instruments.

467: Piano Concerto No. 21, 2nd Movement, (Serkin)

Or the groundbreaking Symphony No. 40 in G minor. (The term “G minor” refers to the musical key in which the symphony is composed.)

550: Symphony No. 40 in G minor, 1st movement (with scrolling score)

These pieces of music have been played so much that, as beautiful and profound as they are, they have almost become cliché. So we will focus on other music, less popularized, to achieve some freshness in recognizing Mozart’s heavenly beauty.

Among the many composers who consistently create Great Art, Mozart stands alone. The unique Danish comedian, conductor and pianist Victor Borge, sums it up best:

“I always thought that if you went to heaven,
you would meet all the great people;
anybody who came up there
would all gather in huge rooms.
But Mozart has a room all by himself.”

The great conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim gives us in these two short videos a description of how to begin telling the difference.

“How to Listen to Music” by Daniel Barenboim

Barenboim Talks about Music

How This Little Book Can Help

The aim of this book is simple—to give you a direct personal experience with a heavenly state of consciousness while listening to Mozart’s music.

Or if you already have access to Mozart’s heavenly mansion, to provide you a glimpse into more rooms within that mansion, with greater appreciation.

Fortunately, YouTube provides all the musical examples we need to unlock the doors to the mansion. Throughout this book, I will link to YouTube videos that offer inspired performances. And inspired performances make a difference.

Mark Twain once said:

“The difference between the right word
and the almost right word
is the difference between the lightning
and the lightning bug.

And so it is with great music:

The difference between the right performance
and the almost right performance
is the difference between heaven
and a dictionary definition of heaven.

Also, at the beginning of each chapter I provide a link to the YouTube playlist that includes all the pieces of music mentioned in that chapter in order. (Note: If a video becomes unavailable, an alternative can usually be found by searching YouTube using the Köchel number.)

Links to the playlists, and much more, are also available at:

Listening to inspired performances is crucial.

Not all recordings are inspired.
Not all do Mozart justice.

But lucky for us, intrepid lovers of Mozart have made available many of the performances I had hoped to find.

But be aware of the limitations.

Mozart’s music, like all great music,
is best experienced by an inspired live performance
in a great concert hall or chamber venue.

Next best, on a great sound system in stereo. Or on headphones.

Therefore, YouTube can only offer a small experience of that heaven. Be prepared to track down and purchase inspired recordings, recommended by me or by some of the guides listed in “Recommended Readings and Recordings” near the end of the book.

Here’s a glimpse into what follows:

Chapter 1: Why Is Mozart Great? surveys what people from several professions think of Mozart, indicating a broad appeal.

Chapter 2: Hearing Mozart, Part 1: Serenade No. 10 for Winds, “Gran Partita” focuses on one piece of chamber music to illustrate how Mozart provides a harmonic approach to music rather than a purely melodic one.

Chapter 3: Mozart—The Child, the Myth, and the Man details his childhood accomplishments while also subverting the man-child myth.

Chapter 4: Hearing Mozart, Part 2: The Magic Flute, Overture extends the idea of listening to Mozart differently in a harmonic, multi-level way, even when he is composing something especially melodic.

Chapter 5: Mozart’s Piano Concertos covers some of Mozart’s greatest contributions to music, pitting a solo pianist against an orchestra, foreshadowing a composer like Beethoven who extends the distinction even further.

Chapter 6: Hearing Mozart, Part 3: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat introduces the idea of musical rhetoric, and classical music as oration and conversation.

Chapter 7: Mozart’s Chamber Music: “A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness” strives to illuminate Mozart’s incredible range of music for small ensembles: sonatas for two players, trios, quartets, and quintets.

Chapter 8: Hearing Mozart, Part 4: Singular, Idiosyncratic, and Special-Occasion Gems surveys a range of unusual compositions that illustrate Mozart’s wide range of musical interests.

Chapter 9: Mozart’s Symphonies points to a few symphonies, with greatest emphasis on his final one, the “Jupiter.”

Chapter 10: Hearing Mozart, Part 5: Symphony No. 40 in G minor dives deep into a symphony regarded as Mozart’s finest.

Chapter 11: Mozart and Opera: Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) touches on his seven great operas, with the great The Marriage of Figaro as the main attraction, thought by many to be one of the finest comic operas of all time.

Chapter 12: Mozart’s Heavenly Mansion provides a special listening session of heavenly musical architecture.

Next you will find “The Mozart and Great Music Checklist” and “Recommended Readings and Recordings.” There is also an appendix that offers a compilation of links to online resources for audio and video recordings.

Several chapters include an “Extended Discussion” section for readers interested in going more deeply into a particular piece of music or some other musical fundamentals.

The recommendations in this book, faithfully applied, do deliver. They will help you experience Mozart’s heavenly music in ways that may transfigure and transform you.

So let’s begin this marvelous and very dear musical adventure.


The Entire Series of Books

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Mark Alexander collection3

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