Mozart: Operas, Symphonies & Piano Concerti

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  • 0:03 Mozart & His Music
  • 1:16 Operas
  • 3:34 Symphonies
  • 5:19 Piano Concerti
  • 7:17 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Emma Riggle

Emma has taught college Music courses and holds a master's degree in Music History and Literature.

Mozart was one of the top composers of music's Classical period. In this lesson, we'll look at three categories of his greatest works: the genres of opera, symphony, and piano concerto.

Mozart and His Music

Musical boy genius, periwigged piano virtuoso, and giggling guy from the movie Amadeus: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) is a legend whose fame extends from the concert hall to pop culture. Mozart was one of the top composers of music's Classical era, a stylistic period that lasted from the mid-18th century until the early 19th century. Classical-era music was orderly, accessible, and full of tuneful melodies. Many musicians consider Mozart's elegant yet powerful music to be the pinnacle of Classical style.

Mozart was an Austrian musician who began his career touring Europe as a five-year-old piano prodigy. For much of his adult career, he worked as a freelance pianist and composer in Vienna until his tragic early death at the age of 35. He wrote music in nearly all the genres of his time, including songs, string quartets, church music, and outdoor serenades. In this lesson, we'll focus on three genres for which Mozart is particularly famous: opera, symphony, and piano concerto.

Mozart's Operas

An opera is a theatrical production in which the lines are sung rather than spoken. In Mozart's time, opera was a popular branch of show business, full of epic tales, slapstick humor, elaborate sets and famous stars. In other words, it was a lot like Hollywood. This flashy genre and some of Mozart's greatest shows are discussed in another lesson.

Perhaps Mozart's most famous operas are those in the style called opera buffa, which means 'comic opera'. To remember that term, just remember that the Italian word 'buffa' gave us the English word 'buffoon'. There's plenty of buffoonery in Mozart opera buffa, but these works are also known for their biting social commentary and the psychological complexity of their characters.

For example, take Mozart's opera buffa Don Giovanni (1787). Its protagonist, a Spanish nobleman named Don Giovanni, is a rich, charming, lying womanizer; think Don Draper from 'Mad Men'. He exploits his aristocratic power throughout the show, even getting away with murder, at least (spoiler alert) until the final act, when a statue of his victim drags him literally down to hell. Despite being a 'comic' opera, the show raises big questions about the strain between social classes.

Mozart was brilliant at musical characterization. In this excerpt, Don Giovanni is trying to seduce an innocent peasant girl, and he's so suave that it's hard not to be charmed (please refer to the video at 02:52 to hear this).

Mozart's Symphonies

Opera may have been the Classical period's most glamorous music genre, but symphony was a genre that brought a composer prestige among musicians and connoisseurs. A symphony is a work for orchestra written in several successive movements, or sections. A Classical-style symphony is usually split into four movements, each with its own mood, speed, and emotional character.

Mozart wrote his first symphony at the age of eight and followed it up with more than 40 symphonies over the course of his life. Mozart's mature symphonies are elegant, dramatic works, full of the contrast between wind and string instruments, and between bright and dark harmonies. Some of his symphonies are named after the cities in which they premiered, like the Prague Symphony. Others are just identified by their key and the order in which Mozart wrote them.

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