Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) wrote a large variety of social music that were performed in the evening or at social functions. His most famous music/work is Eine kleine Nachtmusik which was composed in 1787. The title of this serenade literally translates to A Little Night Music.
Eine kleine Nachtmusik was composed by Mozart, who was born in 1756 in Salzburg, Austria. He was a talented musician who could play multiple instruments, such as the piano, viola, organ, etc. Mozart was said to be the most extraordinarily gifted child in the history of music. He started to compose music before he was five and by the age of thirteen, he had written numerous works. Mozart has composed hundreds of pieces that included chamber music, symphonies, masses, sonatas, concertos, and operas. Mozart was the son of Leopold, who was a successful composer, violinist, and assistant concert master. His father introduced him to music at a young age, along with his sister. Mozart was able to meet a lot of accomplished musicians and composers through his father. Johann Christian Bach was one of the composers that he met who had a strong influence on him. Leopold wanted to expose Mozart as a performer and composer to as many people as possible, so they left Austria and went to Italy. However, they both returned because Mozart was appointed as the assistant concertmaster. But eventually, he got tired of being there and started to venture out to the cities of Mannheim, Paris, and Munich. But once again, in 1778, after his mother’s death, he returned home to be a court organist. From 1782-1783, Mozart became fascinated by the works of Bach and Handel, which resulted in several compositions in the Baroque style. By the mid-1780s, Mozart’s extravagant lifestyle was taking a toll on his financial life. This led him to perform less, which made his income worse. He started taking loans from friends, which put him in debt. Since Austria was at war, the support for arts was declining. But, between 1790-1791, his financial situation started to improve and started to perform a lot more. He started to pay back his friends and was no longer in debt. However, he was still very ill and this led him bed rest. December of 1791, shortly before his thirty-sixth birthday, Mozart passed away. His cause of death is still uncertain due to the limitation of medicinal practice.
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Mozart wrote this piece towards the end of his life; however, it was not published or popular until after his death in 1791. Eine kleine Nachtmusik’s genre is a serenade, also known as a light, breezy, entertaining piece of music. This classical instrumental genre combines elements of chamber music and the symphony. This work was written for a string quartet supported by a double bass meant for outdoor public entertainment. Originally this piece had five movements, but now there are four. These movements are described as compact, intimate, and beautifully proportioned.
This work belongs in the Classical period, roughly around the 1730s-1820s. The Classical period falls between the Baroque and the Romantic periods. This genre of music is homophonic, typically lighter, less complex and has a clearer texture compared to the Baroque music. Along with Mozart, some of the best known composers from this period include Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, etc. This new style was encouraged by the changes in the economic and social structure. The changes of economic structure had an effect on the availability and quality of musicians. The social structure also encouraged the change to the Classical period because the public was starting to prefer the comic opera. This led to changes of how the music was performed.
The first movement of Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik is in the sonata-allegro form in G major. There are three themes apart of this Allegro: Theme 1 (aggressive), Theme 2 (graceful), and the closing theme. The most highly organized and often the longest movement is the opening theme. This typically has a fast tempo such as an Allegro and is written in a sonata-allegro form. In Eine kleine Nachtmusik, the movement opens with a strong, march like theme which ascends to its peak then turns downward at the same rate, also known as the “rocket theme.” Then in the second theme, the movement is more elegant and is descending. The closing theme of this movement has a high energy level unlike the second movement. The recapitulation brings back all the themes and then it ends with a vigorous coda.
The third movement of Eine kleine Nachtmusik is a minuet and trio. This has four-bar phrases and is set in a rounded binary form. The minuet is bright and decisive while the trio presents a lyrical contrast. The minuet is introduced first, then the trio, and then ends with the minuet again. Sonata-allegro and minuet and trio are two contrasting forms but they both are the core of the Classical style.
Unfortunately, Mozart lived a short life and died in 1791 at the age of thirty-five. However, his music and life story is still well known to this date. Mozart’s piano concertos have elevated this genre to one of the most prime importance in the Classical period.
- Biography.com Editors. “Wolfgang Mozart.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 28 Apr. 2017, www.biography.com/people/wolfgang-mozart-9417115.
- Forney, Kristine, et al. “Expanding the Conversation: Mozart, Chamber Music, and Larger Forms .” The Enjoyment of Music, 13th ed., W.W. Norton & Company, pp. 181–183.
- Kuznetsova, Natalia, and Tidewater Community College. “Music Appreciation.” Lumen Learning, Lumen, courses.lumenlearning.com/musicappreciation_with_theory/chapter/overview- of-the-classical-era/.