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Influences Of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Essay, Research Paper
Influences to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Steven B. Keranen
Professor Arjun Sabharwal
April 16, 2001
In some forms of learning, one looks to the past to see what others have done so as not to repeat the same mistakes. In music, one looks to the past in hopes of repeating the works of others and trying to expand those ideas or techniques. Hopefully they take what they have learned to the next level or to create something entirely new in music composition. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was exposed to the works that came before him as well as the music of the day and he used those resources to create music that has never been heard of before. I am going to look at specific composers and their compositions that may have been influential to Mozart’s writing.
The first person to be influential to Wolfgang, and probably the most important, was his father Leopold Mozart. He was a well known composer and musician, who also held some prominent music positions at various times. Among his many accomplishments, two of them seem to stand out as his greatest: he wrote a manual on how to play the violin and raised his son Wolfgang. In the present time of the twenty first century, popular opinion seems to think that a child s up-bringing is the most important factor in the development of a child. This idea is shared by the author Herbert Kupferberg, who opens the first chapter of his book with these words: “Biologically, psychologically, and musically, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would have been impossible without Leopold Mozart (1). So it seems that Leopold was the one to set the foundation for the young Mozart to excel in music as well as other areas of his life.
Wolfgang was first exposed to music that was being played in the house while he was an infant. During his childhood, his father would have regular performances in the house on various instruments from solo clavier to a small string ensemble. It is likely that
Wolfgang was present at most of these sessions, because there were few forms of entertainment during the eighteenth century. This exposure to the various timbre s and expertly played music, probably helped him to develop a good listening ear. This, of course, is beneficial to musician s at any skill level. Wolfgang was also exposed to the educational side of music by regularly attending his sister Nannarl s clavier lessons from their father. During these lessons, Wolfgang would occasionally play harmony notes at the keyboard that were pleasing to his own ears and would also sing passages from the tunes that he had heard (Holmes 9). This exposure to his sisters structured lessons, as well as the other music that he heard, seems to have had a huge impact on the young Mozart and soon caught the attention of his father. Leopold was apparently fascinated with his sons early talent and began teaching him regular lessons on the clavier.
Wolfgang s first formal influence in music were the clavier lessons that were given to him by his father Leopold. These lessons were based on a full rounded approach that included: reading newly composed exercise s, playing by rote, composition, and elementary music theory (Kupferberg 28). Even though Wolfgang was still very young, this full rounded approach to music lessons seemed to accelerate Wolfgang s comprehension and ability far beyond his years. According to Edward Holmes, this is an excerpt from a piece that was written by Wolfgang when he was four years old (10). ?
This excerpt is a well written keyboard piece that shows that he had a grasp of two part writing and some knowledge of basic theory.
The previous piece shows that Leopold had indeed included music theory as part of Wolfgang s regular instruction. When analyzing the piece according to the first year of college level theory, I notice that the part writing contains no visible errors. He avoids parallel motion when dealing with perfect fifths and octaves. In fact, he seems to favor the use of contrary motion to deal with the perfect intervals. Even though this composition is limited to two voices, he expands on the harmony through the use of first and second inversion chords. The bass line holds down a solid foundation, while the upper voice has more mobility through the use of eighth notes. Wolfgang also writes in the articulation with the use of grace notes and slurs. He ends the phrase with a cadence by using a primitive chord outline of a IV-V-I in root position. This use of various compositional techniques shows that his father taught him the rules of basic level theory as part of his regular lessons.
This previous piece is the earliest known written example from Wolfgang and it undoubtedly shows the musical influence from his father. Although, it is unclear which parts were from his own imagination or from that of Leopold. I feel that it is probably a variation on some pieces that they had been studying during the lessons, but never the less, it is incredible that this was composed when Wolfgang was only four years old. Leopold apparently thought the same thing, because he soon dedicated all of his time to educating and displaying his children s talent over much of Europe.
An additional influence that Wolfgang received during his childhood was the experiences that he had while on exhibition trips around Europe. These trips not only had him performing in front of wealthy aristocrats, but it also exposed him to the various styles music and musicians that were present at these stops. Wolfgang and Nannarl both performed, but as Leopold describes it in a letter to their landlord Lorenz Hagenauer, “my children, especially the boy, fill everyone with amazement” (Anderson 4). It seems that Wolfgang had surpassed his sister early on, even though she had been receiving instruction for a greater amount of time. These experiences as well as the music that they heard probably had an impression on him that helped to strengthen his comprehension of music in general. Above all, Leopold Mozart was the architect of the giant that Wolfgang would become and was instrumental in the development of his musical knowledge during the time of his adolescence.
Another composer that had an influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was Muzio Clementi. In a book by A. Hyatt King, he states that music history books in the late nineteenth century site Mozart’s “Die Zauberflote” as borrowing the fugal subject from Clementi s sonata in B flat. He says the reason for this is that the authors of these books were quoting an article written by one of Clementi s students, stating that Wolfgang heard this piece when he and Muzio played together at a contest and the piece that Muzio played was his sonata in B flat (142-143). Apparently this article from Clementi s student was taken as an authority and reprinted with little question to its validity. Although, he may have used some phrase s or phrase ideas, it is likely that it could also be a coincidence. One of the phrases in question is Mozart s violin line in “Die Zauberflote,”
and is notated in King s book as follows (143).
In King s book, he does not display a notated version of Clementi s phrase, but I was able to obtain a copy of his sonata in B flat for a comparison. Even though there was not a phrase that matched Mozart s violin phrase exactly, I did find one that somewhat resembles it (Hughes 12). ?
Mozart s theme or rhythmic figure is basically a succession of eighth notes followed by a trill that ends with two ascending notes. This rhythmic figure is then repeated on a different note with the same trill and ascending notes. In this case, the note that the
second figure starts on is higher in pitch by a perfect fifth. Clementi s theme is quite
different, because he uses staccato eighth notes followed by a set of descending sixteenth notes as opposed to the straight eighth notes, trill, and ascending thirty second notes. Clementi s first part of the phrase ends on the down beat of the next measure, where as Mozart starts the next part of the phrase on the down beat of the following measure. There are some other differences such as interval jumps, but there are also some similarities.
Both Mozart and Clementi s phrases seem to start with a steady, percussive string of eighth notes that stay on the same note. They are both followed by an ornament or small flourish of notes that leap to a new note, and then they repeat that same rhythmic pattern starting on the new note. The similarities seem to end with these three citations between the two phrases, but apparently both phrases are not that unusual. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, “[this] figure is basically little more than an Italianate cliche of the period” (King 143). So both Mozart and Clementi s phrases were following some rhythmic technique that most composers of their era were using . This pattern is also found in the following example, taken from Palisca s anthology, and it shows Johann Christian Bach expanding the pattern to cover two full measures (85).
So Clementi s student could have been right when he stated that Mozart borrowed Clementi s ideas for his composition, but I think that it is more plausible that Wolfgang was simply using some techniques that were common at that time.
Another influential person to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was Barron Gottfried van Swieten. Although, Gottfried was a composer and did write several variations based on the works of other composers, his compositional skills were not a source of influence to Wolfgang. It was his vast knowledge and familiarity of great composers and their collected works (Grout 515). It seems that Gottfried was a court librarian, and had access to a large number of various composers works. In a letter home to his sister Nannarl,
Wolfgang wrote, “Barron van Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, gave me all the works[fugues] of Handel and Sebastian Bach to take home with me” (Anderson 1194). It seems that this loan of music had an impact on Wolfgang, because about the same time, he also began to write down some of the fugues that he had previously composed. He also started to compose new fugues in the style of Handel and Bach, but he did not have very high regards for his own compositions. In the previous letter to his sister, Wolfgang says that his fugues do not belong on the some shelf as Handel and Bach (Anderson 1194). It seems that even a master like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can find music that can humble him.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was influenced by a wide variety of composers and styles. His exhibition trips around Europe introduced him to the people of the continent, even if most the people who saw him were of nobility. I feel that the most important influence that helped shape him into one of the greatest composers the world has ever seen has to be his father Leopold Mozart. Without him, none of this would have been possible.
Abraham, Gerald. The Concise Oxford History of Music. Great Britain: Biddles, 1993.
Anderson, Emily. The Letters of Mozart & His Family. 3 Vols. London: MacMillan
and Co, 1938.
Dobereiner, Christian, ed. “Konzert Es dur fur Cembalo.” Norton Anthology of Western
Music. Ed. Claude V. Palisca. 3rd ed. Vol. 2. New York: W. W. Norton &
Company, 1996. 83-100. 2 Vols.
Grout, Donald Jay, and Claude V. Palisca. A History of Western Music. New York:
W. W. Norton & Company, 1996.
Holmes, Edward. The Life of Mozart Including His Correspondence. New York: Dacapo Press, 1979.
Hughes, Edwin. Two Sonatas by Muzio Clementi. New York: G. Schirmer, 1929.
King, A. Hyatt. Mozart in Retrospect. Rev. ed. Oxford: The University Press, 1970.
Kupferberg, Herbert. Amadeus: A Mozart Mosaic. New York: McGraw-Hill Book
Landon, H. C. Robbins, and Donald Mitchell. The Mozart Companion. 1956. Great Britain: Latimer Trend & Co, 1968.
Sherman, Robert, and Philip Seldon. The Complete Idiot s Guide to Classical Music.
New York: Alpha Books, 1997.
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