You Gotta Know These Works by Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is as central to the quiz bowl music canon as he is to the concert repertoire. While this list covers most of his more well-known pieces, two of his most famous operas (Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro) were already covered in NAQT’s earlier article “You Gotta Know These Operas,” and therefore are not included here.
Mozart’s compositions are identified according to their number in the Köchel-Verzeichnis (Ludwig von Köchel’s catalogue of all of Mozart’s compositions), usually abbreviated “K.” or “KV” followed by the catalogue number.
- Piano Sonatas: One of Mozart’s best-known pieces is the “Rondo Alla Turca” from his Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331. That sonata begins with a theme and variations that inspired Max Reger to write his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart. Sonata No. 14 in C minor, K. 457, is often performed with the highly chromatic Fantasy, K. 475. Other notable Mozart piano sonatas include the dramatic No. 8 in A minor, K. 310; the Sonata “for beginners” No. 16 in C major, K. 545; and the “Hunt” or “Trumpet” Sonata No. 18 in D, K. 576, his last. Mozart also finished four sonatas for piano duet (also known as “piano four hands”) and one in D major for two pianos.
- Piano Concertos: Mozart’s piano concertos are numbered from 1–27, though six of them are arrangements of works by other composers. The Concerto No. 8 in C major, K. 246, is named for Countess Lützow, for whom it was written, and No. 9 in E flat major, K. 271, is nicknamed “Jeunehomme” (although recent scholarship suggests the title should actually be “Jenamy,” after an acquaintance of Mozart named Victoire Jenamy). The first movement of the Jeunehomme” Concerto unusually (for the time) has the soloist start playing very early—in the second measure—and its last movement Rondo includes a slow minuet section. The Concerto No. 21 in C, K. 467, is often nicknamed “Elvira Madigan” because it was used in the 1967 Swedish film of that name. No. 26 in D, K. 537, is called the “Coronation,” because it was played at the coronation of Leopold II. Mozart also wrote concertos for two pianos (No. 10 in E flat major, K. 365) and three pianos (No. 7 in F major, K. 242, nicknamed “Lodron”).
- String Quartets: Mozart, like most composers of his day, wrote most of his quartets in sets of three or six; he also wrote two standalone concertos for a total of 23. The most famous are probably the six “Haydn” Quartets (Nos. 14–19). The collection begins with the highly chromatic Spring Quartet in G major, K. 387, and ends with the even more chromatic Dissonant Quartet in C major, K. 465, which begins with an extremely dissonant Adagio introduction. The Haydn Quartets also include the Hunt Quartet, No. 17 in B flat major, K. 458, so named for its “hunting-horn” melodies. The other famous collection of Mozart quartets is the set of three Prussian Quartets (Nos. 21–23), dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm II, which make prominent use of the cello. Between these two sets, Mozart wrote the Hoffmeister Quartet, No. 20 in D major, K. 499, for his friend Anton Hoffmeister.
- Serenades and Divertimentos: These include two of Mozart’s most familiar pieces, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, and A Musical Joke, K. 522. Eine kleine Nachtmusik, originally scored for string quartet and double bass, is often translated as “a little night music” (but more accurately as “a little serenade”); it includes a lovely “Romanze” second movement as well as the more famous first movement. A Musical Joke is exactly that: a parody of bad composition, ending with chords in four different keys, and including almost every possible kind of “mistake.” Mozart’s other Serenades include the “Gran Partita” for 13 instruments (No. 10 in B flat major, K. 361), as well as the “Posthorn” and “Haffner” (not to be confused with the symphony!).
- Last Three Symphonies: Mozart wrote Symphonies Nos. 39–41 in about three months in the summer of 1788, for unknown reasons. (It is unclear if any of them were performed in his lifetime, although No. 40 probably was.) Of the three, only No. 39 in E flat major, K. 543, has a slow introduction; unusually, it omits oboes entirely. No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, on the other hand, was revised to reduce the oboe part and add clarinets; the last movement may have inspired the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. No. 41 in C major, K. 551, probably got its nickname of “Jupiter” from Johann Peter Salomon. Its first movement quotes Mozart’s aria “Un bacio di mano” (“A kiss on her hand”), composed for Pasquale Anfossi’s opera Il curioso indiscreto; its last movement presents five themes which are all brought together in a massive fugato at the end.
- Other symphonies: Of Mozart’s first 38 symphonies, the “Little” G minor symphony (No. 25, K. 183) is the only one in a minor key. The “Paris” Symphony (No. 31 in D major, K. 297), written for that city, begins with a fast upward D major scale that can be classified as a “Mannheim rocket,” a popular opening device for symphonies. Mozart’s other notable symphonies include the “Haffner” (No. 35 in D major, K. 385), which is more familiar than the serenade; the Linz Symphony (No. 36 in C major, K. 425); and the Prague Symphony (No. 38 in D major, K. 504). There is no Symphony No. 37: Mozart added an introduction to a symphony by Michael Haydn (Joseph’s brother) and scholars did not notice that the rest of the work was not by Mozart until 1907.
- The Abduction from the Seraglio (Die Entführung aus dem Serail, K. 384): While often called an opera, The Abduction from the Seraglio, is, like The Magic Flute, actually a Singspiel with spoken dialogue (as opposed to sung recitatives). The action takes place at the home of the Ottoman Pasha Selim, and the music uses “Janissary” military instruments associated with “Turkish” music. Belmonte is trying to rescue his lover Konstanze from the Seraglio (harem); he is assisted by Pedrillo, his servant, while Osmin works for the Pasha. In the end, the Pasha releases Belmonte and Konstanze, much to Osmin’s chagrin. Famous arias include Osmin’s “O, wie will ich triumphieren” and Konstanze’s incredibly difficult “Martern aller Arten.” According to one story, Joseph II accused it of having “too many notes.”
- Così fan tutte (roughly, They’re All Like That, K. 588): This opera is, along with The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni, one of Mozart’s collaborations with Italian librettist Lorenzo da Ponte. The soldiers Guglielmo and Ferrando, who love the sisters Fiordiligi and Dorabella, respectively, brag about the fidelity of their fiancées; in a coffeeshop, Don Alfonso makes a bet that he can make the sisters fall in love with other men in one day. Don Alfonso disguises the two men as Albanians after bribing the sisters’ maid Despina; at first they resist (see Fiordiligi’s aria “Come Scoglio”), but after Dorabella and Guglielmo trade a medallion and a heart-shaped locket, Fiordiligi is seduced by Ferrando. In the end, the sisters “almost” marry the wrong husbands, and only realize they’ve been tricked when the two men return to the stage half in disguise, half out.
- The Magic Flute (Die Zauberflöte, K. 620): The libretto, by Emanuel Schikaneder, who took the role of Papageno at the premier, incorporates many Masonic elements (both Schikaneder and Mozart were Masons). Tamino is saved from a serpent by three maidens of the Queen of the Night, but Papageno, a bird-catcher, claims credit. Both are shown their counterparts — Pamina and Papagena — but must face several trials at the hands of the sorcerer Sarastro, who heads a cult of Isis and Osiris and is assisted by Monostatos, a treacherous Moor. The Queen of the Night, who has two very difficult arias (“O zittre nicht, mein lieber Sohn” and “Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen,” the latter of which is often just called “the Queen of the Night’s aria”), attempts to stop Tamino and Pamina from joining Sarastro, but is magically exiled with Monostatos.
- Requiem: Mozart’s Requiem, K. 626, was his last composition; it was anonymously commissioned by the Count von Walsegg. Mozart died before he could finish it; many musicians have completed it, including Mozart’s student Franz Xaver Süssmayr, and more recently Richard Maunder and Robert Levin. The scoring is notably for low-timbered instruments, omitting oboes and flutes and substituting basset horns for clarinets. The theme of the “Kyrie” was taken from “And With His Stripes We Are Healed,” a chorus from Handel’s Messiah. After the dramatic “Dies Irae,” the “Tuba Mirum” begins with a trombone solo. The circumstances surrounding Mozart’s death remain mysterious, and the (unfounded) rumor that Antonio Salieri murdered him gave rise to the Aleksandr Pushkin play Mozart and Salieri, which in turn inspired a Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov opera and Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, which became an Academy Award-winning film.
This article was contributed by NAQT editor Jacob Reed.