Many classical music fans think of it as being summed up with the Three Bs: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms — cleverly skipping my two favorite periods of classical music. But there are three towering figures of the Classical period: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (although as you will see later, he’s more of a transitional composer). Yesterday, we listened to some early Haydn. We could now very easily listen to some late Haydn. But there is no way I am getting through the Classical period without Mozart.
One of my big complaints with the way many people treat Mozart is to assume he was some kind of composing machine. Clearly, this has much to do with Amadeus. It would make an interesting week of music to show Mozart’s progression throughout his life. He was always hugely talented, of course. But his juvenilia is very clearly that. If you want to get an idea of this, check out his very first symphony, which he wrote at the age of 8. It’s a fine piece of music — and shockingly great for someone that young. But compare it to his Symphony No 40 — written three years before his death.
The really tragic thing about him is that the last six years of his life were stunning with regard to his production. Just in terms of opera: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. But today, I want to highlight an instrumental work that he wrote at the beginning of this incredibly productive period, the Piano Concerto No 23. What’s interesting here is the way that the modulation from one key to another is seamless. It’s particularly exciting in the third act. It is the Platonic ideal the Classical period music: