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Chamber Music of Mozart

Chamber Music of Mozart

Professor Robert Greenberg Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Course No.  7237
Course No.  7237
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Course Overview

About This Course

16 lectures  |  46 minutes per lecture

What made Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart perhaps the most complete "musical package" in history—a man who created more masterpieces of virtually every musical genre of his day than any other composer before or since? There is perhaps no better way to explore this question than by studying his chamber music. Nowhere is Mozart's maturity and mastery more apparent than in the chamber music he wrote during the last 10 years of his life.

Hear, Study, and Enjoy "A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness"

This is an opportunity to study and enjoy a variety of chamber works drawn primarily from Mozart's "golden years" in Vienna, 1781–1791. The centerpiece of the course is the set of six

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What made Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart perhaps the most complete "musical package" in history—a man who created more masterpieces of virtually every musical genre of his day than any other composer before or since? There is perhaps no better way to explore this question than by studying his chamber music. Nowhere is Mozart's maturity and mastery more apparent than in the chamber music he wrote during the last 10 years of his life.

Hear, Study, and Enjoy "A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness"

This is an opportunity to study and enjoy a variety of chamber works drawn primarily from Mozart's "golden years" in Vienna, 1781–1791. The centerpiece of the course is the set of six Haydn string quartets that Mozart dedicated to his friend, the great Joseph Haydn. Across the span of the course, you will explore works that represent the three types of chamber music that Mozart composed:

  • Any chamber group consisting, in whole or in part, of a string quartet: two violins, a viola, and a cello.
  • The "piano plus" combination: works for keyboard and some other instrument or instruments.
  • Everything else: combinations that employ neither a string quartet nor a piano.
Professor Robert Greenberg collectively refers to these chamber works as "a blessing of inconceivable richness." The following are a few of the masterpieces he discusses:
  • String Quartet in G Major, K. 387. The first of Mozart's Haydn Quartets, this is a miracle of technique, taste and imagination, part-writing, and perfect proportions.
  • Quintet in E-flat Major for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon, K. 452. This is one of the great masterworks of the chamber repertoire; as brilliant an example of instrumentation and part-writing as ever written.
  • Piano Quartet in G Minor, K. 478, and Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, K. 493. These pieces display a grandness of conception that reflects the symphony hall as much as it does the chamber music salon. They are among Professor Greenberg's favorite pieces of music: "real desert island stuff."
  • String Quartet in C Major, K. 465. This Dissonant Quartet is the last of the Haydn Quartets. Its introduction combines so many dissonant elements that it sparked an ongoing controversy about whether the music might have been misprinted.
  • Adagio in C Minor, and Rondo in C Major for Glass Harmonica Quintet, K. 617. An odd and wonderful piece, this is the last chamber music Mozart composed. Its haunting quality distinguishes it from almost anything else in Mozart's chamber music repertoire.

Inside Mozart's Life and Music

In The Chamber Music of Mozart, Professor Greenberg does for you what even someone as knowledgeable in music as that great composer and friend of Mozart's, Joseph Haydn, had to do to fully appreciate Mozart's brilliance: sit down with his music and examine it. Professor Greenberg takes you deep inside the structure of Mozart's chamber masterworks to reveal his hand at work.

You will learn the basic language that all 18th-century composers used to write their music. In addition, you will explore the subtleties of Mozart's technique as a composer: his ability to make art artless—music that is enormously complex and sophisticated but sounds effortless—and to know how and when to bend or break the rules of composition to create music that at times confused or even disturbed his audiences but would endure forever.

Finally, this course is a delightful blend of music analysis and appreciation, and biographical narration. Professor Greenberg covers significant aspects of Mozart's life, from birth to death. You will shake your head in disbelief at Mozart's unique musical talent. In the summer of 1788, in financial trouble and under pressure to make money, Mozart wrote eight major works—three symphonies, two piano trios, a piano sonatas, a string quartet, and a sonata for piano and violin—all in less than two months.

And you will smile to realize that someone as renowned as Mozart lived a life that, not infrequently, was all too human. Count Karl Joseph Felix Arco, attempting to persuade Mozart to return to his job as a court musician in Salzburg, became so frustrated at Mozart's obstinate demands that he literally booted him out of the room.

How to Understand Mozart's "Craft"

"Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition."
—Joseph Haydn to Mozart's father, Leopold, after hearing a performance of the B-flat Major Quartet, K. 458, in 1785.

Much of the course can be considered an exploration of this astonishing compliment, which nearly buckled Leopold Mozart's knees. What did Haydn recognize that prompted him to declare Mozart "the greatest composer known to me" (including the great Haydn himself)? What does the phrase "the most profound knowledge of composition" mean when it comes from someone of Haydn's musical acumen?

To understand these questions, Professor Greenberg first makes sure that you have the tools you need to appreciate Mozart's chamber music as Haydn, or any aficionado of the time, had. He defines chamber music and explains how it was usually performed. He provides the necessary historical context: Mozart's chamber music was music of the Classical period, which was shaped by Enlightenment thinking, and reached its zenith in the Viennese Classicism of roughly 1770 to 1800.

Then, as he will do with the other works in this course, Professor Greenberg "deconstructs" the very piece that so astonished Haydn, Mozart's B-flat Major Quartet, also known as the Hunt Quartet for the hunting-horn character of its first theme. Playing recorded passages and demonstrating at the piano, he explains Mozart's use of the four essential forms of Classical music: theme and variations, minuet and trio, rondo, and sonata form. These were the building blocks required to construct any genre of music during the Classical period.

In this way, you will understand Mozart's craft: the required internal structure, or blueprint, that Mozart and all other composers were expected to follow as they created a piece of Classical chamber music.

How to Understand Mozart's Art

Professor Greenberg's other goal is to help you understand Mozart's art. He shows you the details of Mozart's technique, "where dwells both God and Mozart," as he describes it, and which set Mozart apart from other composers.

Luckily, we are in an even better position to understand this than were Mozart's contemporaries. Contrary to popular belief, in Mozart's day his major works were never perceived as "Enlightenment-era easy listening." They were widely admired, but often considered difficult, pushing the boundary of musical coherence as it was then understood.

The composer and critic Max Graf complained that Mozart "aims too high in his artful and truly beautiful compositions in order to be ‘new.' " The composer and violinist Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf wrote of Mozart: "I have yet to find any composer possessing such an astonishing richness of new ideas. However, I could wish that he were not so spendthrift with them."

The early lectures will give you a conceptual and analytical vocabulary that will enable you to evaluate these criticisms, and study Mozart's work in detail throughout the course. You will learn to recognize his inspired use of such compositional techniques as syncopation, diminution, dissonance, uneven phrasing, and unexpected changes of key. These were touches that Mozart's contemporaries had trouble appreciating, either because they were too dazzled by his musical surfaces to examine the depth of his craft, or because they could not envision the new frontiers that his work represented.

Understanding Mozart's art will also improve your understanding of what it takes to compose great music in general, whether it's Classical music or another style. Mozart exemplifies the fact that good composing is not only about inventing pretty tunes, which Mozart could certainly do, but in varying, developing, and connecting thematic ideas so that, like good storytelling, they progress in a way that makes sense.

The Man Behind the Music

In many ways, Mozart's life was also a work of art. His career, and the course of his life, didn't simply happen by virtue of his exceptional ability. Instead, Mozart composed them, shaping them through vision, hard work, and unswerving belief in his ability.

With Professor Greenberg, you will follow the highlights and pivotal events of Mozart's life, many of which demonstrate how Mozart took control of his destiny. At 25, determined to move to Vienna, he took the unprecedented move of writing a petition asking for permission to resign from his job under the imperious Archbishop Hieronymus von Colloredo, Archbishop of Salzburg. His decision to write chamber music was not only artistic, but pragmatic: Chamber music was extremely popular in Vienna, and would be easy money for someone who could compose as quickly as he. And in his mature career, he refused to simplify his music to suit popular taste. This decision hurt him financially—his piano quartets and string quintets never sold well in his day—but gave posterity a priceless collection of masterpieces.

Professor Greenberg brings Mozart's experiences to life by reading frequently from his letters, and from first-hand accounts of those who knew him. You will find Mozart the man to be as surprising and deceptively complex as Mozart the musician. He was a passionate billiard player who was more excited at the arrival of a famous billiard star in Vienna than of a famous musician (he knew the latter would come to him, but that he would have to seek out the former). He was a composer who wrote brilliantly for any instrument but who, as a child, was frightened of the trumpet and, as an adult, hated the flute.

Although his music often soared to lofty heights, Mozart was too often given to pettiness in his personal dealings. "I can never resist making a fool of someone," he admitted. The horn player Joseph Leutgeb, whom Mozart considered a friend and admired as a musician, was a favorite patsy. On one occasion, Mozart threw sheet music all around the room for the simple pleasure of watching Leutgeb collect it on hands and knees.

As with any discussion of Mozart's life, you will hear accounts of his musical genius. Mozart literally composed works in his head, without writing down the notes, and could retain entire acts of an opera in his memory, note for note. He wrote relatively simple works, like opera recitatives or ballroom minuets "as if he were writing a letter," according to his wife, Constanze. Regarding portions of his opera, Idomeneo, Mozart wrote to his father that "everything has been composed, but not yet written down."

Often, when he was scheduled to play in an ensemble performing one of his new works, he simply skipped writing out his own part. Once, the Emperor Joseph looked over Mozart's shoulder and was astonished to see that his sheet music was completely blank. "Where is your part?" he asked Mozart. The preoccupied composer simply tapped his forehead. "There," he replied.

Music That Is Great by any Standard

Although he was coddled and inhibited as a child by his manipulative father, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's enormous musical ability allowed him to live his adult life in a manner that was fearless. He considered himself the equal of any man, his confidence rooted in the belief that, as Franz Liszt said of himself, "My talent ennobles me."

At the end of this course, you will come to understand Mozart's full impact on the chamber music genre. He changed forever the nature of the violin and piano sonata. He essentially invented the piano trio, piano quartet, and string quintet as we understand them today. His Haydn Quartets reached a range and intensity of expression that would not be achieved again until Beethoven 20 years later.

Mozart's chamber music, Professor Greenberg asserts, is that rare music that is "great by whatever standards we choose to apply: aesthetic, technical, or intellectual." It has left "a vision that should give us all joy and hope for our species."

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16 Lectures
  • 1
    A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness
    Mozart's chamber music ranks among his finest work, making it some of the greatest music ever written. We will listen to a few selections as a preview of the extraordinary pieces of chamber music we will study. x
  • 2
    "The Hunt"
    Mozart's String Quartet in Bb Major, K. 458, subtitled "The Hunt," exemplifies the Viennese Classical style at its zenith. In this work, we will see how Mozart connected and metamorphosed musical ideas, and appreciate his advanced compositional technique. x
  • 3
    "The Hunt," Part 2
    Our in-depth analysis of Mozart's "Hunt" Quartet will reveal the workings of sonata form, the most important musical structural innovation of the Classical era. This work also provides an opportunity to observe the compositional details that set Mozart's music apart. x
  • 4
    The Flute Quartet in D Major
    In this lecture and the next, we will look at Mozart's life before he settled in Vienna, and examine his Flute Quartet in D Major, K. 285, of 1777. It features a flute solo that the great musicologist Alfred Einstein described as "perhaps the most beautiful accompanied solo ever written for the flute." x
  • 5
    Vienna
    Mozart plunged into the musical life of Vienna as a composer and performer. His first big splash came with the "Auernhammer" Sonatas for Violin and Piano, published in December, 1781. The Sonata K. 380 exemplifies these works, which feature the violin and piano as equal partners in an ongoing musical conversation. x
  • 6
    Haydn and Inspiration
    Mozart was 25 when he met 49-year-old Joseph Haydn. Although very different personalities, they quickly became good friends. Haydn's biographer, Karl Geiringer, claimed that Mozart learned to compose string quartets solely from Haydn. In this lecture, we study the "Haydn" String Quartet in G Major, K. 387. x
  • 7
    Exclusively For His Friends
    Many of Mozart's chamber works were written to be performed by his friends. The Oboe Quartet of 1781 was composed for the great oboist Friedrich Ramm. Mozart's Horn Quintet of 1782 was written for Joseph Leutgeb, a master of the hand-horn. This lecture also examines three of Mozart's demanding Twelve Duos for Horn, written, according to Mozart, "while bowling." x
  • 8
    Duos For Violin and Viola
    Mozart's collaborations with composer Michael Haydn—who is less well known today, but was highly respected in his time—caused huge problems of attribution for posterity. Mozart's two Duets for Violin and Viola, K. 423 and K. 424, are cases in point. He wrote them "as" Michael Haydn, who was too ill to fulfill a commission for them. x
  • 9
    Not Just a Pretty Face
    Mozart's major works were never perceived as "easy listening" during his life. His dark and dissonant String Quartet in D Minor, K. 421, completed in 1783, represents the kind of music that challenged Mozart's audiences. His third "Haydn" Quartet in E flat Major, K. 428, is a striking contrast. It contains the most explicitly Haydnesque music of all the "Haydn" quartets. x
  • 10
    Blowin’ in the Winds
    Mozart's Quintet in E flat Major for Piano, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, and Bassoon, K. 452, 1784, was, he believed, the best work he had composed to that point. Two years later, inspired by the great clarinetist Anton Stadler, he composed the Trio in E flat Major for Clarinet, Viola, and Piano, K. 498. Mozart's compositions for clarinet remain the core repertoire for that instrument. x
  • 11
    The Piano Trios
    Mozart virtually invented the piano trio as we understand it today, and composed six of them. This lecture examines the Divertimento in Bb Major, K. 254; the Piano Trio in B flat Major, K. 502, 1786; and the Piano Trio in E Major, K. 542, 1788. At this time, Mozart's finances and health were in disarray, yet still he composed beautiful, technically perfect music at breakneck speed. x
  • 12
    The Piano Quartets
    By the mid to late 1780s, Mozart no longer tried to appeal to a mass audience. This refusal to "dumb down" his music is most apparent in his two piano quartets, written between 1785 and 1786. They are large-scale works in terms of their length and grandeur of conception. x
  • 13
    String Quartet in A Major, K. 464
    In this lecture, we examine the fifth of Mozart's "Haydn" Quartets, the String Quartet in A Major, K. 464. Musicologist Alan Kriegsman described this work as "the most stunning example of musical craftsmanship among the six 'Haydn' Quartets." x
  • 14
    The String Quintets
    By the 1780s, Mozart's artistic vision had gone far beyond that of his contemporaries. His string quintets did not sell well, although posterity has benefited from his desire to challenge this difficult medium. In this lecture, we examine four string quintets—all are transcendental masterworks. x
  • 15
    Dissonance—Musical and Financial
    Mozart completed his String Quartet in C Major, K. 465, the so-called "Dissonant" Quartet, in 1785. This sixth and last of Mozart "Haydn" Quartets exhibits an expressive depth and a dark side that exceeded what was then considered appropriate and tasteful. By the late 1780s, Mozart's "difficult" music so alienated his Viennese patrons that his financial situation turned disastrous. x
  • 16
    Basset Horns and Harmonicas
    Mozart wrote his Clarinet Quintet, K. 581, of 1790, and his Clarinet Concerto, K. 622, of 1791, for the basset clarinet (or basset horn), invented by Anton Stadler, one of the finest clarinetists of his day. Mozart's last chamber composition was his Adagio in C Minor and Rondo in C Major for Flute, Oboe, Viola, 'Cello, and Glass Harmonica, K. 617. x

Lecture Titles

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Robert Greenberg
Ph.D. Robert Greenberg
San Francisco Performances

Dr. Robert Greenberg is Music Historian-in-Residence with San Francisco Performances. A graduate of Princeton University, Professor Greenberg holds a Ph.D. in Music Composition from the University of California, Berkeley. He has seen his compositions—which include more than 45 works for a wide variety of instrumental and vocal ensembles—performed all over the world, including New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, England, Ireland, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands.

He has served on the faculties of the University of California, Berkeley; California State University, Hayward; and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and has lectured for some of the most prestigious musical and arts organizations in the United States, including the San Francisco Symphony, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, the Van Cliburn Foundation, and the Chicago Symphony. For The Great Courses, he has recorded more than 500 lectures on a range of composers and classical music genres.

Professor Greenberg is a Steinway Artist. His many other honors include three Nicola de Lorenzo Composition Prizes and a Koussevitzky commission from the Library of Congress. He has been profiled in various major publications, including The Wall Street Journal; Inc. magazine; and the London Times.

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Reviews

Rated 4.9 out of 5 by 33 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by In-depth course, very good I particularly like Profesor Greeneberg's courses that are in-depth, detailed analyses of music of particular kind by a particular composer (not that other courses are bad, they all deserve listening to). One can learn a lot from this course about the music of Mozart, and something about Mozart himself. Courses on music by Beethoven are even better, in my opinion, but this is also grat. I recommend it wholeheartedly. November 12, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by For a specific crowd DVD reviews. I came to appreciate classical music well after my teens. With no musical background whatsoever, I believe my tastes evolved through a fairly common path. First came "easy listening" tunes like Pachelbel's Canon. Loud, brassy symphonies, concertos and operas with catchy melodies soon followed. Excessive familiarity eventually led me to explore less-obvious choices, including early music and chamber pieces. Dr. Greenberg's CHAMBER MUSIC OF MOZART and STRING QUARTETS OF BEETHOVEN — the order is important — are great introductions to the string quartet as it evolved from Haydn through Mozart to Beethoven, who fundamentally redefined the genre's potential. BUT, BUT these two course do assume a basic understanding, or at least a high tolerance for, music theory at a level achievable if you first go through Greenberg's UNDERSTANDING THE FUNDAMENTALS OF MUSIC. Without this background information, these courses will sound like BLAH, BLAH, BLAH → MUSIC SNIPPET → BLAH, BLAH, BLAH → ANOTHER SNIPPET → BLAH, BLAH ..... Here is a BLAH, BLAH example, 17 minutes into Lesson 9 of BEETHOVEN: "The development section begins with the sequence of 2-chord units, each followed by a measure of silence, as the harmony moves forward from E-flat major to E-flat minor to B-major finally arriving in B-minor for a lengthy sequential modulatory passage based on theme 1." You get the point. Greenberg is a wonderful, entertaining lecturer, probably TTC's best. But music presents unique challenges. Whereas paintings can be shown at a glance, with plenty of speculation about what is portrayed or the artist's biography, music is invisible and demands time. Music moves us more viscerally, and yet requires a fairly abstract vocabulary to explain and compare. _______________ To sum up..... If you expect long stretches of beautiful music briefly interrupted by vague babblings about what Mozart or Beethoven must have felt, these courses will seriously disappoint. Just buy the music CDs and enjoy yourself. If the Greenberg quotation mentioned above sounds like technical jargon that adds nothing to your aesthetic appreciation for chamber music, then stay away. These course are designed either for musically literate people, or for TTC clients with an engineer's propensity to "look under the hood" and find out how these mechanisms work. Greenberg's courses also offer you a vocabulary to compare and contrast musical performances with like-minded enthusiasts. Highly recommended if you fit that description. June 13, 2014
Rated 4 out of 5 by The Music Teaching Is Fantastic When Professor Greenberg gets deeply into teaching music, he teaches as well as any of the very best of the TGC stable of professors. I believe his courses on Concert Masterworks and Beethoven's Symphonies were among my absolute favorites of the almost 100 TGC courses I've experienced. The problem with this course, as is the case with some of his other offerings, is, at least to my taste, there isn't enough actual teaching to the music. It started extremely well. The instruction on The Hunt was exemplary. But, just as I settled in for what I expected to be a "nice ride," we went "off the road." I get the need for context and needed biographical detail. But did we really need virtually an entire lecture on poor Mozart's problems with his father? Then half the next lecture on problems with the archbishop, etc., crowded out the teaching of the Sonata for Violin and Piano. What's so frustrating about this habit of Greenberg's is that he frequently moans about not having the time to go into needed depth in much of the music. I wanted to reach into my CD player, grab the good professor by the lapel and say, "Sir, if you only had showed more discipline in your use of time, you could have had the time you wanted!" I know Greenberg is very popular, and I concede I may be in the minority. The professor's diversions, often into the more sensational aspects of composers' lives or times, must be attractive to much of the audience. I understand that and accept that. But it doesn't mean I have to like it. For me, it's a shame because it takes a lot away from what I see as Greenberg's greatest strength. The place where this apparent desire or need to enrich or embellish hurt his teaching the most in this course was in his treatment of the "Dissonant" Quartet. This music is extraordinary, and Greenberg's teaching of it was fine. But instead of just teaching the music, Greenberg tried to tie Mozart's financial problems (dissonance) to the dissonance in the music. This is tempting, but there's absolutely no basis in fact, history, or composition to make this link. Mozart's problems arose well after the completion of this music. I've been pretty critical here, so I want to end on an entirely positive note. I have found Greenberg's teaching to be extraordinary. I love music, and his courses have added immeasurably to my understanding and appreciation of music. So, I am exceedingly grateful to him. I just wish he'd find a way to stay "Greenberg," humor and all, yet be a bit more disciplined. He could certainly remain popular, while serving the music more effectively. March 9, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by Magnificent Music and Insightful Commentary The chamber music of Mozart is incredibly beautiful. I knew that Mozart wrote wondrous symphonies and concertos but somehow had, to this point, missed out on his chamber works. I clearly did not appreciate the genius of the six Haydn string quartets. In addition, I don't believe that I had ever even heard of the Oboe Quartet of 1781, The Horn Quintet of 1782, the Duos for Horn of 1786, the Adagio in C minor and Rondo in C major for Flute, Oboe, Viola, ‘Cello, and Glass Harmonica, and many other pieces covered here! This course provides the basis for a much better understanding of Mozart as a person and his composition of music for small instrumental ensembles (including the basset horn and the glass harmonica). Professor Greenberg is easy to listen to and full of insights. He often uses jokes to keep the tone light and entertaining. He is very successful using this strategy. In this course though, his jokes, like Mozart himself at times, can be a bit on the less sensitive side. You might want to avoid this course if this is likely to offend you. Some portions of the material, particularly aspects of musical composition, have been covered in some of the Professor’s other Teaching Company courses. I had no trouble with that. I often need the repetition to help cement concepts. It is best to have the music available to listen to in its entirety as only portions are played during the course lectures. The lecture notes in the course guidebook are thorough and complete. This is another of many excellent Teaching Company courses from Professor Greenberg! January 5, 2014
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