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Great Masters: Mozart-His Life and Music

Great Masters: Mozart-His Life and Music

Professor Robert Greenberg Ph.D.
San Francisco Performances
Course No.  752
Course No.  752
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Course Overview

About This Course

8 lectures  |  46 minutes per lecture

He composed his first symphony at the age of 8. His middle name means "loved of God." And Austrian Emperor Joseph II accused his music of having "too many notes." This course is a biographical and musical study of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), who composed more than 600 works of beauty and brilliance in just over 20 years.

According to Professor Robert Greenberg, Mozart's music combined the pure lyricism of song with dramatic timing, depth of expression, and technical mastery of the complexities of phrase structure and harmony that allowed him to create a body of work unique in the repertoire.

Will the Real Wolfgang Please Stand Up?

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He composed his first symphony at the age of 8. His middle name means "loved of God." And Austrian Emperor Joseph II accused his music of having "too many notes." This course is a biographical and musical study of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791), who composed more than 600 works of beauty and brilliance in just over 20 years.

According to Professor Robert Greenberg, Mozart's music combined the pure lyricism of song with dramatic timing, depth of expression, and technical mastery of the complexities of phrase structure and harmony that allowed him to create a body of work unique in the repertoire.

Will the Real Wolfgang Please Stand Up?

And his personal life has generated nearly as much interest as his music. Who was Mozart? Was he the fair-haired boy-divinity of 19th-century Romanticism? Was he indeed the horse-laughing lout of recent theater and cinema? Was he borderline autistic or musical freak?

Was he an artistic traditionalist working happily within Haydn-defined Classicism? A social and musical rebel at war with a patronage system?

What did his contemporaries think of his music? Why was he so passionate about writing operas? How did he view his audience, his patrons, and his fellow composers? Does any of his music reflect his own moods or states of mind?

Who and what were the crucial influences in his life and his art? And how did he die?

You learn about Mozart's:

  • Journey from youthful prodigy to posthumous deification
  • Difficult relationship with his father
  • Tours to London and Paris
  • Struggles for a successful career
  • Marriage to Constanze Weber
  • Triumphs and disappointments in Vienna
  • Relationships with Haydn, Emperor Joseph II, and librettist Lorenzo da Ponte.

"Much of today's Mozart scholarship is about debunking myths," says Professor Greenberg. "One of the reasons for the Mozart mythology is the fact that few responsible accounts of Mozart's life and personality were written during his lifetime. Much was written years after his death.

"Mozart's extraordinary, prodigious talent also fueled the notion that he was some kind of freak. At the heart of the Mozart mythology is the otherworldliness of his music. His middle name, Amadeus, 'loved of God,' also helped to imbue him with a God-like image.

"The goal of these lectures is to show Mozart to be a person: a talented, hard-working, ambitious man who had friends and enemies and whose music was subject to criticism in his own day."

Mozart's Early Life: Young Apprentice and a Domineering Father

The reality is that Mozart, like any other composer, served an apprenticeship. What is extraordinary is that Mozart's apprenticeship began at such a tender age; he wrote his first symphony at the age of 8 and was a mature composer by age 20, when most other composers are beginning their training.

He had an extraordinary memory and an ability to compose whole symphonies in his head. He worked extremely hard, frequently to the point of exhaustion—often at breakneck speed, amid squadrons of distractions, and without putting pen to paper until every last note of a new work had been composed in his head.

Mozart's early life was dominated by his father. Leopold Mozart counted on his children's musical talents to bring him the fame and fortune he could not earn for himself. The grand tour of 1763–1766 made the Mozart family the sensation of Europe and turned the small, fragile, desperate-to-please Wolfgang into an international celebrity and the family's main breadwinner.

Mozart learned his craft by absorbing the music of the best composers of his day: Johann Christian Bach (eleventh son of Johann Sebastian Bach) and the legendary Franz Joseph Haydn. By the time of Mozart's second visit to Paris in 1777 at age 21, his own original genius was emerging.

But that trip to Paris was also a disaster. His mother died there, he failed to find a position, he had no money, and his domineering father was interfering with his life to a degree he now found intolerable.

Settling in Vienna: A Soaring Genius

In 1781, Mozart settled in Vienna, an exciting place to live and work for artists at the time, thanks to the reforms of Emperor Joseph II. He married Constanze Weber against the wishes of his father; Leopold withheld Mozart's wedding dowry and later disinherited his son.

Mozart's genius soared. He reached the peak of his career in Vienna in 1782–1786. At this point, his piano concerti were his main source of income. Then, beginning in 1786, he collaborated with the great librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte on three of the repertoire's finest operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Così fan tutte.

By the late 1780s, however, Mozart's popularity in Vienna was on the wane. His music had always had its critics—those who thought it too difficult, complex, or contrived.

"Mozart never attempted to compromise his musical integrity just to please the masses," notes Professor Greenberg. "Even his so-called 'entertainment' music is stamped with his inimitable and complex genius."

His politically controversial opera, The Marriage of Figaro, did not help further his career in Vienna. Masterpiece though it is, it deeply offended the Viennese aristocracy.

"Mozart was, in essence, biting the hand that fed him," says Professor Greenberg.

Mozart continued to pour out one masterwork after another, the expressive content rarely hinting at his unhappy circumstances.

The Final Years: The Magic Flute and a Requiem Mass

In 1790 Mozart's health began to deteriorate and he became depressed. That year, he wrote very little of significance. His creative recovery in early 1791 was inexplicable. The compositions of that year culminated in the great Masonic opera, The Magic Flute.

By the end of the year, he was working on a Requiem Mass, anonymously commissioned by a nobleman who liked to pass off others' compositions as his own. The Requiem remained unfinished at Mozart's death on December 5, 1791.

Myths and speculation surround the cause of Mozart's death. The most famous myth is that he was poisoned by the Italian composer Antonio Salieri who, while a patient in an insane asylum decades later, claimed that he had done the dastardly deed. The most likely theory is that Mozart died from acute rheumatic fever and a stroke brought on by excessive bloodletting—at the age of 35.

A Wide Selection of Excerpts from The Great Masters

Mozart wrote more than 600 compositions, whose standard numbering comes from the catalogue listing first published in 1862 by Ludwig von Köchel.

Works you'll hear in the lectures are excerpted from:

Eine kleine Nachtmusick, K. 525 (1787)
Don Giovanni, K. 527 (1787)
Piano Concerto no. 21 in C Major, K. 467 (1785)
String Quartet in C, K. 465 (Dissonant ) (1785)
The Magic Flute, K. 620 (1791)
Serenade in D Major, K. 320 (Posthorn) (1779)
Così fan tutte, K. 588 (1789)
Flute Concerto in D, K. 314/320d (1777)
Piano Concerto no. 18 in B-flat, K. 456 (1785)
Ein Musikalischer Spass, K. 522 (1787)
Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat for Violin, Viola, and Orchestra, K. 364/320d (1779)
The Marriage of Figaro, K. 492 (1786)
String Quintet in C Major, K. 515 (1787)
Symphony no. 40 in G Minor, K. 550 (1788)
Symphony no. 39 in E-flat Major, K. 543 (1788)
Symphony no. 41 in C Major, K. 551 (Jupiter ) (1788)
Requiem Mass, K. 626 (1791)

View Less
8 Lectures
  • 1
    Introduction
    Much of today's Mozart scholarship is about debunking myths; this lecture explores Mozart mythology. The goal of these lectures is to show Mozart to be a person: a talented, hard-working, ambitious man who had friends and enemies and whose music was subject to criticism in his own day. x
  • 2
    Leopold and the Grand Tour
    Leopold Mozart dominated his son's life from the start. When Leopold realized that his children, Marianne and Wolfgang, possessed prodigious musical talent, he made them his source of wealth and fame. Their grand tour of 1763–66 made them the sensation of Europe and turned Wolfgang into the child wonder by which we still measure prodigies today. The small, fragile, and desperate-to-please Wolfgang became his family's main breadwinner. x
  • 3
    Mozart the Composer—The Early Music
    Leopold probably had a hand in creating Mozart's early pieces, but Mozart also learned his craft from Johann Christian Bach, whom Mozart met in London in 1764–65. Mozart also modeled his early works on established Viennese symphonists, and he absorbed the Italian style on his tours of that country in 1769–73. By the time of his second visit to Paris in 1777, Mozart's own compositional voice had emerged. x
  • 4
    Paris
    The study of Mozart's musical style is often linked with two myths; neither one is true. The first is that Mozart was a vessel for divine inspiration. The second is that he composed without effort, automatically, subconsciously. What makes him different is that he began his apprenticeship at an incredibly young age and was a fully matured composer by the time he was 20. In 1777, Mozart left Salzburg for Paris—a disastrous trip during which his mother died. x
  • 5
    The Flight from Salzburg and Arrival in Vienna
    Despite the disasters that Mozart endured at the time of his trip to Paris, his creative energy never flagged. Longing to compose an opera, Mozart succeeded in convincing the Elector of Munich to commission the opera Idomeneo from him. The opera was premiered in Munich in 1781 to great success. Mozart married Constanze Weber in August 1782, against his father's wishes. The father-son relationship would be severely strained until Leopold's death five years later. x
  • 6
    Life in Vienna
    Between 1782 and 1786, Mozart reached the peak of his career as a pianist and composer in Vienna. Among his supreme achievements are his piano concerti, string quartets, and the C Minor Mass. His six string quartets, inspired by and dedicated to Haydn, exhibit an expressive range and intensity. Mozart worked extremely hard and earned a great deal of money. His speed of composing and ability to compose in his head are the stuff of legend. But his embittered father disinherited him before dying in 1787. x
  • 7
    Operas in Vienna
    Poet and librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte collaborated with Mozart on his great operas: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte. Mozart's popularity in Vienna began to wane in the late 1780s and he experienced financial hardship; his marriage was strained because of Mozart's real and perceived affairs. Yet he continued to write a series of masterworks, the expressive moods of which seldom, if ever, betrayed his unhappy circumstances. x
  • 8
    The Last Years
    Mozart's Cosi fan tutte of 1789 was no more successful in Vienna than Don Giovanni had been. By late 1790, Mozart was in financial straits and his health deteriorated further. He wrote little of significance until January 1791: The Magic Flute. He began a Requiem Mass, which remained unfinished at his death on December 5. Among the most famous myths about Mozart's death is that he was poisoned by the Italian composer Antonio Salieri. The most likely theory is that he died from rheumatic fever. Mozart gave us a "picture of a better world" (Franz Schubert), and was, as the composer Rossini put it, "the only composer who had as much knowledge as genius and as much genius as knowledge." 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 4.6 out of 5 by 54 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by Master lecture Professor Greenberg is a master at revealing the personality as well as the music of Mozart in this Great Masters series. The lectures give a non Hollywood, non "Amadeus" look at the complicated life of Mozart. Expectations for this lecture series should revolve around learning the biography of the composer with short selections of music interspersed. The selections are always relevant to the subject matter. I listened to this lecture series a second time after purchasing Mozart's Chamber Music lectures. The two courses are not repetitions of the same story, and are additive in the information given. I would strongly suggest listening to both courses back to back. (I have not listened to the Mozart and opera lectures). Highly recommended! December 21, 2013
Rated 5 out of 5 by Another gem My previous review on the Schumanns identified myself as a non-musician but having worked my way through Professor Greenberg's course on Robert and Clara I didn't waste any time before purchasing his Mozart course. Other reviewers have confirmed the Professor's love of his subjects and this course provides all the information you require to get a full appreciation of Mozart's life and music. Knowing a little of his music the Professor ably put the various pieces in historical context for me and again hearing about Mozart's complicated life and the lives of the people he touched I found most interesting. The Professor's undoubted love of his subject certainly came across and for anyone with a passing interest in Mozart and his music this is more than a good starting point. September 25, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by the man behind the myth this course is as good as you’d expect it to be. prof. greenberg + mozart = what could go wrong? as with other great masters courses eight lectures felt like the right amount of time to spend on one composer, although the tradeoff as always is that you can’t look too closely at any one particular work. at the beginning of the course prof. greenberg promises to demythologize mozart, and though i was somewhat skeptical that this would in fact occur, i think he does indeed deliver. any treatment of mozart will by necessity contain a certain amount of sheer awe, but despite this prof. greenberg does consistently manage to portray mozart as a human being—a surprisingly understandable, even relatable human being. he also repeatedly casts mozart as an edgy, difficult composer, a sort of 20th century modernist for the habsburg empire. admittedly this comparison is implied rather than explicitly stated, but while it’s certainly true that mozart’s music could be more challenging than that of his contemporaries, i’m not fully sold that mozart was the 18th century’s boulez. it’s a matter of degree here. if the intended message is that mozart pushed the envelope, then indubitably; but if the implied message is that 20th century composers were simply doing exactly what mozart did, and look at how we all love mozart now, then that may be pressing the analogy too far. that particular bugbear aside however this was a good, satisfying overview of mozart’s life and work. just be prepared when it’s over to find yourself checking to see what other courses on mozart are available! June 4, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by W. A. Mozart!! Prof. Greenburg and his knowledge of his subject is excellent. He gives Mozart a voice when he reads letters written over 200 years ago and presents it with excitement and one can tell he enjoys not only his subject but also teaching. He gets you excited about learning as well. What was once considered a boring subject and one in which many may not enroll in at a university is now presented to you at a much lower cost and with great enthusiasm. January 25, 2014
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