Chamber Music of Mozart

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

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
 |  Average 46 minutes each
  • 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
    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

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Your professor

Robert Greenberg

About Your Professor

Robert Greenberg, Ph.D.
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,...
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Chamber Music of Mozart is rated 4.7 out of 5 by 55.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The personal history, and the wonderful music. Also liked the lecturers’ style.
Date published: 2020-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Guy Who Gets It Right! When Prof. Robert Greenberg explains the works of any given composer, that composer's spirit punches the air and shouts, "Finally! Someone got it right!" With humor, careful explanation, and a composer's empathy for the work of other composers, Prof. Greenberg's lectures educate, entertain, and bring richness heretofore unparalleled in musicology.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Greenberg is fun, navigating Guide notes ia teduou Prof Greenberg weaves a fascinating story tho not quite painlessly for those of us who struggle reading music and are tone deaf to C major vs E minor. The score notes tacked to the final pages of the Guide are a real chore to access back & forth while listening to either a lecture or the music on a CD. This is true also of his Beethoven quartets! Am I missing something? Like a hot link or "GoTo page ... " ?? Flipping from lecture page 21 to score notes is too tedious.
Date published: 2020-03-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Well done & interesting We would have enjoyed it even more if you showed musicians playing at least some of the music instead of staring at a picture of Mozart.
Date published: 2019-12-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent content, organization, and presentation This was a well-designed survey of Mozart’s chamber music, considered in the context of his life and times, incorporating a moderate amount of technical detail on the music, the genres, and the instruments involved. It’s fully up to the standard of Professor Greenberg’s other courses in terms of solid content, authoritativeness, and excellent presentation: I gave it less than a maximum score only because it overlapped a fair amount with his free-standing course on Mozart (#752) and his comprehensive music-appreciation course (#700). That said, I learned a fair amount about what was mainly familiar music. The lectures on chamber music for winds were particularly good, especially the final one on the clarinet quintet.
Date published: 2019-01-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Although my local library has many of your products available for one-month borrowing, I very much enjoy taking my time working with and absorbing the content of the course(s). Therefore, owning the course fits better with my lifestyle. The streaming option is a great help as well.
Date published: 2018-07-20
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course The music is amazing, and the instructor's knowledge and enthusiasm are infectious.
Date published: 2018-07-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Such an enjoyable course I'll never listen to Mozart the same way again after this course. Although I am not well versed in the structure of music, Professor Greenberg has helped me enormously along this line. The course has whetted my appetite to listen to more of Mozart's music with a discerning ear.
Date published: 2018-07-07
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