Symphony No.4 in A major Opus 90 (1) Felix Mendelssohn Download 'Symphony No.4 in A major Opus 90 (1)' on iTunes
Katherine opens the section of her collection containing a sampling of the vast output of probably the greatest two composers ever.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the composer of more than 600 works, many of them still unsurpassed in their brilliance. 'What seems extraordinary to me about Mozart was the fact that his personal situation, his poor health and money problems very rarely seemed to affect his incredible output,' says Katherine. The title for this sweet serenade for string quartet with an added double-bass, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, was jotted down next to its entry in Mozart's composition log. He never published it in his lifetime - it was left up to his widow, Constanze, to sell it to a publisher in 1799, presumably to raise much needed cash. It was only heard in public some forty years after it was written.
The evergreen Clarinet Concerto was one of Mozart's last completed works. It was written for his good friend, the virtuoso Anton Stadler. 'The clarinet as an instrument was somewhat new during Mozart’s time and it’s reported that he loved it,' says Katherine, 'so it seems a bit surprising doesn’t it that he didn't write more for the clarinet, especially towards the end of his short life?'
Mozart wrote 41 symphonies and 27 piano concertos. Yet he considered opera to be the supreme musical language, where everything was perfectly possible and, with a genius such as Mozart’s, possibly perfect. Mozart had just hit 30 and had been enjoying one of his most successful periods when The Marriage of Figaro received its premiere. One contemporary reporter wrote, 'the joy which this music causes is so far removed from all sensuality that one cannot speak of it. Where could words be found that are worthy to describe such joy?’ 'This piece, Sullaria, is absolutely sublime,' says Katherine. 'You might remember it from its use in the wonderful film, The Shawshank Redemption.'
Towards the end of his short life, Mozart was especially prolific and his powers reached their peak with the marvellous operas and a series of works that are really the pinnacle of the symphonic form, finally bringing the baroque style into the classical era. That’s nowhere more so than in Mozart’s 41st and last symphony known as the Jupiter Symphony. 'Many believe this to be Mozart at his finest,' says Katherine, 'the full flowering of his intelligence and musical genius.'
The Requièm Mass in D minor which was left unfinished at Mozart's death in 1791 was commissioned by an eccentric count who routinely hired composers to write works and then passed them off as his own. He wanted a Requiem that he could claim he had written in memory of his recently deceased wife. Mozart received only half of the payment in advance, so upon his death, Mozart’s widow Constanze was keen to get the work completed and collect the final payment.
Another giant of classical music was a young man who arrived in Vienna in 1787, hoping to study with Mozart. Whether they met or not we don’t know, but this young prodigy went on to become one of the most famous and influential composers of all time. 'If Mozart formed the bridge between the baroque and classical eras, Beethoven extended it further to usher in the romantic age,' says Katherine. The Seventh Symphony, described by Wagner who used to play a piano version of it as the apotheosis of the dance, does not let up in its intensity. Beethoven conducted the first performance of this symphony, and an eye witness described him as crouching below the rostrum in the quiet passages, then leaping so high in the loud passages that his feet left the floor.
'One of my favourite small piano pieces by Beethoven is known popularly as Fur Elise – For Elise,' says Katherine. No one really knows who Elise was. It may even be that the title was transcribed wrongly and that Beethoven wrote the piece 'fur Therese', a student with whom he was in love and who declined his proposal.
'What made Beethoven special and successful was that he managed to break the highly structured and refined rules of classical composition, preparing the way for the free-flowing romantic composers who followed him,' says Katherine. For example, when Beethoven published his first three piano trios, his teacher Joseph Haydn - pictured - praised them but told the young composer to hold off publishing the third one, which was just too bold. Haydn thought that it would be a bad career move, because the music would be too hard for an audience to understand. Beethoven pressed on regardless. The trio announced him as a new and important musical voice, with powerful things to say.
Despite its nickname, in Beethoven’s mind this was never the 'Moonlight' Sonata. But when the German critic Ludwig Rellstab described the sonata’s famous opening movement as being akin to moonlight flickering across Lake Lucerne, he created a description that would go on to outlive the composer. Today, the Moonlight is the composer’s most famous and most loved solo piano piece.