Sinfonia in G major (2) Josef Myslivecek
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's music can't be defined by any one genre or instrument - he was exceptionally proficient at pretty much everything he turned his hand to. Oh, and he was a template for modern celebrity, too.
It's easy to say that Mozart was one of the greatest composers to have ever lived, but that doesn't tell us exactly why he's still relevant today. Perhaps it's the prodigious nature of his childhood, which saw him famously transcribe Allegri's Miserere from memory. Maybe it was the range of his work, which encompassed opera, concertos, symphonies, chamber music and choral compositions. Or was it that he was the 18th Century equivalent of a troubled celebrity - offensive, stressed, arrogant and ludicrously indulgent?
In truth, it's a mix of all of these, combining in a dramatic story riddled with celebrity excess, father issues and some incredible music. It makes perfect sense that someone with such a difficult personality was able to compose music that reflects so truthfully on the human condition. Just look at some of his biggest bangers - Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a gem of impish frivolity, the second movement of his clarinet concerto is a real heartbreaker, and the finale of Don Giovanni sees the hero dragged into the fiery depths of hell, screaming. Which is quite a range, obviously.
And those are just the big-hitters. Among his 626 works you'll find the innermost workings of a soul determined to explore life's extremes. He was probably a nightmare to deal with and certainly no stranger to life's luxuries (he loved a drink, whether he could afford it or not), but isn't that why we follow celebrities nowadays? If it wasn't for his foibles, there's no way he could've composed the way he did. He might've been fighting off debt-collectors and nursing a sore head for much of his compositional life, but it led to music that still thrums with life and enthusiasm.
Take the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, for example. It starts with an almost imperceptibly quiet flurry of woodwinds (listen to a clip in our playlist below), but it only takes a few seconds before it absolutely explodes into existence. Not only does it give you a flavour of the opera it precedes, it also says a huge amount about how Mozart composed. It's restless, tangential and, above all, lively as anything.
Or, if you want to start somewhere a little more reflective, have a go at the second movement from the Clarinet Concerto in A (sitting comfortably, of course). For a composer synonymous with the phrase 'too many notes', the theme is incredibly simple. It encapsulates the real melancholy that plagued Mozart's life, particularly towards the end as he grew more tired and got into more trouble - the highs were spectacularly high, but the lows revealed a painful kind of nostalgia.
Why is Mozart great? Because he lived his life like it might be over at any moment. Of course, dying at 35 means that he could maybe have produced even greater works of genius and made even more barmy life-choices, but it's not as if he didn't leave enough controversy, stories and music behind. If you're looking for a composer that speaks about life and all its intricacies, Mozart's your man.