On Jan. 27, 2006, in honor of the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, all the church bells in Salzburg were rung simultaneously at the exact hour of his birth.
Fifteen years later, the celebration of the man who many regard as the greatest composer of all time will likely be more subdued but no less heartfelt.
In his 2018 book The Indispensible Composers, New York Times critic Anthony Tommasini wrote: “If you were to compare just Mozart’s orchestral and instrumental music to Beethoven’s, that would be a pretty even match. But Mozart had a whole second career as a path-breaking opera composer. Such incredible range should give him the edge.”
What follows is proof of his genius, with 12 pieces of evidence, either performed (or produced) by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for your enjoyment.
Mozart, Martinon and Stern: The first episode of the Great Music From Chicago series features the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Jean Martinon, in Mozart’s First Violin Concerto, with Isaac Stern.
Mozart’s Serenade No. 11 for Winds: Originally scored for two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons in 1781, the work was later revised by the composer to feature two oboes. This excerpt from CSO Sessions, Episode 2, features Principal Oboe William Welter and Lora Schaefer as the oboe duo. The full episode, which premiered Oct. 8 on CSOtv as part of the CSO’s online series of chamber-music concerts, is now available for free for a limited time.
Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola: As part of the CSO From Home video series, violin Rong-Yan Tang and viola Youming Chen perform the first movement of Mozart’s Duo for Violin and Viola in G, K. 423. Written in 1783, as a favor to an old friend, the work treats the viola as a full partner in the musical discourse. Small wonder: though Mozart played both violin and viola, he reportedly favored the latter.
Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto: In this video interview, Keith Buncke, the CSO’s principal bassoon, talks about the qualities of one of Mozart’s most popular works. Usually, he said, the bassoon has a “chameleon-like” presence in the orchestra, playing bass and harmonic lines, contributing inner voices and only occasionally grabbing the spotlight with a solo. “With a concerto, you always have the solo voice, so you don’t have to be quite as flexible in a way, and you have the freedom to sing out.”
Muti and Mozart’s Requiem: In this CSOradio broadcast, recorded in 2019, Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Mozart’s Requiem with vocal soloists Benedetta Torre, Sara Mingardo, Saimir Pirgu and Miles Kares.
A little Nachtmusik: Concertmaster Robert Chen leads the CSO in an all-Mozart program recorded in 2018 that features Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Violin Concerto No. 3, Symphony No. 25 and Flute Concerto No. 2 featuring principal flute Stefán Ragnar Höskuldsson. Rounding out the broadcast, Claudio Abbado leads Mozart’s Oboe Concerto featuring Ray Still from a 1983 Deutsche Grammophon recording.
Muti & Uchida in Mozart: Recorded in May 2019, Riccardo Muti leads the CSO in Mozart’s Overture to The Marriage of Figaro and Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 featuring soloist Mitsuko Uchida. The broadcast continues with a 1996 recording of Varèse’s Déserts conducted by Pierre Boulez. Rounding out the program, Muti conducts Stravinsky’s Divertimento, Suite from The Fairy’s Kiss and Suite from The Firebird.
Mostly Mozart: Riccardo Muti leads the CSO in a program of highlights from the 2010-2011 season. The broadcast includes Mozart’s Symphonies No. 34 and No. 25 and Strauss’ Aus Italien. The program concludes with Liszt’s Les preludes.
When Ludwig met Wolfgang: Two giants of the classical music world had a meeting of the minds in 1787, when a young Beethoven traveled to Vienna to pay his respects to the master. Afterward, Mozart’s biographer Otto Jahn wrote that the composer declared: “Keep your eyes on him [Beethoven]; some day he will give the world something to talk about.”
Mutter on Mozart: Throughout her career, the music of Mozart has remained front and center for superstar violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. In her recitals, she usually programs at least one work by the giant she calls “the crown of composers.” She explains: “His music is like an x-ray of the soul. It shows what is there, and what isn’t.”
CSO and the da Ponte cycle: For his first season as Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director, Daniel Barenboim led several concerts featuring Mozart’s music to mark the bicentennial of the composer’s death. The tribute culminated in February 1992, with Orchestra Hall transformed into an opera house as Barenboim conducted performances of the three Mozart operas with librettos by Lorenzo da Ponte: The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni. Presented semistaged in rotating repertory, the productions featured leading singers Cecilia Bartoli, Waltraud Meier, Ferruccio Furlanetto and Michele Pertusi, with costumes by Oscar de la Renta.
The man behind Mozart: At his death, Mozart left the Requiem unfinished. His widow, Constanze, eventually turned the manuscript over to Franz Xaver Süssmayr, who was familiar with the composer’s intentions for the work. Debate continues over what Süssmayr actually contributed but most scholars agree that Süssmayr finished the Lacrymosa and added several sections (Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei).