Mozart And His Works
The MHS Review 343 Vol. 9, No. 1 • 1985
click on the cover to return to the table of contents
HARRY HALBREICH Translated by Elisabeth Biolley
Mozart's Paris stay in 1778 was not a happy time for him. Not only did he lose his mother, but his efforts to set foot in the professional world were doomed to failure. He was 22 years old, no longer a child prodigy, and therefore of no further interest to the worldly and superficial Parisian public. Besides he was completely lacking in any sense of selfadvancement and intrigue, without which success was impossible in the French capital. He let himself be ruthlessly exploited, his commissions and even his lessons were often unpaid, and certain of his works written for Paris were not even performed. He let himself be beguiled into writing some ballet music for the greatest choreographer of the time, Noverre, who boasted of using his influence with the Director of the Opera in order to obtain for Mozart a commission for a stage work. Nothing came of the project of course, Mozart received no fee, and his name wasn't even mentioned during the performances!
The ballet Les petits riens was given as an interlude in Piccinni's opera Le finte gemelle, and the premiere took place on June 11, 1778. Mozart did not breathe a word about it to his father in his correspondence, probably in order to avoid having to confess that he had once again worked for no fee. The ballet was a success and was performed several times. The score (an Overture and 13 pieces) was discovered in the Paris Opera library only at the end of the last century. In It the composer has completely adapted himself to the French taste, but his personality remains easily recognizable, some details even heralding the future, like the premonition of Tamino's flute in no. 9. This graceful score is particularly popular in France.
After the triumph of Don Giovanni in Prague, Mozart returned to Vienna in the middle of November 1787, at the time of Gluck's death. Three weeks later, on December 7, Emperor Joseph II conferred upon him the title of "Imperial and Royal Chamber Composer," which Gluck had assumed, but with an annual salary of 800 florins instead of 2,000. "Too much for the services I give and too little for what I am capable of giving," he wrote bitterly on a receipt! For he was not asked for operas or religious music, even less for symphonies, concerti, or chamber music, but merely to supply dance music during Carnival time for the court balls given at the Hall of Redoubts. Thus over 100 dances were written between January 1788 and March 1791: 36 Minuets, 43 German Dances, 20 Contredanses, and 6 Landler, (more than half of his output in that field). Just as with Haydn's slightly later similar pieces, these Dances are far above the usual level for such occasional works. The Six German Dances, K. 571 of February 21, 1789 are of great orchestral splendor. They form a small unified cycle of truly symphonic spirit, and do not end in a joyous Finale, but with a thoughtful epilogue, in which the composer, even in this restrictive framework, has achieved a personal touch.
The most popular of all Mozart's works, Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525, was finished on August 10, 1787 in the middle of work on Don Giovanni, whose nocturnal magic is felt here in a sublimated, more intimate, and supremely concentrated form. It is the last work that Mozart wrote in the serenade genre. In its primitive version it had five movements, with a Minuet being the second. This must have been lost very early on, for nowadays the work presents itself rather like a short string symphony. Two months previously, Mozart finished a lesser known twin work, A Musical Joke, which was the last of his divertimenti. It almost seems as if he had felt the pressing need to make up for this biting, almost ferocious caricature of the fashionable minor composers of the day through an utterance of purest beauty. For Elne kleine Nachtmusik is really to A Musical Joke what Ariel is to Caliban!