Saturday, August 22, 2015

Why Mozart is Considered a Child Prodigy

I've been listening, off and on, to the complete Mozart lately (170 CDs!) and keep running across interesting stuff. I finally got to the operas and was amazed to discover that, not only did Mozart write 22 operas, but he started when he was a mere lad of eleven years. Unlike eleven-year old slackers who might only write one opera, he actually wrote two. His first, in German, titled "Die Schuldigkeit des ersten Gebots" is sometimes termed an oratorio, but as there are stage directions, it is best classified as a "sacred play with music." This was premiered in March of 1767. His second opera of the year, composed to a Latin text, was Apollo et Hyacinthus, in three acts, premiered in May of 1767. Then, of course, he went on to write two more operas when he was twelve. The first is a one act comic singspiel (meaning with spoken dialogue) in German, titled Bastien und Bastienne. There was an unconfirmed premiere in October of 1768. He followed this up with La finta semplice, an opera buffa to an Italian libretto. This is a full, three act opera in 558 pages of score. This was premiered in May 1769.

UPDATE: I should have mentioned, Mozart was born in January, 1756.

Now if you are thinking that these were some sort of stunt with the music actually being written by his father, an established composer and violinist, not at all. Even years before this, Mozart was already correcting his father, rather than the other way around. Yes, by age eleven probably and certainly by age twelve, Mozart was a fully accomplished opera composer who had already written operas in three different languages. These are not "student" works of dubious accomplishment, but quite acceptable operas. Certainly they are not at the level Mozart would achieve later in life, no Don Giovanni or Magic Flute, but perfectly decent operas.

The opening theme of the overture to Bastien und Bastienne is very similar to the opening theme of the Eroica Symphony by Beethoven:

And here is La finta semplice, the whole opera, but with the recitatives omittedBarbara Hendricks (Rosina), soprano; Siegfried Lorenz (Don Cassandro), bass; Douglas Johnson (Don Polidoro), tenor; Ann Murray (Giacinta), soprano; Eva Lind (Ninetta), soprano; Hans Peter Blochwitz (Fracasso), tenor; Andreas Schmidt (Simone), bass; Kammerorchester "CPE Bach", conducted by Peter Schreier.

The list of composers who were accomplished enough to write full-length operas at age eleven or twelve is a very short one indeed. There is only one name on that list:



Rickard Dahl said...

The case of Mozart naturally leaves the question of: Why hasn't there been more "Mozarts", especially given that classical music spans a millennium already? And a follow-up question can be asked: What are the right conditions for another "Mozart" to occur? Obviously the proper genetics need to be in place along with proper nurturing of the natural talents. Maybe the societal environment has to be correct too. You can't just simply go Milton Babbitt and say "Who cares if you listen?" when your livelihood depends on people listening to your music. A modern day "Mozart" would have many advantages including more musical instruments, more musical influences, probably at least double the life expectancy compared with W.A. Mozart and given the right circumstances such as some kind of inheritance be able to pursue composition full time rather than do some other jobs at the side (music jobs or not).

Throwcase said...

I love the line: "Unlike eleven-year old slackers who might only write one opera, he actually wrote two."

Bryan Townsend said...

Thanks, Throwcase!

Actually, I think we have been very lucky just to have one Mozart.

Marc Puckett said...

The first minutes of Bastien et Bastienne... what a coincidence! I wonder if, were they alive in our litigious society, Mozart might sue Beethoven for using his intellectual property? Of course there may be no other similarities whatever-- I've never listened to the entire B. et B., although I'm sure I did see it referred to in some critical essay (one of those French philosophes... Julie Kristeva, maybe?) somewhere years ago that was investigating gender issues etc etc.

(There is the full length opera Cinderella by Alma Deutscher (2005- ), premiered this year, and she wrote a shorter opera, The Sweeper of Dreams, a couple of years ago. I know this only because, prompted by one of your posts, I tried to make a list of female composers I listen to, ahem, and had recourse to the Wikipedia list to see if there was anyone I had forgotten. Is she the 'new Mozart'?)

Bryan Townsend said...

Hmm, I'll have to look her up.