Wolfgang Amadé Mozart

Undeserved Gift to Humanity

by Constantin Floros (Author)
©2020 Others 242 Pages


Mozart’s ambivalent personality offers a key to a deeper understanding of his music. He could be merry, even boisterous, but from many of his works speaks a deep seriousness. Both mirth and melancholy stamp his being. His operatic music includes both the comic and the tragic. The present study treats the special character of his musical language and the relations between his personality and his multiform oeuvre. Its mission is to grasp the peculiarities of his operatic work, his opere serie, opere buffe and singspiels. The chapter "The Program in the Master Overtures" initiates the series of semantic analyses the author has pursued in other books. In the 19th century, it was fashionable to compare Mozart to Raffael. But the comparison is askew, as the graceful is only one side of his personality.
About the German edition
Chapter II "presents new and even surprising insights into the ‘program’ in Mozart’s master overtures. The connection between overture and drama is viewed from both compositional and semantic points of view. The studies, written with great stylistic and literary knowledge, enter deep into Mozart’s way of working. For both amateurs and cognoscenti, Floros achieves ad better understanding, above all, of the musical interconnections." (Rudolf Angermüller, Mitteilungen des Mozarteums)

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • I Basic Theses
  • 1. Personality and Oeuvre
  • 2. A Universal Opera Composer
  • 3. Instrumental Pieces as Imaginary Love Scenes
  • II Mirth and Melancholy in Mozart
  • III Tragic and Comic Elements in the Master Operas
  • 1. Fundamental Considerations
  • 2. “But since the passions, vehement or not, must never be expressed ad nauseam.” On Mozart’s Aesthetics of the Stage
  • 3. Stylistic Analysis in The Abduction from the Seraglio, Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute.
  • IV Mozart’s Musical Language. The Phenomenon of Cantability.
  • 1. Musico-rhetorical Figures
  • 2. Instrumental Arias
  • V The Last Symphonies
  • VI “As if I were the greatest violinist in Europe”: Mozart and the Violin
  • 1. “You yourself do not know how well you play the violin”
  • 2. “…to proclaim a miracle to the world”
  • 3. With Violin Accompaniment
  • 4. Piano-Violin Sonatas
  • VII The “Program” in Mozart’s Master Overtures.
  • 1. Overture and Drama
  • 2. How Gluck solved the “Overture Problem”
  • 3. Mozart’s Overtures as Mirrored in Past Criticism
  • 4. The Overture to Idomeneo: On Mozart’s “Leitmotif Technique”
  • 5. The Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail
  • 6. On Mozart’s Turkish Music
  • 7. Lo sposo deluso and Der Schauspieldirektor
  • 8. The Sinfonia to The Marriage of Figaro
  • 9. The Overture to Don Giovanni
  • 10. The Overture to Così fan tutte
  • 11. The overture to La clemenza di Tito
  • 12. The Overture of the Magic Flute
  • 13. Conclusions
  • VIII Levels of Style and Stylistic Synthesis in Mozart’s Operas
  • 1. The Problem
  • 2. Seria Elements in the Buffa before Mozart: The dramma di mezzo carattere
  • 3. An Attempt to Determine the Levels of Style in Mozart. The Aria Typology According to John Brown and Its Application to Mozart
  • 4. Stylistic Synthesis in Mozart’s opere buffe
  • IX Don Juan in Kierkegaard’s Interpretation
  • X Mozart and the Austrian Tradition of Church Music
  • XI Alban Berg and Mozart
  • XII Epilogue: Mozart and We
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index


An intensive occupation with the great Salzburg composer has pervaded my entire adult life. It commenced during my studies in Vienna (1951–1955) and continued to the brink of my 90th year. The present study is largely based on the Mozart Studien, which Breitkopf & Härtel published in Wiesbaden in 1979. That book enjoyed a very positive reception by international Mozart scholarship. Rudolph Angermüller published a detailed review of it in 1980 in the Mitteilungen der Internationalen Stiftung Mozarteum, in which he pointed to the significance of the Studien for research and emphasized above all the striking results of the chapters “Das ‘Programm’ in Mozarts Meisterouvertüren,” which views the connections between overture and drama from compositional and semantic aspects; “Stilebenen und Stilsynthese in den Opern Mozarts,” which analyzes seria, buffa and singspiel styles, aria and role types in the operas; and “Österreichische Tradition in der Kirchenmusik,” which discusses the complex relation of Mozart’s sacred music to the tradition of Michael Haydn, Gaßmann and G. Reutter. “The studies,” Angermüller summarizes, “written with great stylistic and literary knowledge, enter deeply into Mozart’s craft” and “produce a better understanding especially of musical connections for both cognoscenti and amateurs.”

The essay “Das ‘Programm’ in Mozarts Meisterouvertüren,” first published in 1964, initiated the series of “semantic analyses” I have since elaborated. Especially in the English-speaking countries the book prompted a number of critics, such as Daniel Heartz, Julian Rushton, Richard Will and Christoph Wolff (see the bibliography) to undertake further investigations along similar lines.

The present book also relies on additional studies by the author concerning central questions of Mozart research, such as Mozart’s universalism, the relations between oeuvre and biography, between structure and semantics, the ratio of tragic and comic components in Mozart, and Mozart’s musical language and stage aesthetics. Major reception issues are also addressed.

My cordial thanks go above all to my friend Professor Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch, who sensitively also translated this book, and whose periodic questions led to fruitful exchanges. Additional thanks are due to Dr. Bianca Matzek, the director of the Peter Lang Verlag, for her editorial oversight, and to my friend Professor Dr. Peter Petersen (Hamburg) for his meticulous copy editing.

I Basic Theses

The lasting fascination Wolfgang Amadé Mozart exerted on the world of the educated already a few decades after his early death is indescribable. In trying to fix his extraordinary artistic rank, commentators often had to resort to unusual formulations. Time and again they stressed his genius and originality, his inconceivable creativity and universality. Much about him is indeed unusual: his unparalleled precocity (if that term may be applied to a person of genius); his comprehensive training under the guidance of the experienced, enlightened and always strategically proceeding father; the brilliant but also onerous progress of the wunderkind, pubescent boy and young man through all the most renowned musical metropolises of Europe; and finally his last, at times greatly poverty-stricken years. Unique for his phenomenal musical endowment and his memory, he was astounding for the wealth of his ideas, his gift of improvisation and his ability to conceive a composition almost in its entirety in his head before writing it down. He mastered all musical genres without exception, was expert not only in German and Italian but also in French music, quickly established his own unmistakable style, and, according to Joseph Haydn, had both “taste” and, beyond that, “the greatest knowledge of the art of composition.” Equally unique is the world-wide popularity of his music. According to various statistics he ranks at the top of the ten most performed composers, ahead of both Beethoven and Brahms. Wolfgang Hildesheimer aptly called him “an inconceivably great spirit” and “an undeserved gift to humanity, in whom Nature brought forth a unique, probably unrepeatable – at all events never repeated – work of art.”1

1. Personality and Oeuvre

While there has been no dearth of efforts to illuminate Mozart’s personality, it cannot be denied that in many respects it remains an enigma. Asked about Mozart’s “general frame of mind,” Constanze Nissen, Mozart’s widow, said he was “always so merry” and in fact still full of jokes even on his deathbed.2 However, pensive utterances have also come down to us that bespeak a profound earnestness. And if it is legitimate to deduce the basic mood of a great artist from a contemporary painting, the famous portrait painted probably in 1789 in Vienna by Mozart’s brother-in-law Joseph Lange – which according to Constanze was her husband’s closest likeness – conveys a more nearly melancholy impression.

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The question suggests itself whether, and to what extent, insights about Mozart’s personality can be derived from his music – for many admittedly a thorny question. The fact that major keys predominate in his voluminous oeuvre corresponds to the custom of the time. All the more interesting, therefore, must be his compositions in the minor mode. If we speak of the cult of sensibility in the 18th century, we generally think of emotional, pathos-laden music – such as, e.g., Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach wrote – as an opposite pole to the “gallant.” Mozart’s oeuvre includes both types: the emotional, sentimental, which can be raised to the level of the passionate, as well as the gallant, the tender, dallying and flirtatious.

In the aesthetics of the 18th century, G Minor is the key of lament, of mourning and melancholy. It is in G Minor that Pamina voices her death wish in Act II of The Magic Flute, and it is the key of two of Mozart’s best-known symphonies. An invisible line leads from the early G Minor symphony KV 183, in which Georges de Saint-Foix saw a symptom of a “Romantic crisis” in the young Mozart,3 to its more famous sibling KV 550, which, written during a period of severe existential plight, numbers among his most “solemn” and passionate works. It is yet darker in tone than, say, the Piano Quartet in G Minor KV 478 from the year 1785, or even the heart-rending G Minor String Quintet KV 516 of May 1787. Its outer movements impress us by their threnody as well as their drama, and the expressive sighing formations at the beginning, those landmarks of the age of sensibility, determine the profile of the head movement – whose modulatory boldness in the development section is incredible. The finale, moreover, is not in G major (as is the case in the KV 478 and the KV 516) but likewise in G minor. There is no room here for any cheerful send-off.

In some respects, the D Minor key can be called Mozart’s “tragic” key. It occurs chiefly in hate arias, in which a soul becomes altogether unglued from raving and raging, as Electra does in Idomeneo, Osmin in The Abduction from the Seraglio) or the Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute. D Minor is furthermore the base key of the passionate Piano Concerto KV 466, of Don Giovanni, and of the Requiem with its apocalyptic Dies Irae. The two String Quartets KV 173 and KV 421 are likewise written in this key. According to Constanze Mozart, the latter has a biographic reference – Mozart’s anguish about his wife’s labor pains – something vehemently contested, to be sure, by the various advocates of “autonomous” music.

This much is certain: that Mozart was no naively creating, but a reflective artist, one proud of his comprehensive compositional science. At the same time, he put a high premium on feeling and hated the “mechanical,” in modern terms, music without content.4 To his father he wrote from Mannheim that he could ←12 | 13→“assume and imitate pretty much all kinds and styles of music.”5 In another letter, he declared that he was no poet, no painter, no interpreter, no pantomimist and no dancer. Instead he was a “musicus” and as such fully in a position to express “sentiments and thoughts” through notes.6 Based on these remarks and on additional passages in letters, Georg Knepler argued that Mozart’s commitment to Enlightenment and Freemasonry could not be “disputed away.”7

2. A Universal Opera Composer


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (December)
Musik Psychologie Persönlichkeit Schaffen (Werk) Opern Ouvertüren Sinfonik Theaterwissenschaft Romanistik
Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2020. 242 pp., 183 fig. b/w.

Biographical notes

Constantin Floros (Author)

Constantin Floros is professor emeritus of Musicology at the University of Hamburg. Among his works are volumes of the origin of Gregorian neumes, about Semantics and Listening, about Wolfgang Amadé Mozart, Gustav Mahler, Anton Bruckner, Johannes Brahms, Ludwig van Beethoven, Alban Berg and György Ligeti. Ernest Bernhardt-Kabisch is professor emeritus of English and Comparative Literature at Indiana-University. He has translated several books by Constantin Floros.


Title: Wolfgang Amadé Mozart
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244 pages