My First Mozart Playlist

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Illustration by James MayhewWolfgang Amadeus Mozart (born in 1756; died in 1791) is one of the most famous composers. When he was only three years old, he played the harpsichord and the violin. At the age of four he was making up his own music. He was so young that his father had to help him write it down.

When he was six years old, Mozart and his older sister Nannerl were giving concerts to kings and queens and emperors. And Mozart wrote new music all the time, even when he was sitting in bumpy coaches travelling through Europe.

He didn’t have a long life. But he wrote a lot of music and we hear it today in concerts and on recordings. He wrote symphonies for an orchestra to play. He wrote piano concertos for an orchestra and a solo piano, and he would play the piano part himself! And he wrote the music of many operas – these are like plays with singing – as well as hundreds of other pieces.

People said that he composed and played music in the way that most of us breathe: it was completely natural for him.

1. The Marriage of Figaro: Overture

Keyword: Hurry

This is the music for the very beginning of an opera. An opera is a kind of play with singing. This opera is about Count Almaviva and his family, who live in a huge house with servants. When Mozart was alive, 250 years ago, all the women wore long dresses and all the men wore coats down to their knees. Fashion has changed today! So in The Marriage of Figaro a lot of women in dresses and a lot of men in coats are rushing around, going in this door, going out of that door, being happy, being sad, and doing things in a hurry. You can hear it in the music!

Performers: Hungarian State Opera Orchestra; Pier Giorgio Morandi

Taken from Naxos 8.554172


2. Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550: I. Allegro molto

Keyword: Minor

So many people love this symphony. Listen to the beautiful tune at the beginning. This tune is played by the violins. It is in a ‘minor’ key – it sounds a bit sad – but it is still full of life.

Performers: Capella Istropolitana; Barry Wordsworth

Taken from Naxos 8.550164


3. Serenade in G major, K. 525 ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ (‘A Little Night-Music’): IV. Rondo

Keyword: Violins

Mozart was born in Salzburg, a town in Austria. He grew up speaking German, and that’s why this piece has a German title. This is how you say the title: ‘Eye-ner Kleye-ner Nukhtmoosik’. Gut! You can now speak eine kleine German!

Performers: Swedish Chamber Orchestra; Petter Sundkvist

Taken from Naxos 8.557023


4. Concerto for flute and harp, K. 299: II. Andantino (extract)

Keyword: Friends

The flute and the harp are friends in this piece. They are the most important instruments and they play in front of the orchestra. The flute has a silvery sound (it is often made of real silver) and the harp has a tinkly sound.

Performers: Jiří Válek, flute; Hana Mullerová, harp; Capella Istropolitana; Richard Edlinger

Taken from Naxos 8.550159


5. Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, K. 331: III. Rondo alla turca (‘Turkish Rondo’): Allegretto

Keyword: Turkish

‘Turca’ means ‘Turkish’. In this piece Mozart was trying to copy the sound of a Turkish band. The band would have had lots of percussion instruments – drums and cymbals. But Mozart only has a piano! So he makes the piano sound like a noisy band with a strong beat.

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550448


6. Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major, K. 488: III. Allegro assai (extract)

Keyword: Piano

This is another concerto (like track 4). This time, instead of a flute and a harp, it is a piano that is in front of the orchestra. The piano starts off on its own. Then the orchestra takes over. Can you shout ‘hurray’ when you hear the piano come in again?

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano; Concentus Hungaricus; Mátyás Antál

Taken from Naxos 8.550204


7. Sinfonia concertante in E flat major, K. 364: III. Presto

Keyword: Sounds

First of all, enjoy the music. It’s bouncy! Then, try to pick out different instruments making different sounds. At the beginning, there are string instruments – violins and cellos. Then come wind instruments – ones that you blow, like the oboe and flute. Then they all play together. At last, in come the two star soloists: first there is a violin, more important than all the other violins. It sounds sweet and high. Second there is a viola – a bigger violin. It has a lower, deeper sound. The violin and the viola talk to each other!

Performers: Takako Nishizaki, violin; Ladislav Kyselák, viola; Capella Istropolitana; Stephen Gunzenhauser

Taken from Naxos 8.550332


8. Clarinet Quintet: II. Larghetto

Keyword: Clarinet

The clarinet is long and the best ones are made of special, black wood. When you blow through the clarinet, it makes this long, dark, beautiful sound. Here Mozart decided to put the clarinet into a little group of four string instruments (two violins, a viola and a cello). The clarinet’s sound slides gently in and out of the strings in a lovely line.

Performers: József Balogh, clarinet; Danubius Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.553254


9. The Magic Flute: Papageno’s Song

Keyword: Pipes

Papageno is a bird-catcher. He is dressed in colourful bird feathers so that he looks like a bird. He plays the pan-pipes, so he can imitate the songs of birds. (Can you hear the little high notes that he keeps playing on his pipes?) He is not very happy because he doesn’t have a wife, and this is what he is singing about: if only he could catch a wife as easily as he can catch birds. But he doesn’t seem to have the right kind of net for catching a wife!

Performers: Georg Tichy, Papageno; Budapest Failoni Chamber Orchestra; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.660030-31


10. Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major, K. 467 ‘Elvira Madigan’: II. Andante

Keyword: Slow

Concertos have a soloist – someone who stands at the front to play the most important part. Mozart liked writing solo piano parts: he could play the piano really well. So here is another piano soloist. Most concertos have three big sections or ‘movements’: No. 1: fast; No. 2: slow; No. 3: fast. This is a slow movement.

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano; Concentus Hungaricus; András Ligeti

Taken from Naxos 8.550202


11. Divertimento in D major, K. 136 ‘Salzburg Symphony No. 1’: I. Allegro

Keyword: Fingers

This music is for four string instruments – violin 1, violin 2, a viola and a cello. Because this is a recording, you can’t see the fingers of the violinists running up and down their violins. But try to imagine them while you are listening. All those fast notes need fast fingers!

Performers: Éder Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.550543


12. Piano Sonata No. 16 in C major, K. 545: I. Allegro

Keyword: Hands

When you learn the piano, you have to practise making your left hand and your right hand do different things at the same time. One hand might go in one direction while the other goes in a different direction. All the notes in this piece are played by just two hands. The right hand is on the top, playing all the high bits, and the left hand is further down, playing all the lower bits. Do you think they make a good team?

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550446


13. Violin Concerto No. 3 in G major, K. 216: III. Rondo: Allegro

Keyword: Violin

Mozart played the violin as well as the piano. So of course he wrote music for the violin too. This is the last movement of his Third Violin Concerto. He wrote it when he was 19. Do you think he was a happy man when he was 19? Listen to the music and see what you think. It sounds like he was very happy! And his music has made millions of people happy ever since.

Performers: Takako Nishizaki, violin; Capella Istropolitana; Stephen Gunzenhauser

Taken from Naxos 8.550418


14. Requiem: Kyrie eleison

Keyword: Voices

This sounds a lot more serious. It is! A Requiem is like a musical prayer for people who have died. So Mozart wrote this for a choir to sing in a church. You can hear women singing up high and men singing down low. Actually, Mozart died before he finished composing the whole of his Requiem. He was only 35 years old.

Performers: Slovak Philharmonic Chorus; Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Zdeněk Košler

Taken from Naxos 8.550235


15. Horn Concerto No. 4 in E flat major, K. 495: III. Rondo: Allegro vivace

Keyword: Horn

Mozart was amazing but he didn’t play the horn. He had a good friend who did, though! So he wrote four horn concertos. The main tune here is coming out of the big, round, golden tubes of the French horn. The horn has only three keys to press. But there are a lot more than three notes here. So the horn player has to do clever things with the lips and diaphragm while blowing. Listen to the music a few times then see if you can whistle the tune with the soloist! If you can do it, perhaps you could play the horn too…

Performers: Michael Thompson, horn & conductor; Bournemouth Sinfonietta

Taken from Naxos 8.553592


16. Serenade No. 10 in B flat major, K. 361 ‘Gran Partita’: V. Menuetto: Allegretto

Keyword: Wind

‘Wind’ doesn’t mean the wind outside. It means the wind that people blow down instruments to play them. So the ‘wind’ is their breath. And all those instruments are called ‘wind instruments’. Mozart wrote this special piece for 12 wind instruments – oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns – and one enormous string instrument, a double bass. Sometimes they all play together and sometimes there are little solos.

Performers: German Wind Soloists

Taken from Naxos 8.550060


17. Divertimento in F major, K. 522 ‘A Musical Joke’ · IV. Presto

Keyword: Fun

Mozart loved making jokes. Even when he met royal people he couldn’t be serious. Mozart is imitating bad composers in this piece. That’s why it’s funny – he was teasing. He was such a good composer that he could pretend to be a bad one and people still thought he was great. But the real joke is right at the end… be patient and you’ll hear it when it comes!

Performers: Jenő Keveházi, horn; Kodály Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.550437


Note writer: Nicolas Soames

Music selection and ‘My First’ series editor: Genevieve Helsby