Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is considered one of the greatest classical composers of all time. He composed more than 600 pieces during his lifetime. These 17 are considered some of the best.
1. The Marriage of Figaro
Mozart composed The Marriage of Figaro, an opera buffa, in 1786 and incorporated a libretto composed by Lorenzo Da Ponte. Da Ponte’s libretto is based on Pierre Beaumarchais’s 1784 stage comedy, The Madness of a Day, or the Marriage of Figaro. It premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna.
This legendary opera is considered one of the greatest ever written and most frequently performed. It tells the story of servants Figaro and Susanna marrying against the odds. The pair must thwart their employer, Count Almaviva, who is trying to seduce Susanna. Mozart’s incredible score combines with a rich human depth to produce an enduring masterpiece.
2. Symphony No. 40
Mozart composed Symphony No. 40 in G minor in 1788. It is sometimes called the “Great G minor symphony” to keep it from being mixed up with the “Little G minor symphony,” Symphony No. 25. Both pieces are the only two extant minor key symphonies surviving from Mozart.
Symphony No. 40 exists in two different versions, with one including parts for a pair of clarinets. It’s likely these were added on revision. This symphony came about during a highly productive period of Mozart’s career. He completed the 39th and 41st symphonies around the same time. Some scholars argue that they should be seen as a single unified work.
3. Oboe Concerto
Mozart’s Oboe Concerto in C major was composed in 1777. Mozart crafted this piece for oboist Giuseppe Ferlendis. A year later, Mozart revised the concerto for a flute in D major. Oboe Concerto in C is widely studied by scholars and performers. It is considered one of the most important oboe concertos ever composed.
This piece is similar in orchestration to the Flute Concerto No. 1 in G major. It features a standard string section, two oboes, and two horns in D/C. C major defines the first and last movements, but the second movement is in F major. Mozart also created an adaptation, Flute Concerto No. 2 in D major.
4. Clarinet Concerto
Mozart completed the Clarinet Concerto in A major in 1791. The concerto is made up of three movements arranged. The movements are defined by a succession of speed, slowness, and speed again. Mozart completed this piece just a few weeks before his death. It has often been described as his final great work and even his “swan song.” Mozart wrote the concerto to be played on the basset clarinet; it was later adapted for conventional clarinets. Unfortunately, the original manuscript score has since been lost. Modern performances using basset clarinets are now based on scholarly reconstructions.
5. Serenade No. 13 “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, or Serenade No. 13 in G major, is a chamber ensemble composition. Mozart wrote it in 1787 for an ensemble of cello, viola, double bass, and violins. However, it is often performed by string orchestras.
Serenade No. 13 remains one of Mozart’s most popular pieces. While it was composed around the time of Don Giovanni’s second act, no one is sure why Mozart wrote Serenade No. 13. It remained unpublished until almost three decades after Mozart’s death when it was sold by his widow Constanze.
6. Requiem: Lacrimosa
Mozart’s Requiem in D minor is a Requiem mass of the Roman Catholic tradition. Sadly, Mozart had not finished it by the time he died. Franz Xaver Süssmayr would publish a completed version in 1792. Mozart had enough time to finish an orchestrated introit (opening verse). He managed detailed Kyrie, Eleison drafts (Lord, have mercy). Mozart also managed to compose the first eight bars of the Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) sequence and the Offertory.
Mozart reportedly received the commission for the Requiem from a mysterious stranger who kept their identity secret. Legend, supported by his widow Constanze, says that Mozart eventually believed he was writing for his own funeral.
7. Piano Concerto No. 21
Mozart finished Piano Concerto No. 21 in C major in March 1785, a mere four weeks after completing his previous concerto. Piano Concerto No. 21 has three movements scored for timpani, strings, two horns, and two trumpets in C, two oboes and two bassoons, and a solo piano.
The concerto opens quietly with a march figure and quickly becomes a lyrical melody mixed with fanfare. As the concerto grows louder, violins take up the principal melody. By the final rondo, the entire orchestra resounds with a joyful “jumping” theme further elaborated by the piano. The piano and ensemble engage in a call-and-response.
8. Cosi Fan Tutte
Cosi Fan Tutte (So do they all), often called “All Women Do It,” is an opera buffa in two acts. Mozart wrote it incorporating a libretto by Lorenzo Da Ponte, who also figured in Le Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni. The title is in reference to how men view women and their behavior. The opera was first performed at the Burgtheater in 1790. Though it has long been believed that Mozart wrote Cosi Fan Tutte for Emperor Joseph II, scholars no longer supports this.
9. The Magic Flute
The Magic Flute is an opera in two acts. It is in the form of a singspiel, a style that involves both singing and spoken dialogue. The Magic Flute is one of Mozart’s most known and beloved compositions. He composed and debuted it for the first time just two months before he died, in September 1791. It remains a staple of the opera repertory.
The Magic Flute’s allegorical plot focuses on Prince Tamino’s effort to rescue the Queen of the Night’s daughter, Pamina, from the high priest Sarastro. Tamino and Pamina eventually join forces with Sarastro to overthrow the Queen.
10. Solemn Vespers for a confessor
Solemn Vespers for a Confessor (Vesperae Solennes de Confessore) was composed for liturgical use. Mozart intended it to be performed during Solemn Vespers (evening prayer led by a bishop) in the Salzburg Cathedral. It is structurally similar to his 1779 Vesperae Solennes de Dominica. The final minor doxology concludes its movements and recapitulates the overarching themes.
11. Sinfonia Concertante
Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat major for violin, viola, and orchestra was composed by Mozart in 1779. At the time, Mozart was on a European tour that included Paris and Mannheim. He was then experimenting with the sinfonia concertante genre. In that vein, his Sinfonia concertante is considered his greatest success in the cross-over of concerto and symphony.
Scored in three movements for viola, violin, two horns, two oboes, and strings, it is written in D major. The solo viola is tuned to be a semitone sharper (the scordatura technique) for a more brilliant tone. Today, this technique is rarely used on modern violas and must be done with original instruments.
12. Horn Concerto No. 4
Mozart composed his Horn Concerto No. 4 in E-flat major in 1786. The work is made up of three movements that typically take less than 18 minutes. Mozart wrote this in alternating red, green, blue, and black ink. Scholars debate whether this was some kind of coded message or merely an attempt to pester Joseph Leutgeb, Mozart’s friend and the piece’s performer. It is one of two concertos by Mozart to incorporate ripieno horns. Because it is so short, Horn Concert No. 4 is often performed alongside the previous three.
13. Symphony No. 41 “Jupiter”
Symphony No. 41 (Jupiter) in C major is the longest and last symphony of Mozart’s career. Mozart completed it in 1788. Innumerable critics regard it as one of the best symphonies in all of classic music. It has the nickname “the Jupiter Symphony.” Symphony No. 41 is scored for flute, two oboes and two bassoons, first and second violins, two horns in C and F, timpani in C and G, cellos, violas, and double basses. Remarkably, it is unknown whether the symphony was ever performed while Mozart was alive.
14. Exsultate, Jubilate
Exsultate, Jubilate is Mozart’s religious solo motet composed in Milan in 1773. Mozart composed it during the production of Lucio Silla, his opera at the Teatro Regio Ducale. He wrote the motet for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini because he admired the singer’s technical skill. Rauzzini was singing in Mozart’s opera at the Theatine Church when he first performed the motet. Mozart made some revisions seven years later. In the modern age, the motet is typically sung by a female soprano.
15. Coronation Mass
Mozart’s Coronation Mass or Mass No. 15 in C major is one of his most popular and enduring compositions. The composer crafted 17 settings for the Ordinary of the Roman Catholic Mass.
In liturgical music, it is classified as a Missa brevis (short Mass) or Missa solemnis (solemn Mass). This is because it contains the entire Ordinary but is musically relatively short. This Mass setting has long been used for royal and imperial coronations and thanksgiving services. In 1985, Pope John Paul II celebrated Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica while the Sistine Chapel Choir performed Mozart’s Mass No. 15.
16. Piano Concerto No. 9 “jeunehomme”
The Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-flat major, Jeunehomme (Jenamy concerto) is a work composed for proficient pianist Victoire Jenamy. Mozart composed it in Salzburg in 1777 when he was just 21. Mozart first performed Jeunehomme at a private concert that year, but it is unclear if Jenamy premiered the work before that. The first movement opens with a soloist’s interventions, breaking conventions at the time. This anticipated Beethoven’s Fourth and Fifth Concertos. The dialogue between orchestra and piano also departs from typical compositions.
17. Piano Sonata No. 11 “Alla Turca”
Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major is a piano sonata in three movements. Mozart published it in 1784. Its third movement is famously known as the Turkish March or Turkish Rondo. It is so renowned that it is often played independently of the rest of the sonata. It is one of Mozart’s most enduring and beloved piano compositions.
Typically, this homotonal sonata takes about 20 minutes. Its opening movement is a theme and variation wherein Mozart defied the conventional sonata opening with an allegro movement in sonata form.
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