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Rhythm-A-Day Blog for January 27, 2020: Mozart's Birthday

Posted by Wolf Murphy on

Mozart's Birthday!

Mozart. Chromolithograph by Hetty Krist. (Wikimedia Commons)

Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756 to a musical family and demonstrated a prodigious musical talent from a very young age. At five, he could read and write music and could perform on the piano. By six, he was writing his own compositions.

At just 17, he accepted a post as a court musician in Salzburg. Though he was not well-suited temperamentally to the diplomacy and conformity that Court Life required, he nonetheless composed a great many works during this period. At 25, he moved to Vienna where he resided for the rest of his life. He became famous, and was in high demand as a composer and performer. 

“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame.
I simply follow my own feelings.”


His music is known for its emotional potency, and in particular, his ability to evoke joy. He is reported to have had an uncanny ear for remembering the music of others. While in Rome, Mozart heard Allegri’s Miserere performed one time in the Sistine Chapel—he later wrote out the entire score from memory! He could incorporate stylistic elements from the greats of his time, like Haydn and Bach, but always with his own style and interpretive flair. He composed in practically every genre popular during his time.

Despite his talent, he struggled financially. In 1782, he married though his father disapproved; of six children from that marriage, only two survived infancy. He was raised and remained a roman Catholic and his spirituality informed his behavior:

“I know myself, and I have such a sense of religion that I shall never do anything which I would not do before the whole world.”

Many of his greatest works are informed by his religion, including:

  • The Ave Verum Corpus
  • Dies Irae
  • The Sanctus
  • The final Requiem (it is said he was writing this piece for his own funeral, understanding that his time was drawing close.)

He died in 1791, only aged 35. In his last year he composed The Magic Flute, his final piano concerto (K. 595 in B-flat), the Clarinet Concerto K. 622, a string quintet (K. 614 in E-flat), the famous motet Ave verum corpus K. 618, and the unfinished Requiem K. 626, referenced above. He left a legacy of work that shows, however, that music communicates the most sublime emotions:

"Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius."


Following are Timpani parts from several of Mozart's compositions, including the Requiem, Dies Irae, and Sanctus

Page from Requiem in Mozart's own handwriting. (Wikimedia Commons)

Some notes about the notation: The Timpani drums of Mozart's era did not have pitch variation (later models used a foot pedal to alter the tension on the heads). The Timpanist played 2 tuned drums, one higher and one lower. For this notation we are using the "Tone" for the high drum. So you can play these on a single drum as notated, but if you want to try (and have two drums!) try setting them side by side and playing the tones on the higher drum. I chose phrases thta will work well together in orchestration.

In the video lesson I translate "Dies Irae" as "The Wrath of God," although literally it is "Day of Wrath"—or Judgment Day, when God gets to break out a Big Can of Holy Whoopass on the sinners. 

Today's Video Lesson

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