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Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791


ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award winner
A fresh look at the life of Mozart during his imperial years by one of the world's leading Mozart scholars.
"I now stand at the gateway to my fortune," Mozart wrote in a letter of 1790. He had entered into the service of Emperor Joseph II of Austria two years earlier as Imperial-Royal Chamber Composer—a salaried appointment with a distinguished title and few obligations. His extraordinary subsequent output, ...
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Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791

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ASCAP-Deems Taylor Award winner
A fresh look at the life of Mozart during his imperial years by one of the world's leading Mozart scholars.
"I now stand at the gateway to my fortune," Mozart wrote in a letter of 1790. He had entered into the service of Emperor Joseph II of Austria two years earlier as Imperial-Royal Chamber Composer—a salaried appointment with a distinguished title and few obligations. His extraordinary subsequent output, beginning with the three final great symphonies from the summer of 1788, invites a reassessment of this entire period of his life. Readers will gain a new appreciation and understanding of the composer's works from that time without the usual emphasis on his imminent death. The author discusses the major biographical and musical implications of the royal appointment and explores Mozart's "imperial style" on the basis of his major compositions—keyboard,chamber, orchestral, operatic, and sacred—and focuses on the large, unfamiliar works he left incomplete. This new perspective points to an energetic, fresh beginning for the composer and a promising creative and financial future.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
At the end of 1787, Mozart reported to his sister, Nannerl, that Emperor Joseph II of Austria had appointed him as Imperial-Royal Chamber Composer. As distinguished music historian Wolff points out in this elegant study of the last four years of Mozart’s life, this new appointment provided the great musician with a regular salary and very few obligations. In spite of the great economic and political instability in the empire, Mozart proved to be astonishingly productive. Narrating Mozart’s life and recreating the cultural atmosphere of these years, Wolff focuses on Mozart’s tremendous accomplishments during this time and not on those of his autumnal years, as so many biographers have done. Mozart’s major musical pieces from 1788 to 1791 include the Vienna production of Don Giovanni, with some newly composed material (1788), and the writing and premier of three new operas: Così fan tutte (1790), La clemenza di Tito (1791), and Die Zauberflöte (1791). Wolff demonstrates that Mozart’s tremendous influence on the history of music grows out of this period primarily because of Mozart’s ability to harness an extraordinary diversity of motives, rhythmic textures, and harmonic ideas into a focused, organic whole. Far from a time of resignation and hopelessness, Wolff argues, these years were a new beginning for Mozart, and the music of The Magic Flute and the Requiem represent a point of departure for genuinely new horizons. (May)
Yo-Yo Ma
“I was so excited to read Christoph Wolff’s remarkable new book, which in one fell swoop dispels myths that arose after Mozart’s untimely death. Through his meticulous scholarship, Wolff allows us to reimagine the composer at the apex of his artistic powers and with creative and entrepreneurial plans in place to ensure his continuing artistic output as well as his financial stability. A beloved scholar, Professor Wolff proves his point with revelatory insights that take us into the inner workings of this great composer’s mind.”
Alfred Brendel
“Christoph Wolff’s remarkable and splendidly readable book presents a new and welcome picture of Mozart’s final years. Without resorting to polemics, it disposes of myths and misconceptions by offering facts and sound judgment. Wolff is a master of minute scholarly research that comprises the circumstances of Mozart’s life as well as the music itself. Countering the widespread concept of a decline of Mozart’s powers, he perceives his latest works, finished and unfinished, as being the point of a new departure—cruelly curtailed by Mozart’s death. I shall listen to the Magic Flute, the Requiem, the clarinet quintet, and the E-flat masterpieces—string trio and string quintet—with sharpened ears.”
Helen Vendler
“In this enthralling tale of Mozart’s imperial appointment and his late torrent of compositions, Christoph Wolff argues, with compelling authority, that those musical triumphs—including the Requiem—point not to an autumnal resignation but toward a propulsive future of complex genius.”
Sir John Eliot Gardiner
“Any book by the eminent scholar Christoph Wolff comes with the guarantee of fresh musical insights and a magisterial command of the sources. His latest book on Mozart is no exception. It will help to demystify and transform our understanding of the composer’s final years.”
Nikolaus Harnoncourt
“For years I’ve been wondering and the question becomes ever more cogent, what puzzling new language Mozart used for his three symphonies and even the Magic Flute. It is a new Mozart, and we cannot simply continue as before. Why? What is it? What does it mean today? To the performer, to the listener? Now I found a helping hand in Christoph Wolff’s unexpectedly novel book. We musicians, used to helping ourselves, gratefully embrace his assistance.”
Emanuel Ax
“A truly different and exciting look at the last years of Mozart’s life. I was especially captivated by the last chapter—Mr. Wolff’s penetrating comments on Mozart’s compositional method are illuminating and also somehow make his genius more personal for us.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393050707
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/21/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 825,221
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Christoph Wolff, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, is the Adams University Professor at Harvard University and one of the world’s foremost experts on Bach and Mozart. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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Table of Contents

Illustrations xi

Preface xiii

Prologue: Mozart, 1788 to 1791-An Inevitable End or a New Beginning? 1

1 Imperial Appointments: Mozart and Salieri 9

Time for Change 9

Prolific under Discouraging Conditions 21

Toward Spirited Partnership 32

2 Explorations Outside of Vienna 44

Traveling Again 44

Frankfurt, 1790: The Self-Styled Ambassador 47

Leipzig and Berlin, 1789 50

Bach Circles at Home and Abroad 60

3 Grand Ambitions: Expanding Compositional Horizons 74

A Musical Announcement 74

A Garden Apartment for a Bold Start 84

The Notion of "Imperial Style" 90

4 "Vera Opera" and The Magic Flute 107

What's in a Name? 107

More than an Egyptian Opera 110

The Language of "Grand Opera" 116

5 "The Higher Pathetic Style of Church Music" and the Requiem 134

An Auspicious Prospect 134

A Timely Commission 142

Envisioning a New Kind of Sacred Music 145

6 "Composed, Just Not Yet 'Written"-Music Never to Be Heard 159

A Self-Assured Prodigy 159

Work in Progress: The Fragments 166

Windows Ajar: Fleeting Sounds of Chamber Music 177

Epilogue 191

Appendix: Currency and Monetary Values 197

Notes 199

Bibliography 221

Index 229

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