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This Week In Music

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Classical Composer (January 27, 1756, to December 5, 1791)

Enduringly popular classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most inventive and influential composers of his, or any other time. Among his over 600 compositions are many acknowledged to have explored and perfected their forms to a previously unreached degree. He is renowned for having created masterpieces in every musical form that he touched: symphonies, concertos, chamber music, operas, and choral music. Mozart's music, like that of his mentor Joseph Haydn's helped to define the classical style. Increasingly influenced by baroque music as he matured, Mozart advanced the technical sophistication and emotional reach of the already out-of-style baroque while adding increasing counterpoint to his own music. Throughout his career Mozart's increasingly sophisticated orchestration influenced his operas and his use of the orchestra for dramatic effect in his operas added psychological depth to his instrumental pieces.

A child prodigy who was already composing at age 5, Mozart actively learned from others—including his teacher Joseph Haydn—and went on to profoundly influence composers and musicians who followed him. During his brief life, Mozart travelled widely through Europe meeting many important musical figures, including Johann Christian Bach, whom he visited in London. His travels were motivated first by his father's efforts to win the boy prodigy a stable position and later by a desire to have a job as a musician and composer that would pay enough to support his growing family.

Mozart's first full-time employment came in 1773 as court musician to the ruler of Salzburg. While writing for the court, Mozart composed symphonies, sonatas, string quartets, choral pieces and minor operas. Many of these pieces, including his 5 violin concertos are still regularly performed.

Dissatisfied with his position in Salzburg, Mozart settled in Vienna in 1781, where despite his fame—as an independent performer and composer—he never achieved financial security. Already regarded as the finest Viennese keyboard player of his time, his reputation was secured by the 1782 premier of his opera Die Entfuhrung as dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio). During this period Mozart began his association with librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, a collaboration that led to such operatic masterpieces as The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni.

1791, Mozart's final year, included the composition of some of his most esteemed works: his final piano concerto, the Clarinet concerto in A major, the last of his string quintets, his opera The Magic Flute, and the monumental but unfinished Requiem. He contracted an illness in Prague where he premiered his opera La clemenza di Tito on September 6, and was bedridden by November. Mozart died at 1 a.m. on December 5 at age 35 leaving behind a wife and 2 surviving sons.


Historic Musical Event: The Original Dixieland Jazz Band's Rendition of "Darktown Strutters' Ball" is Believed to be the First Jazz Recording, January 30, 1917

Covering music first published in Chicago by Will Rossiter on January 18, 1917, the Original Dixieland Jazz Band's recording for Columbia on January 30 of the same year is believed by many to be the first commercially made jazz record. (There is some dispute about the recording date. The January 1917 milestone is based on the 1960 book The Story of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in which author H. O. Brunn relied on the recollections of the band's leader Nick LaRocca.)

The tune was written by Shelton Brooks and was inspired by a ball at the 1915 Pacific-Panama Exposition in San Francisco. The traditional jazz song quickly became a standard and was later recorded by many bands and orchestras including Jimmy Dorsey in 1938 and Benny Goodman in 1945. Arrangements for barbershop quartet, piano solo, brass quintet, and choir have been published, and performers as varied as Ella Fitzgerald, the Lawrence Welk Orchestra, and the Beach Boys have recorded the song.

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band calling themselves "The Creators of Jazz," consisted of New Orleans musicians Nick LaRocca, leader and cornet; Larry Shields, clarinet; Eddie Edwards, trombone; Tony Sbarbaro, drums; and Henry Ragas, who was later replaced by J. Russel Robinson on piano.

The group's sound was new even if their music was not original, and young dancers eager to break free of the formal dance steps of their time greeted its novel rhythm with approval.

Selected in 1963 by ASCAP for its All-Time Hit Parade, Columbia Records catalog number A-2297, the disc on which the song appears, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006.


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