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January 27, 2010

Happy 254th, Wolfgang; celebrate Mozart's birthday by choosing a favorite work

There's nothing more pointless -- or more fun -- than choosing favorite composers or compositions. That's why those what-recordings-would-you-take-to-a-desert-island questions have long been so popular. It forces you to take a good look at what really makes you tick musically, and why.

I thought the occasion of Mozart's 254th birthday on Wednesday offered a perfect excuse to drag out a favorites quiz in his honor. Whether you echo Rossini's view that "Beethoven is the greatest composer, but Mozart is the only one," or place Mozart somewhere lower on your personal list, I expect you still have your favorite Mozartean highs, those moments that floor you every time with their beauty and expressive power. If you could only choose one, what would it be, and why?

As for me, I could probably live with just "Ave verum corpus" or the slow movement of the Clarinet Concerto, or a whole bunch of other gems, but, ultimately, I'd have to select

the trio from "Cosi fan tutte." Maybe it's because of when I first heard it, well before I was even deeply into classical music. It was on the soundtrack of the groundbreaking film "Sunday, Bloody Sunday," a movie that affected me strongly. I still remember the scene when the Peter Finch character put the needle on a record (needle? record? what are those?) and I felt a pleasant shock as I heard the delicate floating accompaniment in the strings and the sound of the three voices emerge above it. Still gets me every time, even in so-so performances of the opera. I think it's simply perfect, and simply exquisite.

Of course, that can be said about any number of Mozart's creations, which is why he's still so popular two and half centuries after he was born, and why he still speaks so deeply to musicians and listeners alike. I've attached a clip of the sublime trio as my way of saying happy birthday, Wolfgang.

But enough about me. What do you think of my choice? No, wait, I'm serious. I do want you to weigh in and share the one Mozart work, or portion thereof, you just couldn't live without on that desert island.

Posted by Tim Smith at 12:20 PM | | Comments (15)


Definitely couldn't survive without Mozart's "Letter Duet" from Figaro!

Bartoli and Fleming version is one of my Favs!

Thanks very much for your choice, and the link. TIM

The Great Mass in C minor.

Thanks. TIM

Wow! I have the same two as the writer. Ave Verum Corpus and Soave Sia il vento from Cosi.

What a close psychic bond we must have. And what excellent taste. TIM

Charles Hazlewood said it best: "I believe Mozart is the greatest composer of all time."
Happy Birthday Wolfie. A lifetime of just your music is all one really needs.

1st mvmnt. symphony #38...

Ave Verum, of course! # 1 on the all-time great list..The jupiter, the last 5 symphonies, in fact. So much from Magic Flute alone, not to mention the souave sia il vento, all the piano sonatas, etc., etc.
I'm just glad I googled Happy Birthday Mozart! I'm glad others, millions surely, feel the same way.
Praise be to God for the gift of Wolfie!

Amen. Thanks for commenting. TIM

Your choices of Mozart's work are excellent. If I had to choose just one, it would be his piano concerto no. 25 (3rd movement) or symphony no. 41 'Jupiter' (1st movement). In my opinion, they both cover every emotion!

Thanks for sharing your faves. TIM

I agree. Here's the Hazlewood Mozart video:

The Exsultate, Jubilate...all 3 movements.

Ein Musikalischer Spass (A Musical Joke): Mozart in all his impish wonder.

But in all seriousness, I could take the whole of the Requiem, specifically the heart-rending "Lacrymosa"

That portion of the Requiem gets me, too. (Especially the live Bernstein performance, even if it is slower than today's Mozarteans could ever tolerate.) TIM

How can you really pick any one of Mozart's work above another. They are all nothing less than perfect. Not to sound very common but I would select Marriage of Figaro. The entire accompaniment is fluid and robust while touching the depths of the heart despite that it is a satire of nobility.

You don't sound very common at all. Thanks. TIM

My favorite post of yours ever! I've been trying to think of a favorite work to contribute since you wrote it, but there are too many. And for sure I'd never be a musician without Mozart. I forgot all about Soave sia il vento; how beautiful.

Act I Trio from Cosi - Gedda, Baker, Caballe - intensely sublime

Love how everyone understands the ridiculous greatness of the Gedda/Baker/Caballe Cosi.

Both Caballe's "Per pieta" and the "Fra gli amplessi" with Gedda are particularly, umm, perfect.

Two early works from his Salzburg years: the double concerto for violin and viola, played in part by Johathan Carney, Madeline Adkins and the BSO and the triple piano concerto later revised as a double concerto - played by the Fleishman's at a BSO concert.

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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