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January 27, 2012

For Mozart's birthday, three of his most divine minutes

Hey, I know you don't want to forget to wish Mozart a happy 256th birthday. (To tell the truth, I almost forgot myself.)

As Nicolas Slonimsky so succinctly put it in his Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Mozart was the "supreme Austrian genius of music whose works in every genre are unsurpassed in lyric beauty, rhythmic variety and effortless melodic invention." That covers it pretty well.

To mark the composer's birthday, I wanted to keep it short, sweet and sublime -- three of the most divine minutes in all of Mozart -- "Soave sia il vento," the trio from "Cosi fan tutte."

In this scene, two women who think their boyfriends are sailing off to war, and the cynic who knows it's a ruse meant to test the issue of fidelity in the female sex, join voices in wishing the men a safe journey.

The whole thing could have been played just for laughs in this very adult comedy, but Mozart, that "supreme genius," went for something else -- the heart. You may need to have yours examined if you ever find yourself less than deeply entranced by this trio.

There are many wonderful performances out there, but I could not resist this one, because it features two of my all-time favorite singers ...

Montserrat Caballe and Janet Baker, along with the excellent bass Richard Van Allan. (Sorry there's no video interest in this clip, but the music is more than enough.)

So Happy Birthday, Wolfgang. In the words of "Soave sia il vento," May the winds be gentle, may the waves be calm ..."

Posted by Tim Smith at 9:37 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Clef Notes


What a great way to celebrate Mozart's birthday...and I agree, a more perfect three minutes were never written. To me, this piece is absolute proof that Mozart intended Don Alfonso to be a baritone, and Guglielmo a bass...but I digress.

You can digress here anytime. TIM

Indeed, sublime.

I don't quibble with your selection of the trio, but I humbly submit that perhaps the most perfect 3 minutes written by ANY composer is Mozart's Ave verum corpus.

Simple. Genius.

Well, I alway do exaggerate a little. Of course, the trio is one of the most sublime. Your pick is absolutely one of the others -- and on some days, I would gladly rank it at the top. TIM

Perfect music, but then the pitch has also to be perfect - here not!

Thank you. This is a wonderful celebration of Mozart's birthday. It also is an example that belies the notion that opera singers cannot do ensemble. These wonderful artists, perhaps respecting the greatest composer, brought almost choral-like realization to his beautiful creation. This is my favorite recording of Cosi. Thank you again!

Very glad to hear you liked my choice. Cheers. TIM

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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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