Albert Einstein once famously remarked “Mozart’s music is so pure that it seemed to have been ever-present in the universe, waiting to be discovered by the master.” In the end, both Einstein and Mozart were successful in untangling the complexities of the universe and created works of luminous beauty. But since very few artists are inherently attuned to the cosmic vibrations of the universe, it is not surprising that the music of Mozart becomes a much treasured and esteemed starting point.
The exceptional Spanish classical guitarist and composer Fernando Sor (1778-1839) was hailed as the “Beethoven of the guitar.” Considered the best guitarist in the world by his contemporaries, his compositions are “fresh and distinctive, the harmony is skillful and surprisingly varied, with bold key changes and rich modulations.” In terms of style, contemporaries found traces of Joseph Haydn, and specifically Mozart. “No other composer influenced Sor more than Mozart, and one of Sor’s most popular compositions is the Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9. Based on the melody “Das klinget so herrlich” from the Magic Flute, this work ranks “undoubtedly amongst the highlights of the nineteenth century guitar repertoire.”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Das klinget so herrlich,” Magic Flute
Fernando Sor: Introduction and Variations on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 9
According to Paul Hindemith, “Max Reger (1873-1916) was the last great musical giant.” A highly imaginative and unique voice from the turn of the last century, Reger simultaneously looked backwards to Bach and Brahms, but also forward to Berg and Schoenberg. And he certainly looked at Mozart as well! One of the composer’s most popular and most-recorded orchestral works are his Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart, Op. 132. He builds his nine variations and fugue on the opening theme of the piano sonata in A Major, K. 331, itself the subject of unsurpassable variations by Mozart himself. Reger was a highly skilled orchestrator, and he had the ability to conjure up splendid sonorities from the simplest of means. He supposedly always began scoring with the flute parts, which he wrote out from beginning to end. Then he returned to the first page and repeated the procedure with the oboe parts, and so on until the entire score was complete. Mozart and Reger also have another thing in common; they both died very young!
Mikhail Glinka is commonly described as “the father of Russian music.” In his youth he frequently visited the Caucasus mountain range and was spellbound by the wild scenery and its exotic folk music. “A nation creates music,” he famously declared, “the composer only arranges it.” In addition, Glinka took private lessons from the Irish composer and pianist John Field and carefully studied the scores of the Classical Viennese composers Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. Among his earliest surviving works is a set of Variations on a Theme by Mozart, originally composed for harp in 1822. The Mozart theme, supposedly originating in The Magic Flute, is already extensively remodeled. And we have to thank Ludmilla Shestakova, Glinka’s sister, for the survival of this piece of juvenilia. The original score was lost, and Ludmilla later rewrote the piece from memory. It is highly probably that she significantly recomposed the variations in an effort to enhance the youthful efforts of her brother.
At one time or another, Charles-Valentin Alkan (1819- 1888) was mentioned in the same breath with Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt, and even compared with Hector Berlioz. Not only was Alkan one of the most celebrated pianists of the nineteenth century, he was also a most unusual composer, “remarkable in both technique and imagination.” Yet, somewhat surprisingly, he was almost completely ignored by his contemporaries and subsequent generations. Various reasons have been suggested, however, this overall neglect can surely be attributed to his rather enigmatic character. Painfully shy and reclusive, and certainly prone to extensive bouts of depression, Alkan withdrew into virtual seclusion for decades on end. But when Franz Liszt published his Réminiscences de Don Juan in 1841, Alkan quickly jumped into action and published his virtuoso take on Mozart in 1844. In fact, his Variations-Fantasy on Themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni employs precisely the same themes used by Liszt, only this time scored for piano four-hands.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Venite pur avanti,” Don Giovanni
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Fin ch’han dal vino,” Don Giovanni
Charles-Valentin Alkan: Variations-fantaisie on Themes from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Op. 26