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Archive for June 2009

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. A name that is known by musicians and music lovers all over the world. This child prodigy was a highly influential Classical era composer.

If you listen to a Mozart composition and it transports you to another world, welcome the journey. That would be what they call the “Mozart effect”. It has been found that listening to Mozart, raised students’ IQs by about eight or nine points.

It has also been said that the Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major (K.448) decreases the number of seizures that epileptic people have. Maybe part of the reason is that it just sounds nice.

The Making of Mozart

On 27 January 1756, Leopold and Anna Maria Pertl became the proud parents of a baby boy, christened the next day as Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. Later, the boy’s name was changed to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – he would come to be known as one of the greatest composers ever.

Anonymous portrait painted in 1763 on commission from Leopold.

Anonymous portrait painted in 1763 on commission from Leopold.

When Wolfgang Amadeus (or Wolfgangerl to his friends, later shortened to Wolferl) was born, he had only one older sister who had survived birth, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl). Nannerl was a talented musician and it was her music lessons that encouraged Wolfgang’s love for music. When Wolfgang was three, he started to take an interest in her lessons, and started to compose small pieces which his father would write down and he would play.

Leopold was Wolfgang’s only teacher, and while he was certainly a devoted teacher, it was evident that the small boy was eager to make progress beyond what he was taught.

Once Wolfgang’s gift had been discovered, the Mozarts took off on a tour of Europe – Leopold would play the violin and Wolfgang and Nannerl would play on the keyboard. Wolfgang would impress the audience by playing the keyboard with a cloth on top, so that he couldn’t see the keys.

The tour was a hit, and the Mozarts was invited to play for the royal court during their trip to Vienna. This went well, and the noblemen were greatly impressed by young Wolfgang. Apparently, when Wolfgang slipped on the floor, Marie Antoinette, the young Archduchess aged only seven, helped him up. Wolfgang extended his thanks in the form of a marriage proposal. He was, in all probability, gracefully declined.

But a child of his age can take only so much stress, and the travelling wore down the young Wolfgang who developed scarlet fever for two weeks. Those two weeks were enough for the hype to wear off, and people soon forgot about the talented family by the name of Mozart.

Marriage for Mozart

In 1781, Mozart decided that he was old enough to pursue an independent career, and departed for Vienna. He met Aloysia Weber, who was a talented singer, and he fell deeply in love with her. However, she rejected him and later married the actor, Joseph Lange.

Posthumous painting by Barbara Krafft in 1819

Posthumous painting by Barbara Krafft in 1819

Vienna is where he had the famous keyboard competition with Muzio Clementi. In 1782, after establishing himself as “the finest keyboard player in Vienna”, Mozart moved in with the Webers (yes, Webers as in Aloysia Weber’s family). You might’ve thought that it would’ve been a tad awkward, but maybe Mozart didn’t mind because he had set his sights on the Weber’s third daughter, Constanze. She was happier to be Mozart’s wife than her sister, and they married on 4 August 1782, with Leopold’s “grudging consent”. The couple had six children together:

Raimund Leopold (17 June – 19 August 1783),

Karl Thomas Mozart,

Johann Thomas Leopold (18 October – 15 November 1786),

Theresia Constanzia Adelheid Friedericke Maria Anna (27 December 1787 – 29 June 1788),

Anna Maria (died soon after her birth on 25 December 1789) and

Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart.

During 1782-83, Mozart was highly influenced by the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, two highly influencial composers from the Baroque period. Like the Classical and Romantic eras, the Baroque era had its own distinctive sound and styles. Such as the fugal (or poly-phony) style. Poly-phony is when there are several voices at the same time, as opposed to the typical Classical right-hand melody and left-hand harmony.

In Mozart’s magical Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute) is a fine example with several fugal passages. One could say the The Magic Flute was the height of Mozart’s spiritual development, and after listening to it one would feel like they had just been refreshed to the extent of feeling reborn. Another fine example of the influence of Bach and Handel lies in the finale of Symphony No. 41 in C (K. 551), Mozart’s last symphony.

It was in Vienna that Mozart met Joseph Haydn and they struck up a close friendship despite the difference in age. The two remained close friends and after Mozart’s death,   Haydn offered to teach Wolfgang and Constanze’s youngest son music when he was of age, and did so.

Mozart’s Memorial

Since the scarlet fever Mozart had contracted as a child, he was a rather sickly person. He fell in and out of sickness all throughout his life. On 5 December 1791, Mozart had his final illness. He passed away at 1 a.m., leaving behind an incomplete Requiem in D Minor (K. 626), an influenced Beethoven, and an altogether changed musical world.

Some say that the Requiem is what led Mozart to his early death. It was commissioned by the eccentric count Franz von Walsegg anonymously. The count himself was an amateur chamber musician, and one of his hobbies was commissioning music from composers greater than him and passing it off as his own.

The Requiem was one such an occasion. The Requiem was a death mass intended for the Count’s late wife, and about death, basically. So when Mozart started writing it, he became so immersed in it that the only way that he was to finish it was to ultimately, die.

Mozart enjoyed fame during his lifetime, and he often earned enough for him and his family to live a wealthy life. However, they didn’t have savings accounts back then, and when the Mozart’s found that they were spending excessively, they had not enough willpower to do anything about it.

Mozart did not die in complete poverty, but the last of his great grand children did. In fact, the community had to pool together some money to ensure that she did not die on the streets. Long after Mozart’s time, there have been many great composers, but none quite like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

On 21st June 2009, the Earth will be at the closest distance to the sun than it has been the whole year. When the Earth is either at its furthest or closest distance from the sun, it is called a solstice. Solstices have the power to bring change and new energies.

As astronomers have found out, the Earth is tilted on an axis, and very slowly moves round the sun, at the same time that it spins around this axis. Astronomers such as Galileo, have also found that indeed, the sun and its solar system do not move around the Earth, but instead, the Earth is one of the many planets that circles the sun as the centre of the solar system.

Far left: the Summer Solstice, Far right: the Winter Solstice, in between: Equinoxes

Far left: the Summer Solstice, Far right: the Winter Solstice, in between: Equinoxes

As you can imagine, the sun holds such power, that when a Solstice comes around, the Earth’s many inhabitants can feel the effects.

The  sibling of a solstice, so to speak, is an Equinox. An Equinox happens when the sun is right in the middle of the Earth’s equator, and the Earth is neither leaning towards nor away from the sun.

Solstices happen twice a year, once in June – the summer one – and once in December – the winter one. The Summer Solstice occurs sometime between June 20 and June 21, and the Winter Solstice sometime between December 21 and December 22. The Summer Solstice is the longest day and the shortest night in the year. In turn, the Winter Solstice is the longest night but the shortest day in the year.

Humans have known about the relationship between the Earth and the sun since the very beginning, and have built monuments such as the Stonehenge to monitor the sun’s yearly progress.

Solstices are celebrated all over the world. There are the Dōngzhì festival in China, Christmas worldwide as well as the Summer Solstice celebrations in many Mediterranean countries.

In the Dōngzhì festival, which takes place around the Winter Solstice, Chinese families get together to eat yummy glutinous rice balls (Tāng Yuán) that represent family reunion and prosperity. Christmas, which also takes place around the time of the Winter Solstice, is not only a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, but also a celebration of the Winter Solstice.

The delicious

The delicious Tāng Yuán (pronounced: Tong Yee-IRN).

Many Mediterranean countries dedicate the Summer Solstice to St. John the Baptist, and their rituals are very similar to the Celtic festival, Samhain.

The spiritual aspect of the solstices is change. It is said that with the Summer Solstice, tomorrow 21 June 2009, all of the old and murky will be swept away and the new will be brought in. Many people will feel the turmoil that this entails in the few months, weeks or days leading up to the solstice.

For example, a project that you’ve been trying to push for a long time is just not budging, and things are just not working out for you, but never fear, for when the Solstice comes, everything should become clear.

June 2009
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