Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the biggest composers of the 18th century. He is known for having written more than 600 compositions. He began composing at the age of five, already having the ability to prodigiously play the violin and the piano. Besides, he is remembered for his extraordinary ability to compose music in his mind.
The Creative Process
Myths developed, during the years, around Mozart’s figure, especially about his creative process. He indeed composed in his head, but he also needed to write down the notes as he worked on them. Beyond his compositions, he mainly wrote sketches, 320 of which survived between the years 1768-1791, years of his travels and death, and have arrived to us. He even used a personal type of shorthand in his sketches, which made it easier for him to edit his compositions, even if the changes were minor and never got to the core of his work.
It is doubtless that Mozart was a true music genius, as Constanze, his wife, testifies: “He wrote down music in the same way as he wrote letters”. He did it at any time of the day and there was nothing that could distract him. As a result, we have, nowadays, a significant amount of his musical compositions, including the unfinished ones, which can be classified into sketches and fragments.
Image source: https://www.jstor.org/stable/740312
Sketches and Fragments
- Sketches: were written in his shorthand (Skizzenschrift), that he used for private information; most of them were just memos, written down to be worked on afterward, or preliminary studies rather than complete drafts. Although brief, the sketches show a lot of effort and work, proof that he also needed practice and study for his music. We can also find some laborious sketches alongside the manuscripts of completed creations that show a bit of struggle to complete the work in his head, therefore needing to write it down.
- Fragments: they were neatly written and various had indications of dynamics and expression marks, meaning that he wanted to finalize them; these are, in fact, more complex than the sketches because they are designed as beginnings, finale, or new pieces for some of his compositions. These fragments are left unfinished probably because Mozart just lost interest in them, but they serve as evidence of his huge creativity.
Image source: https://www.loc.gov/item/molden.3121/
Analysis of Mozart’s works
- Mozart’s creative process drawn from fragments: in the sketches, there is always the melody and the bass line, while other parts, such as the accompanying, the orchestration, and further details remained undefined. Regarding polyphonic creations, instead, he wrote them down on a separate but equally laborious sketch, which would have been added afterward.
- Mozart’s creative process drawn from fragments: the fragments, mainly those concerning the beginnings of his works, often display staves prepared for every single instrument, but then continue only with the main melodic line and the bass part, leaving the others blank. Adding the rest would have been part of a secondary and more mechanical stage of production.
- Mozart’s creative process drawn from his late works: in his late works, it is self-evident that there is a decrease in creativity compared to his earlier works. As always, there is the main melodic line and bass accompanying but, while in his earlier works the main lines and the inner parts, such as the harmonies, were developed at the same time, in his later compositions the inner parts needed to be worked out in a second phase.
To him, composition was an active process, and he studied and worked a lot to create each one of his great works.
Hertzmann, Erich. “Mozart’s Creative Process.” The Musical Quarterly, vol. 43, no. 2, Oxford University Press, 1957, pp. 187–200, http://www.jstor.org/stable/740312
Konrad, Ulrich. “Mozart’s Sketches.” Early Music, vol. 20, no. 1, Oxford University Press, 1992, pp. 119–30, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3127672
David P. Schroeder. “Mozart’s Compositional Processes and Creative Complexity”.