7 Piano Pieces by Mozart That You've Probably Heard Before
These famous songs might sound familiar to you – but do you know them by name? Brush up on your knowledge of the great composer with these seven essential pieces of Mozart's piano music.
by Michael Lane
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It's a name known to almost everybody, even if they've never knowingly listened to his music. Even then, the chances are they have heard it without realizing. Mozart was the master of Classical music (back off Beethoven), and his compositions spanned from child-prodigy at age five until his early passing at thirty-five.
Here are seven of Mozart's most well-loved and lasting compositions, all of which are available to learn now in the flowkey app. The "K." number next to each of the pieces refers to the Köchel catalogue, which is a chronological record of all of Mozart's work. You'll see that almost all of Mozart's best-loved work came in the second half of his composing life, with one notable exception at the end. So let's get started...
Rondo Alla Turca - Sonata No. 11 (K. 331)
The first on our list is a lively, positive piece that remains one of his most popular - especially for children learning piano. Mozart wrote it when he was around 27, influenced by Turkish Janissary bands that were popular around the time (hence "Alla Turca").
"Rondo" comes from the structure - alternating between a main theme and other “episodes”, and Mozart's variation on this style shows how he was already pushing boundaries at this point. The legacy has lived on - not just in Classical circles - and has inspired variations in various genres including Dave Brubeck's Jazz Standard "Blue Rondo à la Turk".
Non piu andrai, The Marriage of Figaro (K. 492)
Mozart was known as much for his operas as for his piano music and The Marriage of Figaro remains one of the most popular operas even now. This grand aria has a playful, bouncing melody that characterizes classical opera, but sounds equally memorable as a theme played on the piano, earning its place in many piano students' repertoire.
The title of the aria translates as "You shall go no more" or - more accurately - "No more gallivanting". It's sung by Figaro himself, as he sends off a man who has designs for his wife. With opera, sometimes it's better not to think about the words, and just enjoy the music...
Eine Kleine Nachtmusik - Serenade No. 13 (K. 525)
The literal translation is "A Little Night Music", but more accurately it's "A Little Serenade". The legend goes that Mozart hadn't meant to give it this name, he just wrote in his records that day he had written a little serenade...
Originally for string quartet, the bright and joyful theme is recognizable from the first three chords alone on any instrument and sounds wonderful on the piano. Sadly, it wasn't published until long after Mozart had passed. But it lives on, often used in film to represent any setting where Classical music plays a part. Mozart is more worthy of it.
Don Giovanni: Overture (K. 527)
Another opera, one that is widely considered as one of the greatest of all time. Based on the legends of libertine Don Juan, the full title is "Il dissoluto punito, ossia il Don Giovanni" or "The Scoundrel punished, namely Don Juan". Spoiler: it doesn't end well for the Don...
Mozart's overture for the opera distils a range of powerful emotions from two long acts into a brief beauty. It moves between immense and grand, from explosive chords, to gentle and tender, to haunting and sad. Fitting for the downfall of a scoundrel.
Allegro - Sonata No. 16 in C Major (K. 545)
Again, this Mozart mainstay was not published until many years after he was gone, but it was far from forgotten. The Allegro movement has a positive earworm of a melody that sticks in the mind for days after. Maybe even years: most returning pianists will remember this as one of the first pieces in beginner songbooks.
It makes sense, as the interplay of right-hand melody and left-hand broken chords helps to build coordination. But it's not too much of a challenge. Mozart himself noted it as being "for beginners", and it has the nicknames "Sonata facile" (easy) or "Sonata semplice" (simple).
Lacrimosa - Requiem in D Minor (K. 626)
Lacrimosa means "weeping", fitting for such a mournful yet beautiful piece. According to his widow Constanze, the already-ill Mozart was commissioned by a mysterious messenger and believed he was composing the music for his own funeral. He died while writing it, and it was completed in the current form by his friend Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
Even after his death, the drama continued. Count Franz von Walsegg, who commissioned Süssmayr to finish it, may have attempted to pass it off as his own work. He was apparently foiled by Mozart's widow. A bittersweet ending for a bittersweet masterpiece.
Minuet in G (K. 1)
We end where it all began, with the first piece that Mozart ever composed. He was five years old, the definition of a child prodigy. The youthful exuberance that fills this joyful, simple piece can't help but make us think of boy Mozart, tiny at the keys of a piano, and wonder at the genius he would become.
In between this and Lacrimosa above, there are six-hundred-and-twenty-five published works attributed to Mozart, and that’s not counting all of the unfinished works that never saw the light of day. Thirty years of composition that changed the face of music forever.
If you want to discover and learn more of Mozart's work, just search for his name in the flowkey app. Or, if you'd like to branch out to other legendary composers from Baroque, Classical and Romantic eras, our article on 14 Classical Piano Pieces is a great place to start.
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