Hello, readers! Please enjoy this invitation into the sound world of Vienna Nocturne. It’s by no means comprehensive but I hope it will give you a basis for exploration. The first aria, “Ch’io mi scordi di te,” inspired the novel. Mozart wrote this concert aria for Anna Storace’s farewell recital and included for himself an obbligato piano part (featured solo), making it something like a hybrid between an opera aria and a piano concerto. The vocal and piano lines play and communicate in supportive and intertwining dialogue.
The aria “Exultate, jubilate” was written by a teenage Mozart for the castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, who later became Anna Storace’s voice teacher. Nowadays it is sung by women, thankfully. It demands strong vocal technique and stamina, and in the Alleluia section at the end you can hear the impressive “fioratura,” fast runs of notes strung together on a single syllable.
I’ve included a few selections from The Marriage of Figaro, though of course I’d love to include the whole opera. There is the famous opening scene in which Figaro measures out the space for a bed, while Susanna admires the wedding cap she’s made for herself. By the end of this duet she has taught Figaro to sing her music. Next comes “Se vuol ballare,” a seething, mocking aria in which Figaro imagines how he could teach the Count to dance to his tune. The form of the aria is courtly, aristocratic dance, a minuet, but the underlying sentiment is aggressive and confrontational. The text and the musical setting thus work together to create a commentary on 18th-century class conflict. Mozart wrote beautifully for women’s voices and one of the finest examples of this is the duet Sull’aria, for the Countess and Susanna. You might recognize this from the movie, The Shawshank Redemption.
The finale of Act II is a masterpiece — I cannot do it justice in a short space. What Mozart accomplished here, interlocking different sections into a seamless whole, is remarkable, and was unusually complex for his time. You are only given the very end of it in this clip, but the whole finale is worth checking out.
Then there are a few wonderful solos sung by the Countess (Luisa Laschi), the Count (Stefano Mandini), and Susanna (Anna Storace). I have included some selections from the second opera Mozart wrote with Da Ponte,Don Giovanni, because some of the Figaro cast members sang in it, and if Anna had been able to return to Vienna she would probably have sung the role of Zerlina, the peasant girl whom Don Giovanni seduces in the famous duet “La ci darem la mano.” Other wonderful operas not represented here include Cosi fan tutte(especially the first act), Idomeneo, Die Entführung aus dem Serail, The Magic Flute, and La clemenza di Tito. All of these are easily available and I recommend them highly.
“Abendempfindung an Laura” seems a remarkably modern song to me in terms of its text and compositional style. It is through-composed, which means that it plays out from beginning to end without repetition. The text is clear-eyed and honest meditation on impermanence, friendship, love and death. “Ruhe sanft” is an example of one of Mozart’s German arias and has a beautiful melody. It is from an early, unfinished Singspiel, a German-language opera with spoken dialogue. You might imagine Aloysia Lange singing an aria like this.
As Mozart plays a good deal of piano music in Vienna Nocturne, and was a renowned player and teacher, I have included a number of selections written for piano. Some of these were suggested to me by friends who are professional pianists. One excerpt that I relied on particularly while working on the novel, and when imagining Mozart’s character, is the exquisitely beautiful Adagio from Piano Concerto No. 23. By turns it is melancholy, cheerful, and passionate, and a great deal happens in the space of a few minutes. The ending gets me every time.
I haven’t included very much music for strings, and no music for winds — again, the list would be too long — but I have included the delightful concerto for violin and viola. Mozart enjoyed playing both violin and viola, and I played the viola for many years, and you might also imagine Anna’s awful husband John Fisher playing the violin in this style.
The Requiem is one of my favorite pieces — I have performed in it both as a chorister and as an alto soloist and it never ceases to impress and move me. A few excerpts are included here. The Falco songs were suggested to me jokingly by some of my German and Austrian friends, and I was happy to include them.
I hope this gives you a taste of the music of eighteenth-century Vienna. Thank you for reading and for listening!
If you want to purchase any of the music I mention above, you can do so through iTunes.