Performance Practice Issues Related to the Fantasia in F Minor (K. 608) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Part I

By Stipp, Neil | The American Organist, June 2006 | Go to article overview

Performance Practice Issues Related to the Fantasia in F Minor (K. 608) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Part I


Stipp, Neil, The American Organist


Preliminary Remarks

When I told Herr Stein that I should very much like to play on his organ, as that instrument was my passion, he was greatly surprised and said: "What? A man like you, so fine a clavier-player, wants to play on an instrument which has no douceur, no expression, no piano, no forte, but is always the same?" "That does not matter," I replied. "In my eyes and ears the organ is the king of instruments."1

So said Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91) in a letter to his father when he was 21. Let us go back to some of his first experiences with the organ. The six-year-old Mozart was quite a sensation. His father, Leopold, wrote in a letter from Vienna during the feast of Saint Francis:

Our Woferl [pet name for Wolfgang] strummed on the organ and played so well that the Franciscans, who happened to be entertaining some guests at their midday meal, left the table and with their company rushed to the choir and were almost struck dead with amazement.2

The following year his father wrote:

To amuse ourselves we went to the organ and I explained to Woferl the use of the pedal. Whereupon he tried it stante pede Islanding], shoved the stool away and played standing at the organ, at the same time working the pedal, and doing it all as if he had been practicing it for several months. Everyone was amazed.3

Later in the same year, he wrote: "Our Wolfgang so astonished everyone by his playing on die organ that by order of the Town Magistrate his name was inscribed with full particulars on it as a perpetual remembrance."4 In the following year, the eight-year-old Wolfgang played a concerto on an organ; the Public Advertiser of June 26, 1764, described Mozart as "the most extraordinary prodigy and most amazing genius that has appeared in any age."5

Here is the short list of Mozart's completed works for solo organ:

Mozart also left a nine-measure fragment, "Adagio für ein Orgelwerk" (K. 593a), written near the end of 1790 in Vienna; its autograph is in the Salzburg Mozarteum. Another fragment, this of four measures, is the "Andante (?) für eine Walze in eine kleine Orgel" (K. 615a), written about April 1791; its autograph is in the University Library, Uppsala, attached to sketches of The Magic Flute. It was a preliminary sketch on four staves for the above-mentioned K. 616, which was written on three staves. Obviously, Mozart did not record these two fragments in his index. The Neue Mozart-Ausgabe records two other very short organ works: the fugue in G minor (fragment), K. 401 (375e), and two little fugues, K. 154a, which consist only of 12 and 14 measures. However, the Kbchel thematic catalog notes that K. 401 (375e) is for clavier, and K. 154a is for clavier (or organ). These pieces predate Mozart's practice of indexing his works.

Because the first two completed works have the same standard English title, the Köchel number should be included when referring to the organ works of Mozart. However, because this article deals primarily with K. 608, the title "Fantasia" will be used when referring to this piece.

Why did Mozart, who composed well over 600 works, write only three for the organ? And why did he wait until the last few months of his life before writing what he did? After all, it was he who called the organ the "king of instruments," and later correspondence of his father attests to the fact that the boy continued to visit churches and play on pipe organs during their travels together. To answer these questions, one must realize that organs during this time were located generally not in concert halls but in churches. Mozart, especially in his later years, needed income and the concert hall was the place where this need could be met. So works for piano, orchestra, and chamber ensembles, not to mention opera, were of a high priority. Also, music-making in churches during this time, with the exception of rare concerts by virtuosos, was allowed only in connection with worship.

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Performance Practice Issues Related to the Fantasia in F Minor (K. 608) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Part I
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