Mozart: The London Notebook

Wolfgang and his sister Nannerl had a remarkable childhood, playing for the nobility throughout Europe, astonishing audiences wherever they went. The family embarked on trips to Munich (January 1762) and Vienna (October-December 1762) before going on an extensive European tour from June 1763 through November 1766. They spent time in over 80 cities, with lengthy stops in Brussels and Paris. Fifteen months of this tour were spent in London, from April 1764 through August 1765, their longest stay in any city on this vast journey. The young Wolfgang and his older sister Nannerl performed for all levels of aristocracy, with Wolfgang amazing audiences with his abilities to sight-read and improvise. Mozart met the composer Johann Christian Bach while in London, and his style galant* music had a strong influence on Wolfgang’s early compositions. While there is no evidence that J.C. Bach ever gave Mozart composition lessons, he certainly befriended the young composer, playing keyboard sonatas and improvising together.

The London Notebook was a musical sketchbook that Mozart kept during his time in London. It is identified in the most recent Köchel catalogue as KV 15. Leopold Mozart was very ill during July and August of 1764, during which time all public performances were cancelled. It is possible that Wolfgang used this time to work in this notebook. It contains 43 pieces of varying levels of completeness. We see the young composer experimenting with phrase structure and extending his musical themes compared to his earlier compositions from Nannerl’s Notebook. The pieces are sparsely ornamented in general, keeping in the style galant aesthetic of the times. Mozart explores the minor tonality extensively for the first time in this notebook. Even though these may have been compositional exercises, they feel like complete pieces. The music almost always has a playfulness about it. The notebook was dated 1764 on its cover, and modern scholarship believes that the pieces contained within were written either in 1764 or 1765.

*The style galant movement appeared in the early to mid-18th century as a reaction against the strict, contrapuntal music of the Baroque era, and was exemplified by composers such as Johann Christian Bach. Galant music is characterized by a lightness of texture, short phrases, and simple harmony with frequent cadences.

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Muczynski: Fable No. 3, Op. 21, No. 3
Richard Walters
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Mozart: Rondo in F Major, KV 15hh
Elena Abend and Christopher Ruck