We first talked about Mozart in August 2010. He was an extremely well-known composer from Austria in the latter half of the 1700s.
On August 10, 1787, Mozart wrote a serenade for a string quartet (two violins, a viola, and a cello), even though it is sometimes performed by a chamber orchestra. A serenade is a piece of music meant to honor someone. A musician wishing to honor a king would write a serenade. A man wishing to express his love to a woman may "serenade" her (sing or perform musically to her). The word "serenade" comes from the Italian word sereno, which means "calm". As a result, a serenade is usually lighter or calmer music.
One of the more interesting things about this particular serenade is that we have no idea why Mozart wrote it. Most of Mozart's serenades were written because someone specifically requested it (and would pay for it). We have no record of any commission. It had no real title. Mozart kept a catalog of all of his work, and the only clue we have is a brief entry for this serenade: "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" (pronounced EYE-neh KLY-neh NOKT-moo-sick).
"Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" is a German phrase. It means, simply, "a little serenade". It is often more literally translated as "a little night-music". His description was not meant to be a title. He may as well have said, "a little ditty" or "a lively tune".
The piece has four movements:
What's amazing about this piece is that this is, without a doubt, the most well-known of all of Mozart's works. It wasn't even published until over 30 years after his death (1827). There's something about this tune that keeps itself in our memories. Of all the symphonies and all the operas and even all the string serenades, this is the one that stays.
I have no idea when I first heard this piece. I know that we did not have a recording of it growing up. In fact, I didn't get my own recording of this until much, much later in life. But I knew the piece. I likely became familiar with what it was called from a collection of classical snippets that I'd gotten from the Watertown Library in the mid-1980s.
The first movement (Allegro) is clearly the most well-known, so we'll have you listen to that. Enjoy "a little serenade"!