August 2013

Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" K. 525, 1st Movement (Allegro)

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

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:

  1. Allegro (fast)
  2. Romanze: Andante (romance; a slower walking speed)
  3. Menuetto: Allegretto (in a minuet dance style; fast, but not as fast as Allegro)
  4. Rondo: Allegro (in a rondo style; fast)

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.

Jon's Introduction to This Piece:

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"!

Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", 1st Movement (Allegro) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (7:46)

For those interested, this recording was performed by The English Concert conducted by Andrew Manze.

Jon's Interpretation:

This piece IS Mozart. If someone were to come up with a single piece of music that embodies all that is Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik sums it up quite nicely. This is a very light dance of a piece that continues to stick with you long after you've heard it.

Extra Credit:

Here's the score of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, should you wish to follow along.

Score for Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

You've heard the first movement. Now feel free to enjoy the other three:

Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", 2nd Movement (Romanze: Andante) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (5:36)

Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", 3rd Movement (Menuetto: Allegretto) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (2:01)

Serenade No. 13 for Strings in G Major, "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", 4th Movement (Rondo: Allegro) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (5:49)

In 1984, there was a movie made about Mozart's life called "Amadeus". It wasn't completely historically accurate, but it painted a fairly good overall portrayal of Mozart. In this scene at the beginning of the movie, you're introduced to Antonio Salieri, a composer that lived at the same time as Mozart (though he was older). He has spent his remaining years in a mad house. Here you see him trying to explain his fame as a composer to a visiting priest. Note the tune that the priest finally recognizes.

And now for a little comedy. Professor Peter Schickele, known for his "discoveries" of the works of P. D. Q. Bach, came up with his own composition called "Eine Kleine Nichtmusik" ("a little NOT-music"). See how many different songs you can hear woven into the famous Mozart piece:

Eine Kleine Nichtmusik by Professor Peter Schickele (11:46)

And finally, here's my obligatory Simpsons reference. In Season 15 Episode 11, "Margical History Tour", Marge tells the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (based on the movie "Amadeus"). Bart plays the role of Mozart. No, Mozart never had an opera called "The Musical Fruit" (though he did have one called "The Magic Flute"). The opera is a conglomeration of a couple of Mozart operas. The devil is from "Don Giovanni". Note that the scene starts with the 2nd movement of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Enjoy!