When considering the instrumentation of the orchestra, with few notable exceptions, it is apparent that each instrument has a niche. What few stop to consider is how this came to pass. What caused the standardization of orchestral instrumentation? This quandary has no simple answer, and a full enumeration of reasons would take far longer than most have either time or capacity to give audience to. One of the more apparent explanations can be ascribed to one of the most prolific composers of the Classical Period: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
In this essay, I will be detailing how, through his career as both a performer and composer, Mozart is directly responsible for further developing the standardized instrumentation of the orchestra. By looking at three periods of Mozart’s life, his early life (from 1764-1780), his middle period (from 1781-1787), and his late years (from 1788 to Mozart’s death in 1791), with special focus on the third period, and his Requiem Mass in D Minor K. 626. However, before we delve into this deep discussion of Mozart’s career, it is important that one have some biographical information about him.
Mozart was born January 27th, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria to parents Anna Maria and Leopold Mozart. His father was an experienced teacher, who taught Wolfgang everything he knew about music. Mozart and his father toured around Western Europe during Wolfgang’s youth, visiting France, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, and England. Leopold Mozart was Wolfgang’s primary instructor during this time, when he was employed at the Salzburg Court under Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo. Due to his dissatisfaction with his lack of independent performance and composition opportunities, Mozart resigned his position, and set out for new employment.
After touring many cities, searching for better work, and all the while improving his command of multi-national styles, Mozart reluctantly returned to Salzburg, to serve the Archbishop, in 1779. Fortunately, Mozart’s renown had only grown, and he was permitted to follow his current desires, and compose an opera in Munich. Mozart’s opera, Idomeneo, was met with massive success, and upon his return to Vienna, he once again found himself dissatisfied with his work as a musical servant of the Archbishop. Mozart resigned his post, and his resignation was accepted in 1781.
Mozart endeavored to take private students publish his music, and perform concerts (which were less public, and geared more toward wealthy aristocrats. ) Mozart would go on to appear as a soloist in no less than seventy-one public and private concerts during this period. Also during this period, Mozart spent a great deal of time composing some of his better-known works, including The Marriage of Figaro in 1786, Don Giovanni and Eine Kleine Nachtmusik in 1787, and his spingspiel Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.
Now in Vienna, Mozart enjoyed a surplus of musical opportunities, and met great success as a freelance musician, but in 1788, the Austro-Hungarian Empire began a war with the Turks, which led to an unprecedented economic downturn. This economic downturn led to decreased need for freelance musicians, and with the war ongoing, Emperor Joseph II left to fight the war, and court concerts all but ceased. During this time, Mozart fell upon financial troubles, and composed some of his highest regarded works, The Magic Flute, Symphonies No. 9, 40, and 41, Clarinet Concerto, and his unfinished Requiem Mass in D minor.
His last year was spent writing numerous compositions, before falling ill in November of 1791, and finally dying of rheumatic inflammatory fever on December 5th, 1791. Now that we have seen the framework of Mozart’s life, we can examine his career with greater scrutiny, and see how his compositions served to expand the standardized orchestral instrumentation. Tappear to be getting ahead of myself. Before we continue, I feel it is important to understand what the “standard” is for modern Orchestral Instrumentation.
Obviously, there will be variation from orchestra to orchestra, but what follows is considered the framework that nearly all orchestral pieces from the Romantic Period onward use. Typically, the Woodwind wind section consists of: three flutes plus piccolo, three oboes plus English horn, three clarinets plus bass clarinet, three bassoons plus contrabassoon, four horns, four trumpets, three trombones plus bass trombone, one tuba, one set of timpani, thirty violins (split roughly evenly between first and second part), twelve violas, ten cellos, and eight double basses.
As a young child, Mozart worked largely to appease his father, touring to perform, demonstrating his skills with keyboard and string instruments. Mozart’s earliest compositions, particularly his first symphonies, were very basic. His first symphony was scored for two oboes, two horns, harpsichord, and strings. During this period, Mozart also spent a great deal of time composing vocal works, either for Masses, liturgical works as separate from the Mass, Motets, and a few operas. Even during this early period, Mozart was taking strides to revolutionize the role of certain instruments in the orchestra.
During this Early Classical period, common practice dictated that there was no need to write out a Bassoon or Harpsichord part, as it was likely that these instruments would double the Cello and String Bass parts. Mozart’s Symphony in A minor “Odenese” K. 16a is one of the first symphonies to notate a separate Bassoon part, as the Bassoon does not simply double the Cellos and String Basses. As you can see in Figure 1, there are two Bassoon parts that are not identical to the cello and double bass parts. In this image, the two Bassoon parts are the topmost visible line, and the Cello and String Bass parts are the two bottommost lines) Additionally, Mozart’s Symphony No. 8 in D major features an early adoption of Trumpet and Timpani, an unusual instrumentation for Mozart’s early works. During this period, Trumpet and Timpani largely served as emphasis on Tonic and Dominant, as the Stozel Piston Valve would not be invented until 1838, and Gerhard Kramer would not invent a mechanism to uniformly tune Timpani until 1812.
This symphony follows this typical scheme, with Trumpet and Timpani playing simultaneously, on tonic and dominant, seen in figure 2. Following Mozart’s decade-long tour of Europe with his father, Leopold, he landed a position as court musician for Prince-Archbishop Colloredo, in Salzburg, Austria. During this period, from 1773-1777, Mozart composed in numerous styles for a multitude of ensembles, including symphonies, masses, operas, string quartets, serenades, and sonatas, as well as his five violin concertos, and his Piano Concerto in E-flat K. 71, which is regarded as one of the finest of the genre. It was during this time that Mozart’s Symphonies began to more frequently include Trumpet and Timpani, and further expanded his parts to include more than two of like instruments.
As seen in Figure 3 from his Symphony No. 25 in G minor K. 183, Mozart began expanding from the more traditional two horns to what is now the standard four horns. During this period, Mozart also expanded his chamber works, featuring nontraditional instruments in traditional settings, such as Oboe, English Horn, and Double Bass in his Divertimento in E-flat major, K. 66. Mozart’s flirting with new instrumentations surely fueled his creativity, and it reflects in his sacred works as well. In Mass in C Major, the score includes two clarini in addition to two trumpets and timpani, and some other selected works contain parts for bass trumpet, as seen in Figure 4. Following his period of employment with the Archbishop, Mozart traveled to France, Italy, Germany, and all around Europe.
As seen in Figure 5, Mozart was exposed to numerous national styles during his travels, and specifically his travel during this period, at the beginning of the high point of his career, served to form his patented multinational style that captured the hearts of millions of people, both in the late 1700s, and today. Following this period of travel, Mozart reluctantly returned to Salzburg, where he approached his composing with renewed vigor, and sought to resign from his position in the Archbishop’s court. Upon doing so, Mozart began to establish himself in Vienna, in what would be the greatest move of his career.
Vienna, as the fastest-growing German-speaking town in Europe, had great need for a man of Mozart’s caliber, and, with a plethora of new opportunities in front of him, Mozart went to work. From this particularly busy time in Mozart’s life, we have numerous chamber works, symphonies, operas, sacred works, and much more. Mozart’s new station in life once again afforded him opportunities to experiment, musically. Much of his sacred music from this period, and even some of his operas contain Trombone parts! The trombone is even featured as part of the voice of the God Poseidon in Idomeneo, as see in Figure 6.
The next prominent composer to utilize trombone would be Beethoven, and it wouldn’t be until his Fifth Symphony that he embraced Trombone. Clearly, Mozart paved the way for the Trombone in a symphonic setting. As we continue along our analysis of Mozart’s life and compositions, we have reached the later life of this master among musicians. During his last few years, Mozart composed his most popular works, particularly, his Symphonies, Nos. 31-41, his late operas, Don Giovani, Die Zauberflote, Cosi fan tutte, Clarinet Concerto in A Major, and finally, his unfinished Requiem Mass in D minor.
At this stage, Mozart had set his standard instrumentation for writing his symphonies. Every single one of his last eleven symphonies includes parts for Flute, Oboe, Bassoon, Horn, Trumpet, Timpani, and Strings. His Symphony No. 31 in D Major was the first of his symphonies to include Clarinet, now an important staple in the Orchestra. Figure 7 illustrates the standard instrumentation for Mozart’s Symphonies from 1778, until Mozart’s last symphony, Symphony No. 41 in C Major “Jupiter”, in 1788. The one work that served to secure the Standard Orchestral instrumentation, save for the invention of the Tuba in 1835, and he Bass Clarinet replacing the Basset Horn, would be Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor, K. 626.
Not only was this one of the most significant sacred works, but it assured that the Trombone, had an important voice, one that demanded to be heard. In the Tuba Mirum section of the Requiem, the movement opens with a Tenor Trombone solo. The Trombone intones the opening melody, which is repeated by the Bass voice. The Tenor Trombone continues with its solo, acting as a polyphonic voice against the Bass soloist. This accounts for roughly a quarter of the movement, based on most recordings.
Figure 8 depicts this instrumentation in the beginning of the requiem, and then again at the Tuba Mirum. From the dawn of time, music and musical instruments have been constantly evolving. Mozart’s instrumentation was not the final step in the development of the Orchestra, but he certainly served to greatly enrich it. At an early age, he gave Bassoons a part independent of the Cellos and Double Basses. During his time in Vienna, he expanded the use of Trumpets and Timpani in symphonic, dramatic, and chamber works. Late in his life, he added Clarinets to the orchestra, and even wrote a concerto for them!
He even championed the use of Trombones in the Orchestra, something Richard Wagner was sure to have been thankful for. Again, Mozart was not the final step in this process, but he was certainly very important. Where would Gustav Mahler have been without a full contingent of Woodwinds, or Brass? Would his Symphony No. 2 in C minor have been as emotionally exhausting without the double set of Timpani? Thankfully, these are questions we do not have to ask, and instead, give thanks to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for listening to the music in his head, and choosing instruments that provided tone colors previously incapable of being produced.