A Musical Genius

A Musical Genius


Mozart could compose his compositions relying entirely on his memory without using a keyboard or sketches.


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Mozart appears to have possessed an excellent memory for music, though probably not the quasi-miraculous ability that has passed into legend. In particular, the use of keyboards and sketches to compose noted above would not have been necessary for a composer who possessed superhuman memory. Various anecdotes attest to Mozart's memory abilities.

Two of the violin sonatas gave rise to anecdotes to the effect that Mozart played the piano part at the premiere from memory, with only the violinist playing from the music. This is true for the Violin Sonata in G, K. 379/373a, where Mozart wrote in a letter to Leopold (8 April 1781) that he wrote out the violin part in an hour the night before the performance "but to be able to finish it, I only wrote out the accompaniment for Brunetti and retained my own part in my head." A similar story survives that concerns the Violin Sonata in B flat, K. 454, performed before the Emperor in the Kärntnertortheater on 29 April 1784.

One may question whether, in these instances, Mozart remembered the entire keyboard part note-for-note. Given the independent testimony (above) for his ability to fill in gaps through improvisation, it would seem that Mozart could have done this as well in performing the violin sonatas.

Another instance of Mozart's powerful memory concerns his memorization and transcription of Gregorio Allegri's "Miserere" in the Sistine Chapel as a 14-year-old. Again, various factors suggest great skill on Mozart's part, but not a superhuman miracle. The work in question is somewhat repetitive, and Mozart was able to return to hear another performance, correcting his earlier errors. Maynard Solomon suggests that Mozart may have seen another copy earlier.


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A Musical Genius

Mozart could compose his compositions relying entirely on his memory without using a keyboard or sketches.

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