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Mozart: Mathematics in Music

Explore connections in mathematics and music with this article on Mozart.
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Mozart

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), an Austrian musician and composer, was truly a child prodigy: he wrote his first symphony at age nine. His music endures more than 200 years after his death as some of the most popular and beautiful classical music ever composed. He was one of the first composers to write in what became known as the "classical" style, along with Haydn and later Beethoven.

The classical style introduced shifts in musical phrasing away from the earlier Baroque style. Classical music uses short, articulated phrases, in contrast to the sweeping continuity of Baroque music. Classical phrases assume more of an independent character rather than simply leading into each other. As a result of this different structure, classical music reflects a sensitivity to symmetry and a varied rhythmic texture.

Mozart put an interesting spin on one of his works, the Musikalisches Würfelspiel, or Musical Dice Game, by introducing the laws of probability into its composition. For every 16 bars of music in this piece, Mozart offers two choices for the eighth and sixteenth bars and eleven choices for every other bar. Any combination of choices results in a lovely minuet conforming to harmonic and compositional requirements for the Viennese minuets of his time. Mozart suggests the use of a pair of dice to make the choices: throw the dice and take the sum of the resulting numbers as the choice. More melodies can be made from this piece than there are people on Earth today!