Guided Listening #2: Minds on Mozart!

For this Guided Listening, you will need the following:

A copy of these teaching steps
Audio asset: Excerpt of Letter from Mozart by Michael Colgrass
Text asset: Letter from Mozart by Michael Colgrass
All assets are provided below.

I. First Impressions

  • Listen to the audio asset Letter from Mozart by Colgrass.
  • Ask students to notice the different things that happen musically, what images come to mind as they listen, and what the composer might be saying about the real world in this music.
  • Compare impressions. Do you think the composer is describing a world of darkness or light?

II. Compare and Contrast

  • Read the text asset about Colgrass and the composition aloud.
  • Pair-share, then discuss: Why do you think the composer wanted to use so many kinds of music all jumbled up together here?

III. Composer Strategy

Ask: How could we describe the strategy the composer used? Are the real-world references here as specific as our last examples? Add a description to your Strategies Chart. (Here the composer uses multiple musical schemas with a less specific, but nonetheless vivid effect. Expect responses to vary: perhaps we are invited to make our own interpretation of the interrupted bits of pseudo-Mozart, accordion music, polka bands, etc.)

Excerpt from Letter from Mozart by Michael Colgrass (0:02:06)

Excerpt from Letter from Mozart by Michael Colgrass - Play now

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Mozart is the cheerful muse for this 1976 composition in which Colgrass celebrates the beauty and vitality of his own age. Listen for a variety of musical surprises in the excerpt (e.g., different styles, two independent musical ensembles playing at the same time, interruptions, and musical contrasts of all kinds.)

Letter from Mozart by Michael Colgrass
Colgrass (1932) was born in Chicago and now lives in Toronto. In this work Colgrass imagines that Mozart has written him a letter encouraging him to write some music to express the beauty of the age, instead of focussing on its misery as so many composers do. The theme is a Mozartian melody which is constantly interrupted in surprising ways – by the orchestra strings, an oompah band, and even an accordion, keeping us as listeners off balance. Two conductors are needed to conduct the piece, adding an element of the unexpected. The piece was first performed in 1976 in New York by the Musica Aeterna Orchestra with Frederic Waldman conducting.

Credits and Copyright

  • Audio Asset: An Excerpt from Letter from Mozart by Michael Colgrass
    1976, Michael Colgrass
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