Ein Musikalischer Spass

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Ein Musikalischer Spass in F major

K522 • “A Musical Joke”

About this work

During the summer of 1787, Mozart entered two works of the divertimento type (light, multi-movement works for a small assortment of instruments) in his catalog. Neither was given the divertimento title, and it would be difficult to imagine a greater contrast between the two works concerned: Ein musikalischer Spass (A Musical Joke) and Eine kleine Nachtmusik, K. 525 (A Little Night Music). Whereas the latter is probably the most popular of all Mozart's works and a perfect example of entertainment music at its most refined, K. 522 is a satire on inept composers and performers, a deliberately clumsy work. Mozart's sense of humor is well documented; its more childish aspects were highlighted in the now famous Peter Shaffer play (and later film), Amadeus. Yet his "musical joke," despite some obvious moments of sheer farce, goes beyond mere horseplay; it contains subtler forms of stylistic satire as well. Some of the jokes are technical "in-jokes" that only those aware of the work of Mozart's more mediocre contemporaries would appreciate. Indeed the work may have at least in part have served Mozart as a sort of personal revenge upon poor composers with whom he constantly found himself in competition. The fugue in the final Presto, for instance, has been shown to be based on an exercise by Mozart's English pupil Thomas Attwood.

Research has shown that Mozart worked on the idea of Ein musikalischer Spass for some two years, the opening Allegro having been started before the end of 1785. There are four movements in all, with the outer sections already mentioned framing a Menuetto and an Adagio cantabile. The work is scored for two horns, two violins, viola and bass; the string parts are intended for single instruments.