Mozart's most famous music: where to start

The Austrian composer may have only been alive for 35 short years, but that was more than enough time to write some of the most famous classical music today. Virtually all of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s best-known symphonies, piano concertos and operas were created in the final decade of his life, whilst he was living in Vienna. Although there are almost too many to choose from, here’s 6 you’ve almost certainly heard before.

The Magic Flute or Der Zauberflöte in its native language, was one of the few operas by Mozart set to a German libretto. The Queen of the Night aria, or ‘Der Hölle Rache’ as it is more formally known, was originally written for Mozart’s sister-in-law Josepha Hofer, specifically to show off her vocal range, although it is thought the composer was somewhat underwhelmed with her performance.

The role has been challenging even the most talented sopranos ever since.

You can see Mozart’s The Magic Flute at the London Coliseum from 14 march.

Written just five years before his untimely death, The Marriage of Figaro is one of Mozart’s most successful operas to this day.

The opera itself is filled with recognisable music, but there is none quite as well known as the Overture. The Marriage of Figaro transpires over ‘one crazy day’, a theme which is reflected in the fast and slow tempos and loud and soft dynamics of the opera’s introduction.

You can find out more about The Marriage of Figaro in our introductory guide.

The film The Shawshank Redemption helped introduce Mozart’s operas to the masses in the 1990s, specifically The Marriage of Figaro’s Sull’aria.

In the famous scene, the opera’s Countess and Susanna can be heard singing to one another, as the music is played out into the jail’s courtyard. You can watch the scene here, or have a listen to other ways films use famous songs from operas in our guide to opera in film.

You might not recognise this piece by name, but you will have heard it before. Serenade No. 13 in G Major, K 525 or ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ as it is informally known, was Mozart’s most famous serenade (chamber work intended for light entertainment).

The reason the piece was composed has never been fully established, but we do know he wrote the score at the same time he was working on Don Giovanni, in 1787.

Can’t quite work out where you’ve heard this piece before? Perhaps it was in this TV advert

Mozart’s 40th symphony was composed in the summer of 1788, and reflects the composers interest in the artistic movement Storm and Stress (Sturm und Drang).

The music associated with this movement was typically written in a minor key to convey a stressful and dark mood.

Symphony 40 is only one of two symphonies by Mozart written in a minor key.

A Sonata is a type of musical composition, usually intended for a solo instrument, consisting of a number of different musical characteristics called ‘movements’. Mozart’s Sonata No.11 was written for a piano, and consists of three movements, the third, the ‘Alla Turca’, being the most famous.

The whole piece, takes around 20 minutes to play all the way through. You might not recognise the third movement by name, but you will have heard it before!