In 1787, Mozart completed his opera Don Giovani — as well as the serenade Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which he wrote while he was working on Act 2 of the opera. Meanwhile:
- William Herschel discovers the first two moons of Uranus, Titania and Oberon — six years after discovering the planet itself. His sister Caroline Herschel becomes the first woman to receive a salary as a scientist, when she is granted an annual pension of £50 by King George III for her work as William’s assistant; she herself will go on to discover a total of eight comets.
- On 13 May, Captain Arthur Phillip leaves Portsmouth in England with the eleven ships of the First Fleet, carrying around 700 convicts and at least 300 crew and guards to establish a penal colony in New South Wales.
- Thomas Clarkson and Granville Sharp, with support from John Wesley and Josiah Wedgwood, establish the Society for Effecting the Abolition of the Slave Trade; an international ban on slave trading would finally come into force twenty years later, in 1807.
- The United States Constitution is adopted by the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Delaware is the first state to ratify the Constitution, on 7 December; Pennsylvania and New Jersey follow suit within two weeks to become the second and third states of the USA.
- Mozart lived for only 35 years, but he composed over 600 pieces of music, including 41 symphonies, 27 piano concertos, 23 string quartets, more than 30 violin sonatas and 17 mass settings. He also wrote more than 20 works for the stage, from simple one-act pastoral scenes written before he even reached his teens, to fully-fledged operas for the great theatres of Venice and Prague.
- His operas can be divided into three categories: opera seria, opera buffa, and Singspiel.
- Opera seria (‘serious’ opera) tended to be based on Greek and Roman heroic tales, with noble characters and mythical settings. They were often commissioned by kings and rulers as a celebration of their authority. Mozart’s two greatest works in this genre are Idomeneo and La clemenza di Tito.
- Opera buffa is often translated as ‘comic opera’, but the term refers more to the type of characters and plots than to the quantity of laughter, and Mozart often includes deeply poignant moments alongside the comic scenes. Opera buffa deals with less ‘elevated’ situations and with contemporary, rather than historic, scenarios. Three of Mozart’s most famous operas fall into this category, including The Marriage of Figaro, Così fan tutte and Don Giovanni.
- Singspiel is a German-language operatic style which consisted of sung arias with spoken dialogue in between. (In Italian opera, the dialogue between arias was sung.) Mozart’s two most popular Singspiele are The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute.