Mozart’s operas represent a roll-call of favourite characters and timeless music, blending the comic with the serious, and the historical with the contemporary.

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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…


The power of poetry inspires a musical revolution: from the opera stage to the music rooms of the aristocracy, composers from Monteverdi to Vivaldi find new ways to bring emotion alive in music.

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In 1607, Claudio Monteverdi’s first opera L’Orfeo was premiered at the Ducal Palace in Mantua, Italy. It was received “to great satisfaction of all who heard it”, and is the earliest opera still being performed in the 21st century. Meanwhile:

  • In Paris, King Henry IV opens the Pont Neuf (‘New Bridge’) — the oldest bridge still…


Japanese composer Tōru Takemitsu creates a strange yet beautiful world, of yearning, of submerged complexity, of perfectly weighted timbres, of magical spans, of clouded, sensuous sound.

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In 1977, Tōru Takemitsu wrote A Flock Descends into the Pentagonal Garden, blending the timbres, melodies and structures of traditional Japanese music with the sound world of the Western symphony orchestra. Meanwhile:

  • Apple is incorporated; Ronald Wayne sells his share of the company to Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak for $800.
  • The Granville Rail Disaster in western Sydney leaves 84 dead and 210…

Music from England’s Golden Age: sublime sacred music soaring above intrigues of church and state, and intimate lute songs full of love and longing.

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In 1597, John Dowland published his First Booke of Songes or Ayres, which included the lute songs ‘Come Again: Sweet Love Doth Now Invite’ and ‘Can She Excuse My Wrongs?’ Meanwhile:

  • Playhouses flourish in Elizabethan England: William Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor is first performed, and other playwrights including Thomas Nashe and Ben Jonson are regularly producing new work for London’s theatres.
  • In Japan…

Taking advantage of the new expressive possibilities opened up by improvements in the design of the clarinet, Mozart created a concerto of exquisite beauty — one of the last works he would ever write.

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In 1791, in the last year of his life, Mozart began one of the most extraordinary creative outpourings of all art, writing The Magic Flute, the final Piano Concert, the Requiem, the motet Ave verum Corpus, and his beloved Clarinet Concerto. Meanwhile:

  • Thomas Paine publishes Rights of Man, setting out a philosophical defence of the…


At the dawn of the Romantic era, Schumann’s rich musical imagination takes flight in enchanting works for solo piano.

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In 1838, when Clara Wieck accepted Schumann’s proposal of marriage (notwithstanding her father’s vehement disapproval of their relationship), Schumann poured out his joy in a series of pieces including Kinderscenen and Novelletten. Meanwhile:

  • Queen Victoria is crowned in Westminster Abbey; some 400,000 people travel to London for the celebrations.
  • Lorenzo da Ponte, the opera librettist who wrote the texts for Mozart’s Don Giovanni, The Marriage of Figaro and Così fan…

‘I have grown accustomed to composing in our garden…Today or tomorrow I am going to dream there A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’ From the pen of the 17-year-old Mendelssohn sprang to life Shakespeare’s magical world of fairies, misguided lovers, rustic actors and a royal wedding.

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In 1826 Mendelssohn writes the stand-alone concert piece A Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture, at the age of 17. He will write incidental music for a performance of the play, including the famous ‘Wedding March’ 16 years later. Meanwhile:

  • Beethoven completes his final string quartet; Schubert…

‘The flute of the faun brought new breath to the art of music’ — Pierre Boulez

Debussy’s masterpiece provoked a revolution in music, but one brought about by subtlety and intimacy, dwelling on the sheer beauty of musical timbre.

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In 1894, Claude Debussy’s quietly revolutionary Prélude à ‘L’Après-midi d’un faune premiered in Paris, ushering in a new era in music. Meanwhile:

  • Coca-Cola is sold in bottles for the first time; up until now, it has only been available in glasses, from soda fountains.
  • The International Olympic Committee is founded…


Music of profound sorrow and exceptional beauty: Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a phoenix rising from the ashes of a world at war, an elegaic lament for an England lost forever.

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In 1919, in the depths of the English countryside, 62-year-old Edward Elgar writes his Cello Concerto. Meanwhile:

  • The Comintern, dedicated to the spread of Communism throughout the world, is founded by Lenin in Russia. In Munich, the German Worker’s Party begins, attracting Adolf Hitler as one of its first members.
  • ANZAC Day is observed for the first time. It…

The passion of Flamenco blends with the elegance of courtly dances in the most popular guitar concerto of all time: Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez.

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When?

In 1939 Paris, Joaquin Rodrigo composes his Concierto de Aranjuez, as the spectre of European-wide war looms large. Meanwhile:

  • In the USA, John Steinbeck publishes The Grapes of Wrath and Billie Holiday records Strange Fruit.
  • An earthquake strikes Chile, killing around 30,000 people.
  • On 1 September, Germany invades Poland and World War Two begins. …

ABC Classics

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