Simon Keefe - Research Case Study

image of Simon Keefe

Simon Keefe’s research on Mozart involves the interrogation of, and exploration of intersections between biography, style, aesthetics, performance, manuscript and printed sources, and reception. This initially came to fruition in the monograph Mozart’s Requiem: Reception, Work, Completion (Cambridge University Press, 2012), which received the 2013 Marjorie Weston Emerson Award from the Mozart Society of America for the best book or edition published in 2011 or 2012.

Book cover image

Simon’s current project (for Cambridge University Press) is a 220,000-word book, Mozart in Vienna, 1781-1791: the Final Decade. As a musically-orientated biography, it will be the first to account substantively for one of the most fundamental features of Mozart’s musical career: his dual roles as performer and composer. To cite just one example where the roles are especially intricately interwoven, but biographical work (and critical work in general) are thus far inadequate: biographers implicitly or explicitly recognize (quite rightly) that the Viennese piano concertos owe their existence to Mozart’s status as a performer-composer, but have not yet properly interrogated the musical ramifications of this status as a stimulus for understanding the works.


Mozart Viennese Instrumental Music

Mozart’s Viennese music in total reveals a wide range of relationships with performance – his own performances and those of others either known or unknown to him. At one end of the spectrum are works and musical experiences such as the piano concertos and keyboard improvisations in which Mozart’s compositional and performing involvement is completely intertwined. Numerous critics witnessing Mozart in action found mutually reinforcing what he performed and how he performed it. He was just as alert to performance issues when writing for others. As is well known, he tailored operatic and concert arias to the needs of individual singers. He also wrote a number of Viennese instrumental works with specific performers in mind, highlighting their particular strengths, capabilities and predilections. It was undeniably in the interests of both Mozart and his singers/players to nurture mutually reinforcing appreciation of composition and performance wherever possible. Equally, Mozart will have wanted in his published works to foster the kind of enduring relationships with performers and listeners that ultimately could have had positive financial and artistic ramifications for him.

Mozart Piano Concertos

Given the diversity of Mozart’s Viennese oeuvre, Simon’s musical biography accommodates general and specific associations between Mozart’s compositions (as passed down in autographs and publications above all) and performance. Attention is directed to individual concerts and dramatic productions, and to reasons for composing works, in order to determine how experiences of and sensitivities to performers and performance contexts affected the music Mozart produced. Simon also explores Mozart’s negotiations between the needs of individual performers (including himself) and the requirements to compose in specific ways as determined by the expectations of various audiences (private and public audiences at formal and informal concerts and at opera productions, and purchasers of manuscript copies and publications).