Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mozart - Fantasia For Mechanical Clock, K.608

In Mozart's time there was a vogue for mechanical clocks that had organs built into them. These were the 'synthesizers' of their time, and were commissioned by the nobility (and anyone else that could afford to have them built). Mozart and other composers were commissioned to write original pieces for some of these machines, and he composed three pieces for these mechanical marvels.

The Fantasia in F Minor K.608 has a clouded history. There is mention of the piece and the two others Mozart composed for these machines in his correspondence, but only one of the pieces has an autograph score. No autograph exists for the Fantasia K. 608, but there are many examples of versions of the piece for piano two and four hands, for organ, string quartet, orchestra and other instrument combinations. Beethoven had a copy of the piece and made his own version of the fugue section of the work, so while it was written for a mechanical clock, the quality of the piece caused it to have a life separate from its original form. It was a well-known piece in the 19th century and influenced many composers and performers.

A small type of musical clock with an organ built in
The piece begins with a prelude in F minor that is punctuated by the full chords, dotted rhythms and fugue of the French Overture style that was developed in the 1650's by French composers.  The middle section is an andante in A-flat major, the relative major of the F minor prelude. After a short summing up, the prelude enters again. After the restatement of the prelude, the fugue returns as a double fugue, that is there is an additional subject played along with, and developed along side, the initial theme of the fugue. The prelude returns once more and leads to what at first appears to be a reiteration of the fugue, but is in fact a short coda that leads to the end of the piece.

This piece is perhaps Mozart's tribute to the works of J.S Bach and other composers. Although it took Mendelssohn's performances of Bach in the early 1800's to bring Bach to the attention of the public, Bach's manuscripts and copies of them were known by composers and teachers long before then.  Mozart knew some of Bach's music, along with other composers of the previous generation. This piece for mechanical clock shows that the past masters taught him well.


  1. I arrived here by clicking on Prokofieff's toccata - is this deliberate?

  2. Sorry for the error. It is now corrected. Thanks for drawing my attention to it.

  3. I heard this on the radio played for two pianos. It was great to find this about the piece. thanks.

  4. This poses a paradox: How can we be faithful to “composer intent” for composers from the time before “composer intent” was a consideration? Organ Store