Composers Datebook®

Reger-ized Mozart

Composers Datebook - Feb. 5, 2024


In Berlin on today’s date in 1915, prolific German composer Max Reger conducted the premiere performance of what would become his most popular orchestral work.

Like Bach, Reger was a master of counterpoint and the fugue, and, like Beethoven, loved writing variations. Reger’s Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart starts off simple enough, quoting a familiar theme from one of Mozart’s piano sonatas. About 30 minutes later, the simple theme develops into a massive fugue. It’s all grand and clever if you like it, or bombastic and tiresome if you don’t.

The witty Nicolas Slonimsky, in his book Music Since 1900, described it as follows: “Mozart’s ingenuous theme … is subjected to torturous melodic anamorphoses, contrapuntal contortion, canonic dislocation, rhythmic incrustation and harmonic inspissation.”

To save you the trouble of Googling the definition of “inspissation,” let’s just say it’s not a condition you would wish on anybody!

Whether you’re a fan or not, Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart is quintessential Reger, and one is tempted to say, “What did you expect? It’s Reger to the Max!”

Music Played in Today's Program

Max Reger (1873-1916): Variations and Fugue on a Theme by Mozart; New York Philharmonic; Kurt Masur, cond. Teldec 74007

On This Day


  • 1810 - Norwegian composer and violinist Ole Bull, in Bergen;

  • 1909 - Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz, in Lódz;

  • 1943 - French-American composer Ivan Tcherepnin, in Issy-les-Moulineaux, near Paris;


  • 1907 - German composer Ludwig Thuille, age 45, in Munich;

  • 1962 - French composer Jacques Ibert, age 71, in Paris;


  • 1887 - Verdi: opera "Otello," in Milan at the Teatro all Scala, with composer conducting (and cellist Arturo Toscanini in the orchestra);

  • 1895 - Ippolitov-Ivanov: “Caucasian Sketches,” in Moscow, with the composer conducting (Julian date: Jan. 24;

  • 1907 - Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 1 in d, Op. 7, in Vienna, by the Rosé Quartet;

  • 1939 - Carl Orff: opera "Der Mond" (The Moon), in Munich at the Nationaltheater;

  • 1958 - Tippett: Symphony No. 2, in London, by the BBC Symphony, with Sir Adrian Boult conducting;

  • 1969 - Thea Musgrave: Clarinet Concerto, in London;

  • 1970 - Elliott Carter: "Concerto for Orchestra" by the New York Philharmonic, Pierre Boulez conducting;

  • 1995 - Olly Wilson: "Shango Memory" for orchestra, by the New York Philharmonic, Neeme Järvi conducting;

  • 2000 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Symphony No. 4 ("The Gardens"), for chorus, children's chorus and orchestra, by Michigan State University ensembles conducted by Leon Gregorian.


  • 1875 - American premiere of J.S. Bach's Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra and soloists S.E. Jacobsohn and Richard Arnold; The same performers also gave the New York City premiere at Steinway Hall the following day; Following a Dec. 10, 1881, New York Philharmonic performance under Thomas with the same soloists, the New York Times reviewer wrote: "The concert possesses no interest to anyone but a violinist and even for a musically disposed audience is not a felicitous selection."

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

About Composers Datebook®