Friday, July 1, 2011

The Case of Mozart

Mozart is almost a metonym for classical music generally. Mostly Mozart festivals are part of the landscape. The best film about classical music is probably Amadeus, the life of Mozart told from the rival Salieri's perspective. The perfection of Mozart has always bothered me. He died young, only 35 years old, but he still managed to write over forty symphonies, dozens of piano sonatas, string quartets, and some of the greatest operas ever written. The complete Mozart from Philips takes up 180 compact discs. Mozart probably had no memory of not being a professional musician. He started learning the piano at age three and began composing at age five! I used to have a book of easy duets for teaching purposes and included in the book was a little minuet by Mozart. Once I was playing this piece with a young student, 9 years old, as I recall. We came to the end and I noticed that the date of composition was given on the score: 1763. I did a little mental calculation. Mozart was born in 1756, hmm, "good heavens" I exclaimed to my student, "do you realize that Mozart was only 7 years old when he wrote this piece"! We both felt rather like under-achievers.

Mozart's music has a poise, a grace that seems to have eluded every other composer.

Even light, occasional pieces, tossed off with scarcely a second thought, have a luminous quality:

So what bothers me about Mozart? This scene from Amadeus should explain all:

He's just too good! It's not fair! Heh. That was an excellent movie. One of the few movies about classical music that seems to actually be, partly at least, about the music. But the real Mozart could have done very much better with Salieri's march than the character in the movie. Just throw in some thirds and octaves? The problem with Mozart is that the music seemed to just flow from him as if angels whispered it into his ears:

He also wrote one of the greatest operas of all time, Don Giovanni. Here is the final scene where the Commendatore comes to take Don Giovanni to hell. Mozart has two basses and a baritone singing and accompanies them with three trombones, tympani and orchestra. Hellish sounds, indeed!

If you must go to hell, this is certainly the right music. Notice how the three characters are each different. The Commendatore is dead, this is his statue come to life, an implacable spirit. Don Giovanni is the hedonistic sinner, while Leporello is the comic relief.

This is Mozart.

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