Monday, April 10, 2006

Mozart and Me

(Recently I responded to posts on one of the horn forums about Mozart and whether people like his music or not. This starts with a response to whether or not Mozart was part of the aristocracy of the time and if his music was somehow "undemocratic" because of this. Other subjects come up as I go along.)
I think Mozart's time put practically all composers in touch with or in control of the aristocracy if only to survive. He was certainly a prime example of that. That he was part of the aristocracy or that his music is somehow undemocratic is very problematic at best, just totally off base at worse. Mozart loved the "common" life and his associations with the local musical theater crowd and his "partying" bely any desire to be an aristocrat or even hang out with them at all. If you need any more, just check out Marriage of Figarro, Magic Flute and Cosi fan Tutti. These are not pandering to the aristocracy. Just the opposite.
He was as pure a musician as ever lived- just wired for it. Music flowed from his veins. His lack of ability to exist financially in the real world of his time, by sucking up to the powers that were. probably cost him his life. Hacks like Salieri, who did sell out to the aristocracy, did a lot better with money.
Whether you like Mozart or not is strictly personal taste. I had the opportunity to run (and play in) a Mozart festival for 22 years. Yes, I started it with an oboist friend and a fabulous Mozart conductor, George Cleve, and we had a 41 piece, hand-picked orchestra that played 4 -6 concert sets every summer. We also did chamber music, benefit concerts and things like concerts at wineries and other interesting locations. On the evening of the 200th anniversary of his death, we were one of a very few orchestras in the world who had a concert going, the Requiem and the Masonic Funeral Music, at the stroke of midnight. It was a magical time. I was immersed in Mozart, one of my favorite composers, for all of those years.
In that time we played over 350 works of Mozart. In most of those years our concerts were "all Mozart" concerts. Its interesting how you can take his works and structure a whole concert or a whole season. One of our most compelling concerts was to play the last three symphonies on one program. It sold out every time and was quite an experience to play and listen to. Talk about "punch" and "emotional outpouring". The variety is awesome. Sure, the music can sound the same to the uninitiated, but once you get inside it, you can put together a concert or a 4 week season that runs a wide emotional gamut. Its like being inside some else's brain- and heart, for that matter.
Of course it helps to have a great conductor. Cleve made the most of the music, dynamically and emotionally. We were not an early music group but we didn't go overboard to excess romanticism either. I've been bored or offended at Mozart concerts with other groups. Not with George. He hit a perfect balance.
Its interesting that some people find his music "too happy" or "too melopdic". Considering his life, that is very interesting. Yes, these are unhappy and emotionally dead times. We are dead to subtlety and nuance. We worship at the alter of the almighty dollar and "The Cult odf the Bottom Line". Mozart lets us see that dark side of life but he almost always wanted to end with an uplifting feeling. To me, this is a big part of his greatness. To explore all the facets of human existence, to fly in the face of depression and apathy and to ultimately set a path for higher consciousness, this is inspiring stuff.
As for melody, it is a fundamental part of human existence. People have been singing since time began. Elevating that to an art form can't be a bad thing- will never be a bad thing.
His orchestrations, which, again, seem simple, are incredibly subtle in their detail, especially for his time. All designed to build a pathway to emotional and musical satisfaction. Even the horn parts show his attention to detail and variety, never doing the same thing over and over on each cadence or phrase as some composers who followed him, like Rossini, who considered himself the "next Mozart", did routinely. Check out his use of the two horns in the 40th symphony for example- in two different keys to get the notes he wanted. He was also one of the first composers to use 4 horns and even used them as soloists in an early divertimento.
I don't care to take sides with anyone on these issues. I just count myself lucky that I had the chance to experience Mozart at this level for this length of time. His music is sublime, and considering the time and conditions in which he lived and the style of classical music that he was born into, he was as daring in his approach as anyone has composed since. Who knows what would have happened if he had lived another 30 years. Just listen to his last string quartet for some good country fiddlin'.
Mozart achieved success (or shall we say he was able to excel) in more styles of composing than anyone else. He wrote great symphonies, concertos, overtures, concert music of various sorts, masses, operas, chamber music including solo music for piano, religious works for organ and orchestra, other various combinations and popular dance music. (Want to hear some "early Brahms"? Just listen to the German Dances.) No other composer outside of Stravinsky ever achieved that and Stravinsky only managed to touch on all those areas, where Mozart lived in them.
The fact that he loved the horn only shows what a genius he was! : ) We are so lucky. Just ask the cello, viola and trumpet players. As for piano concertos, has anyone ever written any better? Try the C major (no. 21) and the great A major concerto (no. 23) for starters.
For those who are wondering, my other most favorite composer is Mahler, for many of the same reasons.


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