Wednesday, September 21, 2005
I usually don't know the numbers of which concerto or quartet or other piece I may be listening to, and nothing is more intimidating to me than reading a writer who does. I just recognize the CD covers through long use. But I have read a couple biographies. And even without them I can tell a bit by listening that the first 25 piano concertos were sunnier, and the remainder more introspective. They were written without patrons, as an entrepreneurial venture among his aristocratic audience. Mozart's concertos in particular were looked forward to, and his performances of them were usually sold out.
Well, that was true for the first 25. And since he was always scrounging for money, you'd think he would've stayed on the sunny side. Seats started going empty for the later concertos, which included chords considered dissonant for their time. It's not like he disdained to please his audience, though. I don't think he saw a conflict between art and entertainment in that way. He was comfortably upwardly mobile in intention, even if he wasn't always moving up. I think he just outgrew his audience, and was impatient for a better and more serious one. He couldn't wait for us, or for the audience we could be if we developed ourselves.
Plus all he really wanted to do was write operas, but he could seldom get a patron for one. And them when he did, his great operas would fizzle out in Vienna. Interestingly, they would drive another city completely wild with delight - Prague. Like Jerry Lewis in Paris. Well, sort of.
If you've tried Mozart and didn't like him, I understand. At first those little classical frills, especially at the end of phrases ("Dum duh dum Dum dum, Dum duh dum Dum") make all classical pieces sound alike. A few centuries in the future, pop music may leave a similar impression on our wildly advanced descendants. But if you keep listening, Mozart starts to stand out from the pack. He's not trying to sell you on anything, least of all that he's this really bright composer and that you're not. Everything is as simple as possible. Each phrase if you look at it looks like nothing at all - a ditty a child could come up with, humming on the way home from school. But of course each piece includes a bunch of these phrases, and some harmony, and they have all been chosen for the way they relate to each other. As melodic as he is, melody doesn't dominate, they way it dominates pop music. The ideas are longer, and if you listen longer, you hear more. And more.
And afterward you don't want to march somewhere and bring down a government or social structure, the way you do with Beethoven or Woodie Guthrie. You just feel this response within yourself to beauty expressed for the love of beauty. Not a bad thing, in polarized times, to have available.