Swans Commentary » swans.com January 27, 2014  



In Search of Mozart's Genius
Part II


by Raju Peddada







[Read the First Part of this essay.]

"The essence of the world is will, that each person is identical with that will, that the will is without purpose, and that our lives of blind willing are doomed to misery, but that temporary relief can be found in the contemplation of art."
—Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), German philosopher

"The soul is weighed in the balance by what delights her. Delight or enjoyment sets the soul in her ordered place... The higher things are those in which equality resides, supreme, unshaken, unchangeable, eternal --"
—St. Augustine (354-430 AD), Roman Christian theologian and philosopher

"Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination, nor both together go to the making of genius, love, love, love -- that is the soul of genius!"
—Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)


(Swans - January 27, 2014)   What is a genius? How can we understand Mozart's genius? Arthur Schopenhauer probably said more in these few words than all the conjectures and philosophical ramblings out there: "A prudent man will not be a genius in so far as and while he is prudent, and a genius will not be prudent in so far as and while he is a genius." Was Mozart a prudent man? Here's a glimpse. A well known publisher, in 1788, warned Mozart to lean toward a more accessible style of music -- meaning less inventive and dramatic, less self-absorbed, or risk losing the market. Mozart's response: "Then, I will write nothing more and go hungry, or may the devil take me." Years before, he had coyly confessed that Don Giovanni was "for myself and a few friends." Here's another example of Mozart's solecistic proclivity: "That opera (Don Giovanni) is divine," said Emperor Joseph II, "it may even be more beautiful than Figaro. But, such music is not meat for the teeth of my Viennese!" When poet and librettist Da Ponte relayed the comment to Mozart, the composer responded quietly: "Give them time to chew on it." Genius is easy to decipher as examples.

In science and practical life, we follow the rational method of deliberation or meditation that leads to the fundamental canon -- the principle of reason. But the disposition and technique that looks away from the constitution of this very principle, as educed above, is the method of genius, which is effective in arts alone. The temperament of genius resides, specifically and accurately, in this superior and transcendent faculty of contrary contemplation -- against convention. The gift of genius is a force field of unbreachable objectivity, as opposed to the subjectivity that invests in vain self. Genius is the will to remain in a state of pure perception, to surrender oneself to perspicacity and perception, to will extraction from the service of all external knowledge.

Schopenhauer postulates that "Genius is the ability to leave entirely out of sight our own interest, our willing, and our aims, and consequently discard our own personality for a time, in order to remain pure... to become the clear eye of the world." It was Mozart's brutal and clear extraction from the conscious self and family's immediate needs that gave him clarity for his creativity -- it feels as it Schopenhauer observed Mozart personally, to come up with such transparency! It seems that for genius to manifest in a person, a surreal circumstance makes this immense concentration of knowledge fall to the individual's lot, mightily exceeding what is needed for the service of that individual; thus, genius eventually serves the common good.

There is this perpetual kinetic energy, almost a restless, unreasonable agitation in men of genius, as the present is of little consequence, and does not interest their sensibilities. This condition brings about a disquiet and zealous disposition that relentlessly pursues new ideas worthy of contemplation, and that craving for the company of like-minded men to share their conjectures with, who are few and far, also leads to solitary and often miserable existence for most geniuses. On the other hand, some geniuses find the ordinary existence of a mortal alluring, for the want of disquietude and anxieties that hound men of genius. Mortals are satisfied by their common present, they are in comfort, finding that commonality everywhere in life, which is denied to men of genius.

Mozart, though highly animated, excitable, and preoccupied, was rather an undecipherable individual -- he was never partial to the reduction of mortals or mediocrity. He did not let his genius get in the way in the pursuit of mortals for his company, and in him -- the mortal -- he mined for the common human condition (his operas) and that creative energy, uplifting and propping-up mediocrity, as something necessary, something upon which his genius depended. Mozart was unlike any other genius that sought elevated company -- even the current understanding and definition of genius is inadequate in identifying and deciphering this esoteric force of nature. Why would an immortal desire the company of mortals? Perhaps in the answer to this question, we could find his genius.

All men possess the power of perception and ability in a lesser and a different degree, or else they would be incapable of understanding, or enjoy creating a work of art or just appreciate it. If most men did not possess this power of recognizing in things, their ideas, and divest themselves, even for a moment, from their own personality or vanity, they would be devoid of the faculty to experience any aesthetic pleasure at all, or even recognize genius. They would not be susceptible at all to succumb to the beautiful and the sublime. Fortunately, this is not the case. And the men of genius exceed the ordinary men only to a higher degree in endurance, and of this kind of knowledge, creativity, and pleasure. Mozart was aware of this reality to a greater degree than other creative geniuses, therefore finding his ideas and inspiration among mortal men who were also capable of estimating beauty -- even genius -- but knew of their limitations. Mozart instinctively knew well that in order for genius to be understood and appreciated, mediocrity was indispensable. He rarely railed against it.

Psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in his book Creativity, presents a different view of Mozart's creative process. He argued that the magnitude of the sublime in Mozart's work is ascribed to his disconnect with reality -- because of his naiveté, vulnerability, innocence, and immaturity relative to other humans. I agree with this conjecture, it's these attributes that kept him isolated from the politics of insecure and mediocre contemporaries that schemed constantly to undermine his genius at the court. Mozart possessed the ability to sidestep the competitive pettiness of his peers, elevating the whole profession with this ignorance of chicanery. Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832), among others, claimed that "Naiveté is the most important attribute of genius." Developmental psychologist Howard Gardner also claimed in his study of major creative geniuses that "a certain immaturity, both emotional and mental, can go hand in hand with deepest insights... genius is always revealed in the earliest years of life."

Csikszentmihalyi explains another interesting concept, "The Autotelic Experience," from his much-admired psychology classic, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The term autotelic comes from two Greek words: "auto," referring to self, and "telos," meaning goal, deriving at "doing itself is the reward." Mozart was definitely an autotelic personality, unlike his father who worried about his son's credentials and future station in life. Autotelic experience, known as flow, elevates the course of life -- as alienation (competitive and jealous middle-aged peers) gives way to involvement (non-commissioned work), enjoyment (free concerts), displaced boredom, and helplessness (finances) into a feeling of control. Was Mozart autotelic by instinct, or did his circumstances force him?

It is standard belief that the critical and essential element of genius is imagination. But Schopenhauer thinks it to be incorrect. He proposes that a genius pursues the earthly eternal ideas, the essential forms of existence in the world, his own circumstances and surroundings, and all its wonders, so the imagination is not some abstract, but ideas based on the experience and knowledge through perception. This is very much the case when it comes to Mozart, whose compositions originated not on some cold alien planet, but from the experiences in his own home, his place of work, his neighborhood, and his town. His chamber music took shape in his mutual admiration with Haydn; the ethereal Piano Concerto No. 20 in D-Minor for that reunion with his dad and Don Giovanni as a result of his death; the G-minor No.40 for his daughter, Theresa, after she had died; and that phenomenal Piano Sonata No. 8 in A-Minor after his mother's passing in Paris -- it goes on and on. Does genius germinate in the heart, as opposed to the mind?

Benedetto Croce (1866-1952), the Italian idealist and philosopher, questioned the conventional expectations by observing and offering that our creative impulses originate from the natural instincts rather than from a developed-cognitive mind. He proposes that "a heart in the right place, rather than a mind in a high state of training, was the more likely source of truth, and the only source of creativity." He went to assert that "art, far from being the further most refinement of intelligence, came before thought, and was as natural as breathing." I couldn't agree more, as there is enough evidence to corroborate with Croce's conjecture: the Altamira and Chauvet cave paintings in Spain and France, from the upper Paleolithic epoch, around 30,000 BC, by humans who didn't know language attest Croce's claim. Mozart breathed heartfelt personal experiences into his own art, and it is his sublime compositions that make us all equal.

Finally, Mozart's genius, more than anything other hypothesis, rests on one great quality, and that is equality. He gave us equality; let us explore the metaphysics of equality in music. Beauty in the things, visual or non-visual, enchant in proportion -- balance, symmetry, and asymmetry. Nothing can be proportionate or rhythmic without equality, and sound is the code for that equality, which does not discriminate the listener. By compound and single notes, by a deep knowledge and mastery of instruments, by combining simple and complex compositional elements, by balance and equal amount of asymmetry, by natural intonations, by precise pitch and tone, and by the investment of his emotional experiences, what Mozart crafted continues to resonate, with every type of human -- in every caliber of human, without discrimination. That, my listening friends, is bringing equal rapture to everyone living; that is the reality of his genius.

It is unfortunate in the presumption or in the assumption that classical Western music is the sole domain of the literary and social elite, then and even now. Mozart became the equalizer by shattering this infuriating exclusionism. Emanuel Schikaneder, dramatist, actor, composer, and the producer The Magic Flute said it best: "He is the agent of equality!" Peasant to prefect to proprietor, all became equal in the flame of his creativity and the warmth of his compositions. In fact, his barber, his cleaning maid, his grocer and street friends, and other mortals were the source of inspiration for his work. Was it surprising that he became their distributor for rapture? Mozart's genius bridged all stations of society. Every perceptible idea that edifies and pleases us, edifies us by equality and similarity -- and where equality resides, there is cadence. Mozart is that mathematical enabler of one-is-to-one.

St. Augustine contemplated that in music, "the soul is acting virtually in the realm of senses, straining, to compel something, which is fetched to it from outside, to become one with itself... and the soul is in quest of nothing except equality and similitude." This was made easy by the maestro, who was the purveyor of such sublimity, lovingly turned and raised on the wheel of love, feelings, and emotions -- common and same in every one of us -- that, that is the genius of Mozart.


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About the Author

Raju Peddada is an industrial designer running an eponymous brand, purveyor of ultra luxury furnishings of his own design (see peddada.com). He is also a freelance correspondent/writer for several publications, specializing in commentary, essay, and opinions on architecture, design, photography, books, fashion, society, and culture. Peddada was born in Tallapudi, a small southern town in south India. He's lived in New Delhi and Bombay before migrating to the West Indies and eventually settling in Chicago, Illinois, where he worked in corporate America until he chose to set up his own designing firm. He lives with his family in Des Plaines.   (back)


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
URL for this work: http://www.swans.com/library/art20/rajup88.html
Published January 27, 2014