Swans Commentary » swans.com March 24, 2014  



Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
His Inventive and Curative Magnificence


by Raju Peddada


Monuments of civilization: Analysis of classics  


Part II



"The music of Mozart is of such purity and beauty that one feels he merely found it -- that it has always existed as part of the inner beauty of the universe waiting to be revealed."
—Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Theoretical physicist & violinist

[Author's preface: All contemplation and creation retains a metaphorical dimension. Music is nothing but metaphoric, symbolic, or denotative, and Mozart, its best exponent. Intuition is the tool we need for grasping the noetic visions of our composer. Viennese philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951), along with German philosopher Edmund Hussrel (1859-1938), had produced convincing evidence of the need to support reasoning with intuition. Without intuition, we certainly cannot traverse the range of his personal landscape that shaped so much of his output. Mozart's canon is overwhelming, and my arbitrary selection of specific works for this disquisition only presumes to put the cart before the horse. How did he navigate the conditions, whether amicable or adversarial, and yet wield his relentless concentration? Did he, consciously or subconsciously, filter his intellect, his reasoning, and even his creative process through his circumstances and crises, his emotions and impulses?]


(Swans - March 24, 2014)   In 1983, producer Saul Zantz, director Milos Forman, and playwright Peter Shaffer, who wrote Amadeus, went scouting for locations in eastern Europe -- Bohemia. They were looking for the 18th century, which they found in Prague, Czechoslovakia, then under the Soviet occupation. Prague, it so happens, had the only theater left standing where Mozart had performed: Stavovske divadlo, better known as the "Estates Theater," where Don Giovanni premiered on October 29, 1787, with Maestro himself at the helm. There, with the Soviet officials, and while Forman and Zantz surveyed the theater's wooden interior, Shaffer vanishes. After some nervous scurrying around by everyone, they find him, sobbing, in a dark narrow corridor. After being comforted and queried, he recovers, from shaking in awe, and allows: "I stood in the exact place where Mozart stood, on that day, when..." It's hard not to lapse into worship, when listening to, or contemplating Mozart.

However, Mozart had many detractors during his lifetime -- contemporary musicians, at the royal courts, who were threatened and terrified by his talent. But we cannot take their criticism as credible; it was motivated more by their insecurity than a studied analysis. Distance and time have been his ally, as criticism has given way to celebration and apotheosis. But back then, the literary, art, and music critic Henry F. Chorley (1808-1872) had some plausible concerns:

"Ruinously educated -- for what can be worse than an infancy and boyhood of prodigious exhibition? -- he might still, it is just possible, have been retrieved to a tranquil manhood of steady and healthy labor, had his art stood better in Austria than it did -- had not his habits vibrated betwixt his haunting the antechambers of the great in the quest of capricious patronage -- and fagging for narrow- minded publishers, or wasting his genius in the service of tavern and masquerade companions. The sinews of his intellect and purpose had never been strengthened: his sensibilities had been forced and encouraged: his genius fed on stimulants. He was a child in the affairs of men: ... cowardly, superstitious, and extravagant. ... Plunged into a life of orgies, towards which he leaned... the ceaseless wear and tear of dissipation and difficulty proved too much for his frame of body and mind -- Down he sank, forlorn and exhausted, into the midst of the whirlpool, and its waves closed over him."

Chorley sounds aggravated at the artificial brevity of Mozart's life -- he wanted more of him, like everyone else, and his perspective gains currency to a certain extent. What I infer from Chorley's criticism is that if Mozart was this great without that "tranquil manhood," "steady and healthy labor," and without the "strengthening of his intellectual sinews," how great would he have been if he was afforded these circumstances? Well, there are plenty of intellectually-calcified, tranquil musicians who had labored healthily that populate the ranks of mediocrity. Chorley, perhaps, was fantasizing about Mozart being some marble-mouthed, etiquette-laden Englishman, with more manners than music. Would a tranquil manhood, steady and healthy labor, mature intellect, and no profligate exertions, produce a Picasso or Van Gogh, Shakespeare or Stendhal, or an Edison or Steve Jobs? Geniuses are wrought by their condition and circumstances -- there is no definitive methodology that can produce, shape, or for that matter improve a genius. They are consolidated by the ungovernable chance.

Mozart was instinctual, organically extroverted, and naturally programmed for indiscriminate public immersion, creating on the fly. He was a humanist, and it has been documented that Mozart's power of concentration was phenomenal. He often composed amidst cackling and boisterous soirees -- Zauberflote and that dark Don Giovanni were creations in such conditions. Instinct for growth is within; inspiration is external, which he found in the commonest of denominator -- the ordinary individual, the mechanism of his drive. Mozart, despite all the privations, was, qualitatively and quantitatively, the benchmark for originality and output -- and still is. Who would know this better than Italians?

The Italians, long used to the monumental architecture of their city: the Colosseum, the arch of Titus, the huge forums, magnificent even in their ruined state, had been the preeminent purveyors of beauty in the arts for centuries. Mozart, at 16, traveled in Italy with Leopold, where it was inordinately challenging to excite admiration, yet there was perpetual acclamation: "Viva, Bellisimo -- Maestro Don Amadeo!" Mozart remained simple and affectionate, free from vanity, dutiful to his father and teacher. He developed rapidly on this trip, producing such early classics as Ascanio in Alba (K. 111) with airs and choruses, a litany (K. 109), and several symphonies (K. 95-98, 110). When presented with variegated atmospheres and moods he became inspired, and composed accordingly -- setting the music to the theater and its audience.

The nobility and musicians in Italy were incredulous at the prospect of having an Italian opera, written and conducted by a teenager, that too from a foreign land -- opera, being the most difficult to imagine, compose, and conduct, among all of the theatrical art forms. Mozart wrote Mitridate re di Ponto in 1770, approximating the opera La Nitteti by Josef Myslivecek (1737-81), whom he had met in Bologna, and quickly learned operatic composition from the mature and generous man. Still, many found it hard to accept that such immaturity in age would possess the insight to grasp the auditory and tactile beauty of Italian (language) for an opera. As the rehearsals progressed, disparaging folks were stunned into silence -- most were flushed with embarrassment, exiting the rehearsal of Ava Maria speechless.

"English lacks some of German's grandeur and almost all of Italian's sonic beauty and ease of rhyming (one reason why it is the ideal tongue for operatic setting)."
—J. D. McClatchy, poet and librettist

Mozart had a fantastic ear. He readily caught and collected ludicrous, funny, and bizarre sounds from ordinary and daily settings, and he recreated these sound effects for his favorite art form, operas, especially the comic German ones. He quickly formulated a methodology in the coalescing of elements for his opera. He sent the recitatives first, and postponed the airs till acquainted with the capacity of the singers -- avoiding the prospect of redoing his work twice over -- this was unique. He prided in matching the airs to his singer, as a tailor would fit him for a coat. This is something that even grizzled and wary composers pushing 45 years wouldn't attempt -- while he did it in his teens.

On one occasion, the celebrated German prima donna (lead female singer in an opera), Antonia Bernasconi, distrusting a mere boy to compose the airs, asked to see what she was to sing. Upon a trial of the piece, she was fascinated, but our maestro, miffed at her lack of confidence in him, presented her with another, then another, improvising on the spot, leaving her utterly astonished at the manifestation such rare talent, and so deep in imagination in a mere child.

In March of 1771, when Mozart was barely 16, they (father and son) were invited to Empress Maria Thersa's court, to compose a stately and dramatic serenata to honor the marriage of Archduke Ferdinand, in Milan. Johann Adolf Hasse (1699-1783), a great composer, at the summit of his career, was also requested to write an opera -- we get a glimpse of what transpired on the 17th of October, when Hasse's and Mozart's works were performed, in Leopold's letter to his friend:

"I am sorry; for Wolfgang's serenata has so knocked Hasse's opera on the head, that it is indescribable."

Hasse, honest and magnanimous, confessed in front of the royal audience: "This boy will throw us all into the shade." This statement was made by someone who was considered to be "divine," and rivaled Handel. After returning from Italy, in March 1773, the new Archbishop in Salzburg, Colloredo, employed Mozart, which he referred to as "slavery," but this was an inventive phase for the maestro. He developed a sudden passion for violin concertos, producing a series of five (the only ones he ever wrote), which gradually rose in their melodic nuances (K. 216, K. 218, and K. 219). In 1776, he turned to piano concertos, peaking in that breakthrough E-Flat concerto (K. 271) in early 1777. He also wrote seven symphonies (K. 124, K. 128-130, K. 132-134), and four divertimentos for instruments -- most celebrated pieces at music festivals, even today.

I must remind our readers again that Mozart's greatness was not some abstract energy from a mysterious source -- his source was the people. He was endearing to a fault, nothing like most geniuses were, and still are: narcissistic, aloof, intimidating, isolated, and rather condescending. Mozart was unique, people-centric, and had a droll disposition, not above any rascalry, or the grotesque bawdiness of Rabelais. He was jovial and overwhelmingly generous. He even learned the hand-sign language, completely mastering it, just to communicate with a deaf boy -- who he claimed as "my chief amusement." And, he did this while busy composing his timeless works. He also was without pretense, effusively acknowledging his own inferiority to Haydn's quartet compositions. He learned from Haydn, and then serenaded him. Here we are able to feel the beauty of Mozart's sensitivity, his unselfish soul, in acknowledging the truth of good music.

It did not all come to him automatically; he persevered passionately and was immersed in the music of others, instruments old and new, and explored constantly. He tempered and nuanced bold strokes in his compositions for audiences that were quite behind in taste and sophistication. He propelled music laterally in unforeseen and unpredicted ways; invention, more than anything, was his forte. He was the Edison of Music. Mozart's unique and peculiar combinations, such as a quintet for two violins, two tenors, and violin-cello, were imbued with delectable textural richness, carrying chamber music to its apex. The new glass harmonica was picked up so quickly that it didn't even register with his father.

He learned structure, rhyme and various meters in poetry for his operas. He also revolutionized the orchestra assembly for operas. In 1774, he composed Opera Buffa, better known as La Finta Giardiniera (K196) in Munich. This is embedded with Mozartean peculiarities, which even today is great quarry for the students of music and opera to learn from. Melodies dripping with elegance and emotions, a profound and quantum leap in the art of opera.

Mozart studied compositions like a hawk, especially those of Gluck and Hadyn, and wrote masses with no viola or wind instruments -- the Epistle Sonata is a composition, with no prior model in existence. There is another combination of ten wind instruments that Mozart concocted for Divertimentos that wasn't even a germ of an idea in his era: two flutes, three trumpets in C, two trumpets in D, and three drums. Bach had written concertos for three claviers that required absolute mastery of handling -- this type of work was not revived till Mozart surfaced. Just like Alexander's forceful personality orchestrated the defeat of kingdoms, Mozart's sensitive disposition conquered every expression on music. How sensitive and empathetic was he?

Mozart's morphology indubitably unfolds in the letters between him, his family, and friends, and in these letters, we not only find the palpable immediacy of his excellence as composer, but more so as an emotional and compassionate human. Mozart was distraught when his mother (Anna Maria Mozart, 1720-78) passed away on July 3rd, 1778, yet fetched the wit and sensitivity to write a letter to their close family friend, Abbe Bullinger, to let Leopold know, in stages, of the tragedy: "...let me now beg the friendly service of you, to prepare my poor father by gentle degrees for the melancholy tidings..." The same day, he writes to his father, with fortitude beyond his years: "I have very unpleasant and melancholy intelligence to communicate, My mother is very ill..." Six days later he wrote again, to his father and sister about his mother's death:

"I wrote to you in the night, and trust that you and my sister will pardon this slight but very necessary artifice; for when, after all the distress that I suffered, I turned my thoughts towards you, I could not possibly persuade myself to surprise you all at once with the dreadful and fatal news."

This was no selfish and narcissistic creative creature -- this was a man about people, and how appropriate it is that he was ordained by fate to render our bliss, as well as pathos, in the form of music.

It still remains mystifying as to how a still growing, naïve and naughty, and seemingly immature boy of 16 had the disposition of a mature, sanguine, and serene adult, when it counted -- with this sagacious capacity for kindness, compassion, and sensitivity. He was not presumptuous, nor did he condescend, and was humble to a fault, despite frightening talent. This throws an inverse spotlight on his contemporaries: the courtly nobles, the composers and musicians, who in their insecurity, were unmitigatedly infantile, forming cabals of chicanery and calumny to discredit our innocent and young maestro. Virtue is not a byproduct of talent, and talent is not the consequence of having a good personality and character -- but somehow, all these elements have been serendipitously coalesced in Mozart, making him the complete, and the greatest of all immortals. We shall continue our journey in search for our maestro, in Part III.


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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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Published March 24, 2014