I’ve heard many people say that they don’t like Mozart. It seems like that opinion is common now, though I’m not sure why, and I don’t know if this has always been a popular opinion, or if there’s something about the current musical Zeitgeist that Mozart just doesn’t jive with. The common complaint I’ve heard is that Mozart is boring, light, fine, not exciting, not moving and basically background music.
My personal instinct and feeling is that I, yes, like Mozart. I’ve sung several roles and choruses in his operas, and I’ve spent a fair amount of time listening to his music. My opinion right now is that Mozart’s music is a palace of tastefulness where moments of levity and holiness and intimacy arrive and depart in the blink of an eye. He doesn’t beat you over the head with any of these affects, but instead they come and go and are meant to be savored there in the brief span they’re being played.
That’s my bias. But I want to prove it to myself further or knock it down, so I figure I’ll just inundate myself with Mozart music for, let’s say, a month. Since we’re currently working on Die Zauberflöte and later on Don Giovanni here in Dortmund, it serves other practical purposes, but I want to know: is Mozart actually special? And why? And is discovering that specialness worth it?
So I’m going to listen to at least one major work of Mozart’s every day for a month, ok? And I’m going to share some off-hand reactions while I do that just to gauge what I’m experiencing.
- I’m not going to do any deep analysis, so you’ll have to go somewhere else for that. That means I may also describe something incorrectly. It might be an instrument. It might be a musical form term. Please forgive me.
- I’m just going to rip off lists of recordings that other people like. I don’t have particular favorite recordings of non-operatic works, so I’m just going to steal from people who do.
- I’m not going to do it in any real order.
- I know I’m starting on a random day. If I wait then I won’t do it. Sept. 23 to Oct. 23. Why not?
- I’m also listening on headphones. This is a fundamentally different experience than what you experience in the concert hall unless you’re the conductor, but it’s all I can do. Headphones are probably a major part of the future of classical anyway.
Alright, first up are four symphonies going from 38 to 41. Tonight are the first two. The recording is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra led by Sir Charles Mackerras.
Symphony No. 38 “Prague”
- Extended minor introduction. That’s interesting.
- Hello, syncopation.
- Instrumental flow. Space for each instrument group. Some very daring harmonies in the development. Love the back and forth between major and minor.
- Feels like an aural experience. All enveloping.
- A transition motive then gets extended development. Subtle but keeps the continuity going.
- LONG MOVEMENT. At least by Classical era standards.
2. Andante in G Major
- Again the instrumental delicate touch. The famous Mozart exposure. I feel for the violins who are often very exposed as a section.
- Some gorgeous sections where instrument groups flow in and out of each other.
- Some very lonely stretches of music. As in, I feel lonely listening to them.
3. Finale (Presto)
- Wait… only three movements?
- Lots of fun. Love the grace notes. Super playful.
- Reminds me of Beethoven a bit, though of course, he was later.
- Call and response between high and low strings during development is great. Likewise flute and bassoon(?).
Symphony No. 39
- Hello, giant chords and percussion.
- Hello, amazing dissonance. Wowsers.
- Very triumphant.
- Fun up and down and up and down moments in development.
- I’m marveling a bit at the musicians. It sounds like the whole orchestra is breathing in and out together. The phrasing swoops and recedes and guides us to an end point where a new phrase begins.
2. Andante con moto
- Pleasant. Bouncy.
- I love the use of woodwinds. All the tonal color.
- Some daring harmonies during this dramatic minor section.
- Such harmonies seem to slide into focus if that makes sense. Out of what was, something new.
- Reminds me of hunting. That’s what the trio should evoke, right?
- I enjoyed this flute/oboe melody over staccato woodwinds. Is that the clarinet?
- Establish staccato idea early, work with it all the way through.
- This is fun.
- Flute sections are lovely. Great contrast.
- Lots of bombast in some sections, especially near cadences.
- I continue to love the use of woodwind color.
Tomorrow I’ll listen to the other two. Until then.