Mozart: The Master of the Masterpiece
What is so great about the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Here are 7 reasons that I think make him the greatest composer of all time!
(Warning! This video is in English, which is different, but maybe for my English speaking friends something interesting.)
- Light. Mozart is a child of the ‘Age of Enlightenment.’ If there is anything the music of Mozart has, it is light. Light as in bright, as in without weight and above not a ‘drag’. The weightless brightness of Mozart’s music often cloaks a dark undertone so well, that you could very well miss it altogether. This luminescence really is held in the world of music alone by Mozart. Nobody else can really come close to it.
- Humor. It is difficult to imagine Mozart as a serious person. His instrumental music has a relentless playfulness to it and any Mozart played at all must be presented with a sense of humor and wit. Mozart wrote Opera Seria and he seems to struggle with the genre because the themes don’t have a lot of humor in them. Idomeneo is all business and it is probably his greatest dramatic piece, when you look at all of his operas together, especially the ones that have no humorous elements. But, here is the real genius behind Mozart…Mozart used humor to reach the heart of the listener like no other composer in history. The early operas like La finta giardiniera and La finta semplice hint at it, but the monumental series of Cosi fan tutte, Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Entführung aus dem Seraglio and Die Zauberflöte are testimonies to the art of the dramma giocosa or dramatic comedy. It is Mozart’s sense of humor that keeps his music young.
- Simplicity. Mozart sounds simple, and if you look at an orchestral score it looks simple. Hardly. I was first confronted with this in a music theory class at Eastman when we analyzed a Mozart Piano Concerto. This class was made up of fellow Masters Degree students who were a bit deficient in the realm of theory, and boy did I ever learn a lot in this class. Although Mozart looks and sounds simple, it is incredibly complicated and refined. The ability to create such a simple sounding music that reaches the ear without offense out of such a rich palette of chromaticism is the sign of true genius. How to make the complicated simple…that is the very essence of genius.
- Virtuosic. Hacks really can’t play Mozart. Mozart’s music is the most revealing music in any repertoire, it will show up a player or singer faster than any other music that exists. Mozart is a composer that you work on as a beginner and as a master artist. It trains you to be good, because you can only really play it if you are actually good. It is easy to say that this can apply to all composers, but I don’t think any other composer challenges a musician the way Mozart does. Every performance of a Mozart piece is a special occasion because somewhere in the pretense of the performance the performer is saying…I am willing to put myself up to the challenge that Mozart presents. It is difficult to describe what that is unless you have done it, just take my word for it, Mozart is a handful!
- Dramatic. Probably the biggest argument that many musicians have against Mozart is that it isn’t ‘romantic’ in the way Puccini or Verdi is. There is a sense that performing Mozart is sort of ”sissy” for lack of a better word, and I’ll admit I used to be someone who shared that opinion. However, I beg to differ. First of all, interpretation of Mozart is often confused with some sort of ”safe sex” version of music making. I don’t know of a better way to put it, forgive me if I offend. But, Mozart isn’t a delicate piece of crystal that is easily broken, Mozart is meant to be performed with the same gusto as any romantic or modern composer. If there is drama lacking in a performance of Mozart, that is the performer’s fault, not Mozart’s. My opinion about Mozart was greatly affected by hearing Nicholas Harnoncourt’s interpretations in Zürich. This showed a music that was sweeping, fast and dramatic. Having sung so many operas of Mozart, I can tell you that it is extremely dramatic to play and full of every conceivable emotion you can ask for at a level much deeper than most of the more obvious romantic and modern composers.
- Rhythm and Beat. There have been many catch phrases I have heard about Mozart’s music, but two have remained in my mind over the years. One was told to me by my friend Artur Hamm that he heard somewhere from somebody…”With Mozart you can always hear the heartbeat.” The other was when working with the venerable Maestro Rolf Reuter on La finta semplice in a production in Mainz when he would incessantly tap the beat on the top of the music standing driving me and everyone in the rehearsals nuts with it…he said…”Kinder!” In his Sächsiches Deutsch, afterall he was from the ”east” and was a unique fellow standing seemingly 6’5”, slender and appearing ancient with his 75 years, but was more alive than most deadbeat conductors you come across…”Kinder! Mozart ist wie Techno, immer weiter und immerwährend! Ihr müsst der Schlag immer in euch haben!” ”Children! Mozart is like Techno music, always beating constantly! You must always feel the beat inside you.”
- Melody. Obviously one of Mozart’s greatest gifts was the gift of melody. This is a topic all it’s own, and maybe should rank at number one, but Mozart’s melodies are enchanting, compelling, descriptive and expressive. Maybe the greatest of all of his traits, was his ability to write great melodies. It reminds me somewhat of the Beatles, or maybe the other way around, like the melodies have existed forever but haven’t, they have that timeless quality that just speaks to you from natures heart.
So, that is my list for today. In my opinion, Mozart is the greatest composer in history and admittedly he would not have existed without J.S. Bach, but while Bach wrote ”to the glory of God”, I think Mozart channeled the voice of God through his pen. It is truly a sublime world of music that Mozart created, it would be a shame to miss out on it!