Monday, March 20, 2017

A Month of Music, Day 10

“You’re not going to tell me that you don’t listen to Mozart, Marc,” said Lady. “You know that every serious music lover will laugh you unto derision….”

“I don’t dislike him,” I told her. “And I’m very glad to have played him, though the only solo things for the cello are in fact transcriptions of works for other instruments. But there is something about the style that forces you to be utterly clean and elegant. But no, the only things that I listen to of Mozart are a few arias from some of the operas.”

“Have you considered faking it?”

“Why? Look, I thought at least I could listen to the Great Mass, which is top of the list of Mr. Fernández. So I began the Kyrie, and then the video got stuck at about 4.36 and I thought, ‘oh, good—now I don’t have to listen to it.’ And the same thing with the Requiem. So there it is, and now everybody can call me a fraud and a philistine. I can admire it; I just don’t listen to it. There it is.”

“Now see here, Marc,” said Lady seriously, “you’re completely lax and lacking. True, Mozart died at 35 or so, but he got started early. And you’re telling me that out of the 41 symphonies, there isn’t one that you listen to? And the piano concerti—there are at least 20.”

“Well, I listened to the 41st symphony recently, mostly because the fugue at the end of the fourth movement is supposed to be one of the glories of Western Civilization. (Don’t know if I have to capitalize that, but it feels like it.) And am I going to butt heads with everybody and say that it’s not? Of course not. But rip my earphones off of my head and check out what’s accompanying my morning walk, and it won’t be that.”

“Fake it.”

“What! You ask me to compromise my integrity as a writer, to publish an errant….”

“Fiddlesticks! Writers do it all the time. You’re a wordmonger, nothing more and nothing less. Now then—find something and profess to like it…..”

“Well, the safest and easiest thing to do would be to pick a symphony, a piano concerto, and an aria or two and have done with it. In fact, I listened to all my favorite arias, I listened to the first movement of Symphony number 29, and I checked in on the d minor piano concerto. There—I’ve done it! Now, can I go now?”

“Well, surely you have to say something?”

“Do you know how hyped Mozart is? Do you know that there is an actual industry, still going on? You know, there are festivals and films and statuettes and even little chocolate candies—Mozart balls! And wherever there’s an industry, there’s hype and there’s marketing. So we have the myth: the genius who dashes off his masterpieces while sitting on the can! The tragic composer, writing a Requiem for his very own death! And which he will never finish! The starving artist who is ignominiously thrown into a mass grave!”

“Well, what of it? It’s true, isn’t it?”

“Sometimes, and sometimes only partially. Apparently Mozart did his share of crossing out and revision. And did he think he was writing the Requiem for himself? Well, you got a Ouija board? And the mass grave was apparently common in Vienna at that time: his memorial services were well attended. And his music was popular and became more so after his death….”

“So what did he die of?”

“What didn’t he die of? Do you know that Wikipedia says that 112 causes of death have been suggested? All part of the myth, hunh? Everybody else gets hit by a bus, but no, little Wolfgang has to have his mystery death!”

“Are we being just a bit peevish?”

“Well, he’s annoying me. And what’s even more annoying is that there are unexpected depths to him, and then he goes back to being charming again!”


“Look, I listened to two piano concerti, both of which I have played….”

“You played the piano?”

“Nah, the cello in orchestras. But anyway, I’m fairly familiar with this stuff, and yes, they’re masterpieces. But the d minor has a first movement that is wild and impassionate. Oh wait—unless it isn’t. Because I just heard it again, and the new version somehow sucked out all the blood from it. Which may be the problem with Mozart: I can think of very few composers whose music relies so much on interpretation. And it is so very, very easy to have the wrong interpretation in Mozart….”

“Is that true?”

“Who knows? And maybe it’s also true that we are always interpreting Mozart according to the tastes of the times. When I was a kid, performances were staid: it was enough for the music to be ‘pretty.’ Now, we want the dramatic, the histrionic, and the self-revelatory. Which brings me to the other piano concerto—number 24. That begins with a perfectly pleasant, cheery first movement. But the slow movement that follows? It’s so painful, it’s almost hard to listen to. You feel, in a way, that you’ve invaded Mozart’s private hell.”

“Dear me….”

“I’ll say. And since I’m making an utter fool of myself, maybe I should go all the way….”

“And that is?”

“There are days I wonder whether Mozart wasn’t born in the wrong time. It must have been quite constricting, you know—to write in the classical style. It was all elegance and light. And is that why Mozart feels to me to be essentially an opera composer? As if, somehow, in opera he can let go?  Anyway, I think anybody would have to say that the ending to the Marriage of Figaro is just breathtaking—it’s some of the most glorious music in the world. It’s one thing that always gives me goose bumps….”

“And what else does?”

“The ensemble singing. Like the finale to Figaro, but also earlier in the Sull’aria. And then, of course, the trio from Così fan tutte. You know what? I could fake it, and say that I listen to the symphonies, the piano concerti, the sacred music. But why? Why bother? Trust me, the reputation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is not going to stoop in its track, shudder, and then utterly collapse because of one writer in Puerto Rico. In a way, it’s wonderfully freeing….”

“Anonymity does have its uses,” said Lady, and how does she know? She, who has over 6000 Facebook friends, and has only to breathe to earn applause.

“Ridiculous,” says she, “I feel entirely sure that Mozart is spinning somewhere, perhaps in his unmarked grave, over your words.”

“All right,” I told her, “All readers out there: Listen to the last three symphonies, as well as Symphony number 29. Check out the d minor piano concerto, as well as number 24 in A major. Listen to the Great Mass in C major, as well as the Requiem. And then you can go about your business….”

Just like me!


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