Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Apparently Mozart died of strep throat.

Even as a kid, Mozart was always appealing to me. My gateway drug into the world of classical music. I've always thought it was odd, because if I had never heard a note of any composer and had to rely on written descriptions and impressions, I would think "Yeah, Beethoven sounds like the guy for me." And I do like a lot of his work, but I always found Mozart a little more compelling, and could never understand why some people didn't hear more depth to his music.

I would try to say something worthy of the great man's almost-incomprehensible talent, but luckily, my co-blogger Arthur said something eloquent in an email exchange last year that beats anything I could come up with (in reference to his clarinet quintet in A major):

This is one of my favorites. Absolutely right about Mozart. It's not Mozart who's superficial, it's people who think he is. There's great sadness in this quintet (written, I think, in the last year of his life), but the complete absence of self-pity and emotional exaggeration makes it too subtle for many people to notice it's there. There's great consolation, too. This is someone who has suffered, but his devotion to his craft and his delight in his own inexhaustible inventiveness take precedence over self-dramatization. The more familiar you become with the milieu in which he composed -- the cookie-cutter classicism of his day, with its bland, homophonic textures (studiously avoiding the complex counterpoint of Bach) and standardized orchestration, the clearer and more deeply gratifying Mozart's subtle but consistent pushings of the envelope become. None of the bang-crash-boom of Beethoven (whom I of course also revere, but not as much as Mozart), just constant delight and surprise at his turns of thought, his remarkable ear for sonic textures, his limpid but always piquant use of counterpoint. Not to mention that he is one of the great melodists of all time. It goes on and on...
The homily on Mozart and Haydn is that Haydn dances and Mozart sings. Beethoven wanted to study with Mozart but "settled" for Haydn when Mozart died. This may explain in part why dynamic rhythm plays such an important role in his music. Who knows how he would have turned out if he'd had the chance to study with Mozart?

Another favorite piece here.