The timelessness of mozart --12/22/23

Today's selection -- from The Infinite Variety of Music by Leonard Bernstein. Commenting on the genius of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart:

"Mozart … represents to most of us elegance, wit, daintiness, intimacy, and the rest. If this were all, however, then Mozart would have remained always an artist of his time, a rococo genius who captured his epoch in notes. But, then, so did some other composers called Stamitz and Dittersdorf capture their epoch, and so did a lot of other names you may never have heard of, including several of old Johann Sebastian Bach's sons, who left behind what had come to be regarded at the time as papa's stuffy style, with its hard-working fugues and fuddy-duddy counterpoint. These composers had embarked on this charming new garden path of late eighteenth-century prettiness--easy, refined, tuneful, witty, gay music for the ‘let-em-eat-cake’ nobility. But today they are mostly just admired names, while Mozart is, and always will be, the divine Mozart: not a name, but a heavenly spirit who arrived in this world, remained some thirty-odd years, and then left it new, enriched, and blessed by his visit.

“What makes the difference? Only this: that Mozart's genius was a universal one, like that of all great artists. He captured not only the feel and smell and spirit of his age but also the spirit of man, man of all epochs, man in all the subtleties of his desire, struggle, and ambivalence. When we were in Moscow a month ago, I heard the great Boris Pasternak say, ‘In spite of everything I am full of joy; my art exists as a record of the tragedy of human existence; it is nourished by tragedy; and my art is all my joy.’ So it is with our greatest creative spirits; so it was with Mozart. Which may come as something of a surprise to some of you who have the habit of equating Mozart with aristocratic delicacy and nothing more. How many people have I heard dismiss him as ‘tinkly,’ as a musical snuff-box composer! Isn't this how most people were first introduced to Mozart:

“‘None of this mincing drawing-room stuff for me,’ such people say. ‘Give me guts in music--Beethoven, Brahms, the tragic, the monumental ...’ This kind of talk can mean only one thing: that they don't know Mozart. No one can have listened to Mozart, listened hard, with both ears, without experiencing what Pasternak called the ‘tragedy of human existence.’ Just listen to these few bars from his Fantasy in C:

“Tinkly, is it? Why, it could easily be Beethoven in one of his typically tragic rages. It has the power, the attack of a giant. In this Fantasy there is even a Beethovenesque mystery, a certain veiled wonder and awe, which is one of Mozart's most moving qualities:

“Do you feel that melancholy, that tragic essence, even encased as it is in an eighteenth-century frame? Mozart's music is constantly escaping from its frame, because it cannot be contained within it. No matter how clearly every bar of it is labeled 1779 or 1784, the music is essentially timeless. It is classical music by a great romantic. It is eternally modern music by a great classicist.”



Leonard Bernstein


The Infinite Variety of Music




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