Friday, January 27, 2006

A joy forever

"The history of Music as of Man
Will not go cancrizans, and no ear can
Recall what, when the Archduke Francis reigned,
Was heard by ears whose treasure-hoard contained
A Flute already but as yet no Ring;
Each age has its own mode of listening.
We know the Mozart of our fathers' time
Was gay, rococo, sweet, but not sublime,
A Viennese Italian; that is changed
Since music critics learned to feel 'estranged';
Now it's the Germans he is classed amongst,
A Geist whose music was composed from Angst,
At International Festivals enjoys
An equal status with the Twelve-Tone Boys;
He awes the lovely and the very rich,
And even those Divertimenti which
He wrote to play while bottles were uncorked,
Milord chewed noisily, Milady talked,
Are heard in solemn silence, score on knees,
Like quartets by the deafest of the B's."

***

"We who know nothing - which is just as well -
About the future, can, at least, foretell,
Whether they live in air-borne nylon cubes,
Practise group marriage or are fed through tubes,
That crowds two centuries from now will press
(Absurd their hair, ridiculous their dress)
And pay in currencies, however wierd,
To hear Sarastro booming through his beard,
Sharp connoisseurs approve if it is clean
The F in alt of the Nocturnal Queen,
Some uncouth creature from the Bronx amaze
Park Avenue by knowing all the K's.

How seemly, then, to celebrate the birth
Of one who did no harm to our poor earth,
Created masterpieces by the dozen,
Indulged in toilet humour with his cousin,
And had a pauper's funeral in the rain,
The like of whom we shall not see again;"

- W. H. Auden, from 'Metalogue to the Magic Flute' (Lines composed on the occassion of Mozart's Bicentennial in 1956)

There are some occasions that demand more eloquence than I am capable of, occasions that even Auden is barely equal to. Today is one such occasion. It's Mozart's 250th Birth Anniversary.

What can one say about Mozart? How can one even begin to express a fraction of how brilliant he was, how overwhelmingly beautiful his music still is? It would be like describing, wave by wave, the sea.

Let me say only that I am still awed the sheer breadth of Mozart's genius, by his ability to span every genre of Western Classical Music and contribute masterpieces to all of them. Let me say only that today, eleven years after I bought my first recording of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, I am still amazed by the thrilling richness of Mozart's sound - by the way he manages to be both gloriously sublime and pleasantly listen-able. Let me say only that there is no one I would trust to lift my spirits the way I trust Mozart.

Let me say only that Mozart is the closest thing to God that I know or am willing to have faith in.

Happy Birthday Wolfgang! My only regret is that I won't be around 250 years from now, to hear your music still being played.

Categories: ,

17 comments:

ozymandiaz said...

Falstaff, you do yourself a disservice as in my opinion your writing is at least as comprehensive and adept as Auden's. I mean you won't catch me going to his blog all of the time. As for your appreciation of Mozart’s gifts to the air and ear, I completely concur. I would not, mayhaps, go so far as to impose upon him the effects of ambrosia but likewise I would find no fault in anyone who does.

Crp said...

Here's something to rile you up.

Crp said...

Falstaff: Sorry for raining on the Mozart parade. Clearly Lebrecht's over-the-top argments can easily be refuted. But someone's got to speak up against the rampaging dilletantes, don't you think ?

Neela said...

falstaff

hv you read "mozart in the jungle"

n!

Falstaff said...

Oz: Thanks.

Neela: No, I haven't. Would you care to elaborate?

crp: no need to apologise, I thought the article was quite amusing - it reminded me of Howard what's-his-name in Zadie Smith's On Beauty - a frustrated academic who spends his time trying to discredit Rembrandt. Personally, I think the very fact that Lebrecht has to try so hard and be so manifestly illogical to make his case only goes to prove the point about Mozart. As you say, it's not difficult to refute the arguments about Mozart making no contribution to music (though I'd be genuinely interested to know how Lebrecht justifies his championing of Shostakovitch by that criterion) and while I agree entirely with the points about how Mozart doesn't really ensure World Peace, etc. that, to me, only strengthens my argument about his being like God!

Neela said...

falstaff: a non-sequitur. was just reminded because you posted about Moz.

Nice book about sex & drugs in the world of classical music. apparently those dazzling cadenzas you hear are the result of much inhalation of coke just before the program.

n!

Crp said...

Awww, don't beat up on poor Shosty now. I kind of have a soft corner for the rebel-without-the-balls type.

Anyway, it's nice to know that you still enjoy going to symphony halls. I was a semi regular too at one of the Big Five US orchestras but gave up a few years back in disgust. The crowd that frequents these concerts, especially when Mozart or the big Bs are on the program is the most pretentious and unmusical on earth. Not just the tux-and-tails geriatrics, even the rumpled-Tshirt-score-on-knees types (don't be fooled).

Falstaff said...

crp: No, no, not trying to beat up on Shosty - just amused that Lebrecht would make the arguments he made against Mozart and then choose to champion S.

And yes, know what you mean about concert audience's being painful. My big motivation at this point is knowing that with the Student Rush tickets over at the NY Philharmonic I'm essentially paying $ 10 to sit in seats that these other cretins paid upwards of a hundred bucks for. There's a perverse sense of justice in there somewhere.

Neela said...

crp: surely you don't go to concerts for the audience??? i..er..sort of go there for the music. who cares what the audience is like?

falstaff: speaking of audiences, I presume you were a suffering witness to the hundreds of cleared throats after the first movement. the spouse calls it "preventive coughing". am reminded of a zubin mehta anecdote when something similar happened - massive clearing of throats. he stopped a third movement after around a minute, turned and glared at teh audience and said "this movement lasts for 3 min (or somesuch). I trust the audience will be able to hold their coughing till then.." ha ha and hee hee. also heard the chicago symphony orchestra hands out complimentary lozenges. wonder why the nyphil doesn't.

Crp said...

>> crp: surely you don't go to concerts for the audience???

Well, it's hard to focus on the music when you hear words like "wondrous" and "heartstrings" during the interval.

Would you go listen to your favourite writer speak at a meeting the Oprah book appreciation society ? I didn't think so.

Neela said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Neela said...

crp: actually i would (go for the oprah book club thingie).

and 2 questions:

1. Why do you need to "focus" on the music?

2. Why would the audience's discussion DURING the interval disturb you at all? Ist music - if you like it, you should go for the concert, if you don't you should stay away. If the audience is disturbing you DURING the concert, you should protest. If not, then how does it matter?

n!

Falstaff said...

crp / Neela: While I see crp's point about audience CP in the interval being painful, on the whole I'm with Neela. Tuning out the idiots is what iPods and a good book are for. It's irritating, but surely not reason enough to miss a concert.

I'm not sure that the Oprah analogy is a good one, btw. I wouldn't go to a book club thing mostly because I'm not that big on book readings / meetings with authors anyway, and I'd assume that the guy would talk at the level of the audience and therefore say fairly obvious things. That's not true for concerts though. I mean it's not like anyone's simplifying Mozart to make him more accessible to the average listener.

Of course, the fact that the average audience manages to be irritating during the concert is a different point entirely, one which even Neela I'm sure would agree with. People who don't turn off their cell phones or bring crinkly polythene bags deserve to be horsewhipped and then slowly have all their appendages cut off one by one. Disturbances like that certainly make it hard to focus on the music. (and yes, Neela, I did hear all the throat clearing - and it wasn't just between the movements either). But otherwise being in a hall surrounded by tone-deaf idiots is just another opportunity to feel smug.

Crp said...

Hmmm .... seems like glib comments won't satisfy you folks so here's a more serious response:

I have to say with regret that 4 years of concertgoing have turned me into cynic... I started off with the right amount of reverence for the old masters -- attended religiously all the pre-concert lectures/discussions, sat in classes in the music dept, read the books, studied the scores, raided recording collections and the internet and of course listened to a lo..ot of music.

At this point all I care for in a concert is a live experience. I no longer think that's possible in a concert hall because everyone involved -- musicians, maestros, critics, academics seem to be content regurgitating cliches.

Of course there are exceptions -- Boulez for instance never fails to inspire.

Neela said...

crp: sorry to be continuously yipping at your heels but I still don't get it. Isn't music about notes, phrasing, tempo, style, melodies, harmonies, SOUND?? Why do you say that everyone is "regurgitating cliches?" (isn't that a whatever btw - oxymoron? tautology? falstaff, help! do you think, for example, they could possibly regurgitate original stuff? Does the act of regurgitating make the stuff a cliche?)

Seriously, am interested in hearing why you think Boulez "never fails to inspire" and not say, Simon Rattle or Esa-Pekka Salonen. Or the stalwarts: Furtwangler, Karajan, Bernstein, Swallisch, Eisenbach, Ormandy, Muti, Barenboim, Mehta etc etc who have led or lead the worlds major orchestras.

Similarly if you speak of Boulez as a composer, why him and not Messaien or Jennifer Higdon, for example?

Not to put you on the spot but am most curious to learn your views.

n!

Crp said...

Let me first say that I'm really flattered that someone wants to know my opinion. Most of the time, even I don't want to know my opinion. That's particularly true in this case. My attitude to music is almost always a reflex action and I've never reasoned it through. Here are some of my complaints against the classical "scene" in the form of bullet points. Hopefully they'll make sense as a whole:

1. The Repertoire: 90% of the pieces the orchestra plays in the season I've heard upwards of a 100 times, and many of them upwards of 15 different readings and I'm not terribly excited about hearing a 16th.

2. The biz: I am sick of piano wunderkids that turn up by the dozen every season and play the same old crap. Also of critics who praise or deride a performance/recording on a whim or maybe a random coin toss and for whom every third concert is a life changing experience.

3. The scholarship: If music scholars were to write about poetry it would read something like: the opening line consists of 8 words and ends in a question mark. The first word begins with the 19th letter of the alphabet followed by the 8th. That's an interval of a 11th. Next up is a vowel followed by a repeated letter giving us the familiar 5 letter word "Shall". (some 4 letter words forming in my mind by this time ...).

In the next section we will describe how harmony is almost absent in the music of other tribes ... er... I mean cultures.

I've summarized every music theory book I've read in the above 2 paragraphs.

The audience: Probably the root cause for the dumbing down of the concert programs.

I've got lots more but I'll stop because this comment has already reached epic proportions. I must apologize to Falstaff for hijacking his blog. SORRY MATE.

PS: Never heard Higdon but I've caught a lot of Rattle, Salonen et al. on WFMT. As composers both Boulez and Salonen are hit/miss for me but as conductors they're some of the few I still enjoy. I heard a magical performance of Derive II three years back. With each passing year, such concerts are getting rarer, replaced instead by sham rituals.

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