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Archive for September, 2002

Sui Generis

Posted by acdtest on September 24, 2002

Sui Generis

eading through this piece on Mozart, titled, “Why I’m sick of Mozart“, by the knowledgeable, prolific, and noted writer on things musical and cultural, Norman Lebrecht, my eyes widened with growing disbelief at each succeeding graf. The man was actually saying things such as, “By the interval [of a four-piece concert of Mozart’s music], my ears begged for relief and the darker cavities of my brain ached like molars to a surfeit of marzipan balls. […] One Mozart opus, decently played, is the limit of human endurance.”

Has Lebrecht gone full barking mad, I wondered, or has he simply gone terminally jaded. I mean, you have to understand that Lebrecht is no postmodern twit given to equating the works of such composers as Johann Sebastian Bach and, say, Andrew Lloyd Webber. Or some airheaded yuppie New Ager who considers the works of composers the likes of Bach and Vivaldi to be merely suitable background fare for his imbibing of his café latté at his local designer coffeehouse.

No, Lebrecht is the real deal; a man of considerable learning and experience, and a musical connoisseur.

Reading on with growing alarm, I in vain searched for the merest hint of a coming kicker. None was to be found. Lebrecht appeared to be writing in deadly earnest. Then, in a brief last two grafs, and to maximum effect, Lebrecht, experienced writer that he is, stuns the reader with his skillfully delayed and un-anticipated knockout punch:

The first months of my Mozart-free year have been aural bliss, eliminating sweetmeats and embracing healthy fiber. I was learning to love Haydn and respect Gluck when, last Thursday at a friend’s birthday concert at the Wigmore Hall, they slipped in the Soave Trio from Così fan tutte and I was done for. I wanted more; I craved the crowning sextet that is probably the greatest concerted aria ever conceived.

Talking at dinner to a mathematics professor, we could not between us fathom how, with such simple intervals, Mozart penetrated the very core of the human soul. He is, tout court, a life-force. To be taken as prescribed, not to exceed the stated dose.

Just so. A life-force, and not to be squandered or indulged in wantonly, or with abandon, recklessly.

Something very like this thought occurred to me several days ago while listening to a recording of one of the trio of works that together constitute the summit of Mozart as a composer of opera, which is to say, the summit of the operatic art: Le Nozze di Figaro. (The other two are, of course, Don Giovanni, and Die Zauberflöte, that last even though technically not an opera but a Singspiel. And others would add Così fan tutte to the list, making the trio a quartet.)

Le Nozze is positively Shakespearean in its construction and depth of structure and characterization — in both the armature of Lorenzo da Ponte’s libretto (his best for Mozart, I think, and perhaps his best ever), and in the vital-organ-distilling and full-fleshing-out achieved by Mozart’s music. In what other opera can one find so varied a richness of human types, emotional response, and psychologically true and appropriate actions and musical characterization? In what other opera can one find music at once so tuneful that one walks from the theater (or stereo) humming what he’s perhaps for the first time just heard, and yet so sublime that some of it would not be out of place in a High Mass celebrated in Chartres cathedral on the highest of Christian holy days?

Answer: No other opera, Zauberflöte alone excepted in the matter of tuneful-cum-sublime music, and Don Giovanni in the matter of musical characterization. And Mozart accomplished this in, of all things, a comedy(!). A bloody comedy, fer chrissake. Unheard of. Unimaginable even. Yet accomplish it he did, and we need take no-one’s word for it, either. Confirmation of the astonishing accomplishment is there today for all to witness and experience for themselves.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Mozart the Beloved of God — and, I’m convinced, His amanuensis as well.

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