Thursday, October 13, 2005

Why doesn’t music stay the same?

Why doesn’t music stay the same?

A friend asked me this question recently. She wished that it did. The answer is simply that we don’t, so it doesn’t.

Should it stay the same as Mozart? Vienna today is just a rather old modern city with cars instead of carriages, with modern politicians instead of monarchs, with no wigs or fancy clothing such as Mozart wore. Mozart’s music accompanied Mozart’s life. It was formal and structured, and so was his music. It’s funny—his life was so different but his comedy is completely real to us now.

There are other reasons besides culture. There is also ego. Mozart was Mozart completely to perfection. What need would there be for me to compose like Mozart? I would certainly suffer by comparison. I would have a much better chance writing as myself, in my own style. If I composed like Mozart, I would be regarded by my composer colleagues as a freak.

Mozart composed for his customers, his paying customers, and I suppose the customers are really not so different. John Adams composed for his customer Pamela Rosenberg. She even imposed the subject. It was she who supposed that the invention of the atom bomb was a proper subject for an opera. I would have suggested he write an opera about love.

Our lives are chaotic and roiling, like our music. Our egos are huge, generally unjustifiably huge, and the music we create is loud and often incoherent, like us.

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