Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Why Mozart

Mozart was in at the beginning. He was born just after the sudden death of counterpoint, into the world of the sons of Bach who were busy creating a new, much simpler musical world. These were the original minimalists.

Mozart’s childhood pieces were based on composers like Domenico Alberti (around 1710 – 1740), a long forgotten composer of pieces using the Alberti bass, made up of broken triads.

The horizontal movement of voices had completely lost its attraction, to be replaced by a complete preoccupation with the chordal aspects of tonality. I wrote in a previous blog that in the early Baroque there were no chord progressions. Well, in Mozart’s childhood there were chord progressions and very little else. Tonality was everything.

Mozart’s childhood offered other advantages as well. As a touring prodigy, he was exposed to all the musical styles of the cities he visited. In Paris he wrote Parisian symphonies. In Mannheim he absorbed the Mannheim style. And in Italy he composed true Italian opera exactly as dictated by the style of the time. Have you noticed how much this goes with the concepts in the book Music, the Brain and Ecstasy? That book says everyone's musical tastes are formed by mid-adolescence. By mid-adolescence Mozart had seen, heard and composed samples of all the music of his time.

What makes him Mozart is that he took these miscellaneous varied styles and molded them into his own individual style. When you hear Mozart, you know immediately that it isn’t Italian or one of the Bachs or even Haydn. Mozart’s mature music can only have been written by Mozart himself. He adds up all this knowledge and creates music which contains it all and more. He is definitely more than the sum of the parts.

In most of his mature style there is no equivalent composer. You can never say “Mozart wrote this, and so did X,” except perhaps Haydn in the symphonic area. In particular his operas are completely unique, combining the vocal style of the Italians with the symphonic style of the Vienese.

Beethoven sneered at Haydn and refused to study with him after Mozart died. In Wikipedia there is a portrait of Mozart at 35 that I have never seen before. He looks much older and in bad health. He lived his life very fast.

Today our lives are completely different. Mozart was able to absorb many different but similar styles while we can simply not avoid being overwhelmed by the much more diverse and constantly intruding music of our time.

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