Sunday, January 27, 2013

A 21st Century Mozart

". . . in modern conditions Mozart would make a fortune with the products of one side of his genius which he would lose in performances of works of the other side." 
–A Companion to Mozart's Piano Concertos. Arthur Hutchings, p. 160.

Arthur Hutchings' companion to the Mozart concerti is one of those densely perspicacious books in which one can find insight at every page and line. The one-off line I quoted above is one of many you could profitably unfold into a long essay.  At first look it seems a throwaway what-if to tantalize historians: What if Alexander the Great had lived, what if Cicero debated Demosthenes, and so forth. Yet the question is a little deeper, methinks.

You see, Mozart has rather unwisely been made the patron saint of starving artists, especially musicians. In truth, he wasn't the best servant to the Archbishop in Salzburg and afterward he made tidy sums throughout his ten years in Vienna. At the time of his death he was poised to explode on the opera world. So while we may be wrong to see in Mozart the subject of grievous injustice, we can't help and I don't think we're wrong to feel that he was let down. We who greedily lap up the masterpieces he produced-week by-week find unbearable the autocratic constrictions and lowbrow tastes with which he contended. Why should such a rare genius answer to anyone? Yet Mozart, very much the first freelance musician, responded to the demand and especially in the concerti and operas produced works both finely-crafted and appealing.

We should realize instead, from Mozart's experience, that ours is a liberated time. A 21st century Mozart wouldn't have to cater to the whims of a handful of rich patrons or the citizens of one city because the transportation and information revolutions have given every artist a global audience. Can you imagine the demand for Mozart's prolific universal genius? He'd have an opera premiering in New York, a new movie he scored opening every few months, he'd be on tour performing concerti and symphonies, and his serenades would dominate the Top 40. He would have commissions lined up for years and pupils lined up around the corner. Imagine a Mozart masterclass, and a Mozart not wasted teaching Franz "shithead" Sussmayr.

With his popular success Mozart would fund the projects of his heart. No more dense pupils and comissions for mechanical organ. What would we see? What would a mature, unfettered Mozart produce? Would he glory in the esoteric or elevate the everyday? Both, probably. What intimate chamber worlds and celestial symphonies might be. Surely he'd still be outraging the conservatives with his daring harmonies and befuddling the avant-garde with his knowledge of the old ways. I'm sure he'd still be giving cutting criticism of his contemporaries, and I can just see him walking Bimperl along Central Park on the way home to a private chamber recital with family and friends.

I would worry about his education, though. Would Mozart's father have been able to remain his private tutor? Could he have afforded to? Would Leopold have been dragged through the tabloids for exploiting his son? What scandals would have been cooked up in a media frenzy?  We should probably spare ourselves the thought of young Wolferl in a government school classroom of 30.

Aside from the fact that no musical education could replace that from his father, young Wolfgang's interest was almost exclusively musical. Would it have profited him, his family, or anyone, to have dragged him though a "Core Curriculum?" Yuck. Is not the disconnect between the thoughts downright offensive: Mozart and Core Curriculum. How different the associations. If the young Mozart was as attention-deficient as many of his sonatas, might he have been medicated dull as so many other spunky, innocent boys today? We rightly noted the virtues of our liberated culture, but it seems clear the young Mozart was a freer boy and the Mozart family a closer, freer family than most today. What Wolfgang might have gained in the technological revolution from looking at digitized scores of Bach he might have lost early in other ways and early on.

Of lessons we should be wary of drawing too many. It's all too easy to start pointing and wagging fingers at the alleged causes of the artistic lacuna in our society. The solution, however, is no political or social prescription, but the personal one to cultivate him in our lives through his music. Toward this end Mozart can have done no more, having left us his most perfect, universal art. The only appropriate responses, I think, are love and gratitude.

And more music. Especially opera.

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