The ecstatic principle of life itself . At least this is how Soren Kierkegaard saw Mozart. ” I am in love with Mozart like a young girl, Kierkegaard confessed in ”Either/Or”. ”Immortal Mozart I owe you everything; it is thanks to you that I lost my reason, that my soul was awestruck in the very depths of my being. …Thanks to you I did not go through life without having encountered something that could shatter me. I have you to thank for the fact that I did not die without having loved…”
What sort of a man can provoke such impassioned outbursts?; though the very word Mozartean is supposed to connote smoothness, grace and elegance. Ultimately, Mozart was a mass of contradictions that were able to reconcile each other and in total succeeeded in elevating his stature into something altogether beyond the sum of the parts. It is an over-simplification to state he became a man in his art, though in other respects he always remained a child. An attractive theory biased to the desire to see him as a man of suffering who needed to feed on tragedy in order to create.
Though Mozart was demonstrably inept when it came to paying his bills, financial irresponsibility is not enough to qualify him as a wide eyed innocent. On the whole, he was likely neither more or less practical than the other impoverished musicians of his time. For the most part, he managed to muddle through quite creditably, drawing on ample reserves of mother wit and plain common sense.
His life is often like something out of the Theatre of the Absurd. First little Mozart knee high to a viola da gamba and wearing court dress, playing the harpsichord before the crowned ears of Europe. Then, an adolescent in Rome decorated by the Pope with the highest class of the Order of the Golden Spur, but afterward unable to make use of his knighthood because the genuine aristocrats wouldn’t tolerate a title acquired by a perceived fluke and parvenu into their social strata. At twenty-two Mozart was adrift in Paris with his brilliant future seemingly behind him, a victim of his image as ”Wunderkind” which was to a large extent his father Leopold’s invention. People expected a perennial seven year old.
Then, Mozart in his thirties, in the fullness of his genius, desperately eager to compose but unable to find a patron, though the cognoscenti were well aware that he was the foremost composer of his time. ”Haydn’s opinion of Mozart is summed up admirably in a letter first published in 1798, in which Haydn wrote, ”. . . scarcely any man can brook comparison with the great Mozart. . . If I could only impress on the soul of every friend of music, and on high personages in particular, how inimitable are Mozart’s works, how profound, how musically intelligent, how extraordinarily sensitive! (for this is how I understand them, how I feel them) – why then the nations would vie with each other to possess such a jewel within their frontiers.’ ” Haydn told Mozart’s father in 1785 after an evening of chamber music: ” I tell you before God and as an honest man , that your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by name.”
Mozart, from early childhood, had perfect pitch. He had the ability to identify any note without a reference tone in addition to a phenomenal sonic memory that could make mental comparisons between remembered pitches. ”Herr Schachtner”, he once told a visting musician, ” your violin is half a quarter of a tone lower than mine, that is, if it is tunes as it was when I played on it last” ”i laughed at this,” Schachtner later wrote to Wolfgang’s sister, ”but your father, who knew the wonderful ear and memory of the child, begged me to fetch the violin, and see if he was right. I did and right he was, sure enough!”
One of the hallmarks of Mozart’s style was an extraordinary gift of modulation. He developed a harmonic subtlety and breadth unequaled by any other composer. Once Mozart established the basic key, the composition would soar off into a series of chromatic arabesques that capture the ear with the interplay of harmonies in constant transition and collision. His rites of passage as he moves from one key into another are central to the Mozartean conception of music for it is the modulations that account for the extraordinary poignance of some of the works in minor keys. ”Harmonically it is sometimes as though he were taking you into a very plain building to show you only the simplest kinds of decor, and then suddenly throwing open a shuttered window to reveal a magnificent and unsuspected view of the surrounding countryside”.
Most musical prodigies begin to falter sometime late in adolescence and never regain their original momentum. Mozart seemed to possess a special sor
tenacity that overcame the disadvantages of a too spectacular head start in life. Leopold Mozart, by all accounts, was a disappointed father who son did not measure up to the expectations set for him. At twenty-two Mozart set oot for Paris; no longer young enough to qualify as a prodigy and merely a young man with a lot of talent and no particular prospects.
Wolfgang had always been an invention of his father. An alter-ego of a socially ambitious father from a murky and obscure background in Augsburg. The father suppplied the musical education and felt he was the proprietor of the genes and had the energy and desire to translate the result into something resembling show business.The inexorable Leopold, a skilled violinist, trotted out Wolfgang and sister Nannerl, a clavier prodigy in her own right, as a traveling roadshow beginning when Wolfgang was six. It was the first of a long series of of concert tours that were to cover most of western Europe. Leopold decided it was time, ”to proclaim to the world a prodigy that God has vouchsafed to be born in Salzburg… it becomes my obligation to convince the world of this miracle…” The comparison of Mozart with Michael Jackson and his overbearing father is not entirely inappropriate:
”‘Billie Jean’ is certainly not a Piano Concerto. He was, though, like Mozart, transported around the world as a child prodigy by his father to play to the great and the good, his fate written out for him before he had a chance to choose. Mozart and Jackson’s fame and popularity within their own lifetimes are certainly comparable. Like Mozart, he was a sponge for the popular styles that surrounded him. Just as Mozart had a preternatural grasp of harmony and mood, Jackson had a natural sense of rhythm and an inexplicable lightness of touch that belied the intensive hours of work …. Just as Mozart dealt with his lifetime of stardom with excesses of drink and spending, Jackson descended into an increasingly surreal spiral of surgery, debts and addiction. And like Mozart, Jackson died shortly before his final work would have been completed and just as he faced a potential reprieve from his financial woes. …but Peter Shaffer’s presentation in the fictional Amadeus of Mozart as a childlike eccentric whose genius is ensured by his sheer inability to consider his own limitations does make you wonder if Mozart’s similarities to a man who…” ( Topazbean blog )
Leopold’s assertion that his son had become hot tempered and impulsive appeared based on fear and not on the objective reality of the music business as it was then. Mozart was too much an outsider for Paris. But, he did not heed,even willfully ignored, his father’s supplication that he bury his talent for composition and instead earn a living by teaching . Mozart did however have a legitimate grievance against the system of patronage that gave the aristocracy a virtual stranglehold on the arts. A ruling cultural elite in Paris whom Mozart referred to as ”mere brute beasts”. In effect, he was treated somewhat like a pianist in a cabaret bar payed to play background music while the sponsors played whist.
Mozart’s real greatness as a composer began precisely at the point where he turned his back on rococo etiquette and struck out into the uncharted regions of a subjective, utterly personal music. Mozart’s was a quiet revolution unlike a Beethoven who deliberately set out to provoke and disturb the peace. It was a revolution of sensibility, and it accounts for the apparent contradiction that Mozart, the embodiment if not the founder of classicism in music, is also the one who sounds the first unmistakeable romantic note.
Mozart’s romanticism could extend from the dreamy and enchanting to the darker and visceral; what E.T.A. Hoffman would call the ” terrifying anticipation of the unspeakable and its tremendous conflict between the nature of man and the cruel, unknown powers that lure him to destruction”. Mozart’s unique achievement was the coexistence of the classical and romantic within the same composition; a variation and elaboration of Bach’s contrapuntal musical arrangements.
Young Mozart was a complex mix. Neither here, there but everywhere at once. The only constant was a penchant for curious paradoxes. He was a very small man, with a frail physique,and delicate health, but he had temperament of a Titan and was perpetually in motion. He was remarkably fond of punch which he drank copiously and he was a pool shark for which his billiards adversaries always came off second best. He loved pranks, puns and practical jokes which not even the most solemn occcasions could discourage. Despite this raucous side, he insisted on dead silence when he gave his Sunday concerts and would stop playing at the slightest noise. ( Schlichtegroll )
Mozart’s puckish tendencies were not exactly helpful to an office seeker in the protocol-ridden eighteenth century, and Mozart never found the powerful patron who would have smoothed the way for him. He was too brash for Paris, had too little influence in Munich, and had too many rivals in Vienna. For a time , a stopgap solution was found for him in Salzburg, though the archbishop took a rather dim view of him. Mozart was appointed court and cathedral organist at a salary of 400 guldens a year, just below the poverty line. It was a return to medieval Germany where the arts and in particular the artist, was considered a of ”craftsmen” who confectioned products and not as a respected creator.