Friday, January 27, 2006

An equal status with the Twelve-Tone boys ...

The canon changed and developed. It may surprise us now, but a good example of a composer who was slow to gain acceptance to the canon for any more than a handful of pieces was Mozart. Often he was seen just as the creator of naive but inspired miniatures that prepared the way for ‘real’ music and, in an age which saw music as ever-improving as it became ever larger and more complex, Mozart was bound to appear a mere precursor to Romanticism. Even a hundred years ago in Britain, to pick just one moment in the fluctuating history of Mozart's reputation, the academic consensus was sniffy; Parry famously dismissed one great set of variations as 'mere notespinning'. Sir William Hadow said the great operas contained 'no coherent story nor even any serious attempt at dramatic illusion'; and when the Royal Musical Association eventually devoted a whole lecture to Mozart in 1906 it was called, with nicely judged severity, 'Mozart's Early Efforts at Opera`.

What happened in the musical world’s understanding of Mozart’s music during the last half century can be summed up in a phrase; in the wake of the expansion of the canon and the huge revival in the importance to us of 18th century music, Mozart suddenly became serious. W.H Auden put it nicely in a poem for the bicentenary in 1956:

We know the Mozart of our fathers’ time
Was gay, rococo, sweet, but not sublime
A Viennese Italian; that is changed
Since music-critics learned to feel estranged:
Now it’s the Germans he is classed amongst
A Geist whose music was composed from Angst
At International festivals enjoys
An equal status with the Twelve-Tone Boys…


And between 1956 and the next anniversary in 2006, one might add, acquired rather greater status than the twelve-note boys. Mozart’s stock now could hardly stand higher: his emotional ambiguity seems to chime perfectly with our times. Will it last?

From the 12th Leverhulme Memorial Lecture, delivered in March 2005 by Nicholas Kenyon.

Happy birthday Master!

W.H. Auden's poem quoted by Nicholas Kenyon is Metalogue to The Magic Flute.

And a minor scoop (and not of chocolate), did you know that Mozart has his own blog?
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Myaustria
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1 comment:

Berend de Boer said...

I wonder what the use of original instruments had to do with this change of position. For myself I know that I didn't appreciate Mozart until I heard some of his piano music on a forte piano. And concerts on original instruments. Now he has become a favorite.

In my opinion Mozart's music is quite dependent on the proper instruments, unlike Bach for example. So Mozart wasn't appreciated because we had lost the instruments to play his music properly.