Friday, August 13, 2010

Looking for another Mozart

Almost from the moment Wolfgang Mozart died the public was out looking for a new one. They completely disregarded the fact that they had rejected the original. There has been a feeding frenzy ever since. But will there ever be another Mozart?

First of all, the typical world view of Mozart is completely wrong. It is filled with outright lies and half-truths, all intended to convince the reader that the writer 'understands' Mozart and is thus qualified to define his life for the rest of us. Yet numerous mysteries have remained for over 250 years, so we know that is not the case. Basically, the thesis regarding Mozart falls into the 'blame-the-victim' category. He was 'too' -- arrogant, thoughtless, careless, prideful, intemperate, name it. The horrid movie "Amadeus" condenses most of the worst lies into one brilliantly-colored morass.

So, if the world is looking for another "Mozart", it is in fact looking for something that will fulfill their (mistaken) idea of who Mozart was. They are looking for a wonderkinder who excels at everything out of the cradle and is willing to give up their childhood for fame and, hopefully, fortune. From time to time there have been individuals willing to step up to the plate; some, such as Mendelssohn, even managed to continue on to leave a wonderful legacy of his own.

But will there be another actual Mozart? I don't think so. Why? For one, the person would have to be surrounded by controversy wherever they went. That would conflict with the possibility of their coming to the public eye in any sort of a typical manner. They would, ideally, have to have mastered the piano, taught themselves the violin (you don't need lessons to play second violin, according to the actual Mozart), be composing significant pieces at a very early age, change genres, add playing the organ, have boundless evergy and a heart full of joy despite the fact that everyone around him would be trying to vampirize his energy and steal his supply. He would have to survive daily attacks of hangers-on, who would try to turn him into a bucket and then make demans that he support them, as Leopold did. He would have to be an abused child conditioned to crank out music in order to please their parents or the cold God the parents insisted he must also obey. They must be willing to take every risk to put themselves out into the public view despite the fact that their earnings are meager, while those of much less ability live in fine houses and have seemingly infinite resources. They must have the courage to fact the most unscrupulous foes, all wearing false smiles. He would have to be wise enough to read the mind of his enemies in order to escape the wicked grasp of their agendas.

And that's just for starters. No, I do not think there will be another Mozart. Why would a loving God, if there is one, put another one on this earth after they way they treated the first one? But would a loving God avenge the manner in which the first Mozart was treated? Might He find an alternative to illuminate to the darkened world the travesty of their behavior toward Wolf?

Monday, March 09, 2009

The other effect of the "Mozart Effect"

The idea of "The Mozart Effect" is a valid one, though rather narrow in definition. To think that there is something different about Mozart's music is to open a door into another dimension. To think that it can
have an 'effect' on us as listeners is a basically eccentric notion.

Does all music affect us in one manner or another? The answer to that is surely 'yes', for why else do we select the music we love and listen to it in time of happiness and stress? It helps to change our mood; it helps to center us and go forth empowered into the rest of our day.

We as parents often try to direct what music our children can and cannot listen to. To some extent, this is because of the lyrics, which can be dangerous to young ears; but also, the pounding drums and low, screaming bass of much rock music leads us to wonder if listening to it opens a door into a dark abyss. So does Mozart's music seem to be the opposite -- it seems to connect us to a level of calm serenity where there is only order and love.

When we listen to other great composers, such as Mahler, Beethoven and Wagner, for example, our emotions are moved. When we listen to Mozart we are lifted.

To acknowledge that there is something distinct and peculiar about the effect of Mozart's music is a starting point for better understanding his life and the effect that he had on other people. For it seems to me that the effect of Mozart's music on him and those around him was not simply that of healing and uplifting; it was also destructive and devastating.

If there is a "Mozart effect" to Mozart's music, why didn't it help him to live a long and prosperous life, for example? Why were there so many traumatic twists and turns to his personal life and to his career? Can we just forget the tumult over trying to find a spot for Wolfgang at one of the European courts? That struggle cost Mozart's mother her life; Wolf was just a young adult when she died in Paris, far from Leopold and Nannerl in Salzburg. Later, and certainly somewhat as a result, Leopold and Wolfgang's relationship became strained and fell apart. So did Wolf's relationship to Nannerl, who ended up appropriating not only most of Leopold's estate, but many of Wolfgang's compositions as well. Nannerl and Constanze were bitter enemies -- they are even buried in completely different locations in Salzburg. In short, the 'effect' of Mozart's music, if we start with the premise that there is such a thing, was to destroy the Mozart family. Let us not forget that Wolfgang himself died just short of 36 years of age.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008

Mozart was not a pauper, he was robbed

For all the books and articles that have been carelessly written about Mozart and money, there has been a common theme -- that he was not good with money, and that led to the issues he had with it later in his life. This, however, is simply untrue.

For one thing, during Mozart's development, his father Leopold was in charge of all the money Mozart made. In fact, Leopold was loath to let go of Wolfgang for just this reason -- he wanted to exploit his son for all that he was worth, and make good use of everything Wolfgang earned. When Wolfgang left Salzburg permanently to set up shop in Vienna on his own, Leopold was furious. Rightly so -- he had lost his little golden goose.

As a result, Wolfgang was hardly prepared to deal with money issues. Hadn't he always looked to Papa, who, in addition to paying the bills also conveniently reminded him that he, Leopold, was the one who was 'good' with money? What a dreadful scenario for a brilliant young entrepreneur heading out on his own. He was practically doomed to fail.

Throughout all of Mozart's life, one of the common threads not universally discussed is the controversy that he and his music caused wherever he went. From the earliest operas in Italy to the operas in Vienna, everything Wolfgang did tended to create upheaval in the musical community. As a result, he was repeatedly placed in situations where he was not allowed to act from empowerment, but was forced to accept whatever others would permit him to earn. Had he been less controversial, he might have found a more friendly reception for his creations. As it was, there were at least as many around him who wished him ill as those who wished him well. The result was that for many pieces he was not paid fairly. Because he needed to eat, and did not have a court position, he had little choice but to accept whatever was offered.

Also, Wolfgang did not have a court position in part because he was so controversial. He was considered a troublemaker -- in fact, he was simply much smarter than those in positions of power and managed to convey that to them. That of course tended to alienate them and limit his possibilities. Because of the contributions he had made to music in Austria he should have been offered a stipend sufficient to pay his bills and allow him to compose with serenity about his finances. He should not even have had to cowtow at court and write silly pieces for dinner. He should have been treated by respect by those in power. That not happening, he should have found a way to leave Vienna for an environment where he would have been treated with respect.

But Wolfgang was stuck in Vienna. He dared to marry against his father's wishes and Constanze added costs to his lifestyle. The pregnancies and children also played a part in creating his financial distress. Had he been treated fairly at court, and recognized for the unique genius he had, these issues could have been born with grace. Had he spent more time thinking as an entrepreneur, realizing that his name was marketable, operating from a position of strength rather than need, he could have found some financial stability.

How Vienna could allow such a unique and generous composer to be held prisoner like Gulliver at Lilliput defies imagination. Nevertheless, this is what happened. In addition, there were many instances where he was not paid for work provided. He did not pursue these debts that were owed him. He didn't have time.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Creator's Request

Once, a very long time ago, a gift was given to a child. This child was part of a middle-class family, the salt of the earth, living in an unimpressive town at the foot of the great Obersaltzburg. The request was really quite simple -- allow the child to grow in a nurturing environment until he was strong enough to bear his gift, and able to deal with the attacks of ego against it. For yes, the irony of this gift to a child was that, in order to use the gift as God had intended, he needed to remain a child himself. No thoughts of worldly gain should bind him to the earth, no competitiveness should determine the scope of his projects. Mostly, the child should be allowed to have his own voice in all things; with the understanding that once he reached the age of consent he alone would communicate with God regarding its development. Were this to be the case, he would have stayed under the protection of the Spirit which comprised the soul of this extraordinary gift. He might have stayed in the small town, become a teacher as well as a performer, and perhaps even started a school. He might have had visitors come from far and wide to learn with him and listen to his music. He might have been a valued guest at many venues throughout Europe. He might have married happily, had many children, and lived a long and prosperous life. He might have chosen to have the abundance of his earnings given in trust to the school he started, which was now flourishing. By putting God first, he might have achieved the fulfillment of the gift he had been given -- setting up the kingdom of God in music.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Mozart as traveller

How many years of his too-short life did Mozart spend on the road? He traveled under conditions we would consider hideous. Yet he didn't seem to object much to the cold, the bumpiness, the length of time it took to go from one place to another. Sometimes he traveled in rented carriages. At times he, or his father, owned a horse and carriage. We think nothing of our celebrities jetting or bussing (their own, of course) from one venue to another and climbing up on the stage to perform, but can we imagine what Mozart's life was like until he settled in the ironically fateful Vienna?

Monday, October 02, 2006


Mozart was born in Saltzburg, Austria. Nearly everyone knows this. The fact that this is a general assumption about Mozart may cloud the signficance the town represents.

Saltzburg was named for the deep salt mines in the foothills of the Obersaltzburg outside of the town. The resources the mine provided were endless and the main source of income for the townspeople.
So what? We ask. It's so simple, it's right under our noses.

Mozart was born in a town named for the common spice that enhances flavor to our lives. In fact, Jesus spoke of it 2,000 years ago. What good is salt, if the salt has lost its flavor? You are the salt of the earth.
Salt is the spice of the common man. Mozart was born in a town filled with common men. He could have chosen to be a part of this town, while retaining his own uniqueness. Fate and his father had other plans. Leopold didn't want his children to end up performing for free for the ungrateful townsfolk. So he decided to leap as high as possible and make a name for himself and his prodigious children at the high courts of Europe. Later, Mozart himself disdained Saltzburg as common, and chose to remain in Vienna, where tragedy circled him like a raging lion and ultimately consumed him.

Rethinking Mozart

How old were you when you first heard the name 'Mozart'? Too young even to remember? How old were you when you could pick his music out from pieces played on the radio, or perhaps by a parent? It would be oversimplifying to say that familiarity breeds contempt in the case of Mozart. Familiarity may, however, cause us to be superficial in our understanding, and complacent in our acceptance of what we are told to think about him.

In this special 250th celebration of his birth, it is my wish to contribute to a re-orienting of some of the concepts involved with Mozart and, in the process, perhaps shed new light on additional areas of his genius.