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Tag Archives: Mozart

The big day–his 250th–is actually tomorrow, but I volunteered, although posting so late in the day it’s already 27th in Vienna.

Well, what can you say about Mozart that hasn’t been said, much better? Here’s Tim Page in last Sunday’s Washington Post:

It is now 250 years since Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria — and some 245 years since this prodigy among prodigies fashioned his first little pieces for keyboard under the helpful eye of his father, Leopold. The world has changed radically since 1756 but Mozart remains a constant — we continue to regard the mixture of clarity, grace and formal balance in his music with undiminished awe. He seems to have been incapable of vulgarity or overstatement: In his mature works, there is hardly a wasted gesture or a note out of place. And yet it all seems so effortless, so absolutely spontaneous.
Indeed, because Mozart’s music is so flowing, direct and eloquent, many listeners think it must be easy to perform. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although almost any third-year piano student can read through the Mozart sonatas, it is a different matter entirely to play them well . Many other composers demand more in terms of muscle, pyrotechnics and flashy virtuosity, but there is an extraordinary transparency to Mozart’s music, and any imbalance, no matter how slight, is glaringly obvious. As such, the interpretation of Mozart remains one of the supreme tests of any great musician.

Rather than rave about my favorite Mozart recordings/works (oh, okay. For the record, off the top of my head: Mitsuko Uchida playing the sonatas, Richard Goode and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra playing the piano concertos, the Skittles Trio, the quintets, the Dissonance quartet, the piano quartets, the Requiem, the wind serenades, the Prague Symphony [38]–you know it’s time to stop when you’re in double parentheses)–I thought I’d actually try and relate this to the regency period. And this is actually a follow on from my last post on pianos–how they were used to bring orchestral music into the home.

I knew this happened later on in the century, with Liszt’s famous transcriptions of Wagner, for instance, but I was amazed to find how much material dated from our period, published in London, based on Mozart’s operas. I looked up music inspired by Don Giovanni, my favorite Mozart opera (I think, or is it The Magic Flute?) and found a website at the University of Southampton, England devoted to research on Mozart performances during the nineteenth century. And, not surprisingly, the majority of pieces are for piano, or piano four-hands, with flute and piano and flute duets coming in next. I have no idea who most of the arrangers were, and some were anonymous–Clementi (a music publisher as well as a composer and piano builder) was the only one I recognized. There were lots of arrangements of the overture (including one for harp and piano) and the big tunes, like the minuet from the final act, as you’d expect. C. von Boigelet, whoever he was, managed to concoct twelve gavottes from the opera. In 1809, The Royal Musical Magazine published an arrangement of Batti, batti (surely one of the most un-PC arias ever written) for piano four-hands.

And in our own time there’s the movie Amadeus, a very fictional account of the rivalry between Mozart and Salieri, but eminently watchable.

Any other Mozart faves or facts you’d like to share?

I will begin with this confession: whatever I have done in the course of my life, whether it be good or evil, has been done freely; I am a free agent… My success and my misfortunes, the bright and the dark days I have gone through, everything has proved to me that in this world, either physical or moral, good comes out of evil just as well as evil comes out of good.
Casanova, foreword to his Memoirs

It’s the anniversary of the death of Casanova (Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt) born in Venice, April 2, 1725, died June 4, 1798 in Prague. His name is synonymous with the archetypal male lover/seducer, but who was he really?

He’s a fascinating complex figure, full of contradictions and immensely talented and restless. In addition to the amorous activities for which he’s best known, he was also a preacher, philosopher, occultist, diplomat, soldier, spy, writer, author, librarian, and jailbreaker. He wrote extensive Memoirs but admits that he may not be altogether truthful–however, the Memoirs give a brilliant picture of life in eighteenth-century Europe. He has all the prejudices of a man of his times yet he has a remarkably modern voice.

His adventurous, sexy life has been a favorite among film-makers, with a version starring the late Heath Ledger, and a BBC version with David Tennant (David who? Yes, that guy).

Fellini made a strange (which really goes without saying), stylized movie in 1976 starring a young and exotic Donald Sutherland, that perfectly captures Casanova’s sexual ambivalence and cool detachment.

And, yes, Casanova apparently did like to cross-dress now and again. (Well, honestly, what did you expect?) Carol Ann Duffy, the UK’s first woman poet laureate, went a step further with her 2007 play in which Casanova is actually a woman. The Guardian reported: It is not sex but looks, food, music and language that are the agents of seduction. This Casanova gives everyone she meets their heart’s desire: Voltaire gets his ideas from her; Mozart gets music; and even a raging bull becomes as docile as a kitten when it looks into Casanova’s eyes. Hmm.

And talking of Mozart, yes, they did meet, along with librettist Lorenzo da Ponte when they were in Prague for the creation and premiere of Don Giovanni (1787). Casanova was an advisor for the libretto and part of the libretto exists in Casanova’s hand. Da Ponte, a former priest with a penchant for married women (I don’t think I’ve blogged yet about da Ponte, another fascinating character, but I will do so sometime soon) didn’t really need much advising in bedchamber matters. Another story: when da Ponte met Casanova another time, he was so embarrassed by his marriage and subsequent fall into respectability that he introduced his wife to the aging rake as his mistress. (The trouble is that although da Ponte and Casanova both wrote memoirs they are equally unreliable.)

Casanova was the only prisoner to escape from the Doge of Venice’s notorious prison, which was accessed by the Bridge of Sighs, a gorgeous entrance to a human roach motel (you went in but you didn’t come out). That was probably true.

Have you tackled the Memoirs?–the prison escape is riveting, and Casanova rivets over 120 women in loving, pervy detail. Not to everyone’s tastes… Which movie of Casanova is your favorite?

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Following on from Elena’s post about her enviable concert experiences, one thing that has always fascinated me is how different writers (and musicians) produce.

So are you a Beethoven or a Mozart?

Here’s Mozart’s manuscript for K. 617, Adagio and Rondo for glass harmonica, flute, oboe, viola, and cello.

The glass harmonica was an instrument that plays on the principle of running your finger around the top of a wine glass to produce a beautiful humming, otherworldly sort of sound. The Metropolitan Opera used a glass harmonica for the mad scene in their recent production of Lucia di Lammermoor–here’s an article from the NY Times about it. It’s usually played on the flute since they’re aren’t that many glass harmonicas around now–or people who know how to play them. This instrument was made in 1785.

But I digress. Here’s one of Beethoven’s scores.

The point I’m trying to make (yes, there is one) is that Mozart was notorious for composing in his head and then just writing it all down; or writing the music down after he’d improvised it at a concert. So his scores, although they have a certain messiness from writing fast, tend to be very clean. Whereas Beethoven used the delete key a lot, scribbling out and, although you can’t see this here, digging his nib into the paper with splattery results–all sturm und drang.

So for the writers among us, who’s a Beethoven and who’s a Mozart?

And for everyone, did you hear the Met broadcast of Lucia? (I missed it, to my great annoyance.) And what’s your favorite instrument?

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