P.D. James: The Black Tower
Stupid Questions, Stupid Answers, Stupid Times

Mozart: Fantasia in C minor, K 475

I was listening to a CD which includes this work along with three of Mozart's piano sonatas. When this piece started I was confused for a bit because I thought it was Beethoven. Mozart can be surprising in that way. I had an aunt who loved classical music, and like many, especially of her generation, she tended to see the 19th century as the major event in the history of music, the Big Show. She said to me once that "you can hear Mozart trying to break out of his cage." I was a little annoyed by that at the time (I was in my early or maybe mid-twenties), because I was enchanted by Mozart's concerto for flute and harp. But as I heard more of his music I started to see what she might have meant. She died in the mid-'80s and I've often wished she were still here to discuss music with me. (Naturally, none of her own children inherited her interest and aptitude, and she was delighted when I developed an interest. I was the only one in the extended family who did, and she and I had no blood relationship at all--she was my father's sister-in-law.)

At any rate, though I do love a lot of Mozart, he does often seem rather too light. There's plenty of the lightness in this piece, but much more, as that opening shows.

I wonder if anyone has ever written an alternative history in which Mozart lives into old age and becomes one the most sheerly astonishing artists of all time in any medium. Well, he already is, of course, but just think...



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"though I do love a lot of Mozart, he does often seem rather too light."

A composer friend of mine lodged a similar complaint about Haydn vis a vis Mozart. The only Haydn he really likes is the somewhat "darker" Haydn of the "Seven Last Words." And even that is somewhat qualified. I like Haydn, but more in a background music sense. I can put him on when I'm engaged in something else but I'd never just sit and listen to him.

The Mozart I love is primarily that of the late symphonies. For me the last five are indispensable. You can certainly hear that "breaking out of his cage" thing, but arguing in reverse so to speak, to me early Beethoven sounds a bit like Mozart, but less appealing.

A funny coincidence: I've recently listened to some Haydn that made me think I should give him more attention. I turned on the local public radio station in the car the other day and there was a symphony in progress, but I had no idea of the composer. I thought it could be one of the more modest works of one of the Romantics. I liked it a lot and ended up sitting in the car for some minutes to hear it through to the end and find out what it was. Turned out to be Haydn's "Oxford" symphony. And a few weeks ago I was listening to one of his quartets, #82, and also liking it quite a lot. I also very much like the Seven Last Words, but as you say they're rather different.

I always thought of him as a bit on the dull side in comparison to Mozart. Mozart is certainly more brilliant. I know what your friend means, but in one sense of "light" I find him lighter than Haydn. Mozart is champagne, at least when he's not at his very best, Haydn meat and potatoes.

"early Beethoven sounds a bit like Mozart, but less appealing." Indeed. As I've said here more than once, there's something in Beethoven's personality that I find unappealing, and though his great works transcend that, I don't care much for the less great.

Mac: I wonder what it is about Beethoven's "personality" that you find "unappealing". I don't think you really mean "his personality". You probably mean "his music". What appeals and doesn't appeal to all of us is extremely subjective and personal. My own a appreciation of Beethoven's piano music changed very much after listening to the very inciteful lectures on all of the sonatas that Andras Schiff presented at Wigmore Hall. They are available on-line and well worth seeking out. I recommend them to you.

I mean his personality as it seems to come through in some of his music. Of course I don't have any idea whether any of it showed in his actual real-life personality. The word that immediately comes to mind is "bombastic." Heavy. And sure, it is subjective. What makes me think "bombast" may make someone else think "heroic." And like I said it doesn't keep me from loving most of his great music. The Eroica comes to mind as one that I admire more than like. Yeah, it's a great work, but I'd rather listen to the more modest Fourth.

Chances are very good that Schiff's lectures would be over my head, as I have hardly any technical knowledge of music. But I'd like to sample one at least. As it happens his recording of the sonatas. I spent some time with the last sonata when I was reading Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus and came to really love it.

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