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Mozart - Part 1:
Mozart is a giant, standing on the 'shoulders' of 400 years of cultural development.
Allow me to present an extraordinary man, with extraordinary talents, named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a man who lived in one of the most extraordinary periods in history, and a man of great genius who had built on the extraordinary developments of that period.
Mozart had lived in a cultural environment that resulted from 400 years of progressive development with many different aspects coming together, spiritually, scientifically, technologically, ideologically, and politically.
This wide train of movements was set in motion with the recovery in European society from one of its darkest nights in which nearly half the population of Europe had perished from the consequences of tragic policies. The Lombard banking system had so weakened society by its ravishing looting, in conjunction with the cooling of the climate, that when the Black Death plague arrived in the mid-1300s, likely carried by rats on Venetian trading vessels from Asia, the disease spread easily across society and exploded into a giant epidemic that in many places left too few people alive to bury the dead.
The cultural and spiritual movement that powered the recovery from this utter hell over a span of the next 150 years, had created the Golden Renaissance that was without doubt the gem of all the great cultural development periods in history.
Humanity had become the pearl of great price. Society had discovered in itself a new and exalted value in many dimensions.
During the Renaissance period the English poet Shakespeare contributed greatly to the dawning recognition in society of its worth, dignity, and responsibility to itself. He accomplished the feat with the spoken word in great theatrical plays. Music hadn't been developed sufficiently in this period to match the power of the word, much less to supersede it.
Later, the 30-Years War once again destroyed nearly half the population of Europe, for religion, for control, for territory, for the emperor, and for money.
It appears that science, art, and increasingly great developments in music began to develop answers to the obvious question in such times, as to what living is all about. Why are we here? What is the purpose of human existence?
The subsequent developments in music that occurred in the shadow of the madness of this once again devastating epoch in Europe, and more so during the long recovery from it, defined the Baroque period. It laid the foundation for the development of the human soul, the development of beauty that touches the heart that only music can carry forward.
Music had played a powerful role in the Baroque recovery period, setting up a stage for the revival of the human spirit, aided by unfolding technological developments in musical instrumentation and the 'science' of music itself.
Johan Sebastian Bach was so great a master and pioneer in this enabling arena, that he is remembered today as one of the greatest musical geniuses of all times. He contributed developments in music that were unprecedented in history for their grandeur and scope of expression.
This progressive 150-year movement of the Baroque musical development that Bach represented as the pinnacle of it, which Mozart later advanced with his own enormous musical contributions, was nevertheless all essentially rooted in the Golden Renaissance that may well be called the greatest period in the cultural history of civilization to date.
Both of these periods, the Renaissance and the Baroque were periods of spiritual revival from truly unimaginable devastations in which half the population of Europe had perished, where the deep, deep questions had evidently been asked again and again: What is a human being? Why are we here? What is the purpose of existing? What is happiness? What is freedom?
What set the Baroque apart from the Renaissance is the technological progression in musical instruments that drew music evermore into the scene of great art.
During the Golden Renaissance the developing humanism had been expressed primarily in great art and architecture, and only to a small degree in music, for which, as I said earlier, the instrumental technology hadn't been developed sufficiently to enable music to become a significant driver in the cultural revolution.
What we see here, from the early Baroque resulted from 200 years of musical development that the Renaissance had inspired.
The earlier Renaissance musical instruments were much more primitive, like the Hurdy-Gurdy, where the grinding of a wheel was vibrating the strings, or the Sackbutt, an early version of the trombone, that was more delicately constructed than their modern counterparts, which had featured a softer and more flexible sound that had begun to attract a sizeable repertoire of chamber and vocal music.
Also the Renaissance musical notation system was more primitive, too primitive to meet the great demands of the later classical music. It was under-prescriptive. While it gave an openness for interpretive playing, it couldn't carry the classical exactness. Barlines were not used in Renaissance notations. Also, the compositions were notated for individual parts only. Complete scores were extremely rare.
However, in the early 1470s, music started to become printed with advances of the printing press. The innovation enabled music to spread and reach a larger audiences. With the spread, the demand increased for quality instruments and advances in design, which gave rise to complex instruments and famous instrument makers.
In the late Renaissance period from about 1534 to until around 1600, an impressive polychoral style had developed, which gave Europe some of the grandest music composed up until that time, with multiple choirs of singers, accompanied by brass and strings, and so on.
Polyphony also became increasingly elaborate during the Renaissance from the Middle Ages on, musically. Its complexity demanded larger ensembles and demanded specific sets of instruments that would blend together across the whole vocal range.
In some performances the players were spread out in different spatial locations in the great cathedrals. This appears to have been developed at the Basilica San Marco in Venice. The new tonal revolutions spread across Europe, to Germany, Spain, France and England. The tonal revolutions staged the beginning of the Baroque musical era.
The term 'Baroque' is generally used by music historians to describe a broad range of styles from a wide geographic region, mostly from Europe, from 1600 on, to 1750, the beginning of Mozart's time.
Music theory became more important during the Baroque. Composers began concerning themselves with harmonic progressions.
The increasing use use of harmony directed towards tonality marks the shift from the Renaissance into the Baroque period. This led to the idea that chords, rather than notes, could provide a sense of closure—one of the fundamental ideas that became known as tonality.
By incorporating the new aspects of composition, Claudio Monteverdi advanced the transition from the Renaissance style of music to that of the Baroque period.
Monteverdi developed two individual styles of composition – one is an heritage of Renaissance polyphony, and the other a new technique of the Baroque that opened the scene to the writing of operas. Monteverdi brought considerable attention to the new genre of opera.
The middle Baroque period in Italy is defined by the emergence in the cantata, oratorio, and opera during the 1630s of the bel-canto style. This style, one of the most important contributions to the development of the Baroque, as well as the later Classical style, was generated by a new concept of melody and harmony that elevated the status of music to equality with the spoken words, which formerly had been regarded as pre-eminent.
The rise of the centralized court of the Aristocratic system is one of the economic and political features of what is often labelled the Age of Absolutism, personified by Louis XIV of France.
The style of palace, and the court system of manners and arts that he fostered became the model for the rest of Europe. It created the background in which Mozart emerged. The realities of rising church and state patronage for the arts created a demand for organized public music. Also, the increasing availability of instruments created the demand on composers for chamber music.
Arcangelo Corelli is remembered as influential for his achievements as a violinist who organized violin technique, and the art of purely instrumental music, particularly his advocacy and development of the concerto grosso form, a form of baroque music built on strong contrasts in which the musical material is passed between a small group of soloists and the full orchestra, in contrast to the concerto which features a single solo instrument with the melody line accompanied by the orchestra.
Among Corelli's students, was Antonio Vivaldi, who later composed hundreds of works based on the principles in Corelli's trio sonatas and concerti.
All this formed the background to Mozart's environment.
Mozart had built on this entire great heritage and had raised the platform still higher on possibly all fronts. He was a master of all types of music, and raised them up further. He stood on the shoulder of giants, and he honoured them by using the platform of music that they all loved into an instrument for raising the platform of civilization itself. He gave the human voice a divine voice, by which he, himself, became a world-historic person of immortality.
Most notably, Mozart had honoured Johann Sebastian Bach, the greatest German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist of the very late Baroque period.
Bach himself was laid into the grave a few years before Mozart was born. He had enriched established musical styles through his skill in counterpoint, harmonic and motivic organisation, and the adaptation of rhythms, forms, and textures from abroad, particularly from Italy and France. His music remains revered for its intellectual depth, technical command, and artistic beauty. In today's world he is regarded as one of the main composers of the Baroque period, and one of the greatest composers of all time, together with Mozart and Beethoven. And he too, was one of the leaders that Mozart had admired and built on.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in 1756. He died in 1791. In the 35 years of his life he gained immortality with the grandeur of his achievements and the sheer volume of them.
The music that he produced as a man of great genius, has shaped the world and is still shaping it. People are moved by the quality of the music. Some people travel far to hear his music performed.
Evidently Amadeus sells! Today, after more than 200 years running, some of his greatest operas still draw people to sold-out performances. That's an impressive record that few stars can match. He shares this honour with just a few, including the German poet of freedom, Friedrich Schiller, and of course Bach and Beethoven, and with William Shakespeare who is still being widely performed after 400 years.
Does this mean that the product of great genius is never out of date? Not necessarily. Something unique enters the scene in addition to creative excellence, something special that is combined with the genius, which the genius brings to light in a manner that resonates in people's heart and soul, regardless of the time and times, something that goes beneath the surface, something that is divinely human, by which it becomes timeless.
I will endeavour to explore especially the timeless dimension.
It appears that Mozart plays a distinct and powerful role in this realm, by bringing many of the highest-level elements to light that are intertwined with what we hold precious about our civilization, which stand as critical aspects that one can recognize oneself being imbedded in, which stands behind his greatest operas that are among the greatest in the repertoire.
Mozart produced more than 600 musical compositions in his short life. Among these are 22 musicals and operas. The musicals were operatic song-plays performed in the native German language, whereby they became accessible to the general population, instead of merely the elite. Five of these are still widely performed. The five are:
The 1782 musical: The Abduction from the Seraglio;
the 1786 opera: The Marriage of Figaro;
the 1787 opera: Don Giovanni;
the 1790 opera: Cosi fan tutte; and
the 1791 musical: The Magic Flute.
I shall focus on these 5 exclusively. It is noteworthy that all of these significant works were produced by Mozart after a major juncture in his life.
- part 2 -
At the crossroads in history.
Mozart had resigned his employment at the Salzburg court. He had been accepted at court in 1773, as a court musician, by the ruler of Salzburg, Prince-Archbishop Colloredo.
Prior to his employment, during his youth, Mozart had traveled extensively with his family. His father loved to show him off as a child prodigy, beginning when he was only 6 years old. For 11 years Mozart and his family would travel to the courts of famous places in Europe, such as Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, Vienna, The Hague, Zurich, Rome, Milan and other places. On these tours he came into contact with a wide range of great music, musicians, and composers, with some of the finest among them.
There may have been occasions when Amadeus might have said to his father, I can do better than that, and started to write compositions. By the time the touring ended in 1773, when he was 17 years old, he had 8 operas and close to 150 compositions to his credit, and had been honoured by the Pope with the Order of the Golden Spur, in 1770 when he was still a youth of 14.
However, another aspect besides the grandeur of music appears to have shaped Amadeus Mozart from early childhood on, as he traveled to many of the royal houses of Europe.
For a genius who can visualize an entire concert score before writing it down, it would not have been difficult to look through the facade of the conspicuous wealth that he encountered being flaunted in the royal houses and courts of the oligarchs.
Few people had the kind of education he had, to have seen with his own eyes, the hidden world of the seraglios of the oligarchic system, the orgies of meaningless ugliness built on stolen wealth, paraded behind the walled-in circuses of so many puppets dancing to the magic flute of their employers, the payola of privileges, and the dancing servants who have no life of their own, to speak of, all performing parts of a libretto that was as strangely unrelated to the real world as fairy tales are, but was rarely seen in its sheer nakedness by the general public that footed the bill.
When Mozart served as a musician at the court of the ruler of Salzburg, Archbishop Colloredo, he himself had been reduced to the status of a servant, and had been paid accordingly a low salary that was essentially but a stipend. Mozart wanted to write operas, for which the confining court environment wasn't ideal.
After 4 years on the job he resigned.
As it turned out, Mozart's living as a freelance composer in 1777, wasn't easy. He travelled abroad with his mother, looking for opportunities. They went together to Augsburg, Mannheim, Paris, Munich.
Mozart wrote the 31st of his 60 symphonies in Paris.
The people loved his music and his performances, but no permanent position came out of it, not even enough to pay for the expenses.
His mother became sick in this period and died in July 1778, probably for the lack of funds that may have delayed the engagement of a doctor.
While nothing worked out for him, with his father's help back home, he was offered another position at the Salzburg court, this time for triple his previous salary, which apparently was still but a pittance. Reluctantly, he accepted the new position, and reluctantly he served.
It appears Mozart despised being 'caged in' as it were. And so he should have been. Salzburg was dead, musically, in comparison with the places he had been. Also, he had more than 300 works with more than 10 operas to his credit by then. It must have felt humiliating to be treated once again as a mere servant.
For example, in January 1781, his opera Idomeneo had premiered with "considerable success" at the great theatre in Munich. Mozart had become a celebrity.
Back home he remained a servant. He was summoned to Vienna, by his employer, Archbishop Colloredo.
By this coincidence, Mozart came into contact with Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire.
The Archbishop had been attending a function in Vienna at the court of the Emperor who had recently become the sole ruler of the Holy Roman Empire. He had inherited the crown in 1765, at the death of his father, and with it had inherited the complex morass of the Habsburgs imperial administration that ruled Austria, Bohemia, and Hungary.
Emperor Joseph II had ruled jointly with his mother, the Empress Maria Theresa, until her death in 1780. From then on, Joseph II had been free to pursue his ideals that were to a large measure shaped by the Enlightenment ideology that had emerged in this period.
It might also have been that the Emperor became interested in Mozart, for his being known as an intelligent, outspoken, and gifted genius, the kind that are rare in the world, who might be a useful resource for inspiring a change in the political sphere of the empire.
While staying in Venice, Mozart had remained a servant for the Archbishop. For example, Mozart was forbidden by his employer to perform before the Emperor at Countess Thun for a fee that would have been equal to half of his yearly Salzburg salary. In the resulting quarrel Mozart attempted to resign from the Archbishop. To put this type of resignation on the table was like a revolution in effect. Mozart was promptly refused.
However, it appears that Emperor Joseph had intervened in the situation for his own purposes. It is known that in this timeframe the Emperor granted full legal freedom to all serfs, ending serfdom, which evidently also applied to Mozart.
Perhaps it was in response to the new law that Mozart's employment as a servant of the Archbishop was terminated. He was fired. He was insulted in the process, but he was free. This turn of events had a large impact on Mozart's life, and possibly also on the Emperor's.
Emperor Joseph had great reforms in mind. He abolished the use of brutal punishments, including the death penalty except for extreme and extraordinary circumstances.
The Emperor had been educated in the direction of the Enlightenment ideology. His ideal of enlightened despotism was to establish a system of government for the good of all. This included measures of emancipation of the peasantry, something that his mother had already begun. The Emperor also promoted the spread of education, the secularization of church lands, the reduction of the religious orders. He brought the clergy into submission to the state. He issued the Patent of Tolerance in 1781 that provided some limited guarantees of freedom in religious worship.
He further aimed to promote a greater sense of unity among the people by promoting German as a common language, replacing especially Latin that was used by the elite for segregating itself.
Emperor Joseph did everything that seemed reasonable in the Age of Enlightenment, and he did it all at once. He even 'inspired' far-flung reforms of the legal system that included the principle of equality of treatment. For this the Emperor needed peace, but peace was in danger.
Both the British Empire and the Russians had desired to drag Austria into a war against the Turks. The Turks evidently stood in the way of some of the Russian and British colonial objectives in the region. In this context a state visit to Vienna had been arranged for the Grand Duke Paul of Russia. The Viennese aristocracy probably had a hand in this, stirring for war. But war was the last thing the emperor needed.
The emperor may have felt that Mozart might be able to pull something off to prevent war, something through the channels of music that could turn back the rising tide, perhaps with a daring project to raise the political environment to a higher level than war and killing, which always ends up being destructive.
Perhaps, it might have even been that in order to make such a project possible, the Emperor abolished the censorship of the press and of the theatre around this time, as one of his reforms.
Mozart, evidently could not have created what he had created from this time on, without these reforms. And so, the Emperor himself may have opened the door to Mozart to a 'New World' of intellectual freedom that never existed before, which may have been in place before the Emperor had commissioned Mozart to write a song-play in German appropriate for the challenge to prevent another war with the Ottoman Empire, with the last one likely well remembered, though celebrated by some for the victory that was won in 1683 at a high price in the Battle of Vienna against the Ottomans.
Just 35 years before the Battle of Vienna, the Thirty Years' War had ravished Europe, a war fought by 16 countries, against each other, in what became the most brutal, destructive, and deadly war, in the history of Europe that had killed more than two thirds of the population in some areas. Anyone in his right mind would not want to see this again, including the Emperor.
The theme of Mozart's new opera, which would be named, 'The Abduction from the Seraglio,' might have been Mozart's idea, who might have suggested it to the Emperor. He might have seen the challenge as the rescue of the noble truth of humanity with the love of reason, from the deadly, imprisoning trap of small-minded tradition that had enslaved society into the 'seraglio' of the oligarchic imperial system that cries for war and the murdering of human beings.
Mozart was familiar with the functioning of the 'walled-in' system of the seraglio of the oligarchic system in which the political system of his time was trapped. He had seen the segregated circuses of dancing puppets since childhood.
He had seen the dancing to the magic flute in far too many places, bowing to the payola that meets out privileges, moving with the games that are played behind the walls, and scenes of 'dancing' servants who act out their life like obedient pones moved by powerful hands.
He had been one of those pones himself. He had worked and lived behind the walled-in compounds.
Yes, Mozart may have answered the Emperor, as the commission was offered, 'I think I know what you mean. I can do this for you. I can liberate the empire from the trap where wars are deemed normal.'
Mozart was also familiar with the Emperor's effort through his National Singspiel to enrich the German language with a higher-level culture that is critical for nation building, which had been previously available only to the upper crust living in the seraglio, since operas were mainly composed in Italian. Mozart may have presented his incomplete German opera, Zaide, as a start-up script of an abduction from a seraglio, in order to prove his commitment to the singing of the German language. Mozart's commissioning for a new German opera on the same theme, evidently resulted in part from this demonstrated commitment to step outside the box of the aristocratic seraglio.