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The Impress of Mozart on Musical History.


Three kinds of masters.

The question of the influence of Mozart on the history of music belongs to a class of prob­lems in art-history difficult to solve. The impression which an artist makes upon the subsequent course of events depends not so much upon his genius as upon his special adaptation to the particular stage in the development of his art into which he happens to be born. Every historic art passes inevitably through periods of growth, ma­turity, and decline, and one who enters an art-move­ment in its upward course may not produce works of the first rank (indeed, he cannot at this transition moment), but he may produce works of such a nature that they reveal new paths along which his successors may advance to far higher achievements. Such were Monteverde and C. P. E. Bach, men whose works are of vast importance historically, much less so esthetically. Another of far more exalted powers may stand at the culmination of a tendency, when the decline is imminent; his works exhaust the possibilities of the form to which they belong, and thus, while they may have imitators, they are not actually the promoters of progress. Such an artist was Palestrina; such also was J. S. Bach in respect to the passion music and the organ-fugue. Others appear when an art is in the flush of youth, an art so abounding in unim­paired force, so endowed with varied resources of ex­pression that it carries along with it a whole group of strong men, each helping the movement onward and yet not absolutely indispensable to the cause with which they are identified. At one of these preg­nant moments in the history of music came Mozart.

Limitation to Mozart’s impress upon his age.

The impress which Mozart stamped upon the music of his age does not seem commensurate with his real power as a composer. It is evident that an artist in order to give a real push to progress must not be thoroughly symmetrical and mature; he must suggest something that he is not capable of performing; there must be something crude and in­complete in him; he must arouse an interest in prob­lems which he is not competent to solve; he must point alluringly to fields not yet conquered. Mozart was like a teacher who sets perfect patterns before his pupils, but does not stimulate them to new ex­periments. His works, as was said of Del Sarto’s, are faultless, but in their calm, deliberate complete­ness there is comparatively little of the power of provoking to new effort which Haydn, a man of lesser magnitude, possessed in high degree.

Mozart not so necessary as Haydn and Beethoven.

My question, as I understand it, implies the inquiry: To what extent would music-history have been different from what it is if Mozart had not lived? Of course, no one can say with positiveness; but it seems to me that Mozart, with all his marvel­ous powers and masterly achievements, which I should be the last to disparage, was by no means so necessary to the progress of music as his great contemporaries Haydn and Beethoven. And for the reason given above: his works are so exquisitely finished, so formally complete, that they appear as something monumental which excites, not the zeal to go on and do something greater in the same line, but rather a sort of despairing admiration. This was very much the case with his Italian operas. As Dommer says, he extracted the kernel from the old Italian opera and threw the husk away. He did not hand the opera to his successors to be developed along the same lines as his. Even the “Magic Flute,” al­though German in text and abounding in romantic elements, was not the parent of German romantic opera. In instrumental music he was far more a pioneer; but even here it is difficult to say to what

extent the history of the art would have been dif­ferent if Mozart had not lived.

But we must not rest in a negative conclusion upon this point. It is easy to overrate Mozart’s im­mediate influence; still easier to underrate it. He had an influence, both direct and indirect, as a man of so great genius must have had. It is only because his art was so well poised and self-sufficing that we find it difficult to discern wherein lay its active, shaping influence upon the work of others.

Impress on composers of the day.

Mozart certainly did show how certain forms, methods, and technical appliances could be used for the attainment of results greater than his own. Not only lesser men, like his pupil Hummel, but also Haydn and Beethoven, received no little inspiration and direct suggestion from him. Obvious imitation of features of style, such as we find in the andante of Beet­hoven’s sonata, opus 2, No. 1, and the first scene in “Fidelio” are of minor consequence in settling the score of indebtedness. It was in disclosing new tracks and agencies of expression, refining what had been crude, introducing a more vocal and gracious manner into instrumental music, giving a new lan­guage to song and a richer utterance to orchestral and chamber-music that the composers of his day saw in him one from whom something might yet be learned.

Upon Haydn.

His influence upon Haydn’s later  work is well known. That Haydn reached the fullness of his power as a symphonist and quartet writer only after Mo­zart’s best productions in these classes had been written is not wholly to be explained by Haydn’s natural growth. His orchestral writing had, indeed, been steadily gaining in variety and breadth, but Mozart’s last three symphonies, written in 1788, startled him. He had been writing symphonies for nearly thirty years, but here was a sonority and delicate tinting of tone, an independence and grace in the leading of the various parts of which he had never dreamed. Haydn never quite equaled these splendid achievements of his young friend, but his London symphonies of 1791 and 1794 show a new insight into the resources of orchestration which he would hardly have acquired without the illustrations which Mozart gave him.

Upon Beethoven.

To what extent Beethoven took Mozart’s symphonies as his models it would be diffi­cult to say. We must re­member that there were many instrumental writers in S. Germany and Austria in the last years of the eighteenth century besides Haydn and Mozart. The sonata form was dominant, thousands of orchestral and chamber-works by scores of composers long since forgotten were acting and reacting upon the whole seething world of composition; so that what may seem at first sight the influence of some conspicuous man was only the inevitable result of a wide-spread tendency. Beethoven came into the heritage of these writers and brought their efforts to fruition, but there can be no question that Mozart was the great­est master of orchestration in his day, and that Beet­hoven was much affected by Mozart’s discoveries in respect to euphony of ensemble and novel effects in detail. Eduard Grieg says that from Mozart’s in­strumentation we can still learn much. He may with justice be called the founder of modern orchestration. In Mozart’s love for song-like themes as subjects of his symphony movements we find a new feeling en­tering into this form of art. The source of Haydn’s style in the dance and the popular out-door music of the suite and serenata is unmistakable; Mozart, although he did not actually transfer the Italian opera kind of melody to his instrumental pieces, shows an abiding love for what is vocally tuneful. We should expect to find this strain of expression— we may call it “sentimental” in the best sense—in his slow movements, but Mozart often carried it also into his allegros, even into the minuet, which com­monly attains a stately grace which was beyond Haydn’s conception of the minuet. The principal subject of the first movement of the “Eroica” may almost be called Mozartean. His andantes are far in advance of Haydn’s. The depth, stateliness, and grace of the andante of the E-flat symphony, for in­stance, give the movement a distinction not found in any work of its class before Beethoven. No less is Beethoven foreshadowed in certain passages in Mo­zart where we find an unprecedented boldness, even harshness, in harmonic combinations, as in the in­troduction to the C-major quartet in the set dedi­cated to Haydn, the introduction to the E-flat sym­phony, and the beginning of the C-minor fantasie. We may easily believe that Beethoven’s adventurous spirit was steadied by the presence of Mozart’s well-poised, calm, and symmetrical works, and that he was helped by them in the attainment of much-needed self-control and sobriety.

Importance of Mozart’s piano-works.

In Mozart’s compositions for the piano we find one of his most important contributions to musical prog­ress.1 In the solo and four-hand sonatas, in the duets, trios, quartets, and quintets for piano and other instruments and most of all in the concertos for piano and orchestra Mo­zart opened up new fields of expression, gave the piano a higher position than it had held before, and by his own practice, and especially through the play­ing and teaching of his pupil Hummel, he founded a school of technic whose influence, strong in the early part of the nineteenth century, has not been lost, though merged in that large synthesis which has united every possible kind of merit in the piano- virtuosity of the present day.

Mozart’s Concertos.

In respect to form and treatment Mozart was especially original in the piano-concerto. It may be said to be his contribution to modern music as distinctively as the string quartet was Haydn’s. The so-called concerto of the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth centuries was a very different affair from the form which now passes under that name, and although Mozart’s treatment was faintly foreshadowed by Haydn, he was the first to give the piano its present relation to the orchestra. Beethoven studied Mozart’s concertos, and carried his conception of the form over into the modern period. In later times, through the development of tone-volume and mechanism, the old preponderance of the orchestra, and the peculiar attitude of piano and orchestra to such other have been somewhat modified. Mozart not only divined, but illustrated in a high degree, the essential relationship of the two powers to each other. Mozart, in view of the light and short tone of his instrument, aimed at contrast, not mass­ive effects, but clearness and the peculiar charm which an expressive or a brilliant handling can impart. On the other hand, he laid great emphasis on the orches­tra, sometimes calling upon it to buoy up the piano and form a rich body of sound above which the piano figure-work stands forth in sharp and elegant relief, again merging the two forces in the relation of mutual aids in the production of delicate shades of color; again in the tuttis and ritornelles drawing out the resources of the orchestra until it expands into symphonic breadth. Mozart’s new treatment of the orchestral instruments in order to obtain euphony, and his enlarged and appropriate treatment of the piano-part place these concertos among the most beautiful of his works, although modern pianists have almost wholly laid them aside in implied scorn of their technical simplicity.

Strongest impress indirect and remote.

Such are some of the direct and proximate ways in which Mozart set his stamp upon the work of his contempora­ries and immediate successors. But I am inclined to believe that his strongest impression upon the world was indirect and remote. Two tendencies are con­tinually struggling in modern art for the mastery. Neither can ever be complete master, but each is beneficial in regulating, broadening, and harmonizing the other. In one we see the passion to enlarge the bounds of expression, to break down every barrier of form and dictate of authority which would hold back the genius of progress from too hazardous ex­periments. The other values security; reacts toward rules and methods which have proved valid in the creation of an art that is moderate, severe, and stable; it honors clearness, repose, and symmetry as the basis of what is complete and permanently satis­fying. The adherents of each principle exalt certain men as their champions and models.

A Composer of Classic ideals.

Among the most redoubtable heroes of the conservative school Mozart has al­ways been conspicuous, and among those who derive their standards of judgment from the classic ideal his name is as potent as ever. There is enough of the romantic element in him to give his works a cosmopolitan range and a flavor which keeps its sweetness as fashions come and go, yet he stands chiefly for those principles of formal roundness and technical perfection which art can never wholly discard except to its own mortal injury. The old opinion so loudly proclaimed, that he is the most complete type of the musician, is no longer treated with much respect; but there can be no doubt that, in the partial subsidence of the ferment which attended the revolutionary art movements of the middle of the nineteenth century, there is now a revival of interest in his works. Grant that nine-tenths of his music is hopelessly antiquated, that what little juice it once had is dried out, he is not the only one who keeps his seat in Olympus by virtue of a bare tithe of his production. And taking into account the work that lasted, who is there who com­bines scientific mastery and rich human sentiment in more exquisite proportion? Take “Don Giovanni” for example,—acknowledged by all competent to hold an opinion to be one of the shining masterpieces of dra­matic art, in its style unapproached and unapproach­able. Its marvelous keenness of characterization, its variety, melodic beauty, and technical finish, its con­vincing declaration of the power of music to touch with equal power the source of laughter and of tears, have all given it an influence which has been felt in the writings of many opera-composers down to this very day. The “Requiem” restored to Catholic mu­sic a dignity which it had lost ever since the death of Lotti in 1740, and ushered in a train of church-works in the pure and lofty style, none of which, how­ever, have been able to surpass three or four of its numbers in tenderness and pathos. We can hardly call Schubert the founder of the German art-lied when we think of “The Violet.”

In such works as these Mozart speaks persuadingly to every generation, and it is through these and the ideals of purity and truth which they stand for that Mozart’s influence still persists and must be reckoned with as a factor in the complexus of forces which is molding the music of the new century.


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You are reading The Impress of Mozart on Musical History. from the December, 1901 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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