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The Listener to Mozart's Works.


BY J. S. VAN CLEVE.

Mozart was the supreme utterance of absolute beauty in music. It may appear to be an esthetic fallacy even to hint that music may contain any­thing else than pure beauty, but this is as true of music as of the other fine arts, and a mere glance at a Gothic cathedral, a moment’s reflection upon the poetry of Dante, Goethe, Shakespeare, or Browning, will remind one how much there is besides mere beauty in architecture and poetry. However, just -as there is more sugar in the sap of the maple and the sugar-cane than in the sap of other plants and trees, so there seemed to be in the very blood of that marvelous man of the eighteenth century more of the sweet happiness of the beautiful, pure, and simple than in the blood of others. The particu­lar question which confronts us in this article is: How shall we listen to the music of this fairy magi­cian, and get out of it the best that it has for us?

Mozart is one of those great composers who remind us of an Alp; for, as those mighty mountains are Swiss, or Italian, French, or Austrian, according to the point of view, so Mozart is to be considered a piano-composer, quartet-composer, symphony-com­poser, opera-composer, or church-composer, and under each of these heads we may make subheads for our study. Let us first, then, ask how shall we listen to the music of Mozart in general, and at all times?

Music can send its message to us along four tracks, viz.: tune or melody, chords or harmony, motion or rhythm, and tone-quality or, as we metaphorically name it, tone-color. There are matters of necessary debate outside of these questions with nearly all com­posers in the nineteenth century, such as Wagner, Tschaikowsky, Schumann, Chopin, and others; but in the eighteenth century music, though budding into realism at rare moments, remained for the most part within the confines of its own peculiar domain. Thus when we are learning to hear Mozart, we need not puzzle ourselves with any problems in either esthetic or moral philosophy, as we must do in dealing with Wagner and his creations. With Mozart it is a question musical and nothing beyond that. There was a time when philosophers defined music as a succession of agreeable sounds, and it was supposed to be nothing more than a pleasure of the nerves. We no longer accept this doctrine entirely, yet we need not then hesitate to say that the first charm of the Mozart music is its delightfulness to the ears.

Charm of sense.

Mozart had a feeling for tonal loveliness which was Latin, and not German; indeed, in many par­ticulars he evinced a bias toward the Italian school of his day. This distinction between the Latin or Hellenic feeling toward art and nature on the one side, and the Teutonic or Gothic feeling on the other, is so deep seated and primordial that there can be no sound esthetics which ignores it or attempts to find any other basis of estimation.

The racial element is so important in art that we can no more slight it than a naturalist can overlook the red color of human blood. Mozart, though a German as to race and education, was that special type of Goth which has been developed in the multi­farious and cosmopolitan nation of Austria. In him, as in all Austrians, there is little or nothing of the harsh, austere, abstract spirit of the North German, and, furthermore, his education was, in part, Italian. The charm of Mozart, then, is a charm of sweet sound, and one need not be ashamed if he find these myriads of sweet sounds which Mozart has made to cohere afford him greater pleasure than the more impassioned and more elaborated webs of the Wag­nerian loom. This charm of music which soothes the ear and sets the pulses dancing without reflection is the very same which appeals to children and ap­parently in some degree to the lower animals; but that need not abash us. To have a fine and sensitive ear is certainly no disgrace. We need not be so sensitive that the sound of a trumpet will throw us into convulsions as it did Mozart, but we have a right to ask that the sounds we hear should be pure, and lovely, and in sweet accord. Just as a rich, clear tint in glass is more artistic than a dull or muddy one, unless that be a necessary part of a large con­ception, so tones in music should be waves of pleasur­able sensation.

This sense of the beautiful as to tone absolutely pervades the whole of Mozart’s composition. He could not conceive of such musical extravagances as Berlioz set down upon paper, and the elaborate mys­tic symbols of the Wagnerian epos would have been as impossible to him. This euphony is to be found in his melodies, which are as lovely as spring-flowers; in his harmonies, which are as lucid and symmetrical as Nature’s crystals; in his rhythms, which are as magically graceful as the wave-systems of the ocean; and in his instrumentation, which is as exquisite as the inner glories of a sea-shell’s shining throat.

There is a naïve charm, a something delightful, which seems as if it could by no means have been otherwise, a perfect fitness, exactness, ease, in all the work of Mozart which causes us to think of nature. It is often said of Richard Wagner that he is the articulate voice of nature, and that his orchestra is the orchestra of nature, and that is true, but with Wagner it is all nature, it is primordial nature, nature fierce and savage as well as nature gentle and win­ning which we must face; but with Mozart it is nature in the garden and in the cultivated landscape. He is one of those wonderful men who create things which appeal equally to the uncultivated and the cultivated. The musician, deep in contrapuntal learn­ing or steeped in the wonderful mechanisms and de­vices of modern orchestration, cannot fail to feel the witchery of such things as the great finales of his operas, the loveliness and learning blended in his quartets, and even the slightest, yet not less genuine, beauties of his piano-works; while the ear of the veriest tyro must be aware of the beauty of his genial, animated, tender music. There is nothing in all music, ancient or modern, which appeals more absolutely or more wholesomely to the joy in beauti­ful sound as such.

Deeper qualities.

And yet these encomiums upon his sense of physical beauty in sound must not be taken for an instant to imply that there is nothing deeper in him. Things deeper there are by the thousands, and even at times a dramatic felicity and force quite equal to anything which later ages have brought forth. The entrance of the statue in “Don Giovanni” is as wonderful as Wagner’s conceptions, and there are hundreds of dainty touches, of marvelous fitness in his accompaniments, so that his operas form, despite their strongly Italianized character, one of the stages in the evolution of that great form of art. However, it is Mozart as a composer for the voice in song, for the string quartet, and the piano that we are discussing.

One must not, however, fall into the erroneous notion that Mozart knew nothing of dissonances. These he did know, and he employed them, though not frequently, with a degree of power and charm which any modern composer or searchers after new sensations and emotions might study with advantage. As an instance, easily accessible, take the opening tones of the familiar string quartet in C-major. Here tone after tone enters until an agonizing dissonance is generated, yet the effect is magical.

The piano-student may find also an instance of his richness in dissonance, in modulation of tonality, and in combined rhythm, if he will play over the first few pages of the familiar grand fantasie in C-minor.

Easily apprehended.

Among all the composers of music which lies within the classic domain no one is so easily appre­hensible by the beginner as Mo­zart; and if we find among our pupils any reluctance to deal with his music, it is first an indication of their craving for showy modern complications of technic; second, an evidence that their sense of the inner beauty of ordered tones—that is, music—is crude and stands in sore need of unfoldment; and, third, that their spiritual being is too restless and too avid for the spiced beverages and fiery intoxica­tions of the modern world. True, Mozart does turn the tonic triad and dominant seventh over and over until we wonder how he could get so much out of them; yet that something did come out of these two chords and their four or five near relatives, who, that carries around with him such things as ears and a heart, can deny?

Modern art is a wonderland truly of vast and varied beauty. All the experiences, aspirations, suf­ferings, of the total world of men will find themselves mirrored here, as in a spiritual looking-glass, but when we are weary with the endless questioning, and the fierce endeavor, and the weary quest of Schu­mann, of Wagner, of Tschaikowsky, or of Richard Strauss, let us go back to dear, happy-hearted Mo­zart. Let us go back and sit at the feet of that mercurial man, who had within him the soul of a hero as well as the shimmering opal of a divine genius, who could create in thirty-six short years a mountain of treasure for all who love the gems of sound, who could keep a glad heart in his breast and build gorgeous palaces in the mind, while shiver­ing, and starving, and submitting to the insults of arrogance in high places, and could enrich after-ages while himself marching to the grave of a pauper.

Surely we have no need to be ashamed of the men of our craft. They were men and heroes. Palestrina, Bach, Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Brahms, and many more, were these not heroes? Among them all there was not a dearer, kinder, hap­pier, more lovable and royal soul than that of Mozart

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You are reading The Listener to Mozart's Works. from the December, 1901 issue of The Etude Magazine.

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