If you were alive in Mozart’s time, would you try to write like him?

If you were alive in Mozart’s time, would you try to write like him?


norman lebrecht

October 05, 2018

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

Jan Ladislav Dussek could have been a contender if only Mozart had been born somewhere else and at another time. Dussek (1760 to 1812) has the wrong dates and the wrong skill sets. Two bars into every movement he picks a note that you know Mozart would have declined for a better choice and, while Dussek may recover quickly and deliver a passage that could pass for Clementi at his best, your ear is already tensed for the next false turn.

Of the three concertos on offer …

Read on here.

And here.




  • Saul Davis says:

    I will not brook any disrespect to J. L. Dussek. He was a major musical figure; not only a virtuoso pianist and composer, but also a harpist. He was the primary composer of valuable harp repertoire of the classical era. Tia DeNora wrote a fascinating book analyzing his stellar career in contrast to that of Beethoven, who was, in some ways, his rival. His music has much more substance and originality than that of Clementi. It is witty, endlessly inventive, and pays great attention to sonority. He lived a full, interesting life that would make a great movie. He made a major contribution to music, and he should not be overlooked anymore. Constance Keene recorded a fascinating sonata. No one can know where Mozart might have gone with his music, but his language was far more restricted in scope than either Dussek or Salieri. If it weren’t for the over-veneration of Mozart, we might be much more familiar with other classical composers.

    • John Borstlap says:

      All of that sounds credible, especially after hearing this:


      But the difference with Mozart’s (best) works is a matter of psychological / emotional depth.

      • Kurt Werderman says:

        I agree with John Borstlap. Music can be technically interesting and brilliant, but Mozart’s psychological and emotional depth was ineffable. No comparison on that level.

    • Hilary says:

      “but his language was far more restricted in scope than either Dussek or Salieri”

      I find that hard to believe….
      Mozart’s music is infinitely more complex than either. For a start, his phrase structure is less 4square than the plodding exposition of the piano concerto which JB has just posted. The raw material isn’t always particularly remarkable ( an arpeggio or a scale maybe). I grant you that. It’s what Mozart does with it, which is remarkable.

      • John Borstlap says:

        True. Mozart’s musical mind is much more sophisticated, and his psychology is much richer. Yet, that concerto by Dussek has beautiful episodes, and sometimes close to Chopin and Mendelssohn.

  • Fan says:

    The legend goes that when asked about his opinion on the impact of the French Revolution, the late Chinese premier Chou En-lai replied: “It’s too early to tell.” It’s not entirely impossible to apply this observation, however fictional, to the course and history of music and the formation of its canon.

  • anon says:

    Mozart was born in the right place at the right time and, above all, to the right father.

    • John Borstlap says:

      It took a lot of effort.

    • Michael Endres says:

      Very true.
      Everybody can be a Mozart given the circumstances are right, as we are all equally talented.
      In my case the hard water of the Bavarian Alps plus my father’s stubborn interest into the Zither prevented me from developing into an outright genius.

  • Ted says:

    Mozart often tried to write like Gluck.

    • Hilary says:

      and the exquisite slow movement of the 2nd Piano Concerto is little more more than a transcription of a keyboard piece by a Johann Schobert. From an early age, he seems to have a good instinct for what was worth imitating/copying.

      • John Borstlap says:

        Mozart’s oeuvre is the result of absorbing, imitating, combining, and improving examples. He never consciously strove to be ‘original’ but let himself led to where the musical possibilities invited him.

  • Robert Holmén says:

    If you were an orchestra MD and wanted a piece the audience is unfamiliar with, that would be played once, politely applauded, then discarded to never be performed again, wouldn’t it make sense to choose something by an appealing composer like Dussek rather than commissioning a new work by one of the ghastly contemporary composers?

    It always ends that way. The world-premier [random word] +”tions” or “sonic environment” is programmed once, then forgotten by both the audience and musicians.

    Why not instead start tapping the huge gold mine of forgotten but worth hearing pieces from the classic and Romantic eras?

    • Simon Scott says:


    • John Borstlap says:

      But that is done already quite often. And the internet is filled to the brim with ‘forgotten’ music which gets a 2nd chance.

      If composers nowadays would have the courage to learn from older examples and older idioms, like some architects nowadays revive classical styles again, and quite some painters paint again in figurative idioms, new pieces would be welcomed much better by audiences. But then, such music would be refused for not being contemporary enough – it is not the audience who decides what it will be hearing.

      • Robert Holmén says:

        Easily found on the internet, but rare in the concert hall.

        After 20+ seasons of symphony orchestra concert-going I’m having a hard time thinking of a classical-era piece that got programmed that wasn’t by Mozart or Haydn. Not even a Hummel trumpet concerto.

        And yet there tended to be at least two or three new music pieces each season, often specially commissioned by the orchestra. All played once, never revived.


        If being on the internet is enough I would suggest all the new music go there first and see if there’s an audience that actually wants it.

        • Hilary says:

          “All played once, never revived”
          Here’s a piece which was commissioned for the BBC Proms awhile back.
          It may well slip into obscurity in a decade or so but for the time being it’s doing ok :

          • Simon Scott says:

            IMO,the Protecting Veil could well be an exception. I wouldn’t be surprised if the piece remains in the forefront for more than 10 years.

          • Robert Holmén says:

            If one was promoting the “new music” one would hope to have more to write about than one modest success in 30 years.

            I can think of a handful of pieces from the last 40 years that have gained traction. Is there any other period for which the enduring successes are so few?

          • Saxon Broken says:

            Personally, I would be interested in hearing a “new piece” that has been played a few times and enjoyed by the listening public, rather than an endless series of premiers and new commissions. If pieces aren’t played several times, then they will never win an audience.