Is Mozart something you grow out of?

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:

The conductor Hans von Bülow once described Mendelssohn’s music as ‘something to be got over in childhood, like measles’. I feel the same way about much of Mozart and listen to very little, making an exception now and then only when I have a particular purpose to study a piece — in this case, the Jupiter Symphony, Mozart’s last…. No-one ever leaves the Jupiter fulfilled….

Read on here.

And here.

 

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  • Actually, Norman, the recording you refer to by NDRRadiophilharmonie under British conducor Andrew Manze is stationed in Hanover. In Hamburg, it‘s the Elbphilharmonie Orchester that is the North German Radio symphony orchestra.

  • You’ve grown out of the operas, the religious music and the last piano concertos ? Of the Clarinet Concerto and the Clarinet quintet ?

  • I feel rather the opposite, namely that as I have aged I have come to appreciate Mozart more and more. However, I do feel that universal veneration of every piece is well and truly overdone, with there being a lot of dross as well as masterpieces . The symphonies are very uneven , and candidly I would select only 29 , 31, 34-36 , 38,39 and 40 as showing real quality. Of the Operas Giovanni, Cosi, and Flute are the ones of real talent . The Piano Concerti from no 9 onwards are gems almost without exception, particularly in their slow movements. VC 3 and 5 , and of the chamber works K 361 , 421 , 515, 516 stand out. But, out of 626 published works, that is a disappointingly small proportion

    • I am surprised Christopher’s comments got more thumbs down than thumbs up. Could it be because people’s shortlists of Mozart favorites differ wildly, as do their assessments of the rest of his works?

      Personally I am often surprised with special qualities of less famous pieces. His 1st symphony is a case in point: not as good as the best, but delightful by any standards:
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C7_bdfvyDug

      • Mozart is one of the few composers that can still surprise me. I might randomly hear a minor work, like a serenade or march, and while it’s no masterpiece, there’s still ingenuity and wit to it that puts a smile on my face. The Posthorn Serenade comes to mind.

      • Thumbs down perhaps because he excluded the Jupiter and Nozze di Figaro, to my mind the greatest opera ever written. And add Idomeneo, the “little” g minor symphony (25); the “Jeunehomme” concerto and the rest from 14 on with only one exception. I don’t think Beethoven ever rose to Mozart’s level with his piano concertos except the Op. 58.

        • I disagree with you about Beethoven (in fact the 4th is my least favorite of his concerti), but that’s all right.

          Totally agree with you about Le Nozze though, and (aside from a few numbers) would gladly toss The Magic Flute off Christopher’s list.

        • They are completely different from Mozart, except perhaps for the first two – but No. 1 and that incredible rhythm in the final movement is nothing like anything Mozart ever wrote. The 2nd movement of Beethoven’s 5th Piano concerto surpasses anything Mozart wrote in that genre. Beethoven composed these concerti to perform himself. His 3rd bores me completely. Over-exposure probably.

          But it was the Beethoven piano sonatas – synoptic keyboard works – that saw the great composer rise above all the rest, to a laughable extent I might add. Seriously; who could listen to a Mozart sonata after hearing Op. 106 or Op. 109? OK, if you like it that’s great, but the topic here was whether we could become tired of Mozart and when one studies in great depth the great Beethoven Klaviersonaten the answer HAS to be “yes”.

          • With a handful of exceptional works (A minor K330, C minor 457, D major 576) the piano sonatas were written for students, and above all to give pleasure to the performer. Now, Haydn’s piano sonatas are a different matter…they give pleasure, certainly, but are far more imaginative as a rule, than Mozart’s.

    • Well, the small proportion is likely a result of your leaving out a bunch of works that are still considered great like the sinfonia concertante and all the great chamber works like the rest of viola quintets(the last two), clarinet quintet, the late violin sonatas, the piano quartets, the string trio k.563, the sacred music(not just the masses) and many others that don’t fit neatly into any one category. Also, do Figaro and Idomeneo not show any “real talent”? Mozart thought they did..

      • Richard : you are quite correct, I forgot K364, and there did not seem space to mention some of the violin sonatas and indeed piano sonatas . But… I thought K 515 and 516 were the quintets, or have I got the numbers wrong?

    • How can one possible compare the juvenilia with the mature works? Of COURSE not every item from K 1-626 will be a gem. Mozart is unique in many ways, of course, but for this discussion, it is valuable to remember that 1) his juvenile works were preserved and zealously guarded and thus we even HAVE them to compare to his mature works and 2) for one whose career ended at such a young age, nonetheless he achieved astounding artistic maturity in a relatively short span of years.

      We are so accustomed to the last great works as “the last great works” — but that’s where our imagination ends. Where, oh where would he have gone, musically, had he lived longer? To many of us, the late clarinet works are perfection; how could he have surpassed those, and the last three symphonies? (And remember, HE did not think of them as “my last works”!!)

      And I would challenge ANY commentator here or elsewhere to produce by age 20 what Mozart did by age 17 (“Exsultate, jubilate,” for example). It is a prodigious output. And yes, the childish works are childish, because they were written by (wait for it) … a child.

      As to unevenness, if anyone were to assess your life’s work, would it come out uniformly even in quality? I doubt that any of us that can claim that.

      As a program annotator, I spend plenty of time digging around in old documents and music history. I agree that too often we put composers on pedestals formed of our own sanctimonious opinions, and we make too much of a composer’s “last works,” as if any of them planned those last works to be last works!

      But surely if one looks realistically at Mozart’s entire output and checks the DATES, one would appreciates that the first few HUNDRED works in the Koechel catalog were done before the age at which most of us even applied to music school.

      http://www.mozartproject.org/chronology/ch_76_80.html

      • As a prodigy, though not fulfilled in his later years, I think Mendelssohn was even more remarkable than Mozart. The Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture and the Octet, Op. 20 are astonishing

    • How can one possibly compare the juvenilia with the mature works? Of COURSE not every item from K 1-626 will be a gem. Mozart is unique in many ways, of course, but for this discussion, it is valuable to remember that 1) his juvenile works were preserved and zealously guarded and thus we even HAVE them to compare to his mature works and 2) for one whose career ended at such a young age, nonetheless he achieved astounding artistic maturity in a relatively short span of years.

      We are so accustomed to the last great works as “the last great works” — but that’s where our imagination ends. Where, oh where would he have gone, musically, had he lived longer? To many of us, the late clarinet works are perfection; how could he have surpassed those, and the last three symphonies? (And remember, HE did not think of them as “my last works”!!)

      And I would challenge ANY commentator here or elsewhere to produce by age 20 what Mozart did by age 17 (“Exsultate, jubilate,” for example). It is a prodigious output. And yes, the childish works are childish, because they were written by (wait for it) … a child.

      But surely if one looks realistically at Mozart’s entire output and checks the DATES, one would appreciates that the first few HUNDRED works in the Koechel catalog were done before the age at which most of us even applied to music school.

      As to unevenness, I wonder if anyone’s life’s work, assessed at more than two centuries’ distance, would it come out uniformly even, as to quality? I doubt that any of us that would be able to claim that.

      As a program annotator, I spend plenty of time digging around in old documents and music history. I agree that too often we put composers on pedestals formed of our own sanctimonious opinions. (And we make too much of a composer’s “last works” and interpret them with some sort of Grand Mystique, as if any of them planned those “last works” to be “last works” ! “Composed just 2 moths before his tragic death …” blah blah blah!) (Mozart’s clarinet concerto would be just as sublime, even if he had lived to compose another 600 works.)

      http://www.mozartproject.org/chronology/ch_76_80.html

  • “He that is tired of Mozart is tired of life itself”. I find more pleasure in Mozart and less in Wagner than in my youth.

    • Disagree; the more sophisticated and knowledgeable my taste has become the less Mozart finds fulfillment with me. People have grown bored with Mozart but seldom, if ever, does one hear the same about Bach or Beethoven – and there’s a reason for that.

      The comment from Schnabel was just silly.

      • Sue Sonata Form: The comment from Schnabel is the absolute sinple truth. Or perhaps you doubt a historic master’s judgement?
        Mozart’s Sonatas look like “Child’s play” on the page, but only professionals know how difficult they actually are in their “simplicity”, hence why virtuoso Friedrich Gulda chose to record them at the very end of his life. “Simplicity” is never easy.

        • So true. I have heard community orchestras come across quite plausibly in Richard Strauss, Respighi, even Stravinsky. Only to be mercilessly exposed playing a Mozart symphony. Bruno Walter conducted Mahler, Wagner and so on early in his career but said he would not have dared play the G minor symphony K.550 before he was 40.

        • If you are thinking of Gulda’s complete Mozart Sonatas set released by Deutsche Grammophon in 2015, these are live recordings from 1981, from recitals the Paris Théâtre des Champs Elysées. But I don’t mean to undercut your argument otherwise. Gulda was a noted Mozart interpreter. There are live recordings from Munich concerts he gave around 1990. Here is an example:
          https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FCkslfXRDI8
          A notably eccentric person (put mildly), a remarkable musician.

        • I have heard this all before. Simplicity bores. All that consonance, predictability, V-1, the violin tremolos endlessly, the prissy melody lines. Along came Beethoven and I thought, “now we’re getting warm”!!!

      • The reason could be different levels of understanding.
        The same applies to the Viennese Waltz. Should I remind you of some great conductor who excelled in it until his retirement in the 90’s? He must have loved it for a reason.

        • That’s right; only 50 plus years of ‘scant familiarity’ as a listener and pianist. If it pleases you to think so….

      • Ironically, one of Mozart’s most appealing skills was probably, during his time, perceived as “imperfect” — that is, extending periods for an extra bar or two, which has the effect of delaying the cadence, heightening expectation, and rendering the resolution or next forward gesture all the more delicious. Probably an artifact of his experience in the theatre. The point is, his music is not “perfect” per se – similar to the way that in some Gothic or medieval churches the nave is asymmetrical (example: St Etienne-du-Mont in Paris) – it seems perfect but something about it makes you keep looking and looking…. the same reason that many of us keep listening and listening to Mozart.

        • Ah, but we’re living in the 21st century now and angularity and unpredictability in music is infinitely preferable to monotonous searching for the perfect cadence. And finding it; every time, always….ZZzzzzz

          But I do admire the “Jupiter”, thinking it a work of real musical genius. The rest; not so much. Heresy? Perhaps. But it really doesn’t take very much at all these days, does it, to be regarded as a heretic. Ergo, it’s a very low bar.

        • Yes! Mature Mozart loved irregular phrasing, only to make the irregularity perfect in some way, sometimes by integrating multiple themes to make it more complete.

  • I grew out of Liszt once I left high school. I had a time in my life when I listened to a lot of piano music and Liszt’s piano etudes were enjoyable. But then I stopped being interested in his virtuosic shoe pieces and become more interested in the more intimate music. Beethoven and Schubert are two composers that I’ve never been disappointed with because their music is extroverted but also very intimate.

  • Easy to grow out of Mozart but impossible to grow out of KV 361, the “Gran Partita”. Probably his greatest instrumental composition, and one of the greatest works of the 18th century (yes, that includes the years when both Bach and Händel were still alive).

    • Can I add as a relatively little-known but supreme masterpiece is the Sonata for piano duet in F major K497. As great as many of the Symphonies (and it is indeed symphonic).

  • Putting aside the the general crapping on Mozart and Mendelssohn that I’m not even going to bother responding to, saying that “No-one ever leaves the Jupiter fulfilled” is just pure trolling, especially considering that the fugal coda brilliantly brings everything together, and just about any listener can appreciate what Mozart’s doing (meaning, you don’t need to be a musicologist to appreciate what you’re hearing).

  • I have gotten tired of hearing pedestrian performances of his music, to the point where I just don’t want to hear a particular piece for awhile. But tired of his music? No.

  • Interesting that that von Bülow quotation comes up in the midst of yet another “can you separate Furtwängler the artist from Furtwängler the Nazi” discussion. Looks as if von Bülow, like many of his contemporaries, couldn’t separate Mendelssohn the composer from Mendelssohn the Jew.

    I forget whose writing Schopenhauer was talking about when he said (forgive my paraphrasing) that “like an Alpine lake, its great depth is made apparent by its great clarity.” I would apply this description to the best music of both Mendelssohn and Mozart.

    • ^Having checked with a couple of reliable sources, I should add that (a) von Bülow was not notably an anti-Semite — that is, he may have been, but probably no more than was standard at the time; and (b) that quote about great depth/ great clarity was Schopenhauer talking about his own writing.

  • If anyone complains about Mozart I always ask them to try to imitate his compositions. Mozart is a minimalist with a highly advanced grammar and incredible sense of scope and form. Add to this his ear for catchy tunes and you have somebody both popular and serious. What he may lack is the emotional breadth of a composer like Beethoven. However, I think this is because much of his work is poorly performed, rather than poorly written.

    It is a mistake to assume his minimal approach is naive or amateurism.

    • I don’t think anybody suggested it was ‘naive’ or ‘amateurish’. Surely that would be risible. But the question of whether that kind of perfection becomes effete or bores the listener is the issue. I could never become bored with Bach or Beethoven, but Mozart lost me decades ago. About 4 actually.

      But other composers have been kicked to a siding over the last decades; Elgar, Berlioz, almost all 19th century Italian opera…. So, I’m a comprehensive, equal-opportunity heretic!!

  • Curiously, the symphonies are, in general, the least of his output. Fortunately, there are several hundred other works that one can never tire of.

    • Beecham once put the number at about 250 — that is, the number of Mozart works he felt were truly great. As far as the symphonies are concerned, for me there are a good 8 or 10 that are truly exceptional (by Mozart’s standards, of course!)

  • I feel exactly the same way, having grown bored with Mozart in my late 30s and, apart from half a dozen works, never listen to this composer at all. The sacred music is often very theatrical and the piano concerti endless tubs of treacle.

    Some exceptions for me; the last 5 symphonies, the string quartets and one or two of the operas. After that I’m saturated and longing for some dissonance and unpredictability.

    • Mozart gives us plenty of dissonance – if you are able to listen to it as if you lived in 1780s Vienna, you’d find yourself surprised and delighted and perhaps shocked at what he dares to do. Mozart — the man and the music — has become a commodity, a confection — that’s the tourist-y Mozart. Take your self out of the present and listen to it afresh. Much of it is very daring.

      • Huh…this is unintentionally hilarious.

        How on earth is somebody supposed to remove their present ears and hear it with 18th century ears?

      • You have only to analyse half a dozen of the piano sonatas to find dissonance aplenty in Mozart; his excursions to new tonalities are charming and often unpredictable. My argument would be that they’re mostly a passing fancy and I’d want to be hearing much much more of that to feel I’d been on an interesting and complex journey – not just a pleasant or exalted one. (For the latter I’ll take Bach.)

        Mozart didn’t move music along; he worked conservatively within the known ‘spheres’. What he did was of the highest standard, yes, but when we admire a painting or a building do we say, “yes, that’s perfection – but I don’t like it”.

        • Shaw had the answer to that. He wrote that “in art the highest success is to be the last of your race, not the first,” and that “anybody, almost, can make a beginning: the difficulty is to make an en end–to do that which cannot be bettered.” Mozart, Shaw said, was thus like Praxiteles, Raphael, Moliere, and Shakespeare before him, in that he “was not the first [of his school], though he was the best.”

  • Mendelssohn seems to me a far greater musical genius than Herr Buelow, so I’ll stick with Mendelssohn then.

    Getting tired of Mozart is OK, it’s about personal preferences.
    Some people feel the same about Bach, Beethoven, Mahler etc, others about Shakespeare, Dostojevsky or Joyce.
    I had years where I couldn’t stand Mendelssohn or Brahms,
    and was getting tired of – God help me ( I am a Kraut ) – Beethoven ( .. hearing 21 Waldstein sonatas in one entrance exam and some lacklustre routine performances of his symphonies by clueless conductors didn’t help.)

    But I always remember Arthur Rubinstein:
    “I can’t imagine the world without Beethoven or without Mozart.”

  • Surely Christoher Storey cannot be serious when he omits any mention of Mozart’s choral music. I need only mention the Requiem (K.626) and the great Mass in C Minor (K 427), as well as such pieces as the K. 339 Vespers. And what about his two miraculous piano quartets: K. 478 and K. 493?

    • Actually, the C Minor Mass by Mozart is a bit of a hotch-potch if you know anything about its composition. And, at times, it sounds like that too. If you listen really carefully.

  • There’s a difference between preventing a tragedy (whatever that may be) and taking up arms against it. Music reinstates the human condition for everyone, that seems to be a big problem for people believing that discipline is changing someone by robbing them of their humanity instead, as if there’s a scarce supply of it and it can only go to certain “deserving” people whose story one then listens to as valid, and why they deserve the right to traumatise others for the greater good.

    I think Mozart is like Shakespeare that there aren’t really any “bad” characters, otherwise there wouldn’t be a story at all, just chase scenes moralism, drama and…..

    What people get into when they think they’ve outgrown compassion or listening to the other side’s story.

    And the “good” guy gets the right to the weapons, even of mass destruction. Now a days that means being able to kill “the enemy” 20 times over, along with the rest of human life on the planet, ironically using the very science which pretty much shows that there has to be something (called the void) that can give without suffering loss. for-give. But when you can give without suffering loss, you can’t charge for depleting a resource, again a big problem.

    And then when someone invests in what would prevent the tragedy they are ridiculed, berated, ostracized and called non reality based (immature). But then when someone invests in what needs it as an excuse……

    Is it really a loss to go back to music instead, or any art (or anything whatsoever) that gives a person the space to see who they are, or who they already were before they were supposed to grow out of being human?

    I don’t understand why it’s not understood that you take that away and you get what you get. Over and over again. And that’s what one can outgrow. Doing that.

      • Ain’t THAT the truth!!!! But it’s NEVER EASY. As Kennedy said, “we do it because it’s hard, not because it’s easy”. That latter is how I feel about Mozart.

  • You wouldn’t make it in Shangri La.

    From James Hilton’s noteworthy book, Lost Horizon:

    “Chang was telling me (Conway) that your (the High Lama) favorite Western composer is Mozart.”

    “That is so,” came the reply (from the High Lama). “Mozart has an austere elegance which we find very satisfying. He builds a house which is neither too big nor too little, and he furnishes it in perfect taste.”

    Well written!

    • But treacle and cliche, sad to say. I’m betting you’re going to say next that James Hilton was an expert in western art music. Not that he was writing for a general audience who would have heard about Mozart but few other composers? So sue me.

  • not only boring, but awfully twee. listening to mozart is like having a tooth pulled; you’re glad when it’s all over.

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