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the landscape, the very motion of the carriage stimulated his imagination.
He was constantly jotting down his thoughts on scraps of paper. Much of
his greatest music was composed, even in detail, in his head before he
took his pen. The conversation of his friends, noises in the house or
street did not distract him. His faculty of concentration was incredibly
developed, and Constanze said that he wrote his scores as though he
were writing a letter. And so his inspiration, as shown in the hasty
composition of the "Don Giovanni" overture, reminded Victor Wilder of
the saying of the first Napoleon: "Inspiration is only the instantaneous
solution of a long meditated problem."

In examining the works themselves, many of them must be passed over
without notice. Some were written for special occasions; some, for
combinations of instruments, that no longer, or rarely, are heard in
concert-halls; and it would be idle to assert that all his works are
equally worthy of respect. The complete collection of the writings of even
such a genius as Voltaire contains dreary pages and frivolous opinions.
Let us examine more particularly his pianoforte music, the chamber music,
such as the string quartets and quintets; the symphonies; the religious
music; and the operas, looking at the works themselves, comparing them
with that which was contemporaneous, and observing the influence on
the musicians that followed him. The songs, with the exception of the
"Veilchen" (The Violet), were set to meaningless words and are not to
be ranked with the best of his compositions; but this same "Violet" in
its lyrical-dramatic setting pointed the way to the after glory of the
German song as seen in Schubert, Schumann and Franz. And nearly all of the
concert-arias written for special singers and for special use seem to-day
a little antiquated, and cast in the old and traditional mould. As Mozart
first was known as a pianoforte player, let us first look at his writings
for that instrument. (I use the term pianoforte throughout this article,
following the example of Rubinstein, who, in his "Conversation on Music"
(1892), speaks of compositions for Clavecin, Clavichord, Clavi-cymbal,
Virginal, Spinett, etc., "as written for pianoforte, as to-day we can only
perform them on this instrument.")

There is no doubt but that Mozart was the greatest pianoforte player of
his time. The testimony in his favor is overwhelming. His hands were
small and well-shaped, and some of his hearers wondered that he could do
so much with them. He had elaborated an admirable system of fingering,
which he owed to the careful study of Bach, whose pianoforte music he
had played from a very early age. He regarded good fingering as the
basis of expressive playing. He insisted that the player should have
"a quiet, steady hand," and that the passages should "flow like oil";
he therefore objected to all bravura feats that might be detrimental
to "the natural ease and flexibility." He was vexed by exaggerations
of tempos, by over-rapidity of execution, by sentimental rubatos. He
demanded correctness, "ease and certainty, delicacy and good taste, and
above all the power of breathing life and emotion into the music and of
so expressing its meaning as to place the performer for the moment on a
level with the creator of the work before him." It is hard for men of
another generation to gain an idea of the qualities of the virtuosoship
of the pianist that moved and thrilled the audiences of his time. We
must take the word of his hearers. Clementi declared that he never heard
any one play so intellectually and gracefully as Mozart. Rochlitz waxed
enthusiastic over the brilliancy and "the heart-melting tenderness of
his execution;" Dittersdorf praised the union of art and taste; and
Haydn, with tears in his eyes, could not forget his playing, because it
came from the heart. Unfortunately we can not estimate his virtues as a
player from his works, for all that heard him agree that his improvising
was the crowning glory of his art. Variations on a well-known theme were
in fashion, and the variations were often improvised. The published
variations of Mozart are light and pleasing; he did not care for them, and
they were written, no doubt, for the entertainment of his pupils or his
friends. Of the three rondos, the one in A minor (1787) is very original
and of exquisite beauty, and is a favorite to-day in concert-halls.
The fantasia in C minor (1785) is an important work. Five movements,
in various keys and tempos are bound together, and though each is in a
measure independent, the sections seem to follow each other inevitably.
The harmonies are daring, when the date of its composition is considered,
and the mood, the _Stimmung_, is modern in its melancholy and doubt. In
treating the sonata form Mozart was the successor of Ph. Em. Bach and
Haydn.

Whether his sonatas of the Vienna period are solo or accompanied by other
instruments, they have only three movements. He first sought beauty of
melody, for song was to him the foundation, the highest expression of
music. Therefore the themes were carefully sung, and the second subject
was made of more importance by him than by his predecessors. Often the
chief effect in his sonata movements as in his concertos is gained by
the delivery of a sustained melody, and these melodies written for his
own hands show the influence of the peculiar characteristics of his own
performance. Frequently in the elaboration of the themes he introduced
new melodies, so that we find Dittersdorf complaining of the prodigality
of the composer, who "gives his hearers no time to breathe." When he used
polyphony, it was not to display pedantry but to accentuate the beauty of
the themes.

The slow middle movements are in song form, and are full of emotion and
tender grace; eminently spontaneous, and coming from the heart. The final
movements are generally the weakest. They show the facility with which he
wrote, and their gayness often approaches triviality. Passing over the
pianoforte compositions for two performers and for two pianofortes - not
that they are unworthy of attention - we come to the sonatas with violin
accompaniment, which, during the Vienna period, were, many of them,
written for pupils. They are characterized by beautiful melodies and bold
harmonies rather than by any great depth or exhibition of scholarship. The
violin part is independent, and not an accompaniment, as was usual at the
time. The trios or terzets for pianoforte, violin and 'cello were chiefly
written for amateurs to play in musical parties. Violoncellists of any
force were rare in these circles, and it is not unlikely that this was a
serious hindrance to Mozart's further development of the trio. Far greater
in breadth of design and in thematic elaboration are the two pianoforte
quartets (1785 and 1786). The trios were written for social purposes,
and brilliancy was perhaps too much cultivated; but in these quartets
passion enters, strong and fierce and bitter. In 1784 Mozart wrote his
father that his quintet in E-flat major for pianoforte, oboe, clarinet,
horn, and bassoon, which was received with great applause in a concert
given by him in the theatre, was the best thing he had ever written, and
he chose it to play before Paesiello. It is certainly a composition of
remarkable beauty, not so much on account of its thematic invention as for
its intimate knowledge of the peculiarities of the different instruments
and for the balance of euphony preserved throughout. The pianoforte
concertos, of which seventeen were written in Vienna, were, as a rule,
intended for his own concert use. He described the first three as "a
happy medium between too easy and too difficult." He added in this letter
to his father, that "even ignoramuses will be pleased with them without
knowing why." Two years later (1784) he wrote, "I cannot make a choice
between the two concertos in B-flat and D. Either one will make the player
sweat." The distinguishing merit of these compositions for pianoforte and
orchestra, unjustly neglected in these days, is the combination of the
two different forces, while these forces at the same time preserve their
individuality. Instead of a duel to the death between the instrument and
the orchestra, there is a generous appreciation of the qualities and
limitations of the pianoforte, which in Mozart's time was still weak
in mechanism. Therefore one gives way to the other for the effect of
the whole. The orchestra enters not to crush but to support. Often the
pianoforte part seems absurdly simple, but a closer investigation will
show that this simplicity is most artfully designed and intended. Seldom
are important themes given to the pianoforte or orchestra alone; they are
shared generously. And no words can reproduce the colors of the orchestral
tone-paintings, or describe the marvelous results gained by simple means
and an unerring instinct. The first movements are in the sonata form, but
there is a certain freedom, and the proportions are on a larger scale.
There is a cadenza, invariable, at the conclusion, and Mozart in his
concerts excited wonder by his improvisations. The cadenzas published
were for the use of pupils. The second movement is in song-form, full of
sentiment, often romantic, the expression of temperament; the song is
sometimes varied. The last movement is generally in rondo form, and the
influence of the dance is strongly marked. These movements are gay and
graceful, and occasionally there is a touch of Haydn's humor. The greatest
of these concertos are perhaps those in D minor (K. 466), C (467), C minor
(491) and in C (503). Nor among his pianoforte works must the two pieces
originally written for a musical clock be forgotten, which are only now
known by a four-hand arrangement. The pianoforte works of Mozart are much
neglected in these days, and most unjustly. It is the fashion to call them
simple and antiquated. But the best of the concertos and the sonatas make
severe demands upon the mechanism and taste of the pianist; the apparent
simplicity is often a stumbling block to him that eyes them askew; and
only by an absolute mastery of the mechanism controlled by temperament can
the song be sung as Mozart heard it, so that the hearer may forget the box
of cold keys and jingling wires.

[Illustration:

Mozart's ear.

Common ear.

MOZART'S EAR COMPARED WITH AVERAGE EAR.

First published in Nissen's Biography of Mozart.]

In the days of Mozart the favorite amusement of wealthy amateurs of
music was the string quartet. Haydn was the man who first showed the
way, although Boccherini should not be utterly forgotten. The set of
six dedicated by Mozart to Haydn, show the growth of the quartet, the
individualizing of each part. For in the ideal work of this species, each
part should be of equal importance. This advance, however, was not to the
public taste. He was accused of undue originality. Prince Grassalcovicz
was so angry when he found that the discords coming from the players were
actually in the parts, that he tore the pages in pieces. The publisher
returned them, as full of printer's errors. Learned men, as Fétis and G.
Weber, have written learned analyses of the introduction to the quartet in
C major, against it and in its favor. The hearers of to-day, accustomed
to the last quartets of Beethoven and the licenses of modern composers,
are not shocked even by the celebrated false relations in the aforesaid
introduction. Not only do these compositions display, in clearest light,
the mastery of form and all contrapuntal devices; they are a mine of
sensuous and spiritual riches. The quartet is ennobled; the minuet, that
jolly, rustic dance of Haydn, becomes, with Mozart, the court dance of
noble dames, full of grace and delicacy. The finales abound in dignified
humor, and occasionally pathos is found. Upon these six quartets Mozart
lavished the treasures of his nature and his art. In writing the three for
Frederick William II. of Prussia, he remembered the favorite instrument of
the monarch, and brought the violoncello into greater prominence, making
it often a solo instrument, with the melody in its higher notes. This
necessitated a different treatment of the violins and viola, and resulted
in more brilliancy with an occasional loss of strength. Written, as they
were, to gratify the taste of a monarch, they show more elegance, perhaps,
than depth of feeling, but in invention and in exquisite proportion they
are worthy of even the great name of Mozart. Without stopping to examine
as carefully as it deserves the remarkable trio for violin, viola, and
violoncello (K. 563), in six movements, let us glance at the quintets, in
which the viola is doubled, unlike the many compositions of Boccherini in
which two 'cellos are employed. The quintets in C major and G minor were
composed in 1787, the D major in 1790, the E-flat major, 1791. These four
quintets follow the path pointed out by the six quartets. There are biting
and harsh passages, to impress more forcibly the composer's intentions,
"comparatively frequent successions of ninths in a circle of fifths." And
even Mozart seldom wrote anything so full of wild and sobbing passion as
the first movement of the G-minor quintet, in which the second subject is
of an Italian intensity and a conviction that remind one of the terrible
earnestness of Verdi, the Verdi of the middle period. Yet this melody,
so direct and complete, is taken as matter for contrapuntal treatment.
The adagio is also a masterpiece, approached, perhaps equalled, but not
surpassed by Beethoven. Polyphony is the life of these quintets; but it
is not purely scholastic polyphony. Mozart once said to Michael Kelly,
"Melody is the essence of music. I compare a good melodist to a fine
racer, and counterpointists to hack post horses." But in these quintets
the counterpoint is so melodious that the tricks and strainings of the
pedagogue are never brought to mind. Here may also be mentioned the
quintet in A major for clarinet and strings (1789), written for Anton
Stadler, a dissipated fellow, a toss-pot, and riggish. But Mozart loved
him because he blew cunningly the clarinet, and he went about with him,
and ate with him, and drank with him. Although it is freer in form than
the great quartets, and the quintets in G minor, this clarinet quintet
stands beside them in its grace tinged with melancholy, its contrapuntal
skill masterly disguised, its divine melody.

[Illustration: MOZART IN PROFILE.

Cut in boxwood by Posch, a Salzburg sculptor, in 1789. This important
original has served as a model for many posthumous portraits of Mozart.]

A review of the symphonies of Mozart is a summing up of the history of
the symphony in the eighteenth century from childhood to maturity. He
was eight years old when he wrote in London his first symphony. It is
in sonata form: allegro, andante, finale: he uses the orchestra of the
predecessors of Haydn, viz., two violins, viola, bass, two oboes, and
two horns. These early symphonies of Mozart are relics of the time when
German instrumental music was still in a comparatively crude condition,
and they are chiefly interesting from the historical point of view; for
even Köchel, the devoted admirer of Mozart, says that they are wanting in
character and that the motives are without development. Look for instance
at the first symphony. The allegro has one hundred and eighteen measures;
the andante fifty; the presto ninety-one. According to the fashion of the
old suite the three movements are in the same tonality. The symphonies of
1764 and 1765 are in the same form; in two of them the andante is in a
different key from the other movements. It was in 1767 that Mozart first
introduced the minuet, which was, however, without a trio. The seventeen
symphonies written from 1767 to 1772 show an advance in instrumentation
rather than in growth of form. The early ones were composed for the
eight-part orchestra, the foundation of modern orchestral works. In the
second, the two horns are replaced by two clarinets, and a bassoon is
added. Now the use of the clarinet was then rare. Christopher Denner made
the first clarinet in 1701. Gossec wrote for the instrument in 1756, and
it was first heard in England in Christian Bach's opera "Orione" (1763).
Mozart used it also in a symphony written in Paris in 1778, and he did
not introduce it again until 1783. One of the greatest innovations of
this master, the father of orchestral color, was the knowledge of the
resources of this instrument, whose voice, as Berlioz well says, is the
voice of heroic love. In Mozart's works, "whether it sings with full and
sonorous voice some episodic phrase or displays all the riches of its two
_timbres_ in a superb adagio, everywhere it is brought fully into light,
everywhere it plays an important rôle." In 1768, Mozart used the drums
and one trumpet; in 1769 two bassoons; in 1770 two trumpets; in 1771, in
an andante, two flutes. He was still making experiments. In 1773, for
the first time, he composed a symphony in the minor mode; and in this
year he first went over 200 measures in the opening allegro; he also used
four horns. In 1774 he employed two viola parts. In 1778 the "Parisian"
symphony was performed with great success at a _Concert Spirituel_. Never
before had he developed his motives to so great a length; never before
had he employed so large an orchestra; the score includes, besides the
string parts, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two
horns, two trumpets, drums, - in all seventeen parts. Haydn did not use so
large an orchestra until 1793. The allegros are brilliant and animated,
following the French taste of the time, and they were loudly applauded;
the andante did not produce so great an effect. After his return to
Germany he was obliged to reduce his orchestral forces, and to cut his
cloth to suit his opportunities. The "Haffner" made over from a serenade
shows that the forms of the ancient serenade and modern symphony were
still confounded; its allegro is not symphonic, but one theme is present
and rules from beginning to end. In 1783, in the symphony in C, he first
wrote an introduction to the first movement. In 1786 the symphony in D,
with an introduction, was brought out at Prague with unbounded success.
It contains, like the "Parisian," no minuet. It opens with a solemn
adagio introduction; the allegro bears a rhythmical resemblance in its
first theme to that of the "Magic Flute" overture; the andante is often
cited as a perfect example of the exquisite grace of Mozart; the finale
in its sparkling vivacity brings to mind a number of "Figaro." And here
it may be said that the symphonic instrumentation of Mozart approaches
closer dramatic formulas than that of Haydn or Beethoven. The three last
symphonies of Mozart show a wonderful advance. In a certain expression and
in a certain treatment they belong to the nineteenth century. There is
more blood, more intensity, a dread of unmeaning formalism. Technically
they are beyond criticism; and in pure expression of remarkable musical
thought, in sense of euphony and proportion, in perfection of musical
style they stand a marvel for all time. The one in E-flat was written in
June, 1788. To gain the wished-for effects clarinets are used, and no
oboes. The prevailing rhythm is ternary; and yet Mozart has so varied
the pace of the movements that there is no feeling of monotony on this
account. No prismatic words can give an idea of this "triumph of euphony";
although German commentators have exhausted what has been inelegantly
described as "the drivel of panegyric." It is true that there are points
of resemblance to Haydn's style; "but Mozart's individuality is here so
overpowering as to have given its distinguishing stamp to these very
features." No wonder that German romanticists have sought refuge in
extravagance in description. Apel attempted to turn the symphony into
a poem which was to imitate in words the character of the different
movements. Hoffmann, writer of tales of horror, composer and conductor,
caricaturist, critic, and official, one of the first to realize the
greatness of Beethoven, called the symphony the "Swan Song." "Love and
melancholy breathe forth in purest spirit tones; we feel ourselves drawn
with inexpressible longing towards the forms which beckon us to join them
in their flight through the clouds to another sphere. The night blots
out the last purple rays of day, and we extend our arms to the beings
that summon us as they move with the spheres in the eternal circles of
the solemn dance." Our criticism of to-day is written in a different
spirit. We use freely the test-tube and litmus paper; we pry and analyse.
Such out-pourings we call hifalutin; but it must be remembered that
the acute Hoffmann put them into the mouth of the half-crazed Johannes
Kreisler. A striking contrast to the E-flat symphony is the G minor
written in July, 1788. Deldevez has described it in a sentence; "It is
graceful, passionate, melancholy; it is inspiration united with science."
Deldevez has also pointed out that it is the truest and the most complete
expression of the minor mode; that the tonality is treated in the most
vigorous manner; that the modulations succeed each other according to the
severe precepts of the school. It is the symphony of Mozart that is most
full of passion, and yet the composer never forgot in writing it that
"music, when expressing horrors, must still be music." The symphony in
C, August, 1788, is called, for some reason or other, possibly for its
majesty, the "Jupiter." There is here not so much of human sentiment and
passion as in the G minor symphony, but there is the splendor, as well as
the serenity that is peculiar to Mozart; and the finale is a masterpiece
of contrapuntal skill that is unsurpassed in music, for the fugue is made
on a symphonic plan, and thus two distinct art-forms are moulded into
one. Jahn has said that the highest quality of these three symphonies
is "the harmony of tone-color, the healthy combination of orchestral
sound," and he admits at the same time the impotence of language to
reproduce the substance of a musical work. Richard Wagner wrote that "the
longing sigh of the great human voice, drawn to him by the loving power
of his genius, breathes from his instruments." And in these sayings the
two great elements of Mozart's symphonic writing are fitly described.
In his pianoforte concertos Mozart strove to set out and adorn by the
orchestral instruments the pianoforte part, and at the same time give an
enchanting musical background. In his symphonies "he sought to give his
melody, by way of compensation for its delivery by mere instruments, the
depth of feeling and ardor that lies at the source of the human voice as
the expression of the unfathomable depths of the heart"; and in this he
succeeded by leading "the irresistible stream of richest harmony into the
heart of his melody." Well might the cool-headed Ambros say of the last
great three, "considered as pure music, it is hardly worth while to ask
whether the world possesses anything more perfect."

[Illustration: MONUMENT TO MOZART IN SALZBURG.

Erected in 1842.]

Mozart, as we have seen, wrote much for the church. Unfortunately the
best known of his masses were written to suit the florid taste of his
patron; and his church music, judged thereby, has been reproached for its
frivolity and insincerity. Some, forgetting the solemnity of the litanies
de venerabili, the dignity of the vespers, the heavenly "Ave Verum," the
"Qui tollis" from the mass in C minor, and portions of the Requiem, have
denied him religious feeling, so far as his religious music is concerned.
But the musical expression of religious feeling differs with the time,
the place, and the individual. What is religious music? To the Aztec, who
in religious sacrifice cut out the victim's heart, the beating of the
serpent-skin drum was religious music; to the monks of the Middle Ages the
drone of the plain song of the church seemed the expression of religious
contemplation; and to-day many worthy people find spiritual consolation
in the joyous ditties of the Salvation Army. We define religious music
conformably with our own religious sentiment. In the days of Palestrina,
church music influenced subtly the congregation; it created a mood,
a _Stimmung_. In the days of Haydn and Mozart the influence of the
virtuosoship of the opera-singer was strongly felt; it invaded the church;
it was recognized by the composer of the mass. So in more modern days
the dramatic instinct of operatic composers is seen in their religious



Online LibraryVariousFamous Composers and their Works, Vol. 2 → online text (page 7 of 32)