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Too much Mozart makes you sick

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Too much Mozart makes you sick

By Norman Lebrecht / December 14, 2005

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They are steam cleaning the streets of Vienna ahead of next month's

birthday weekend when pilgrim walks are planned around the

composer's shrines. Salzburg is rolling out brochures for its 2006

summer festival, which will stage every opera in the Kochel canon

from infantile fragments to The Magic Flute, 22 in all. Pierre

Boulez, the pope of musical modernism, will break 80 years of

principled abstinence to conduct a mostly-Mozart concert, a

celebrity virgin on the altar of musical commerce.

Wherever you go in the coming year, you won't escape Mozart. The

250th anniversary of his birth on January 27 1756 is being

celebrated with joyless efficiency as a tourist magnet to the land

of his birth and a universal sales pitch for his over-worked output.

The complete 626 works are being marketed on record in two special-

offer super coffers. All the world's orchestras will be playing

Mozart, wall to wall, starting with the Vienna Philharmonic on tour

this weekend.

Mozart is the superstore wallpaper of classical music, the composer

who pleases most and offends least. Lively, melodic, dissonance

free: what's not to like? The music is not just charming, it's full

of good vibes. The Mozart Effect, an American resource centre which

ascribes 'transformational powers' to Austria's little wonderlad,

collects empirical evidence to show that Mozart, but no other music,

improves learning, memory, winegrowing and toilet training and

should be drummed into classes of pregnant mothers like breathing

exercises.

A 'molecular basis' identified in Mozart's sonata for two pianos is

supposed to have stimulated exceptional brain activity in laboratory

rats. How can one argue with such 'proof'? Science, after all,

confirms what we want to believe - that art is good for us and that

Mozart, in his short-lived naivety, represents a prelapsarian ideal

of organic beauty, unpolluted by industrial filth and loss of faith.

Nice, if only it were true.

The chocolate-box image of Mozart as a little miracle can be

promptly banged on the head. The hard-knocks son of a cynical court

musician, Mozart was taught from first principles to ingratiate

himself musically with people of wealth and power. The boy, on tour

from age five, hopped into the laps of queens and played limpid

consolations to ruthless monarchs. Recognising that his music was

better than most, he took pleasure in humiliating court rivals and

crudely abused them in letters back home.

A coprophiliac obsession with bodily functions, accurately evinced

in Peter Shaffer's play and Milos Forman's movie Amadeus, was a

clear sign of arrested emotional development. His marriage proved

unstable and his inability to control the large amounts he earned

from wealthy Viennese patrons was a symptom of the infantile

behaviour that hastened his early death and pauper burial. Musical

genius he may have been, but Mozart was no Einstein. For secrets of

the universe, seek elsewhere.

The key test of any composer's importance is the extent to which he

reshaped the art. Mozart, it is safe to say, failed to take music

one step forward. Unlike Bach and Handel who inherited a dying

legacy and vitalised it beyond recognition, unlike Haydn who

invented the sonata form without which music would never have

acquired its classical dimension, Mozart merely filled the space

between staves with chords that he knew would gratify a pampered

audience. He was a provider of easy listening, a progenitor of Muzak.

Some scholars have claimed revolutionary propensities for Mozart,

but that is wishful nonsense. His operas of knowing servants and

stupid masters were conceived by Da Ponte, a renegade priest, from

plays by Beaumachais and Ariosto; and, while Mozart once indulged in

backchat to the all-high Emperor Joseph II, he knew all too well

where his breakfast brioche was buttered. He lacked the rage of

justice that pushed Beethoven into isolation, or any urge to change

the world. Mozart wrote a little night music for the ancien regime.

He was not so much reactionary as regressive, a composer content to

keep music in a state of servility so long as it kept him well

supplied with frilled cuffs and fancy quills.

Little in such a mediocre life gives cause for celebration and

little indeed was done to mark the centenary of his birth, in 1856,

or of his death in 1891. The bandwaggon of Mozart commemorations was

invented by the Nazis in 1941 and fuelled by post-War rivalries in

1956 when Deutsche Grammophon rose the from ruins to beat the busy

British labels, EMI and Decca, to a first recorded cycle of the Da

Ponte operas.

The 1991 bicentennial of Mozart's death turned Salzburg into a swamp

of bad taste and cupidity. The world premiere of a kitsch opera,

Mozart in New York, had me checking my watch every five unending

minutes. The record industry, still vibrant, splattered Mozart over

every vacant hoarding and a new phenomenon, Classic FM, launched in

1992 on the Mozart tide, ensured that we would never be more than a

fingerstretch away from the nearest marzipan chord.

What good all this Mozart does is disputable. For all the

pseudoscience of the Mozart Effect I have yet to see a life elevated

by Cosi fan tutte or a criminal reformed by the plinks of a flute

and harp concerto. Where ten days of Bach on BBC Radio 3 will flush

out the world's ears and open minds to limitless vistas, the coming

year of Mozart feels like a term at Guantanamo Bay without the

sunshine. There will be no refuge from neatly resolved chords, no

escaping that ingratiating musical grin.

Don't look to mass media for context or quality control. Both the

BBC and independent channels have rejected any critical perspective

on Mozart in the coming year, settling for sweet-wrapper

documentaries that regurgitate familiar clichés. In this orgy of

simple-mindedness, the concurrent centenary of Dmitri Shostakovich ö

a composer of true courage and historical significance ö is being

shunted to the sidelines, celebrated by the few.

Mozart is a menace to musical progress, a relic of rituals that were

losing relevance in his own time and are meaningless to ours. Beyond

a superficial beauty and structural certainty, Mozart has nothing to

give to mind or spirit in the 21st century. Let him rest. Ignore the

commercial onslaught. Play the Leningrad Symphony. Listen to music

that matters.

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God, even here I can't get away from that Lebrecht prick. :wacko:

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Starts out seeming like it has a point, then devolves into idiotic rant.

Fairly entertaining, though.

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"Listen to music that matters."

Damn! And to think of all the time I have wasted listening to insignificant music only because it sounds good.

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That's quite a rant. Anyway, I hardly see why one has to choose between Mozart and Shostakovich. I'd hardly say that the BBC has shunted him to the side. They have aired the entire symphony cycle over the last two months, recorded live in Manchester this year, and this week they are airing his string quartets, also live concerts. So in essence they have supported brand new performances of all these works rather than just playing CDs. I think that's very cool, and I have enjoyed this immensely. While I like Shostakovich a lot, one could argue that, despite his use of irony, ultimately he buckled down and wrote music in the service of an unjust state, not so different from Mozart.

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Starts out seeming like it has a point, then devolves into idiotic rant.

Indeed ...

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Nevertheless, I don't generally care for Mozart.

Give me a Shang-Ri-Las 45 or two. Or The Four Seasons. End up feeling just about the same in much less time, and without nearly as much work. :g:g:g

I kid (somewhat), but still, life is short and time is tight. I want a not-disproportionate return on my investments.

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I didn't think that I liked Mozart for years. Then something clicked and I changed my mind in a big way. It was the late piano concertos that grabbed me first.

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I'll stick with Bach, Paganini, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, etc. Mozart makes me feel like I need to brush my teeth after listening to him.

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is it true that he wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star as an exercise when he was a kid?

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I find Murray Perahia's recordings of Mozart's piano concertos and sonatas to have plenty of soul. I can't dismiss Mozart because of them.

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I didn't think that I liked Mozart for years. Then something clicked and I changed my mind in a big way. It was the late piano concertos that grabbed me first.

For me it was the recordings on period instruments - they bring out the bitter along with the sweet much more. My mother played Mozart etc. all the time when I was a kid, and nothing much happened. Then a radio course explained some, and that made me understand a little. The recordings of Hogwood et al. did the rest. But he has to be listened to in the company of his predecessors and contemporaries to really understand what he innovated.

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Nevertheless, I don't generally care for Mozart.

Give me a Shang-Ri-Las 45 or two. Or The Four Seasons. End up feeling just about the same in much less time, and without nearly as much work. :g:g:g

I kid (somewhat), but still, life is short and time is tight. I want a not-disproportionate return on my investments.

Word!

:P

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Norman Lebrecht is a writer for those who are pissed off at not understanding the pinnacles of musical literature, or the great performers who bring it to life, and would like to be spoonfed some inside "dirt" written by someone else who's pissed off, but supposedly "in the know"; in this case that someone is posing as a actual "critic" writing for major publications. He pisses on great conductors (try "The Maestro Myth" if you want to learn absolutely NOTHING about what makes one conductor great and another mediocre!), and now a great composer in this rant which has nothing whatsoever to say, as usual. He is hired to write this crap because newpapers/publishers know that muckracking CRAP sells much better than thoughtful essays, which is truly a shame. What happens when Joe Blow goes to Borders, wants to learn something about conductors, and somehow ends up buying Lebrecht's piece of cow dung? If he laps up the crap, he'll spout hateful nonesense about what idiots conductors are, and how everyone knows they are all overpaid charlatans. In reality all they've learned about is big Norm himself, who can only ape himself.....the original unevolved ape-turned-music-"cirtic"!

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Aww, I kinda liked the piece. It's over the top and wrong, but I think Lebrecht knows that. Does anybody else think the instruction at the end to "Play the Leningrad Symphony" is ironic?

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Nevertheless, I don't generally care for Mozart.

Give me a Shang-Ri-Las 45 or two. Or The Four Seasons. End up feeling just about the same in much less time, and without nearly as much work. :g:g:g

I kid (somewhat), but still, life is short and time is tight. I want a not-disproportionate return on my investments.

There's always a place for some "Sophisticated Boom Boom"!

I love the Shangri-Las myself, but they co-exist quite nicely in my world with Mozart, Bach, Ellington, Ornette, Sly Stone, Fountains of Wayne, and many kinds of other music...

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All I can say is, the person that isn't moved by Mozart's great operas (Don Gionvanni, Le nozzi de Figaro, Così fan tutte) has something wrong with them.

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All I can say is, the person that isn't moved by Mozart's great operas (Don Gionvanni, Le nozzi de Figaro, Così fan tutte) has something wrong with them.

Absolutely, Jim. Probably the pinnacle of the entire genre.

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.....the original unevolved ape-turned-music-"cirtic"!
Yup! that about sums him up alright! One of those (often) "Can you believe he said that?" kind of writer. The times I've read him, I never know whether to laugh, shake my head, cuss, or all of the above (and more). I suppose he's kinda the Stanley Clownch of the classical critics.

If you can stomach it, here's a collection of recent columns.

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All I can say is, the person that isn't moved by Mozart's great operas (Don Gionvanni, Le nozzi de Figaro, Così fan tutte) has something wrong with them.

That would be me.

I mean, I'm "entertained", but moved? Nah. Not in any way that really matters.

Oh well, now that I know there's something wrong with me (I've alwasy suspected as much, but you never know what's real and what's just good old-fashioned self-doubt), I can relax for the rest of my life, and try not to injure anybody along the way.

Where can I go to get STAY CLEAR - I DON"T REALLY DIG MOZART ALL THAT MUCH apparel? Seems like the socially conscionable thing to do! :g

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Where can I go to get STAY CLEAR - I DON"T REALLY DIG MOZART ALL THAT MUCH apparel? Seems like the socially conscionable thing to do! :g

if you stumble on any, could you order two and send one over?

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I'll send bundles, just in case you should ever spawn. You never know if that defective gene will pass itself down. Better safe than sorry!

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Where can I go to get STAY CLEAR - I DON"T REALLY DIG MOZART ALL THAT MUCH apparel? Seems like the socially conscionable thing to do! :g

Ha! :lol:

I could think of a thousand places to wear something like that.

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Say what you will, I still like the last two string quintets.

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