Can too much Mozart make you sick?

by on January 20, 2006 at 6:26 am in Music | Permalink

The past ain’t what is used to be.  Norman Lebrecht, a fuddy-duddy if there ever was one, writes:

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.

Lebrecht, well-known for his argument that classical music is dead, perhaps never thought it was alive in the first place.  Here is one good response.  I’ll offer more on the importance of Mozart next week; you’ll get Mozart blogging (but not just) up through his 250th birthday on the 27th [corrected from before].  I urge other bloggers to devote at least one post next week to Mozart; surely he has played some role in your life.

1 joshg January 20, 2006 at 8:43 am

That was just silly.

2 Roland January 20, 2006 at 9:46 am

Sorta always thought that myself–especially like the recognition of Haydn.

3 bob mcmanus January 20, 2006 at 10:05 am

I agree with Lebrecht. I prefer Haydn, Boccherini, Cherubini and always felt Mozart to be insubstantial, sentimental and tiresome. With the possible exception of the operas. Sorry.

4 Steve January 20, 2006 at 12:04 pm

Mozart’s birthday is definitely the 27th (mine as well), along with such luminaries
as Kaiser Wilhelm and Lewis Carrol.

5 tylerh January 20, 2006 at 3:20 pm

“The key test of any composer’s importance is the extent to which he reshaped the art.

How absurd. By this odd definition, *any* apotheosis fails the test of greatness. The Parthenon broke little new artistic ground – is it not important? Indeed, the definition is self-refuting: how can anyone interestingly “reshape the art” if someone else hasn’t already done a great job “shaping” the art.

For that is where Mozart fits in: his work is the the high point of the Viennese Classical Style. Mozart’s greatness is that he transcended his genre: Many of the romantic era where as enthralled with his work as were his Viennese contemporaires. Even bubble-headed popsters who don’t know a cadenza from a credenza are still stirred by Mozart in ways that Cage or Berlioz never approach.

6 nathan January 20, 2006 at 6:13 pm

In any movement in art there are three stages: Experimentation (Haydn), stabilization (Mozart), and exploitation (Beethoven). Obviously, the one in the middle isn’t going to get much recognition simply because he has nothing “new† to offer. However, you can measure Mozart’s greatness in the fact that he still receives more recognition than the other two. Imagine if he had been in Beethoven’s shoes, able to expand vastly on classical form and harmony, thus leading us into the romantic period. In other words, he gets more recognition for not really trying.

7 Barkley Rosser January 20, 2006 at 10:23 pm

K. is wrong in two points. The first is to dismiss Mozart’s
music as lacking in depth. I will only mention his Requiem
and his last symphonies. I could mention more, but clearly
these are matters of taste. I shall only note that at the
bitter end in the German concentration camps of WW II, almost
the only music played by the last desperate remnant musicians
was Mozart.

K.’s other mistake is to catergorize Bach with the great
innovaters. Yes, Bach was innovative, his Wohltempierte
Klavier and the Goldberg Variations at a minimum. However,
mostly he is like Mozart, the ultimate espositor of a particular
style, in his case, the Baroque, created a good century before
he was doing most of his composing.

I would classify as great innnovaters the following:
Corelli, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, Ives, Schoenberg, Stravinsky,
Messiaen, and Cage, within western classical music, of course.

Great consolidators (not a complete list) would include Bach,
Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Shostakovich, Elliot Carter.

8 dearieme January 21, 2006 at 11:21 pm

Matters of taste are beyond disputation.
As for “importance”: to whom?

9 Paul N January 22, 2006 at 1:10 am

Who are you people? Who listens to classical music? To me, Mozart is the guy responsible for the song in the “first a brick…then a snack” jingle, or the “Demo” song on my Casio keyboard.

10 Paul N January 23, 2006 at 8:33 pm

I agree that Mozart was talented, but I would much rather listen to current stuff. Arguments about 2006 bands seem interesting to me, while Mozart vs. Haydn seems very…tired, like what new insight could we possibly have that 200+ years of commentators did not?

I like Spoon, Radiohead, The Strokes.

11 Anonymous October 14, 2008 at 12:17 am

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