Friday, July 30, 2010

My reason for recalling childhood reactions to Mozart has to do with how much more difficult it is to articulate troubled responses than to pretend that everything is okay. How many children are given permission to express negative reactions to things that are supposed to be "great" or "beautiful?"
So now I'm thinking about clear-headed thinking concerning Mozart. This is how I learned Mozart: My first exposure was the easy sonata in C, K. 545. It was in sheet music, so I was younger than 12. I found it incredibly frustrating: the tempo in the first movement was impossible to maintain; the scales, particularly those in F, were difficult beyond belief.

At about 12 I was assigned the G major, K. 283, this time in Kalmus volume of the collected sonatas, wisely ordered with a special Gambel-hinged binding. (It has not yet fallen apart.)

The sound of the G major troubled me so I rarely practiced it. Instead I wandered through the book playing passages here and there, some of which I adored and returned to again and again. Others I detested royally and would turn the page in protest. Among the things I objected to were gratuitous chromatics: why did he persistently use them in all the wrong places?

In this way I learned that Mozart uses tones specifically, not generically. Nothing in music theory prepared me to legitimatize these reactions. It is only in maturity that I recognize their power and how much insight they impart to the work of this remarkable composer.

Beauty is not the point--or, if it is, it is only insofar as it contrasts with other qualities of sound: the bitter, the unwanted, the intrusive--even the hateful.

My students, even the really young ones, learn that they have a feel for different tonalities on the piano. We work with that level of identification with sound; from it comes a sense of comprehension in reading Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Chopin.
The other night I saw a film by a Russian art-film maker, with whose work I was unfamiliar. Not knowing what to expect, I was immediately shocked when the music played during the opening credits was Bach organ works. Why Bach in a late-20th-century film? This was the tip-off. The whole experience was about loss of identity in a century of violence: domestic, national, racial, global, planetary.

Did I enjoy it? Certainly not. Did I get it? Apparently. Did I want to swallow it? That's a different question.