Wednesday, February 10, 2010

“This passage had been stolen from Mozart”

I’m currently reading a wonderful book, Lewis Lockwood’s Beethoven: The Music and the Life.  While he gives the reader a short biographical sketch of Beethoven’s life and times, Lockwood concentrates primarily on the music, analyzing nearly every work Beethoven produced.   For the major works these analysis’ can be four, five, six pages or more.  Lockwood’s great gift is the ability to explain these mostly instrumental works in language the general reader can understand and appreciate.  His analysis always adds to one’s listening pleasure, even with works I’ve been listening to for years and know by heart.  After reading Lockwood, one approaches the piece with a fresh ears and a new perspective. 

Of course, it’s taking me forever to get through the book.  Once Lockwood starts discussion of a work it does not do to simply continue reading.  I have to listen to the work, often twice, once while reading Lockwood’s analysis, the second time without.  Yesterday, for instance, I read Lockwood’s takes on the 4th, 6th, and 8th symphonies, works I am not as familiar with as the 3rd, 5th, and 7th.  I then listened to each while reading Lockwood’s breakdown of each.  I then re-listened to the 4th and 6th, before I’d had enough music for the day.  Three hours later and I had covered about twelve pages.  At this rate, I’ll finish the book by June. 

Which is fine.  I am enjoying my foray into classical music immensely.  I love this stuff.  My goal at the start of the year was to learn, really learn, one new piece of classical music per week.  I shortly thereafter modified the goal to learn 50 new works this year, as I could not listen to simply a single piece of music during a week.  I’m mixing it up, listening to what I want when I want.  I may listen to fifteen or twenty works in a given week.  Eventually, I’ll winnow down what I like the most, re-listening over and over until I’ve got it down, and the work will be added to my list of favorites, i.e. it will become part of my life, a piece of music I’ll listen to for the rest of my days.

One of the most interesting parts of Lockwood’s analysis is when he explains devices Beethoven used that had been used earlier by other composers, usually Mozart and Haydn, who both had great influence over Beethoven’s development (Haydn was actually Beethoven’s teacher in 1792, though it was a disappointing relationship for them both.)  That Mozart and Haydn influenced each other is without doubt.  Though Haydn was 24 years senior to Mozart, they became great friends and admirers once Mozart arrived in Vienna at the age of 25 in 1781.  It can be argued that Mozart, child prodigy that he was, did not become a truly great composer until he came under the influence of Haydn.  Almost all of the works considered Mozart’s greatest came after he arrived in Vienna and his friendship with Haydn.  Was Haydn the deciding factor in Mozart’s musical maturity?  It can also be argued that Haydn, prolific as he had been for the previous twenty years, did not achieve his full greatness until his association with Mozart - Haydn’s most admired works were written during the 1780s and 1790s, when he was in his fifties and sixties.  Like Bird and Magic, and Evert and Navratilova, they pushed each other to greater and greater heights, heights they never would have achieved otherwise, and in the process they defined the classical style.  When we talk about the “classical style” we are really talking about the music of Haydn and Mozart and what they achieved: the development of the symphony, the concerto, and the string quartet; the organization of the orchestra; the sonata allegro form, especially, but also the formalization of minuet and trio, rondo, and theme and variations.  But we mean something more when we invoke the term “classical style” than simply form and structure.  It has to do with order, rationality, taste, and a particular emotional restraint, i.e. Enlightenment ideals brought to the musical world.  Haydn and Mozart were children of the Enlightenment and their music reflects those ideals.  

So here is my question, the one this blog post was originally supposed to be about.  Mozart died at the age of 35 in 1791.  Beethoven arrived in Vienna as a 21 year old a year later, brimming with talent and ideas.  Had Mozart lived until the age of 70, he would have died in 1826, a year before Beethoven.  If this were the case, how would Mozart’s music have been affected by Beethoven’s?  The title of this blog post comes from an early score of Beethoven’s in which he wrote, “This entire passage has been stolen from the Mozart Symphony in C.”  Can we conceive of a time in our hypothetical world when a fifty-some year old Mozart would have written on one of his own scores, “This passage has been stolen from Beethoven”?

Certainly Mozart, genius that he was, would have recognized Beethoven’s own genius.  But would have have approved of Beethoven’s music?  Would he have been dismayed at the direction Beethoven took the music and the forms that Mozart helped to create?  Beethoven, after all, was not a child of the Enlightenment.  That world was dying fast during his adolescence.  The French Revolution would put a nail in its coffin, and Napoleon would shovel the dirt on top of it.  Beethoven was a man born of the heroic age, a great admirer of Napoleon (until he declared himself emperor) and of himself.  Indeed, Beethoven thought of himself and his music as heroic, an opinion that likely would have baffled Haydn and Mozart.  Certainly Beethoven used the forms and structures defined by his predecessors, but he used them for his own expressive purposes, playing with them here, distorting them until they were almost unrecognizable there.  But what is more is the emotional extremes that is often present in Beethoven’s music.  What would Mozart have thought? 

On page 170 of his book, Lockwood excerpts this from a letter Mozart wrote to his father in 1781:

[P]assions, violent or not, must never be expressed to the point of disgust, and music must never offend the ear, even in the most horrendous situations, but must always be pleasing…in other words, always remain music.

Lockwood then goes on to explain:

Clearly enough [Mozart’s] music, in all its facility, formal perfection, and wide range of expression, conveys the sense that its emotional life is contained within well-defined boundaries.  Raising the notion of emotional moderation, balance, and restraint to the level of an aesthetic category, we can argue that it is a primary factor in Mozart’s aesthetic philosophy.

There, in a nutshell, is the essence of the classical style.  Many considered Beethoven’s music vulgar.  Would Mozart have? Would he have rebelled?  Or adapted?  Would the man with such a philosophy as described above accept Beethoven’s innovations and extremes? 

I say, yes.  Mozart was no dogmatist.  He was always open to new ideas, or old ones (Mozart was greatly influenced by Bach, declaring upon hearing a Bach motet during a visit to Leipzig in 1789, “This is something to learn from!”) He took the style of his day and transformed it, perfected it, made it more beautiful.  He also was an innovator in his own right, particularly with his operas and piano concertos, where he more or less defined double-exposition form.  And, as the quote about Bach above shows, Mozart was always ready to learn.  Within months of Haydn’s groundbreaking Op. 33 string quartets, Mozart had produced his own batch of six quartets in the same style, dedicating them to Haydn (the six “Haydn Quartets”).  He had an ear for greatness and he no doubt would have recognized Beethoven’s greatness.  He would have learned from Beethoven and used Beethoven’s own innovations for his own purposes.  As for emotional expressiveness, Mozart did after all compose both the G Minor symphony and the D Minor piano concerto.  While most of us think of lightness and beauty when regarding Mozart’s music, he was not afraid to express emotional turmoil in his music.  So my own answer to the question of whether Mozart would have been influenced by Beethoven is an emphatic yes, making Mozart’s early death even more sorrowful.  Below, in two parts, is the first movement of the D Minor piano concerto, perhaps Mozart’s most passionate work in a minor key, and a perfect example of his ability to adhere to structural form while expressing emotional turmoil.  The wonder of Mozart is that is remains perfectly beautiful at the same time:

Monday, February 8, 2010


We didn’t need two feet of snow in D.C. - with another foot on the way - to finally realize that the global warming hoax is coming to an end. The evidence that is has been simply that – a hoax - has been piling up for months now, if not years.  As it is, the blizzard of 2010 only goes to show that the globe is not warming but cooling, and it has been for a decade.  The weather is changeable and unpredictable – who’da thunk it?

The news of global warming’s collapse has been coming so fast and furious that it’s hard to keep up with it all.  This column in the Globe and Mail does an excellent job of summing up the recent scandals that have exposed this farce:

And now, the science scandals just keep on coming. First there was the vast cache of e-mails leaked from the University of East Anglia, home of a crucial research unit responsible for collecting temperature data. Although not fatal to the science, they revealed a snakepit of scheming to keep contradictory research from being published, make imperfect data look better, and withhold information from unfriendly third parties. If science is supposed to be open and transparent, these guys acted as if they had a lot to hide.

Despite widespread efforts to play down the Climategate e-mails, they were very damaging. An investigation by the British newspaper The Guardian – among the most aggressive advocates for action on climate change – has found that a series of measurements from Chinese weather stations were seriously flawed, and that documents relating to them could not be produced.

Meantime, the IPCC – the body widely regarded, until now, as the ultimate authority on climate science – is looking worse and worse. After it was forced to retract its claim about melting glaciers, Mr. Pachauri dismissed the error as a one-off. But other IPCC claims have turned out to be just as groundless.

Read the whole thing.  I have been arguing for years that “global warming” is (was?) a myth perpetrated upon a gullible public for reasons that have nothing to do with concern for the environment.  Rather, the leftists who push this nonsense are simply looking for a back-door, a trojan horse, to implement government policies that exert more control over the way you live your life.  They hate capitalism and the creative chaos that comes with it because it allows individuals to make choices on their own initiative regarding how life should be lived.  And that simply cannot be tolerated.  The very essence of left-liberalism is that certain self-appointed elites should make these decisions for you.  They know better than you.  You shall not drive this type of car; you shall not use this type of light bulb; you shall not keep your thermostat above this temperature; you shall not live in a house larger than this size; you shall recycle; you shall not ask for plastic bags at the grocery store – the commandments of the global warming gods go on and on.  But remember what I stated above: they have nothing to do with a concern for the environment.  They have to do with running your life.

The same thing goes for health care.  The leftists who argue for a public option are not concerned about your health, nor are they concerned with lowering the cost you pay for the same services, all else being equal.  They want public policies put into place so they can control your life in the manner they see fit: you shall not smoke; you shall not eat this or that food; you shall exercise daily; you shall keep your cholesterol levels below this number; we’ll decide when and why you can see a doctor; we’ll decide at which point you become more of a burden to society than we can justify. 

Remember, it’s all about control and the leaders of these efforts are the mini-totalitarians who would do the controlling.  We seem to have dodged the health care bullet for the time being and now global warming is dying a much-deserved death.  Obamaism has been thoroughly rejected by the American public and the conservatives who were in the wilderness a year ago are now getting a public hearing.  So I ask: Is the world coming to its senses?

Daily Intermission: Mendelssohn-Hirtenlied Op. 57 No.2

I was on a classical music site a few weeks ago and someone linked to a youtube video of this young German girl playing the ballet music from Shubert’s Rosamunde.  It was terrific.  She’s not a pro but she’s quite good and I love that she plays in the sonata format – a simple piano accompaniment to her violin - and that she always plays the melody.  My wife and I speculate that’s her instructor on the piano.  On the related videos box  noticed that she had some other videos so I began to search and, lo and behold, there is a complete youtube site of her videos, among other videos.  Again, I believe the site must be run by instructor, who records and posts new videos every few days.  At any rate, this young girl has given me much pleasure these past few weeks.  Here she is from a few days ago playing some Mendelssohn.  Just lovely.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


"Skylark" has one of my favorite Johnny Mercer lyrics. A sample:

Have you anything to say to me?
Won't you tell me where my love can be?
Is there a meadow in the mist
Where someone's waiting to be kissed?

Terrific version below by Harry James and his band, vocal by Helen Forrest:

Daily Intermission, Nos. 1 and 2

If you pay attention to this blog (all two or three of you) you will have noticed that all my audio emdeds disappeared awhile ago.  That is because Imeem, which I was using for the embeds, was bought out by MySpace.  So the Imeem site no longer exists and all my embeds are gone.  I just modified the front page’s right-hand panel to embed Helen Merrill’s “What’s New” from  So that’s fixed.  Now to go back into past posts and fix them. 

Snow.  Lots of it: 


That’s the view from my bedroom window down to my deck.  They say Dulles Airport, right down the road from me, already has over 20 inches and we’re supposed to get 6-8 more.  Sigh.  I will admit it is beautiful while it is falling.  But it turns ugly real quick.  And while I don’t normally mind the shoveling my back is already aching - I threw it out while shoveling last weekend’s snow and then pulled it again when shoveling the mid-week snowstorm.  So the prospect of shoveling this much snow out with my back in the shape it’s in is not one I’m looking forward to.  Ah, but we’ll survive.  Someone tell Al Gore all is forgiven if he’ll just come shovel me out.

I decided yesterday – I’d been thinking about it for a few weeks – to try to get something out of facebook.  Not sure if I’d mentioned it before but I find it mostly trivial, at best.  Someone posts something about what they’re doing and then others come in and agree, with exclamation points.  The content is more perishable than cotton candy.  When I first joined a few years ago it was to scope out the site for a possible investment.  But I couldn’t figure out what to do with it, since I had no friends on it and it had yet to catch fire like it now has.  Since then I’ve added a few friends (mostly family) and come to the conclusion above.  As it is used by most, it’s useless.  I can see how it could be a grand place for like-minded people to seriously discuss issues and subjects they are interested in but I don’t see that happening within the limited sphere of my facebook world.  So I thought maybe I would start posting a “Daily Intermission” usually a video or an audio post but maybe a quote that I find funny or interesting.  I’ll post it out there and see if anyone comments.  Yesterday my post was this:

I love this Haydn quartet.  I love all of them from Op. 76, but this one is the one I know best so far.  And it is lovely, and happy, and joyous, even in a minor key.  Haydn made no apologies for his joyous music, stating (I’m paraphrasing) that The Lord had given him a joyful heart and his music reflected that.   

So what reaction did I get from facebook.  Bupkis.  Nada.  Nothing.  Oh well, let’s see if today’s gets a response:

This was the highlight of HBO’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary show for me.  Bruce closing with “Higher and Higher” came close but this is simply too beautiful a rendition of this song to take second place.  It’s perfect. 

So let’s see what happens with my new project.  I spent a good part of yesterday on youtube coming up with future “Daily Intermissions”.  I think I will post them all here too, with commentary, and figure out how to lead the facebook crowd this way.  I’m sure it can be done but I haven’t looked into it yet.  Anyhow, I’ve got to go grab a shovel.  And take a couple Aleve’s.