Monday, August 3, 2009

Showing Off at an Early Age

A frequently-recurring theme when I examine the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and how it is performed it that of "the show-off kid strutting his stuff." Presumably, this attitude had much to do with Mozart's strained relations with the Archbishop of Salzburg; and Peter Shaffer's Amadeus dwells frequently on the difficulties it brought him with court life in Vienna. Thus, the most important insight to be gained from the discovery of short pieces that Mozart composed at the age of eight may be an appreciation that he was showing off this way at a very early age. Commenting on the G major harpsichord concerto movement, Robert Levin but it more politely in remarks reported by Bethany Bell for BBC NEWS:

What the composer expects of the player in racing passagework, crossed hands and wild leaps is more than a bit crazy.

I consider it quite credible that the movement was composed by the young Mozart who wished to show in it everything he could do.

This also seems consistent with what has now become the most-repeated anecdote about the eight-year-old Mozart in conjunction with this discovery:

The Salzburg court trumpeter and close friend of the Mozart family, Johann Andreas Schachtner, described being shown an inkblot-stained score of a part of concerto written by the young Mozart.

Mozart's father, Leopold, had at first dismissed the piece - but then looked at it a little more closely.

"Look here Mr Schachtner," he said. "See how everything is correct and regularly set - it is only useless because it is too difficult for anyone to play."

The young Wolfgang was not abashed. "That's why it is a concerto," he said. "You have to practice a long time before you can play the notes. Here's how to do it."

Levin's comment about Mozart trying to show off everything at once in a single concerto movement is also consistent with all the virtuosity packed into his later piano concertos, where, by performing as soloist, he had the perfect platform for "strutting his stuff." Whether or not these discoveries constitute a "missing link" in our understanding of Mozart's development, as was claimed by Ulrich Leisinger of the International Mozarteum Foundation, may be debatable, since it is unclear what would be linked by them. However, the discoveries certainly provide evidence that the child Mozart is "father" to the piano virtuoso of Mozart's mature life.

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