So, one day at work, hoping to avoid, you know, actual work, I was clicking my way around the world wide web. I don’t recall the full details, but I’m sure it was generated by Apocalyptica’s upcoming release “Wagner Reloaded” (see first video here) since I landed on this BBC Culture article on Wagner (I promise I get to Mozart soon). Right there, in the second paragraph, was a sentence on Wagner’s influence that altered my world view (I assume this was not the intention of the article’s author):
“The extremity and the force of his genius altered forever the course of the art form in a way that only a handful of others – Bach, Beethoven, Schoenberg – have ever done.”
Instantly, I was upset that they left out my dearest Wolfie. How dare they?! He is a GENIUS! That train of thought was cut off by one that left me in a musical existential crisis. My life long belief that Herr Mozart is a supremely important composer, certainly worthy of a mention in the same breath as Bach & Beethoven, let alone Wagner and Schoenberg*. Was my thinking wrong? Had I missed the memo? Had Mozart all along been a second class citizen in the world of Great Composers Of Classical Music?! (Yeah. It got pretty extreme. School-induced sleep dep is in full force)
The answer, after doing some soul searching and research (I am a Capricorn, after all), is somewhere in the middle. I am safe in continuing to believe that Wolfie was a monumental composer, someone whose influence, both overt and subtle, continues to be felt to this day. However, his genius was not of the abrupt revolutionary kind that belongs to Beethoven or Schoenberg, whose efforts rang in new eras and firmly exemplify breaks from the prior status quo. Nor yet Wagner’s impact on what opera could be (leitmotif, anyone?) or his pushing the envelope on tonality. Instead, Mozart gets lumped in with Bach, whose talent at developing and perfecting the musical forms of his day stands as a high point in human achievement. Not bad company, me thinks. In my now more informed opinion, Ms. Burton-Hill would have been better served leaving by Bach off the list if she wanted to create a truly accurate comparison (and possibly saving me angst in the process).
Does this “lessening” of Mozart’s status have any real impact on me? I will continue to enjoy and marvel at his music. His music will continue to be one of the reasons why, if I were ever stranded on a desert island and forced to choose between only having Classical Music or Hard Music, I would choose Classical (with a hopeful exception of Apo, of course!). And I will continue to be upset at him for not writing anything for solo cello (why, Wolfie, why?!?!). But this momentary musical existential crisis did force me to consider the often subtle differences between being influential and being a game changer. Which leaves us with something to ponder: Which is more challenging: to work within the parameters you’ve been given or to draw new lines? Do we judge someone working within the lines more harshly than those working outside them or vice versa?
While you consider these options (or at least before you go to the next stop on your interweb adventure), check out this sampling of Mozart’s genius:
* Does anyone else grind their teeth at Schoenberg’s atonal compositions? For a hilarious overview of the Second Viennese School (aka My Private Atonal Hell):
PS I found this pic while researching. Mozart as Romance Cover Hottie. Hello there, Wolfie: