180 Days With Mozart And Me

A Survey Of The Philips Complete Mozart Edition…From Symphonies Through Theatre And Ballet Music

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Of Misty Mornings and Mostly Mozart (Piano Music, Box 9)

March 13th, 2010 · 6 Comments · 10 Variations in G, Allegretto in 12 Variations in B flat, B Schack, Bob Newhart Show, Box 9: Piano Music, CW Gluck, David Helfgott, Dick Van Dyke Show, Eight Variations in F, Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding, F Gerl, Ingrid Haebler, JP Duport, K455, K500, K573, K613, Mary Tyler Moore Show, Mozart at 28, Mozart at 30, Mozart at 33, Mozart at 35, Newhart, Nine Variations in D, Panera Bread, Potsdam, Potsdam (April 29 1789), Sarah Michelle Gellar, Shine, Unser dummer Pöbel meint, Vienna (August 25 1784), Vienna (March 1791), Vienna (September 12 1786), X-Files

Piano Music, Box 9On the way to get my favorite table at Panera Bread this damp, misty morning, I heard on the radio that people who don’t get seven or eight hours of sleep per night are considered “sleep deprived.”

Seven or eight hours? Hell, I haven’t had that much sleep in years!

Because I’m not tired at night, I watch classic old movies or equally classic episodes of Newhart, The Bob Newhart Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, or The X-Files, surf the Web, or read. I finally get to sleep around 11:30.

Last night, for example. My wife and I watched the remarkably horrible Sarah Michelle Gellar movie Possession and the truly jaw-dropping Geoffrey Rush movie Shine about the life of Australian pianist David Helfgott.

We got to bed at midnight. This morning, the alarm rang at 5:15 and I jumped out of bed to start my day.

What sleep deprivation?

There’s a whole world out there! Life’s too short to sleep 7-8 hours per night! (Especially when you’re married to a woman who epitomizes joy. Elisabeth makes me laugh all the time. Just being with her makes me feel vibrantly alive. So I don’t want to miss anything – from the moment she opens her eyes in the morning…she’s so cute!…to the moment she closes them again at night.)

So here I sit, at Panera Bread, listening (for the second or third time through) to another CD of Mozart’s variations.

A few things to note about today’s music:

1. Again, all pieces were performed by Ingrid Haebler.

2. One of the compositions is said to have been penned in a city I’d never heard of called Potsdam. So I looked it up on Wikipedia:

Potsdam (German pronunciation: [ˈpɔtsdam]) is the capital city of the German federal state of Brandenburg and is part of the Metropolitan area of Berlin/Brandenburg. It is situated on the River Havel, 24 km southwest of Berlin city center.

Now, before you go all haughty on me and say, “Another American who doesn’t know his geography!” I must ask you to consider: Do you know where Grand Rapids is? Same thing.

3. The German phrase “Unser dummer Pöbel meint,” according to the free translation web site, means “Our silly mob means.” Huh? Is that really what the phrase means?

4. The name C.W. Gluck, according to his bio on Wikipedia, refers to:

C.W. GluckChristoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (2 July 1714 – 15 November 1787) was an opera composer of the early classical period. After many years at the Habsburg court at Vienna, Gluck brought about the practical reform of opera’s dramaturgical practices that many intellectuals had been campaigning for over the years. With a series of radical new works in the 1760s, among them Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, he broke the stranglehold that Metastasian opera seria had enjoyed for much of the century.

5. The name J.P. Duport, according to his bio on Wikipedia, refers to:

Jean-Pierre Duport (November 27, 1741–December 31, 1818) was a significant cellist of the late 18th and early nineteenth centuries. He is contemporaneously important for owning and playing the Duport Stradivarius (named after Jean-Pierre Duport), which is currently in the possession of the Russian master cellist Mstislav Rostropovich.

(A cellist? See, Szor? I expect to see you listed as a “significant cellist” on Wikipedia one of these days.)

6. The German phrase “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding” translates (according to the free online translator) as “A woman is the most marvelous thing.” Now that I can believe.

7. The theme of Eight Variations in F, K613 is attribute to “B.Schack or F. Gerl.” According to his bio on Wikipedia, F. Gerl was:

Franz Xaver Gerl (1764 – 1827) was a bass singer and composer of the classical era. He sang the role of Sarastro in the premiere of Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute…Peter Branscombe, writing in the New Grove, offers the following concerning Gerl’s reputation as a singer: “When Schröder, the greatest actor-manager of his age, went to Vienna in 1791 he was told not to miss hearing [Benedikt] Schack and Gerl at Schikaneder’s theatre.” Branscombe also notes the striking quality of the music that Mozart wrote for Gerl.

According to his bio on Answers.com, Schack was:

Benedikt (Emanuel) Schack (b Mirotice, 7 Feb 1758; d Munich, 10 Dec 1826). Austrian tenor and composer. A member of Schikaneder’s theatre company, he was its principal tenor when it settled in Vienna in 1789, and Mozart (a close friend) wrote the part of Tamino in Die Zauberflöte (1791) for him. He also played the flute. Later he worked in Graz and Munich. His c 25 stage works (1784-95) include a series of ‘Anton’ Singspiels for Vienna (most composed with F. X. Gerl).

Here is what I listened to today, complete with the best guesses of scholars regarding where and when each piano sonata was composed. This information was pieced together from The Compactothèque book + CD, which is an essential purchase if you want the fullest enjoyment from the Philips Complete Mozart Edition. It’s only about $8 and the sampler CD, alone, is remarkably enjoyable. But the booklet is gold, Jerry! Gold! Keep in mind, some of these places and dates are merely guesses. But I find it fascinating to see even guesses for some of these compositions. They help me put Mozart’s life and creative output in perspective.

For example, Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart was born on 27 January 1756. With that in mind, take a look at where and when these pieces were composed. I’ll add Mozart’s approximate age in the parenthetical data below each listed sonata:

1. 10 Variations in G, K.455 on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint” by C.W. Gluck
- Vienna, August 25, 1784 (Mozart was 28)

2. Allegretto and 12 Variations in B flat, K.500
- Vienna, September 12, 1786 (Mozart was 30)

3. Nine Variations in D, K.573 on a minuet by J.P. Duport
- Potsdam, April 29, 1789 (Mozart was 33)

4. Eight Variations in F, K.613 on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding” by B.Schack or F. Gerl
- Vienna, March, 1791 (Mozart was 35)

Do I have a favorite from today’s compositions? No, although one of the variations in Nine Variations in D, K.573 on a minuet by J.P. Duport, caught my attention. Because the variations are not divided into separate track numbers (there are only four tracks listed on this CD), all I can go by is the minute marks. At 7:12, this variation goes all Chopin nocturne and gets mournful and beautiful, wistful. It immediately jumped out at me.

So, if I had a favorite today, it would be one of the variations in Nine Variations in D, K.573 on a minuet by J.P. Duport. If you listen to that track, start at 7:12. Listen through 8:51. That’s my favorite.

But there’s another one of those hidden gems, too. At the 8:16 mark of Eight Variations in F, K.613 on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding” by B.Schack or F. Gerl, it turns kind of Beethoven-y. Very majestic, and sonorous. It’s a terrific little composition.

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6 Comments so far ↓

  • Szor Khyrador

    Ahaha, significant cellist… I don’t know, we’ll see. I think I’m fine at the instrument, although I don’t know about a Wikipedia article. So far the cello hasn’t actually figured especially prominently in my compositions, although I am currently working on a double concerto for oboe and cello, which is rather difficult to write but a great deal of fun as well. I’d love to write more for the cello too, but despite it being my own instrument, I find it harder to write for. I don’t know exactly why and I’m trying to improve–hopefully this current project will open the way to later and greater ones.

    Oh, and you caught me–I’m actually American, but I have an extremely pretentious streak regarding spelling (among other things), which I allow to exert control over everything I write that isn’t for school. Although music is probably my most important obsession, language occupies almost as strong a part of my consciousness, and many British spellings strike me as better, so I use them whenever I can. Sorry if all that sounds a bit ridiculous. Anyway, I study at Brown University. Not a music school, but it’s good at teaching it nonetheless, and there are other great things to do as well.

    Also, I’d like to point out something about what you talk about in this entry. Near the end of this post, you pick out one variation each from K. 573 and K. 613 as ones that affected you especially. I listened to the spots you mentioned and certainly agree with you on their excellence, although it seems to me that you might not have realised what it is about these two variations that makes them unusual. In each case, the variation you mentioned was the only one of its set to be in the minor mode. In Classical-period variation sets, it is a common (and, in my opinion, very effective) convention to set one variation in the mode opposite to that of the theme, and I find this opposite-mode variation to be frequently one of the most interesting and compelling.

    Actually, it seems to me as though over the course of your journey through Mozart’s music, you have gradually grown fonder of his minor-key pieces. I remember you not seeming especially enamoured with the D minor piano concerto or the G minor piano quartette (both pieces I really love, by the way), although by the time you reached the solo piano music, it seemed to me as though all the minor-key pieces had special appeal for you. Perhaps I’m overanalysing, but to me your sensibilities seem to have changed a bit, and in a direction that pleases me.

    I’m also curious to know what your 2.5-year music project is. What do you plan to listen to as a follow-up to Mozart?

  • Bill

    Hi again Szor,

    Another delightful-to-read comment. Thank you for stopping by!

    A few comments in return:

    1. I don’t know that I’ve gained an appreciation for minor key over major (although I’m all about triumphant chords and soaring spirits). I think what you noted is that I, too, like the change-up. I like to hear different things in music. I look for the variations. For example: Sonata for Violin & Harpsichord in C, K14, Movement 1 (Allegro). I flipped when I heard that. It was constructed like a pop song! It stood out differently from everything around it. It was catchy and clever and fun. Very upbeat. And the little high note the instruments hit in the alternate run-through of the “verse” made me smile. Violin Sonata in A, K402 (as we’ve discussed before) was another noteworthy piece of music. The gently, sad descending chords at 1:27-1:32 jumped out at me, as did the piano and the violin exchanging roles.

    It’s not so much the key that grabs me, it’s what’s being done with it. A minor key sandwiched between two majors gets my attention. I did not realize (“realise,” to you wannabe Brits) that I was hearing a minor key. If you hadn’t point it out, I would not have known. So, for that comment of yours, alone, I’m grateful.

    I like minor-key modes for wringing some sort of emotion from a piece of music. Or, more accurately, for touching something within me that elicits an emotion. But too much of it, or too slow of a tempo in a minor key, and the piece becomes a dirge. I can’t stand Classical music that’s consistently slow and serene and supposedly calming. It sets my nerves a-jangling.

    2. So you’re a composer. That’s even more noteworthy than a “mere” player. Don’t get me wrong. To play an instrument well sets you apart from the vast majority of people. But to compose music, well, now that’s another level entirely. I’m envious. Oboes are delightful instruments. They always remind me of the score to an old-time Disney movie or an old Warner Brothers cartoon. I look forward to hearing your compositions in the near future.

    3. Music and language. Two great pursuits. Nothing wrong with affectation, either. I’ve heard of worse.

    I have a writing partner who’s a stickler for grammar and punctuation. He’s the guy I hand my scripts to and ask him to “comb” them to make sure they’re up to snuff. So I fully appreciate a command of the language.

    Question: What about math? I often wonder how close math and music are. They’re nearly brothers, aren’t they? Or kissing cousins at least. Music has always seemed so mathematical to me. Like the mind that can grasp playing/writing music is the same mind that can grasp advance mathematics.

    I’m not sure what you think about choir/church music. So I may not hear from you for 11 days while I wind my way through Mozart’s missae. But there’s plenty of other stuff on my site for you to comment on. So if you’re still out there, and still reading, I’m sure I’ll hear from you again.

    Always a pleasure.

    Cheers,

    Bill

    P.S. One more thing…Brown University? Well, you don’t do anything half-assed, do you? Brown is one of the best schools in the nation. I’m not sure about Rhode Island as a residence. But Brown is something to be proud of, “not a music school” notwithstanding. Well done! Are you a music major? What year?

  • Szor Khyrador

    Hey Bill,

    Yeah, I’m sure you’re right about it having to do more with variety than with the mode. The thing is that Mozart used the minor mode so comparatively infrequently that, especially in the midst of a major-key composition, it’s always a surprise, and Mozart was the master at handling such surprises when he wanted to.

    Music and math are definitely related, and many people who are good at one are good at the other. I was no exception, having been quite good at math back when I did it. But unlike music, I simply had no love for it–I could churn out answers competently, but I had no desire to produce anything of consequence, as I very much do with music. So although I often lament how comparatively impractical my chosen paths are, I figure I’m probably more useful where I am now than if I forced myself to do something I found less interesting. I do consider music a science, though–I don’t believe that everything about it can be reduced to equations (as some seem to believe), but I do see it as a craft that requires more work than simply being chosen by god to be great.

    Composition is something that must be learnt and practiced seriously, like math. Of course there is an element of it beyond mere science, which involves putting spirit into the music &c., but this is true of math and the “hard” sciences as well–mathematicians often speak of a solution as being “elegant” or “beautiful.”

    This reminds me of one of my favourite Mozart quotes: “It is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.” I don’t know if I could say that about myself yet, but I’ve definitely improved a lot since I started writing, mainly just by doing it a lot and studying the works of the old masters.

    I don’t know Mozart’s church music as well as I know his instrumental music, and I think most scholars agree with you that it’s generally less interesting. But there are some real gems in there–the Grosse Messe in C minor that you passed over today is definitely worth a listen, and although it’s less well known, the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore in C major, K. 339, is a lovely work as well, which I had the good fortune to play in my high school orchestra. Its fourth and fifth movements, Laudate Pueri and Laudate Dominum, are particularly great. And, of course, there’s the Requiem that he was writing when he died. Many are wary of it because he left it unfinished and it was completed by one of his students, but it’s still a masterpiece.

    Charles Rosen, one of the few musicologists I really like, wrote about why the church music of Mozart and Haydn is so often less interesting than their instrumental music. He explains that it, like many things churchy, retained baroque ideals that were otherwise outmoded, and not entirely natural to their styles even though they understood it well enough to use it when outside forces asked them to. Still though, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, and Haydn, more than Mozart in my opinion, was still able to make some really awesome church music. The Requiem is like Mozart’s final triumph of fusing his personal style with the baroque churchy style–if only he had lived longer!

    And yes, Brown is a great place. I’m currently a sophomore, which means that this is exactly the time we have to decide our majors. I’m going for a double major in Music and East Asian Studies. I still don’t know exactly what direction either of them will take, but it’ll be a lot of fun to find out.

    I hope you’re feeling better!

    Szor

  • Bill

    I think you’re absolutely right, Szor. The churchy music doesn’t stand the test of time. I listened to all I could stomach. It was just so repetitious and monotonous. Hardly as inspired as it subject matter would demand that it be.

    After suffering through all of Mozart’s Early and Middle Italian operas I am so incredibly ready to hear the big guns – The Marriage of Figaro, The Magic Flute, Don Giovanni. The next boxed set contains all of his major Italian opera works. I crack that baby open this week. Wednesday, I think.

    I often wonder what kind of person a composer is. When we saw pianist Ingrid Fliter, we marveled at her choices – Bach, Beethoven, Schumann – and thought, “How could anyone compose this music?” When we read the program to learn the background of the pieces she chose to play, we were amazed even more. “Beethoven was nearly deaf when he write this. How in the hell did he know what it would sound like?” Or, to put it another way, “What is a Mozart, a Bach, a Beethoven? What kind of person is seemingly born with so much music in them? From whence does it come?”

    They didn’t seem to need much learning to be a composer. Something in them just naturally composed music, like beavers know how to build elaborate dams, or birds know how to constructs nests. Something in the great composers contained that germ of genius from birth.

    That discourages and inspires me. It discourages me because genius ability like that is impossibly rare. I certainly don’t have it. I’ve never known anyone who did. But it’s inspiring in that such talent (truly, such can be labeled a gift) is magical. To watch a pianist play the compositions is awe inspiring. To think someone had to compose them is even more shocking.

    I intend to return to the 2-3 pieces I deliberately skipped over. At the time of my listening to them, I felt physically ill. So everything I listened to sounded terrible to me. It’s like whenever I’ve had the flu and I ate a certain type of food. Forever more I associated the ill feelings of having the flu whenever I eat the food. I both wanted to avoid that with Mozart, and lessen what I was already feeling because of it. But I’ll return to the couple of CDs, especially since you recommend them.

    I can tell I’m not cut out for opera. I am having a hard time with these Early and Middle Italian operas. For the most part, they sound awful to me.

    I love Mozart’s instrumental music. That I can get my head around. I can understand it and appreciate it. Opera, to me, just sounds amateurish because there’s so little actual music. It’s just singing. In that stage-drama sort of way. Like what it would sound like if the cast of Days of Our Lives burst into song for an entire episode.

    Your double major will be perfect preparation for real life. Asia will play a key role in the the world. So knowing the culture/language will be a plus.

    Good luck with your studies!

    Cheers,

    Bill

  • Szor Khyrador

    Sorry it’s taken me such a long time to reply–finishing up the semester and then coming home for the first time since December have made me pretty busy, but I see that you’re nearly done with your Mozartean journey, so I had to make sure to reply before the end!

    Anyway, I’m a lot like you regarding instrumental vs. vocal music–with the exception of a handful of amazing choral works and a very few great arias (I’m a huge fan of Der Hölle Rache as well), I too find much more interest in instrumental music. These days it almost seems like there are people who are interested in instrumental classical music and then there are people who are interested in opera, and they don’t often overlap all that much. My Music department advisor at Brown asked me once if I knew much about opera, and when I said I didn’t, his reply was “You will. It’s pretty much unavoidable.” I don’t know though, I respect it but am rarely compelled by it. I am, however, interested in giving Die Entführung aus dem Serail a listen, since you liked it so much and everything I’ve heard about it makes sound like a great time. (As you have often said, however, opera seems like something that you have to go to to appreciate fully.)

    And about the divine genius of composers, I feel like I may have implied in my previous comment that it was all just hard work and no gift, which isn’t what I meant to say–there is a reason why Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven are so famous that even people who know nothing about classical music still know their names and some of their greatest tunes. In learning to compose my own music, I don’t expect to become the next Mozart or anything–I’d just like to bring joy to the people who hear it. “Classical” composers nowadays seem to be obsessed with being so difficult and profound that no one but music professors can like their music. My hopefully attainable goal, to state it as simply as I can, is to make music that will please people. Doable enough, I hope. But to create music that is at once immediately pleasing and almost infinitely profound, as the greatest composers have done, is something that the rest of us can only vainly attempt. Not that I won’t attempt to inch a little closer to that ideal, but it’s as you say: genius ability like that is impossibly rare. It’s no cause for despair, though! Just something to marvel at.

    I hope you enjoy the rest of your travels through Mozart’s corpus. Maybe someday I should try something like it? For someone my age especially, I have listened to a rather huge amount of classical music, but to undertake something as exhaustive as you have is seriously amazing, especially for someone who’s not already a music scholar or whatever. I don’t know when I’d have the time or discipline to actually make a plan for myself and stick to it, but you should know that you’re pretty inspiring in this way.

    Hope your summer’s going well,
    Szor

  • Bill

    Szor,

    What do you think of Bach? I’m going to explore the complete works of J.S. Bach starting this fall. It’ll be a web site called 155 Days With Bach And Me. I would love to have you stop by and offering your comments on my second-favorite composer’s works.

    It’s been a pleasure and an honor to have you here, offering comments and insights. I would love to have you visit my Bach site in a couple of months.

    Cheers,

    Bill

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