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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W. A. Mozart

W. A. Mozart For this web site – which is a chronicle of my six-month-long study of the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – I have chosen a half dozen Mozart biographies, as well as books on opera, Classical music, and music appreciation to guide my way.

This book – W. A. Mozart by Hermann Abert – is the “bible” of my site and the cornerstone of my studies. At 1515 pages and 6.5 pounds, Abert’s book is no quick read. But it, first published in German in 1923-4, is considered the definitive work on Mozart. Who am I to argue with a book fast approaching a century old?

Why Mozart? Because I like Mozart. One of my favorite pieces of Classical music is Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, which is probably as universally recognized as the four notes that comprise the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.

I should note that I’m not a Mozart scholar. I’m just a lover of music. So this site will not examine the compositions, note by note, time signature by time signature, instrument by instrument. My intention here is just to listen to and enjoy Mozart’s music in my day-to-day life. Sometimes I’ll listen actively. Most times, I’ll probably listen passively – with Mozart being accompaniment to my writing or reading.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born 27 January 1756 and died – at the age of just 35! – on 5 December 1791. Yet, in that extremely brief period of time, he composed over 600 works – many of which, according to his entry on Wikipedia, are “acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music. He is among the most enduringly popular of classical composers.”

BBC Music Enduringly popular is an understatement. Magazines devoted to Classical music – like this one (published December, 2009 by BBC) – still feature articles about the composer, some two centuries after his death.

In an interview in the book/CD sampler (“Compactotheque”) for the Philips Complete Mozart Edition, Erik Smith (a producer and former director of the Artists and repertoire Department of Philips Classics) answers the question Is Mozart the greatest composer in the history of music? this way:

Philips Complete Mozart Edition CompactothequeFor me, the question seems meaningless: Mozart or Bach? Schubert or Verdi? Beethoven or Wagner?…But one can make two claims about Mozart: he is the easiest to love and the most universal…Mozart is loved by children and by sages, by adventurers, by politicians and generals, even by musicians at the end of a hard day’s work. He is also the most universal of composers, certainly in the wide humanity displayed in his operas, but more obviously in the great range of genres which he attemped and in most cases excelled at. No other composer could be presented in anything like such a range: no other creative artist, one is tempted to add, except Shakespeare.

I want to learn everything I can during the next 180 days (which, by the way, corresponds to the number of CDs in the The Gold Compact Complete Mozart Edition issued by Philips). I want to know about young Mozart, “old” Mozart, about the era in which he lived, about the country in which he lived, about the various periods of Classical music, about the nomenclature and ordering of Mozart’s works, about opera, music theory – the whole enchilada.

Speaking of the nomenclature, the book/CD sampler “Compactotheque” explains the “K” system:

In the course of the nineteenth century, many aimed to provide a complete catalogue of Mozart’s works…these attempts, together with the researches of the Mozart biographer Otto Jahn, laid the foundations for the work of Ludwig Ritter von Kochel (1800-77), whose “Chronological-thematic Catalogue of the Complete Works of Wolfgang Amade Mozart” was first published in 1862. This Kochelverzeichnis (often referred to as “K”) proved to be a landmark in the field of musical scholarship because of the thoroughness with which it imposed order on a rich diversity of scattered and little-known material.

Each of Mozart’s compositions is categorized with a “K” number. However, the order in which I’ll listen to them is not from K1 through the end. The order was determined by how Philips ordered these CDs. The compositions are grouped into 17 volumes, starting with Symphonies, which is Set 1.

As with my other journeys (Hemingway, Oscar-winning movies, Aristotle), I have a set of “rules” by which I will conduct myself this time, too:

1. During the 180 days, I must listen to each disc at least once. I can listen more than once – in fact, as many times as I want. But I must listen to one CD per day.

2. Each day, I will write about some aspect of (a) what I heard on the CD, and/or (b) what I read in one of the books, magazine articles, or online articles.

3. I can only listen to these Mozart CDs (each on its designated day). I can listen to no other Classical music for the duration of this survey of Mozart’s music.

4. Because music is part of my work, I can listen to any music associated with my work. But no music beyond that. For example, The Beach Boys are not part of my work. So I cannot listen to The Beach Boys. What is part of my work? Progressive rock, progressive metal, folk metal, Viking metal – specifically, those bands who will appear at next year’s ProgPower USA music festival in Atlanta, Georgia. It is my job to interview the bands. To do that, I must listen to their music prior to each interview. Therefore, all bands associated with next year’s ProgPower USA are fair game. I can listen to their music. The point is this: I wish to immerse myself in Mozart’s music. To do that, I must focus on Mozart’s music – think about it, listen actively, listen with it as background while I write, etc. So I will limit all other types of music to just Mozart and anything that has to do with my work. Nothing else.

5. However, because I am a writer who writes with the aid of music, my over-arching “rule” is this: I will listen to whatever I need to listen to to maintain a high level of concentration, inspiration, and creativity. If that means I need to listen to The Beach Boys to capture the spirit of the 1960s or to write with authority about vocal harmonies, or simply because I feel The Beach Boys will help me attain some sort of literary nirvana, I will do it. (God forbid that ever happens.) But, generally speaking, my main focus from now until next June will be on Mozart, one CD per day, starting from Set 1, Symphony 1.

I look forward to getting to know Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!