[Marxism] My review of "In Search of Mozart" from July 2007
biastg at embarqmail.com
Wed Sep 23 19:14:16 MDT 2009
I have studied the tenor arias in "Don Giovanni" and "The Magic Flute"
(there is only a minor tenor role in "The Marriage of Figaro"). To hear them
they sound simple and easy. They are NOT! They are incredibly demanding, in
terms of breath, tessitura (the "median" of the vocal range), and the
intangible of delivering the song in a dramatically credible way. That being
said, getting it right is the most rewarding musical experience imaginable!
From: marxism-bounces+biastg=embarqmail.com at lists.econ.utah.edu
[mailto:marxism-bounces+biastg=embarqmail.com at lists.econ.utah.edu] On Behalf
Of Louis Proyect
Sent: Wednesday, September 23, 2009 8:58 PM
To: Thomas Bias
Subject: [Marxism] My review of "In Search of Mozart" from July 2007
This Friday In Search of Mozart opens at the Cinema Village in New
York City. As the title implies, it is an attempt to come to grips with
perhaps the greatest composer of all time who died at the age of 35 in
1791. It mixes interviews with musicologists and performers who all
share a love of his music as well as uncommon insights into his
particular gifts. While the musical excerpts tend to be on the brief
side, the film is wall-to-wall Mozart with performances from many of
the interviewees including Renée Fleming, Roger Norrington and Lang
Lang, the rising virtuoso pianist from China. It is also an
old-fashioned travelogue as we follow the same path the young Mozart and
his ambitious father took from city to city in pursuit of fame and fortune.
Although this might sound like the typical PBS fare, it is much more
interesting and much more human. The Mozart director Phil Grabsky is
intent on showing us is not a deity, but a living, breathing human
being. We learn that he, like his parents, enjoyed writing scatological
letters, filled with references to farting, oral sex and other off-color
topics. He was also bent on enjoying the good life, even if it meant
going into debt, not unlike millions of Americans today. Although he was
prodigious in his output and a total disciplinarian when it came to his
craft, he also knew how to relaxspending his afternoons playing
billiards or cards.
His life was also filled with conflict. Like many child prodigies, he
had to contend with an overbearing father who wanted to use his son as a
vehicle for his own ambitions. Unlike many prodigies, however, Mozart
handled all this pressure with great aplomb. Even as a very young man,
he had a good grasp of human relationships as opposed to the almost
idiot savant version of Peter Schaffers Amadeus.
Indeed, he not only had a gift for harmony but also for understanding
the human condition from an early age. Operas like Marriage of Figaro,
Don Giovanni and Cosi Fan Tutti demonstrate a level of understanding
about society that transcends just about everything that preceded it.
The librettist for these three masterpieces was Lorenzo Da Ponte, a
Venetian who had been born a Jew but converted to Roman Catholicism.
Expelled from Venice for his democratic leanings, he ended up in the
United States, where he opened a grocery store in the Bowery! Eventually
he moved on to better things as a local opera promoter and Professor of
Italian at Columbia University in New York.
While In Search of Mozart focuses as it should on the music and the
details of Mozarts life, there is an underlying social drama that is
akin thematically to Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Like the
more plebian characters in these two masterpieces, Mozart was basically
at the mercy of his aristocratic patrons for every penny. He was always
under pressure to turn out banal entertainments like Divertimentos or
other dances for the court (that he always managed to turn into
masterpieces), but preferred to compose more ambitious works like
symphonies and operas.
Maynard Solomon, founder of Vanguard Records and author of Marxism and
Art: Essays Classic and Contemporary, summarizes Mozarts attitude
toward the feudal gentry ruling Austria in his superb biography that I
have been looking through since seeing the film:
Beyond his fantasies of retribution, Mozart has scant deference for
rank or position, whether in the secular or the religious spheres:
archdukes, archbishops, emperors, and empresses alike are the subject of
He is skeptical of all authority, whether princes, kings, priests,
or legislators. He cannot be taken in, as Beethoven was, by benevolent
emperors and first consuls, perhaps because he knew these men at first
hand in a way that Beethoven did not. Stupidity oozes out of his eyes,
writes Mozart of his admiring patron, Archduke Maximilian Franz. He
talks and holds forth incessantly and always in falsettoand he has
started a goiter. Hearing of Empress Maria Theresas mortal illness, he
is irked that he would have to feign grief: Next week everyone will be
in mourningand I, who have always to be about, must also weep with the
others. He is, we know, particularly sensitive to issues of economic
exploitation: No man ought to be mean, but neither ought he to be such
a simpleton as to let other people take the profits from his work, which
has cost him so much study and labor, by renouncing all further claims
upon it. With heavy irony, he writes, You know well how services are
generally rewarded by great lords. Even Emperor Joseph II, whom he
admired and wished to serve, did not escape Mozarts scalpel: he was
characterized as a skinflint who was well aware of his own meanness.
For Mozart, the movers and shakers of society are fallible human beings
rather than objects of veneration. He reports that the emperor has a
sexual interest in Elisabeth Wilhelmine Louise, the teenage princess of
Württemberg: This affair is an open secret m Vienna, but no one knows
whether she is going to be a morsel for himself or for some Tuscan
prince. Probably the latter
I am really astonished, because she is, you
might say, still a child.
As a critic of the 18th century ruling class, Mozart would
understandably resonate with modern day rebels, especially those who are
thinking about ways to sharpen culture into a knife directed at the
heart of the capitalist system.
Seven years ago, British Trotskyist Alan Wood wrote an article on
Mozart and the French Revolution. He noted that the play that provided
the libretto for Marriage of Figaro provoked bloody riots:
Beaumarchais play, which depicted the aristocracy as degenerate,
lustful and depraved types, was considered dangerously revolutionary at
the time. In one speech his central character, the servant Figaro, dares
to state that he is as good as his master. In the years before the
French Revolution, this was subversive stuff! So dangerous was it
considered that Louis XVI at first tried to have the play banned.
Eventually it was put on stage, and its first performance in Paris
caused a riot in which three people were trampled to death.
In a five part series of articles occasioned by the composers 250th
birthday, the World Socialist Websites Laura Villon makes a number of
interesting musicological and political points (the websites cultural
coverage maintains the highest standards, even if the political analysis
of questions facing the left tend to the dogmatic.) Among them is the
impact of the visit to London on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his father
Leopold, who obviously shared his sons democratic aspirations:
In April 1764 the family crossed the English Channel and headed to
London, where they would stay for 15 months. Within four days, they were
warmly received at the English court of the German-speaking King George
III and Queen Charlotte.
If Paris was intellectually liberating, London was a social whirl.
Leopold took pains to describe the democratic atmosphere in the citys
great public parks. For one shilling, all classes could enter the parks
and hear great music. In St. James Park, the King waved to them from his
carriage. Here everyone is equal, and no lord allows any person to
uncover before him; having paid their money, all are upon equal terms,
he wrote home to his patron Hagenauer (Gutman 188).
Leopold and his son set out to better their knowledge of English
and devoured English literature. He praised the courage of striking
weavers who protested their unemployment and poverty in the capital in
1765. He and his family came to see England as a symbol of freedom.
In Search of Mozart is an excellent introduction to the music and life
of a very great composer. For information on screenings in your own
area, check the films website which has a trailer.
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