Expressions Critical

By Friedrich Kerst

69. “We wish that it were in our power to introduce the German taste in minuets in Italy; minuets here last almost as long as whole symphonies.”

(Bologna, September 22, 1770, to his mother and sister. Mozart as a lad was making a tour through Italy with his father. [There might be a valuable hint here touching the proper tempo for the minuets in Mozart’s symphonies. Of late years the conductors, of the Wagnerian school more particularly, have acted on the belief that the symphonic minuets of Mozart and Haydn must be played with the stately slowness of the old dance. Mozart himself was plainly of another opinion. H.E.K.])

70. “Beecke told me (and it is true) that music is now played in the cabinet of the Emperor (Joseph II) bad enough to set the dogs a-running. I remarked that unless I quickly escape such music I get a headache. ‘It doesn’t hurt me in the least; bad music leaves my nerves unaffected, but I sometimes get a headache from good music.’ Then I thought to myself: Yes, such a shallow-pate as you feels a pain as soon as he hears something which he can not understand.”

(Mannheim, November 13, 1777, to his father. Beecke was a conceited pianist.)

71. “Nothing gives me so much pleasure in the anticipation as the

Concert spirituel in Paris, for I fancy I shall be called on to compose something. The orchestra is said to be large and good, and my principal favorites can be well performed there, that is to say choruses, and I am right glad that the Frenchmen are fond of them....Heretofore Paris has been used to the choruses of Gluck. Depend on me; I shall labor with all my powers to do honor to the name of Mozart.”

(Mannheim. February 28, 1778, to his father. On March 7 he writes: “I have centered all my hopes on Paris, for the German princes are all niggards.”)

72. “I do not know whether or not my symphony pleases, and, to tell you the truth, I don’t much care. Whom should it please? I warrant it will please the few sensible Frenchmen who are here, and there will be no great misfortune if it fails to please the stupid. Still I have some hope that the asses too will find something in it to their liking.”

 (Paris, June 12, 1778, to his father. The symphony is that known as the “Parisian” (Kochel, No. 297). It is characterized by brevity and wealth of melody.)

73. “The most of the symphonies are not to the local taste. If I find time I shall revise a few violin concertos,--shorten them,-- for our taste in Germany is for long things; as a matter of fact, short and good is better.”

 (Paris, September 11, 1778, to his father, in Salzburg.  In the same letter he says: “I assure you the journey was not unprofitable to me—that is to say in the matter of composition.”)

74. “If only this damned French language were not so ill adapted to music! It is abominable; German is divine in comparison. And then the singers!--men and women—they are unmentionable. They do not sing; they shriek, they howl with all their might, through throat, nose and gullet.”

 (Paris, July 9, 1778, to his father. Mozart was thinking of writing a French opera.)

75. “Ah, if we too had clarinets! You can’t conceive what a wonderful effect a symphony with flutes, oboes and clarinets makes. At the first audience with the Archbishop I shall have much to tell him, and, probably, a few suggestions to make. Alas!  our music might be much better and more beautiful if only the Archbishop were willing.”

 (Mannheim, December 3, 1778, to his father. Mozart was on his return to Salzburg where he had received an appointment in the Archiepiscopal chapel. It seems that wood-wind instruments were still absent from the symphony orchestra in Salzburg.)

76. “Others know as well as you and I that tastes are continually changing, and that the changes extend even into church music; this should not be, but it accounts for the fact that true church music is now found only in the attic and almost eaten up by the worms.”

 (Vienna, April 12, 1783, to his father, who was active as Court Chapelmaster in Salzburg, and who had been asked by his son in the same letter, when it grew a little warmer, “to look in the attic and send some of your (his) church music.”)

77. “The themes pleased me most in the symphony; yet it will be the least effective, for there is too much in it, and a fragmentary performance of it sounds like an ant hill looks,-- that is as if the devil had been turned loose in it.”

 (In a letter written in 1789 to a nobleman who was a composer and had submitted a symphony to Mozart for criticism.)

78. “So far as melody is concerned, yes; for dramatic effect, no.

Moreover the scores which you may see here, outside those of Gretry, are by Gluck, Piccini and Salieri, and there is nothing French about them except the words.”

(A remark made to Joseph Frank, whom Mozart frequently found occupied with French scores, and who had asked whether the study of Italian scores were not preferable.)

79. “The ode is elevated, beautiful, everything you wish, but too exaggerated and bombastic for my ears. But what would you? The golden mean, the truth, is no longer recognized or valued. To win applause one must write stuff so simple that a coachman might sing it after you, or so incomprehensible that it pleases simply because no sensible man can comprehend it. But it is not this that I wanted to discuss with you, but another matter. I have a strong desire to write a book, a little work on musical criticism with illustrative examples. N.B., not under my name.”

 (Vienna, December 28, 1782, to his father. “I was working on a very difficult task—a Bardic song by Denis on Gibraltar. It is a secret, for a Hungarian lady wants thus to honor Denis.” When Gibraltar was gallantly defended against the Spaniards, Mozart’s father wrote to him calling his attention to the victory. Mozart replied: “Yes, I have heard of England’s triumph, and, indeed, with great joy (for you know well that I am an arch-Englishman).” The little book of criticism never appeared.)

80. “The orchestra in Berlin contains the greatest aggregation of virtuosi in the world; I never heard such quartet playing as here; but when all the gentlemen are together they might do better.”

 (To King Frederick William II, in 1789, when asked for an opinion on the orchestra in Berlin. The king asked Mozart to transfer his services to the Court at Berlin; Mozart replied: “Shall I forsake my good Emperor?”)




Daniel McAdam's Guide to Music