Opinions Concerning Others

By Friedrich Kerst


81. “Holzbauer’s music is very beautiful; the poetry is not worthy of it. What amazes me most is that so old a man as Holzbauer should have so much spirit,--it is incredible, the amount of fire in his music.”

(Mannheim, November 14, 1777, to his father. Ignaz Holzbauer was born in Vienna, in 1711, and died as chapelmaster in Mannheim, on April 7, 1793. During the last years of his life he was totally deaf. The music referred to was the setting of the first great German Singspiel, “Gunther von Schwarzburg.”)

82. “There is much that is pretty in many of Martini’s things, but in ten years nobody will notice them.”

(Reported by Nissen. Martini lived in Bologna from 1706 to 1784; there Mozart learned to know and admire him. In 1776 he wrote a letter to him in which he said that of all people in the world he “loved, honored and valued” him most.)

83. “For those who seek only light entertainment in music nobody better can be recommended than Paisiello.”

(Reported by Nissen. Paisiello was born in Taranto in 1741, composed over a hundred operas which, like his church music, won much applause. He died in Naples in 1816. Mozart considered his music “transparent.”)

84. “Jomelli has his genre in which he shines, and we must abandon the thought of supplanting him in that field in the judgment of the knowing. But he ought not to have abandoned his field to compose church music in the old style, for instance.”

(Reported by Nissen. Jomelli was born in 1714 near Naples, where he died in 1774. He was greatly admired as a composer of operas and church music. He was Court Chapelmaster in Stuttgart from 1753 to 1769.)

85. “Wait till you know how many of his works we have in Vienna!

When I get back home I shall diligently study his church music, and I hope to learn a great deal from it.”

(A remark made in Leipsic when somebody spoke slightingly of the music of Gassmann, an Imperial Court Chapelmaster in Vienna, and much respected by Maria Theresa and Joseph.)

86. “The fact that Gatti, the ass, begged the Archbishop for permission to compose a serenade shows his worthiness to wear the title, which I make no doubt he deserves also for his musical learning.”

(Vienna, October 12, 1782, to his father. Gatti was Cathedral Chapelmaster in Salzburg.)

87. “What we should like to have, dear father, is some of your best church pieces; for we love to entertain ourselves with all manner of masters, ancient and modern. Therefore I beg of you send us something of yours as soon as possible.”

(Vienna, March 29, 1783, to his father, Leopold Mozart in Salzburg, himself a capable composer.)

88. “In a sense Vogler is nothing but a wizard. As soon as he attempts to play something majestic he becomes dry, and you are glad that he, too, feels bored and makes a quick ending. But what follows?--unintelligible slip-slop. I listened to him from a distance. Afterward he began a fugue with six notes on the same tone, and Presto! Then I went up to him. As a matter of fact I would rather watch him than hear him.”

(Mannheim, December 18, 1777, to his father. Abbe Vogler was trying the new organ in the Lutheran church at Mannheim. Vogler lived from 1749 to 1814, and was the teacher of Karl Maria von Weber (who esteemed him highly) and Meyerbeer. Mozart’s criticism seems unduly severe.)

89. “I was at mass, a brand new composition by Vogler. I had already been at the rehearsal day before yesterday afternoon, but went away after the Kyrie. In all my life I have heard nothing like this. Frequently everything is out of tune. He goes from key to key as if he wanted to drag one along by the hair of the head, not in an interesting manner which might be worth while, but bluntly and rudely. As to the manner in which he develops his ideas I shall say nothing; but this I will say that it is impossible for a mass by Vogler to please any composer worthy of the name. Briefly, I hear a theme which is not bad; does it long remain not bad think you? will it not soon become beautiful? Heaven forefend! It grows worse and worse in a two-fold or three-fold manner; for instance scarcely is it begun before something else enters and spoils it; or he makes so unnatural a close that it can not remain good; or it is misplaced; or, finally, it is ruined by the orchestration. That’s Vogler’s music.”

 (Mannheim, November 20, 1777, to his father.)

90. “Clementi plays well so far as execution with the right hand is concerned; his forte is passages in thirds. Aside from this he hasn’t a pennyworth of feeling or taste; in a word he is a mere mechanician.”

 (Vienna, January 12, 1782, to his father. Four days later Mozart expressed the same opinion of Muzio Clementi, who is still in good repute, after having met him in competition before the emperor. “Clementi preluded and played a sonata; then the Emperor said to me, ‘Allons, go ahead.’ I preluded and played some variations.”)

91. “Now I must say a few words to my sister about the Clementi sonatas. Every one who plays or hears them will feel for himself that as compositions they do not signify. There are in them no remarkable or striking passages, with the exception of those in sixths and octaves, and I beg my sister not to devote too much time to these lest she spoil her quiet and steady hand and make it lose its natural lightness, suppleness and fluent rapidity.  What, after all, is the use? She is expected to play the sixths and octaves with the greatest velocity (which no man will accomplish, not even Clementi), and if she tries she will produce a frightful zig-zag, and nothing more. Clementi is a Ciarlatano like all Italians. He writes upon a sonata Presto, or even Prestissimo and alla breve, and plays it Allegro in 4-4 time. I know it because I have heard him! What he does well is his passages in thirds; but he perspired over these day and night in London. Aside from this he has nothing,--absolutely nothing; not excellence in reading, nor taste, nor sentiment.”

 (Vienna, June 7, 1783, to his father and sister.)

92. “Handel knows better than any of us what will make an effect; when he chooses he strikes like a thunderbolt; even if he is often prosy, after the manner of his time, there is always something in his music.”

 (Mozart valued Handel most highly. He knew his masterpieces by heart—not only the choruses but also many arias. [Reported by Rochlitz. H.E.K.])

93. “Apropos, I intended, while asking you to send back the rondo, to send me also the six fugues by Handel and the toccatas and fugues by Eberlin. I go every Sunday to Baron von Swieten’s, and there nothing is played except Handel and Bach. I am making a collection of the fugues,--those of Sebastian as well as of Emanuel and Friedemann Bach; also of Handel’s, and here the six are lacking. Besides I want to let the baron hear those of Eberlin. In all likelihood you know that the English Bach is dead; a pity for the world of music.”

 (Vienna, April 10, 1782, to his father. Johann Ernst Eberlin (Eberle), born in 1702, died in 1762 as archiepiscopal chapelmaster in Salzburg. Many of his unpublished works are preserved in Berlin. The “English” Bach was Johann Christian, son of the great Johann Sebastian. As a child Mozart made his acquaintance in London.)

94. “I shall be glad if papa has not yet had the works of Eberlin copied, for I have gotten them meanwhile, and discovered,--for I could not remember,--that they are too trivial and surely do not deserve a place among those of Bach and Handel. All respect to his four-part writing, but his clavier fugues are nothing but long-drawn-out versetti.”

 (Vienna, April 29, 1782, to his sister Nannerl.)

95. “Johann Christian Bach has been here (Paris) for a fortnight.

He is to write a French opera, and is come only to hear the singers, whereupon he will go to London, write the opera, and come back to put it on the stage. You can easily imagine his delight and mine when we met again. Perhaps his delight was not altogether sincere, but one must admit that he is an honorable man and does justice to all. I love him, as you know, with all my heart, and respect him; as for him, one thing is certain, that to my face and to others, he really praised me, not extravagantly, like some, but seriously and in earnest.”

(St. Germain, August 27, 1778, to his father. Johann Christian Bach was the second son of Johann Sebastian, and born in 1735.  He lived in London where little Wolfgang learned to know him in 1764. Bach took the precocious boy on his knee and the two played on the harpsichord. [Bach was Music Master to the Queen. “He liked to play with the boy,” says Jahn; “took him upon his knee and went through a sonata with him, each in turn playing a measure with such precision that no one would have suspected two performers. He began a fugue, which Wolfgang took up and completed when Bach broke off.” H.E.K.])

96. “Bach is the father, we are the youngsters. Those of us who can do a decent thing learned how from him; and whoever will not admit it is a...”

 (A remark made at a gathering in Leipsic. The Bach referred to is Phillip Emanuel Bach, who died in 1788.)

97. “Here, at last, is something from which one can learn!”

 (Mozart’s ejaculation when he heard Bach’s motet for double chorus, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied,” at Leipsic in 1789.  Rochlitz relates: “Scarcely had the choir sung a couple of measures when Mozart started. After a few more measures he cried out: ‘What is that?’ and now his whole soul seemed to be in his ears.”)

98. “Melt us two together, and we will fall far short of making a Haydn.”

(Said to the pianist Leopold Kozeluch who had triumphantly pointed out a few slips due to carelessness in Haydn’s compositions.)

99. “It was a duty that I owed to Haydn to dedicate my quartets to him; for it was from him that I learned how to write quartets.”

 (Reported by Nissen. Joseph Haydn once said, when the worth of “Don Giovanni” was under discussion: “This I do know, that Mozart is the greatest composer in the world today.”)

100.     “Nobody can do everything,--jest and terrify, cause laughter or move profoundly,--like Joseph Haydn.”

 (Reported by Nissen [the biographer who married Mozart’s widow. H.E.K.].)

101.     “Keep your eyes on him; he’ll make the world talk of himself some day!”

 (A remark made by Mozart in reference to Beethoven in the spring of 1787. It was the only meeting between the two composers. [The prophetic observation was called out by Beethoven’s improvisation on a theme from “Le Nozze di Figaro.” H.E.K.])

102.     “Attwood is a young man for whom I have a sincere affection and esteem; he conducts himself with great propriety, and I feel much pleasure in telling you that he partakes more of my style than any scholar I ever had, and I predict that he will prove a sound musician.”

 (Remarked in 1786 to Michael Kelly, who was a friend of Attwood and a pupil of Mozart at the time. [Thomas Attwood was an English musician, born in 1765. He was chorister of the Chapel Royal at the age of nine, and at sixteen attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales, afterward George IV., who sent him to Italy to study. He studied two years in Naples and one year in Vienna with Mozart. Returned to London he first composed for the theatre and afterward largely for the church. He and Mendelssohn were devoted friends. H.E.K.])

103.     “If the oboist Fischer did not play better when we heard him in Holland (1766) than he plays now, he certainly does not deserve the reputation which he has. Yet, between ourselves, I was too young at the time to pronounce a judgment; I remember that he pleased me exceedingly, and the whole world. It is explained easily enough if one but realizes that tastes have changed mightily since then. You would think that he plays according to the old school; but no! he plays like a wretched pupil....And then his concertos, his compositions! Every ritornello lasts a quarter of an hour; then the hero appears, lifts one leaden foot after the other and plumps them down alternately. His tone is all nasal, and his tenuto sounds like an organ tremulant.”

 (Vienna, April 4, 1787, to his father. Johann Christian Fischer--1733-1800--was a famous oboist and composer for his instrument. [Fischer was probably the original of the many artists of whom the story is told that, having been invited by a nobleman to dinner, he was asked if he had brought his instrument with him, replied that he had not, for that his instrument never ate. Kelly tells the story in his “Reminiscences” and makes Fischer the hero. H.E.K.])

104.     “I know nothing new except that Gellert has died in Leipsic and since then has written no more poetry.”

 (Milan, January 26, 1770. Wolfgang was on a concert tour with his father who admired Gellert’s writings and had once exchanged letters with him. The lad seems to have felt ironical.)

105.     “Now I am also acquainted with Herr Wieland; but he doesn’t know me as well as I know him, for he has not heard anything of mine. I never imagined him to be as he is. He seems to me to be a little affected in speech, has a rather childish voice, a fixed stare, a certain learned rudeness, yet, at times, a stupid condescension. I am not surprised that he behaves as he does here (and as he would not dare do in Weimar or elsewhere), for the people look at him as if he had fallen direct from heaven. All stand in awe, no one talks, everyone is silent, every word is listened to when he speaks. It is a pity that he keeps people in suspense so long, for he has a defect of speech which compels him to speak very slowly and pause after every six words. Otherwise his is, as we all know, an admirable brain. His face is very ugly, pockmarked, and his nose rather long. He is a little taller than papa.”

 (Mannheim, December 27, 1777, to his father. On November 22, Mozart had reported: “In the coming carnival ‘Rosamunde’ will be performed—new poetry by Herr Wieland, new music by Herr Schweitzer.” On January 10, 1778, he writes: “’Rosamunde’ was rehearsed in the theatre today; it is—good, but nothing more. If it were bad you could not perform it at all; just as you can’t sleep without going to bed!”)

106.     “Now that Herr Wieland has seen me twice he is entirely enchanted. The last time we met, after lauding me as highly as possible, he said, ‘It is truly a piece of good fortune for me to have met you here,’ and pressed my hand.”

 (Mannheim, January 10, 1778.)

107.     “Now I give you a piece of news which perhaps you know already; that godless fellow and arch-rascal, Voltaire, is dead—died like a dog, like a beast. That is his reward!”

 (Paris, July 3, 1778, to his father, who, like the son, was a man of sincere piety and abhorred Voltaire’s atheism.)

108.     “When God gives a man an office he also gives him sense; that’s the case with the Archduke. Before he was a priest he was much wittier and intelligent; spoke less but more sensibly. You ought to see him now! Stupidity looks out of his eyes, he talks and chatters eternally and always in falsetto. His neck is swollen,--in short he has been completely transformed.”

 (Vienna, November 17, 1781, to his father. The person spoken of was Archduke Maximilian, who afterward became Archbishop of Cologne, and was the patron of Beethoven. [The ambiguity of the opening statement is probably due to carelessness in writing, or Mozart’s habit of using double negatives. H.E.K.])

 



 

 


 

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