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Klarinet Archive - Posting 000139.txt from 1994/01

From: sabinson%ccvax.hepnet@-----.GOV
Subj: Mozart's works
Date: Fri, 21 Jan 1994 06:43:39 -0500

I gave myself an interesting Christmas present this year, a recording of
Mozart's update of Handel's Acis & Galatea. I suppose that if one doesn't
know the opera, there is no shock involved in hearing the piece, but with
some historical imagination there should be shock. Nearly sixty years had
gone by between Handel's last revision of the piece and Mozart's
adaptation, a long time by earthly standards. No matter how classic or
baroque Acis _und_ Galatea sounds to our ears, it is a modernization of the
kind that Stokowski might do to Bach, perhaps even more radical. Mozart
not only redistributes oboe and recorder lines to other instruments,
especially to the clarinets, he actually writes in voicing, (saying my ear
doesn't deceive me, for I do not have the scores and it has been over
thirteen years since I have heard the Handel -- while preparing a
Qualifying Examination on opera libretti in Graduate School.) There are
times that one has the sense that one is listening to the more "Masonic"
sections of the Magic Flute, only to come up short, realizing how "modern"
Mozart made himself in his last works by being archaic in modern ways. (In
this sense, Mozart is like Stravinsky.) Where does Handel end and Mozart
begin?
The show is wonderful once one gets used to it. As an amateur
clarinetist, there is no doubt that I should prefer the Mozart edition as I
prefer his version of the Messiah. Yet my first reaction to the clarinets
in the overture was as if I had witnessed a dadaist defacing of the Mona
Lisa with a moustache. What can I say? I, who am so familiar with the
sound of the clarinet, felt invaded. The sound seemed too butch to me, too
pungent, almost animal in effect, despite the gentlemanly quality of
Handel's music. I had to breathe deep and to remember that I am a
clarinetist, and that as a clarinetist, I must be on the side of the new,
the progressive, the sexy, the 'live.' (-: If the public in Mozart's day
did not know how radical Mozart was being in his orchestration, or even if
it expected him to be what we call 'classical' or understood the
orchestration as a kind of normalization to the taste of the period, I
would like to believe that Mozart knew that the changes he effected were
not merely modernization. The effect of the changes to the piece are
revolutionary, and more so because the subversion was invisible, even
expected.
I do not know if you all know the story of Acis & Galatea, but it is
very simple. The monster Polyphemus is after the nymph Galatea. Her
boyfriend, the shepherd Acis, takes the monster on and gets killed for it.
Galatea transforms Acis into a fountain. The story may sound silly as I
put it here, but ultimately it is about the victory in defeat that the
brave can have. At least it seems so in Mozart's hands to me. It is the
stuff of Tamino and Pamina's trials rather than mere 18th Century pastoral
fluff. The climax of the opera is a kind of rehearsal for the Requiem or
the attack of the Queen of Night on Sarastro's temple. Polyphemus is
rendered a relative of Monostatos on a number of occasions. "The flocks
shall leave the mountains, / The woods the turtle dove, / The nymphs
forsake the fountains / Ere I forsake my love." is not merely a nice
monogamous sentiment as it might seem to be in Handel, but rather a
statement of principles over which one is willing to die. And when
Polyphemus smashes Acis, it is a political crime, Polyphemus not merely
jealous, but also reactionary, as if Mozart understood that it is jealousy
that motivates reactionary politics and solidarity progressive causes.
Don't get me wrong. I am not saying that Mozart was an ideologue, but
he was not stupid or divorced for his times any more than we are. (Or
perhaps it is we who are divorced from our times by insisting on being
contemporaneous and post modern.) Mozart is also subtle. This is a
question of emphasis. When Galatea sings "Must the lovely charming youth /
Die for his constancy and truth?" after Acis' death, the classicized
context creates an irony and a certain kind of dissonance. And again, if
my ears do not deceive me, there is not much clarinet for Polyphemus, if
any. Clarinets are beloved and for the beloved in Mozart. Unfortunately
there is no copy of either score at the library of the University where I
work so I cannot check out my hypothesis that Mozart does not touch up the
orchestration or arrangement of Polyphemus' "O ruddier than the cherry"
while turning Galatea's "Heart, the seat of soft delight," into a 'duet'
for a pair of clarinets and soprano. The sense of peace that rends the
heart in a way Handel melody in its original form does not has a great deal
to do with the undulating line being given to the clarinets. The effect is
like John Lennon's verses:

Whatever gets you through the night,
Whatever gets you through your life,
Whatever gets you to the light,
It's alright, it's alright.

When clarinets want to console, they are much more credible than flutes,
oboes or recorders. Take Mozart's word for it. (-;
Of course, this encomium of mine might be a result of the wonderful
conducting of Trevor Pinnock and playing of the English Concert on the
recording, and thus has nothing to do with Mozart and Handel. (The
singing, too, is wonderful for the most part.) But the biggest surprise of
all in Acis & Galatea -- and in this case represents a kind of dismay --
has nothing to do with the score, but with the libretto itself. There are
not many libretti in English with verses as illustrious as those written by
John Gay, Alexander Pope, and John Dryden. (Yet come to think of it,
although not many English or American operas are in the repertory, the
proportion of well written libretti is high.) They are gone in Acis und
Galatea, replaced by tawdry, literal free verse in Gottfried van Swieten's
mediocre German. As an example, take the words above: "Must the lovely
charming youth / Die for his constancy and truth?" They are rendered into
German as "Und den sch"onen J"ungling lohnt / Tod f"ur so treue
Z"artlichkeit?" I think I would have preferred a less literal translation
with more poetic imagination. A few rhymes would have helped. But then,
Mozart has something else on his mind, something he might not have been
able to put into words. He was a composer after all, not a critic. If the
words of the opera are not going to seduce the audience, as the English
words do, then it is the clarinets and other Mozartian touches that are
going to have to do it.
So what does this have to do with Dan's contention that

> Mozart and his contemporaries did not play minuets this way, and they did
> not for a particular musical reason. Something valuable as made out of
> all those repeats that we simply do not do today.

I agree, even if we will never know 'for sure' what was done, that any
understanding is a kind of necessary conjecture. All there is of history
are inferences, substantiated or unsubstantiated, plausible or implausible.
To make the inferences means to run the risk of error, as I have done here.
Not to make them is, however, a kind of artistic bad faith, a refusal to
live beyond oneself, a refusal, in other words, to interpret, as Mozart
interprets Handel. Music is a form of idea. It is kind of tiring to hear
the same idea over and over again.
ERIC

P.S. on the subject of lurkers: Leonel is a student of mine doing a thesis
that has to do in part with how Brazilian clarinet teachers talk to their
students. He is developing a lexicon of terms for the clarinet so that
books like those of Thurston, Pino, Brymer, etc., can be translated
intelligently into Portuguese. There is hardly any material in Brazilian
Portuguese on the clarinet. I expect that he will analyze some of the
material on Klarinet for his thesis, but he has been 'nomail' for some
time. I will tell him that Dan mentioned him. He will feel very honored.

   
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