Klarinet Archive - Posting 000155.txt from 1994/01
Subj: Re: Mozart's works
Date: Sun, 23 Jan 1994 20:01:26 -0500
> However long sixty years may be in the flux of musical affairs, Handel
> was stiil alive when Mozart was born. Mozart's dad, as well as any of his
> other teachers, could easily have had first hand knowledge of what Handel
> was up to. This says nothing about how radical Mozart's treatment of
> "Acis and Galatea" was, but he sure as shooting started off with a better
> grasp of the musical notions of Handel's day than Stokowski could
> possibly have had of Bach's.
Or is it that Mozart only appears to have a better grasp of the
musical notions of Handel's day because Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner,
Bruckner, Mahler, etc. and their works had not come into being yet? It
wasn't required of Stokowski any more than it was required of Mozart to act
as if nothing had happened between the moment of composition and the moment
of adaptation of the work in question, but so much more had happened. It
call this the "'damned' effect." When I was a child, I was "cursing" when
I would use the word "damned," and ran the risk of having my mouth washed
out with soap. For a contemporary child to produce the same effect today,
he or she would probably have to be a great deal more scatological. For
this reason I do not think this kind of phenomenon can be measured.
I sometimes wish I had the time to investigate what Mozart's father
thought of his son as a composer. How nervous did Mozart's compositions
make him? That Leopold worried about Wolfgang Amadeus everyone knows, but
to what extent was this worry fed by a genius that might have been seen as
dangerously incomprehensible? In chronological terms, Mozart could have
been Handel's grandson. I see in Acis _und_ Galatea a kind of alliance of
a younger and older generation against a middle, and complaisant
generation. What are the great vocal works between the early 1740's, when
Handel, blind and considered antiquated, ceased to compose opera and
oratorio, and the 1770's, when Gluck, Haydn, and Mozart himself are active?
We listen to the less famous music of the period, but it is music
resurrected by scholars. It is quite something else when a composer does
the work of resurrection. He or she hears differently. Otherwise, why be
The history of the attributed value of music by different composers at
different times is another interesting subject. Bach must not have been
entirely dead -- and of course the name meant something -- when Mendelssohn
did his salvage job. (He was played at the same van Swieten concerts when
Handel and Handel/Mozart were played.) Yet this salvage job set Bach
performance practice on a certain path until the 1960's, one we think of as
Victorian. I mean, Stokowski is justified by Mendelssohn, isn't he? It
isn't as if Bach had been totally dead, as Vivaldi was until our own
century. And even in the case of Vivaldi, I am sure that the friends of
Ezra Pound who resurrected Vivaldi thought they were being true to Vivaldi.
No one thinks they are being "unfaithful." It is just the criteria for
'fidelity' is not historically eternal.
It is my guess that Handel is more often played today than in Mozart's
time. Yet Mozart must have heard Handel's music as a child on those trips
to London. It seems to me -- and this was the hypothesis -- that Mozart
uses Handel, or rather, his idea of Handel, to make himself into Mozart.
K.566 changes the course of Mozart's music. This is what is weird. And
that Mozart cared enough to bring this about! (This is not to ask the
question about the extent Mozart thought of Acis & Galatea as his own
work.) Of course, I would need the scores written after K. 566, and about
a year to argue this intelligently. This is the stuff of Ph.D
dissertations. I am just playing around here on a rainy afternoon.
In any case, I would not think that Mozart's notions of Handel's
notions would be particularly relevant in understanding what Mozart was
doing to Acis and Galatea. This would be "our obsession." It is difficult
enough for us to get _our_ Mozart right, let alone the Mozart of any other
generation, including Mozart's own. In the late 18th Century, there were
no Ph.D.'s in Musicology to think out performance practice, but our
performance practice includes knowledge of performance practice. I am not
sure that anyone at Mozart's time would have cared about what was proper
practice of an earlier generaton, or would have even asked themselves the
question. One just did as others did or did it better than others did or
did what seemed plausible, unless one was a genius. When one was not
'plausible' one ran the risk of 'failure.'
I myself still love Bruno Walter's Mozart, which was once considered
'light,' but is now usually considered 'heavy.' It is no longer plausible.
The first Brymer recording of K. 622 with Beecham is so slow as to be found
perverse. It is still longer than other recordings despite the cut in the
3rd Movement. I understand that there is evidence that suggests that
Beecham is hopelessly Victorian. Yet the interpretation is magical in its
slowness. (I think I stopped breathing the first time I heard it.) Great
composers and interpreters walk on the edge of the plausible. This
afternoon I read Dan's admonitions to clarinets as his way of saying, don't
take anything for granted. If one does, one runs the risk of mediocrity.
Handel's Acis and Galatea, as it stood nearly 60 years after Handel had
made _his_ final revisions, was not considered plausible (playable) as
written and it was not implausible (shocking) to rework Handel's ideas. If
Mozart were alive today, he would not get away with it.
The extent to which Mozart was doing a salvage job, breathing life
into music that was no longer "contemporary," that could no longer be
heard, or the extent to which Mozart was exploring the frontier of the
plausible, I do not know. I expect he was doing both, and in such a way
that one cannot separate resurrection from creation. As Dan noted, I had
to work very hard to believe in it. And what if Mozart were not Mozart,
but rather, let us say, Hoffmeister? What would Hoffmeister have done to
Acis & Galatea? Perhaps it is impossible to separate out what is less
interesting from what one is less interested in.
> The clarinet was the musical and functional heir to the recorder and it
> makes perfect musical sense to me for Mozart to have reallocated recorder
> parts to the clarinets.
In general the orchestration of Acis _und_ Galatea is 'heavier' than Acis
_and_ Galatea. Yet I do not think that the orchestration is so heavy that
one can justify clarinets on these grounds. Rather, I think the
reallocation makes more sense in political terms. I think of Mozart's
reaction to his first encounters with clarinets at Mannheim. There was a
kind of shock of recognition, perhaps in part because while flutes and
oboes and recorders were international, with centuries of history behind
them, the clarinet was German and new, its ancestors without Greek and
Egyptian pedigree. The times, they were a-changin'. I ask myself, to what
extent was the clarinet as sign of a kind of incipient progressive
bourgeois ascendency, an upstart, a kind of Figaro of the orchestra? The
substitution was not merely a question of musical logic. To replace a non-
reed "woodwind" not with another non-reed woodwind (the flute) but with a
single reed clarinet, with a dynamic range greater than all the other
woodwinds at the time, just might represent power against reaction in much
the same way that the electric guitar represents revolution and an anti-
hero glamour in our own century. The clarinet in itself signified. Had
the recorder been replaced by the 'transversal' flute, there would have
been less of a sense of rupture.
Do you know, Cary, if there is a one to one correspondence between the
recorder parts and what was given to the clarinet in Mozart's adaptation?
The notes that came with the recording say that oboe parts were also
redistributed to the clarinet, and that new parts were written for the
bassoon and the violas. This is the problem of living in the Third World.
The Music Library at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas is nearly devoid