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Why I Don't Like Mozart

Posted by Sumiki , in Writing, Rants, Not Essays!, Music Feb 08 2014 · 203 views

Let's get this out of the way: I really love classical music, and I kind of know a lot about it. I'm willing to bet that I know more things about music history than anyone else on BZP ... save for perhaps -Windrider-. Dude's a beast when it comes to this sort of stuff.
 
Most people don't really hold opinions on classical music one way or another, and those that do generally see it as monotonous and boring. I've never really held this opinion, but my favorite music has always come later in music history - not with the dissonance and atonality so revered by the composers of the 20th century, but with the Romantic era.
 
I'm using "classical" in a broad sense because I'm really not the world's biggest fan of music from the Classical period. Those who aren't as familiar with this history may be a bit lost at this point, so I'll see if I can't briefly recap some of the details.
 
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance are more or less grouped together in one era of music history. This was a very long era, but there were crucial innovations in harmony, melody, and musical notation. By the high Renaissance, polyphony - multiple melodies at once - was extremely common, and the best composers were able to write motets that used up to 40 distinct voices. Polyphony was music.
 
Around 1600, as musical instruments increased in quality and secular music became a more popular genre, the Baroque era started. Baroque music is often characterized as architecture, and Baroque composers were, as a general rule, ridiculously prolific. (Telemann is still the single most prolific composer in history, and Vivaldi nearly got thrown in an asylum when he interrupted himself at his day job - as a priest - to write down some notes that had occurred to him.)
 
Baroque music still drew on the polyphony of the high Renaissance to a certain extent, but by and large this kind of writing wasn't very common. Most Baroque composers used one or two melodies, with the notable exception of Johann Sebastian Bach. His keyboard music - especially his complex fugues with their finger-breaking polyphony - was considered antiquated, and his sons (he had a whopping 20 kids overall) were considered better composers than he was when he died. His reputation was revived when his works were rediscovered in the mid-1800s, and now, he's the only Baroque composer most people are familiar with.
 
All of which brings us to Classicism, where musical form became a bigger deal. Instrumental sonatas, symphonies, concertos, and string quartets became standard forms, and methods of writing for those ensembles were also standardized to a certain extent. Essentially, if you have a theme or two, you could plug those into sonata form, add a few basic harmonies, and boom, you've got a sonata movement. Simplicity and clarity became the name of the game in the Classical era.
 
The three major composers of this period were Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Ludwig van Beethoven. While many like to group their music together as the "First Viennese School," the music of these three were different. Haydn, speed-writing symphonies for the court orchestra under the Esterházy family, was, as he said "forced to be original," although many of his 100+ symphonies are not particularly innovative, as he had to conform to the musical tastes of both the Esterházys and their guests. His contributions to form have long since outlived him, and due to his productivity and his standardization of forms, he is known as the "Father of the Symphony" and the "Father of the String Quartet." Haydn's contributions to form and the language of Classicism cannot be understated.
 
Beethoven was widely different - while he started out fixed to Classical molds, he experimented with pushing the limits of what said forms could handle even before he realized that he was going deaf. When he came to terms with this, his experimentation led to more innovative and trail-blazing music, dispensing with convention after convention. He replaced the minuet with the scherzo in his later symphonies, looked towards Romanticism with his Sixth Symphony and a great number of his piano sonatas, didn't stick to traditional movement numbers in his late piano sonatas and string quartets, and famously introduced a chorus in the last movement of his Ninth Symphony.
 
Now for Mozart.
 
Mozart was hailed as a child prodigy, composed prolifically, and died at the young age of 35. In that time, he stuck to the already well-defined Classical forms, choosing to do as much within those constraints as he could. However, there really wasn't much more that any composer, no matter how great, could do within those forms - forms that were already well established by Haydn by the time Mozart began composing.
 
Haydn, though his music contains an aesthetic similarity, was creative as a musical troll. His Symphony No. 94 - nicknamed the "Surprise" - was designed to wake up sleepy members of the court with a massive chord following a very soft passage. His Symphony No. 45 - nicknamed the "Farewell" - sent a message to his patrons to let the musicians return home by letting players leave as the last movement progresses. Haydn chose the unusual F# minor as the symphony's home key, and had to get special crooks for his orchestra's horns to play.
 
But Haydn's formal unoriginality is explicable, as we know that he had to compose musically conservative pieces in order to get paid and did quite a bit under those kinds of restrictions. Mozart was, for most of his time as a composer, not hindered by a particular court. He was, more or less, freelance. Financially insecure, Mozart had the opportunity to be an innovator such as Beethoven came to be later, but did not.
 
Mozart, for his part, did write a few brilliant pieces in his later years - his unfinished Requiem, his Clarinet Concerto, and his late symphonies among them - but in his entire oeuvre these masterpieces are relatively few. If you took all of Mozart's works, put them into a list, and then randomized it, chances are you're not going to come out with one of his great works. Most of his pieces have a similar mood, and as mentioned, they nearly always stick to a predetermined form. In this sense, a great many are interchangeable.
 
In the end, this all comes down to my personal preferences and musical tastes. I know that Mozart holds a special place in many people's hearts, but as someone who has listened to a wide swath of his pieces, I really don't see what all of the fuss was - and still is - about.


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Rahkshi Guurahk
Feb 08 2014 07:34 PM

From what I have been told, his clarinet concerto was actually written for a Basset Horn. (which is a type of instrument related to the clarinet it is usually performed on.)

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I know quite a bit about music history as well. In general, the Classical era of music really never appealed to me, with the exception of Beethoven. There are some Classical pieces by Mozart and Hayden that are, in fact, quite enjoyable to play, and they certainly teach a great deal of the technique that Romanticism often lacks. However, I do see where you're coming from, and Mozart has never been on the top of my list anyway.

 

I prefer Romantic music, and now, as it seems, I'm really enjoying Contemporary music as well. At least, in my opinion, it's hard going from Romanticism (and Contemporary music) back to Classicism (excluding Beethoven, which was basically in between Classicism and Romanticism in my book), because of the blandness you often find in Classical music. I hate calling it bland, and bland probably isn't the right word to use (Mozart was a musical genius, regardless), but I feel as if too many pieces are alike in that era.

 

-Rez

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Ymper Trymon
Feb 09 2014 12:34 PM

I'm going to have to agree with you on Classical - so much of it was composed as essentially background music for rich people, necessitating that it be some of the least interesting music on the planet. I much prefer the Baroque and Romantic eras, and some things from the 20th century, though Schoenberg makes my teeth itch.

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@Reznas: I suppose my best opinion of Mozart would be one of unrealized potential. Once exposed to the lushness and the dramatic power of later music, most of the Classical era is just plain stale.
 
(I also realized that I never gave Schubert a shout-out, but I put him together with Beethoven as far as my opinion of his music goes, and on top of that, some musicologists call him one of the first true Romantic-era composers.)

 
@Ymper: Honestly I think some of the stuff that Haydn did within those aristocratic limits were much more interesting than Mozart. Baroque music is alright, but I'm not a real big fan of the harpsichord sound and it can, on occasion, exhibit the monotony of the Classical era.
 
Schoenberg's exceptionally hard to get into, but some of his early opuses are quite brilliant. His string writing is incredibly idiomatic, and as far as music for string ensembles go, Verklërte Nacht holds its own against Richard Strauss's Metamorphosen any day of the week.
 
Honestly, I think his 12-tone brand of atonality works much better in an orchestral setting because of the instrumental timbres give the music more variety. That said, the piano music of the Second Viennese School is atrocious. It's not pianistic whatsoever and the end result, however, carefully derived, sounds like random notes.
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Tekulo in the Green
Feb 10 2014 10:20 AM

Interesting read.  I have learned new things today, but I still know that Erik Satie composed one of my favorite pieces of classical music.  =P

 

Also I do remember playing Surprise in band back in highschool.  It was pretty fun.

 

But I tend to listen to classical music which is used for ballet and piano.  Tchaikovsky, Delibes, Bądarzewska, etc.  Although, I'm not an avid listener, so I don't claim to know much about their history.

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Satie certainly had his own unique style, one that his imitators and admirers have never really been able to reproduce. I find his music exceptionally hard to memorize for some reason.
 
I had no idea that they played Haydn in high school bands.
 
Never heard of Bądarzewska before ... a cursory Googling reveals a rather small entry on IMSLP. I'll have to look into her music.

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Rahkshi Guurahk
Feb 10 2014 10:08 PM

Satie certainly had his own unique style, one that his imitators and admirers have never really been able to reproduce. I find his music exceptionally hard to memorize for some reason.
 
I had no idea that they played Haydn in high school bands.
 
Never heard of Bądarzewska before ... a cursory Googling reveals a rather small entry on IMSLP. I'll have to look into her music.

We play things by basically any composer in any style. :P

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Tekulo in the Green
Feb 10 2014 11:23 PM

Well it was a random bit of music history for us.  We had a bunch of sheet music stored away, and didn't always play every single piece.  We just did it for practice one day, not part of a concert, sadly.

 

Anyway, Bądarzewska, I mentioned for "A Maiden's Prayer," a popular piano piece.  If I remember correctly, it was the most sold piece of music for piano and was popular around the Victorian era when a piano was a common household item.  I might not have my facts perfectly straight though, so if you're interested, a more thorough search is encouraged.

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If you learn one thing in life, learn this:

You should never, ever question why demons would possess a soda.

just a heads up - Cthulhu would probably eradicate mankind before bringing back Bionicle

so yeah, all I'm saying is, please think twice about this okay

nothing gets democracy flowing like erratic capitalizatION

[the NSA] couldn't say no when I offered them an ostrich farm in exchange

Sumiki -- nice try but we all know Toa Mata Nui stuffs its bra




You have a great understanding of history, but don't forget, war, murder and other poor decisions are also huge characteristics.

Also a long line of really great hats.

Shhh, I'm trying to focus on the negative to justify my dislike of history.

have we mentioned hats

To be fair, I am the one responsible for the invention of Mafia in the 1320s by seventeen bored italians locked in a mine shaft.

It's a long story.

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