Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Did Mozart Hate Flutes?

In a letter to his father, February 14, 1778, Mozart complained about the flute, which given Mozart's love of composing music, has puzzled many who have written about him.  When he made the comment, he had rejected going to Paris with the flutist Johann Wendling.

Mozart had decided, according to Robert Spaethling, to make his own way with Aloysia Weber, the daughter of his landlord in Mannheim, a city in the southwestern part of Germany (they were not going to Paris).

Spaethling said an excuse about Wendling's lack of religion did not fool Leopold.  Of course, the clashes between Mozart and his father are well known, and Mozart did not elope.  Aloysia went on to become a fairly successful opera singer, and Mozart went to Paris with his mother.

Stephanie Cowell, writing for “Wonders and Marvels,” said had Mozart married Aloysia we’d be missing a great deal of his music today.  Mozart did marry her sister Constanze, however, much to his father’s chagrin.  But loved Aloysia first.

Mozart was angry at his father.  But such feelings would be difficult to reconcile.  Mozart loved his father (his letters make this clear).  But certainly his dad’s meddling was wearing him down.  Mozart did not want to go the Paris, and he believed by helping Aloysia they would both prosper financially.  Wendling was an excuse.  Mozart wanted his independence,

At best, scholars are puzzled by Mozart’s comment about the flute; but none seem to believe Mozart had any real concerns about the instrument.  Speculation that the 18th century flute was a dud is also unfounded.

“One isn’t always in the mood to write,” Mozart told his father (in what could easily be called a  reaction formation).  The composer, in an effort to transform an uncomfortable feeling, exaggerated, and adopted a superficial idea.  An impulse, written in a letter, diametrically opposed to his own understanding of composition.

The flute plays an important role in many of Mozart's works (for example, his "Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat major, K.595").  In fact, if there is any instrument he did not enjoy it would probably be the harp.  Mozart's "Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C major" is the only work he wrote for harp.  It is not seen in any other compositions.

"I could scribble all day long," he told his father in the infamous quote, "and scribble as fast as I can, but such a thing goes out into the world; so I want to make sure that I won’t have to feel ashamed, especially when my name appears on that page; besides, my mind gets easily dulled, as you know, when I’m supposed to write a lot for an instrument I can’t stand...."

Why this quote has puzzled many, as Spaethling writes, "(is because) most flutists would agree, Mozart composed some excellent flute music, not only the flute quartets and two concertos he wrote (or rewrote), but his “Flute and Harp Concerto, K. 299” (shared above), the “Andante for Flute, K. 315,” and, of course, the flute music in Die Zauberflote."

In the flute and harp concerto, for example, the flutist soars, and while at first the harp seems to pluck along, it soon becomes clear this "minor" composition for the the harp (and flute) is remarkable in its depth and beauty.

This concerto, Spaethling said, "which had been commissioned by the comte — not duc, as Mozart writes — de Guines for himself (flute) and his daughter (harp), is written in the style of French salon music, but, as so often in his compositions, Mozart far transcended the formal requirements of the commissioned work and created a masterpiece of precision and lyricism."

But the unhappy plea, which began with Mozart grumbling about the flute, did not go away.  His letter complaining about the flute was written February 14, 1778.  By July 31, 1778, he was writing about his mother's death in Paris.

Mozart had not wanted to go to Paris.  It could be argued he had a premonition.  Then, to add insult to injury (his grief and guilt over his mother's untimely death), Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, Comte de Guînes (he made duke later) would not pay for the flute and harp music.

What Mozart wrote about all of this, July 31, 1778, can't really be shared here.  He was angry. Really, really angry.

“What annoys me most," Mozart said, "is these stupid Frenchmen think I am still just seven years old...."  It is not difficult to fill in the blank: "Just like you dad."


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