Siouxland Observer

Research, Education, Links and Opinion

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Classic Mozart Faux Pas

Charlie the Tuna® understood it well.  Having “good taste,” or rather, understanding the upper class and its mores, has nothing to do acceptance, even for those willing to be precooked in a steam oven as Charlie endlessly begged Starkist® to do.

"Sorry Charlie," came the reply — although he tried again and again.  Poor fellow.  Most of us would call it quits, even if acceptance had nothing to do with silliness and brought instead the reward of a Country Club membership, say, and all the resources and perks to make it enjoyable.

The Social Register, a semiannual publication listing elite Americans, first appeared in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1886, according to

"The New York edition followed in 1887," said, "and compiler Louis Keller became the de facto arbiter of aristocratic status in the land of equality during the fluid period of the Gilded Age.  Keller incorporated his project as the Social Register Association...."  (They even have a "frequently asked questions" page.)

But promoting elitism. or even commercial icons, is not a faux pas, per se (an embarrassing act, or tactless remark in a social setting).  But not sharing understanding and a compassion is.  Most of us will give up in the face of endless rejection; but cartoon silliness aside, there is real insight into Charlie's effort.

In "Amadeus," for example, a 1984 movie exploring a Viennese "urban legend' of Mozart's death, Mozart became Charlie-like as he struggled to find acceptance in Vienna society.  While historically grounded, the film (which mixes Mozart's music with the drama brilliantly) is mostly melodramatic.

But did Mozart ultimately live where he could mingle with the lower classes?  The movie implied this is where he truly belonged. It was his inability to mollify upper class superiors that contributed to his downfall.

According to, the different social classes often lived in the same buildings in 18th century Vienna.  The lower classes lived on the upper floors, while the aristocracy lived below.  This is counterintuitive, but Mozart, as a member of the "middle class," could have partied with his upstairs neighbors.  But did this contribute to his downfall?  Did no one tell him this was a no-no, or did he simply not care?

As early as December 1791, the rumor was circulating that Antonio Salieri poisoned Mozart.  Alexander Pushkin wrote a play about it….  But Constanze (Mozart’s wife) didn’t think so, even though she said the dying, delirious Mozart mentioned it.

The death is still being explored today. reported, for example, that kidney failure, due to a serious strep infection, was the more likely cause of death.  But stress could have contributed to a poor immune response.  Was it an evil aristocracy casting doubt about his character that played a role in his death?

In 1788, three years before his death, according to, he began to experience "black thoughts" and deep depression.  Historians believe he may have had some form of bipolar disorder, which might explain reported periods of hysteria coupled with spells of hectic creativity. said that by September, 1791, he was in Prague, and recovered briefly from his depression and illness to conduct the Prague premier of The Magic Flute, but fell deeper into illness in November and was confined to bed.  He died December 5, 1791.

It could be argued that had he stopped trying to convince others of his "good taste," and just been himself he would have lived longer.  He was not an egotist, according to  He probably would not care, but could he have been bullied?

This is opinion, not scholarship.  But Mozart is often misunderstood.  For 30 years, for example, a reporter who sought to learn more about classical music ignored Mozart because of snobbery.

Melanie Lowe, in her book, "Pleasure and Meaning in the Classical Symphony," wrote (on page 172) that many in America do not hear Mozart's music.... "Once Mozart is aligned with elitism in contemporary American culture, this music remains serious, inaccessible, even alienating, despite the comic elements of its musical code."

But there is more than just comedy in Mozart's music; there's sparkle and raucous delight.  

At the start of that 30 year drought, circa 1981, a single concerto in Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, California, caused angst. There a performance of "Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20" had the house roaring to its feet, but not until the end of the performance. 

The mistake of a novice applauding between the first and second movement spoiled a wonderful concerto for the listener.  A common faux pas, but unpleasant nonetheless.

No mater, Mozart is breathtaking.  

Of course, not all his music is.  The one shared below, for example, is included only to illustrate what to avoid during a concerto, or symphony.  Not because the snobs say so, but because the pause between movements is a much needed rest stop.  Hopefully this classic faux pas will not lead to a thirty-year drought for listeners (although the concerto might).  

(A better concerto, "Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor," has subtitles that point out interesting facts.  Follow the link to watch this performance.)

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Mozart’s Paris "Failure"

On a windswept plateau between Minnesota and Iowa, on U.S. Highway 59, a Saturn Ion roars down the little-used highway to Melvin, Iowa.  A full moon greets the diver on the horizon as he navigates the patchwork of asphalt. During the day the scenery all around is farmland, but at night, under a full moon, the ice that carved the landscape spreads its mojo, and the many lakes, carved eons ago, scent the air with the unknown.

(Photo: Google Maps.)

Maybe it was the freedom.  I managed a vitamin store at the Northland Mall (out of business now), and commuted to Melvin, where reasonable rents helped stretch low wages.

There is no comparison to Paris, of course, but like Mozart, I was forced to work where I really didn’t really want to.  The Iowa Great Lakes were close (a summer recreation area), but not so much great classical music.  The only compact disc (CD) I had at the time was “Krönungsmesse."

Timed perfectly from the Northland Mall to the plateau on the Minnesota-Iowa border, the “Agnus Dei,”  or "Lamb of God" chorus in Mozart’s “Mass No. 15,” (or “Krönungsmesse"), capped the homestretch.  Yes, church music, even Mozart’s, is rather solemn, but it accompanied me, by default, every late-night.  And I soon found the music, and especially the Agnus Dei, exhilarating.

Because Mozart had failed to find meaningful employment in Paris, he created his “Mass No. 15 in C major” after returning to work in Salzburg.  It is true he was offered work as organist at Versailles, but it was a job he did not want. The visit to Paris was an especially unhappy one because Mozart's mother took ill and died there, June 23, 1778.  But it was because Salzburg was "out in the boondocks," that Mozart went to Paris in the first place.

According to the Aylesbury Choral Society, Mozart returned from Paris out of material necessity, and to please his father, took the position in the Archbishop's service.  With great diligence he discharged his duties, both in the cathedral and at court, and provided both with compositions of his own creation.  At the first opportunity in Salzburg, Mozart composed the Easter Mass, but he was not happy there.  Composers were a dime a dozen in Salzburg, and Mozart believed he was worth more.  The Archbishop fired him.

Mozart’s “Mass No. 15 in C major is a short mass (as opposed to a more formal or High Mass).  Mozart wrote about this in a letter:

"Our church music is very different to that of Italy," Mozart wrote, "all the more so since a mass with all its movements, even for the most solemn occasions when the sovereign himself reads the mass [e.g. Easter Day], must not last more than 3 quarters of an hour. One needs a special training for this kind type of composition, and it must also be a mass with all instruments — war trumpets, tympani etc."

Thus the setting had be grand and ceremonial, but the mass also needed to have a compact structure, the Aylesbury Choral Society said.  Mozart therefore omits formal closing fugues for the Gloria and Credo, the Credo with its problematic, vast text is in a tight rondo form, and the Dona nobis pacem (grant us peace) recalls the music of the Kyrie (Lord, have mercy) heard at the beginning.

All of this on a CD in a Saturn Ion — and years of listening (and research for this article).  In the old days such information would be difficult, if not impossible to find.  But today Youtube offers countless opportunities to find Mozart’s "Mass No. 15 in C major, K.317."  The translation of the Latin can be found easily too, and can be viewed here.  It can also be printed to follow the Mass in English.  But it doesn’t need a translation, not really.
The links supplied here also include several YouTube recordings.  There is a traditional recording too (minus the girls in the orchestra).  But the one shared below is the best.  The soloists in the Dona nobis pacem are weak for some reason, but there is an ad lib in the Agnus Dei solo, or a hint of one anyway.

Full moons, dark country roads, ice-age glaciers and 12-hour days at work.  Sit back, listen and enjoy.  Mozart’s return from Paris.  Remarkable.