Siouxland Observer

Research, Education, Links and Opinion

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."

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Word-Event

At the Flume Burger Factory, in Chico, California, Joe Montana was front and center.  Customers could not miss “Cool Joe" painted on the wall, and especially while munching a delicious Flume Burger.  During the big game there was plenty of beer and fries too — and, of course — 49er football.

For the restaurant's uninitiated, however, there was just the burger and fries. Those folks did not watch football.
 
The restaurant, housed near Orient and Flume, is gone now. (The mural too.)  The wall painting, with the look of a freshman about it is not missed much.  But Joe is, for sure. Many still remember his performance in Super Bowl XIX. The San Francisco quarterback made it look like ballet.  But back in the day, during Super Bowl XVI, a reporter, a then-member of what could be called the "burger-and-fry guys," was not a fan.

“Go 49ers!” the repentant burger-and-fry guy yelled to another burger-and-fry guy after the team won Super Bowl XIX.
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“You’ve got to be kidding,” a burger-and-fry guy said.

We burger-and-fry guys didn’t think much of football back in the day. 

Yes, Joe Montana and the 49ers (and let’s not forget Jerry Rice) were great fun — and it was great football, watching the San Francisco 49ers kick... — well, you know — but there is more to northern California than football, Giants’ baseball, and other stuff.  The burger-and-fry guys and gals (one female student now, anyway) had nothing to do with sports.  They were into Paul Ricoeur, and were huddled down in a campus building watching a guy at a chalkboard.

Of course, "Norm," the above mentioned football hating, burger-and-fry guy, wasn’t in the class, but a handful of other burger-and-fry guys (and gal) were, and they were doing wondrous things. They were learning how to study, read, and interpret the Bible (or at least one was). They were learning about hermeneutics and stuff.

In the book of over 350 pages, translated by Robert Czerny, Paul Ricoeur (Chair of General Philosophy at the University of Paris, la Sorbonne), helped put it all together (an interesting primer is shared below).



While Joe was out there at a playoff; or perhaps, during a local football game (a reporter forgets), the burger-and-fry people were at their desks, huddled against the darkness in an evening class.  Charles Winquist, a Religious Studies instructor at Cal State, Chico (who had required us to read Freud, Jung, and an eclectic group of writers, including Robert Funk and Rafael López-Pedraza), outlined his understanding of Paul Ricoeur's chapter on the chalkboard.

What Winquist was lecturing about this night, however, was impossible to understand, but among the geniuses one brave soul spoke up and asked: “What are you talking about?" 

If you have ever read a translation of Paul Ricoeur, or even looked at his work — a portion is shared below — you will understand the angst.  But there was more to it than this. Holt Hall was empty. Everyone on campus, and in the world, was either talking about football, watching football or playing football that school year.  The entire campus atmosphere was electrified with the 49ers and, of course, the burger-and-fry guys (and gal) could not accept this.  How could the campus ignore what really mattered?



Dear reader, please be patience.  What happened next cannot understood without quoting “The Rule of Metaphor.”  On page 299, Ricoeur said, “(that) the metaphorical utterance functions in two referential fields at once....”  Thus, there is a tension between the literal and the metaphorical.

Ricoeur said there was a  tension between the “terms” of statements as a whole.  Thus, the given tension between a literal interpretation and a metaphorical one creates a tension in the reference (or “meaning”) between what is, and what is not.

The duality, he said, explains how two levels of meaning are linked together in the symbol.  The first meaning relates to a known field of reference.  The second meaning, the one to be made apparent, relates to a referential field for which there is no direct characterization — a characterization people are usually unable to make because of the actual meaning of the word.

In Holt Hall that night, however, his was not sinking in.  Or at least not in the difficult lesson on the chalkboard.  Then something happened.  Charles Winquist began dissing football (all in relation to “superior us,” of course).  Football was a waste of time and stupid, he said (to paraphrase).

"People are out there jumping up and down, and for what?  It is ridiculous...."

The lecture, and what was written on the chalkboard, has mostly been forgotten, but the anti-football "explanation" is not.  It went on for another minute or two.  The person who asked the question stared slack jawed.

Metaphorical reality is hidden in words and symbols. "Word-events" alter contextual relationships, and how they affect us.  This is what he was talking about: language is a reflection of culture, self and history.  We shape it and we change it.

Metaphor becomes the power to re-describe reality,” a student read yet again, trying to figure it out. “Earlier analyses are not abandoned, however; we can still detect metaphors in the literal absurdity of statements and point to the words in which the metaphorical action is focused….  The metaphorical word, par excellence, is the copula: the “is” of the metaphorical statement contain(ing) an “is not...."

Take garbage, for example.  Garbage is trash.  Yet it can also mean how a person feels about another person's statement.  This is easily understood by all (and may have been felt by more than one student at that lecture), but not the context.  The lecture was as difficult after the question as it was before the question, but reading Ricoeur was not.

Still, no one went for a Flume Burger after class that night. There was another chapter to read....  But football took on renewed meaning.  Joe Montana could throw a football; and so could Charlie Winquist. 1


Footnote
 1  Everyone probably received an “A” grade (the questioner did, anyway).  It is worth noting that Campus Security had to unlock the building; the students, and Professor Winquist, wandered Holt Hall looking for an open classroom (many rooms, including the lecture hall, were locked that night). There were only 5 or 6 of us.  We found a tiny room open on the south side of the building.

It had been frustrating — the fact that classes were scheduled, and buildings were closed….  Did the instructor hate football lovers?  Of course not, but at least one did.  The equation (shown above) was not shared that night.  Words linked by arrows and diagrams probably filled the chalkboard, but a’ over b’ — (“a” prime over “b” prime) — represent unknowns, and are ever present in communication.  This was yet another “tension” revealed in the lecture that night; metaphors divide human communication and understanding.

Individuals, and communities, still struggle to find meaning in shared words. Understanding metaphor can help stop communication from descending into meaninglessness, frustration and despair.  The lecture was brilliant, as was the man sharing it.


In Memory of Charles E. Winquist