Siouxland Observer

Master of Science

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Mozart’s Jupiter: Hot Or Not?

Not.  But before a raft of of angry emails clog the inbox, some folks just don’t like Mozart.  In comments posted on Reddit, for example, to the question why Mozart should be disliked, “king3037” said:

I find a lot of his music predictable and just very repetitive.  I mean, technically you could say all music is repetitive, which it may be, but it's written in such an artistic and elegant way where it's beautiful.  I guess I find some of Mozart's works lack beauty.”

Another said:

There's nothing wrong with it; I just find it kind of boring.  I might have it playing in the background but it's typically not something I would actively listen to because it's not a very emotional type of music….”

Mozart acknowledged this problem (although the complaints about his music lacking beauty and not being very emotional would have upset him).  Mozart sought common denominators in his music, which was meant to please and delight.  Depending on the translation, he worked hard toward finding “the middle thing” (Spaethling), or “the golden mean of truth” (Anderson).  Simply, when audiences roared their approval Mozart wrote home with great satisfaction:

“… right in the middle of the First Allegro came a Passage that I knew would please,” Mozart wrote his father in 1778, “and the entire audience was sent into raptures — there was a big applaudißement (clap); — and as I knew, when I wrote the passage, what good effect it would make….”

But Mozart’s “middle-thing” quote can be confusing when translated into English because of Mozart’s wordplay in his letters.  Whenever the quote is found on the internet, webmasters imply he was complaining that to win applause he had to dummy his music down.  But Mozart traveled endlessly, especially as a child.  The boredom of the mechanical carriage, and endless road travel, brings the “middle thing” into better focus.

A horse-drawn carriage: singsong, routine, rumbling along, boring and endless — something well known to the composer.

For example, Az Quotes says Mozart said: “To win applause one must write stuff so simple that a coachman might sing it…,” and many others as well.  But he wasn't complaining about his music, but rather about a poem he had to put to music, a poem written by Johann Michael Denis.  Mozart wasn't happy about this commission, and according to Robert Spaethling, he never finished the work.

“The ode is sublime,” Mozart said, “beautiful, anything you want — but — it’s too exaggerated for my fastidious ears— but what is one to do! — the middle thing — the truth in all things, is no longer known and appreciated — to earn applause one has to compose things that are so simpleminded that a coachman can sing them, after hearing them just once, or so complicated — that they please precisely because no sensible person can understand them….”

But what of that coachman?  Finding the original letter in German has proven difficult, but the word itself has been easier to locate.

Classic fm said it thus: “In order to win applause one must write stuff which is so inane that a fiacre (a type of horse-drawn carriage) could sing it.”  A horse-drawn carriage: singsong, routine, rumbling along, boring and endless — something well known to the composer, and something, no doubt, he was sick and tired of — just like putting an overblown poem to music.

In other words, “Mozart moves between ‘high-brow’ and popular musical styles with astonishing ease and without the slightest incongruity.”

So what’s the big deal about Mozart's Symphony No. 41 in C Major?  Nothing really. Especially  when listeners just ride along with their heads down, cursing every bump, ditch, and rut.
But for many, Mozart found the “Golden Mean” every time.  And Classic fm reported that the succeeding generation of Romantic composers looked up to Mozart as the ultimate in musical purity:

“The rabble-rousing Berlioz,” for example, “studied his exquisitely balanced art with a sense of disbelief: ‘The wonderful beauty of Mozart’s quartets and quintets and of some of his sonatas first converted me to the worship of this angelic genius….’  Indeed, no composer in history has been so universally and consistently admired by subsequent generations.”

Not only that, but according to the Kennedy Center, Mozart's Jupiter is one of the greatest symphonies ever written.

“In his seminal book on Mozart's Symphonies (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989),” the Kennedy Center says, “Neal Zaslaw invokes the world of opera for an explanation of the Jupiter Symphony's first movement.  In Zaslaw's interpretation, the relationship between the opening fanfares and the closing theme is like that between a serious operatic character and a figure from comic opera.”

In other words, “Mozart moves between ‘high-brow’and popular musical styles with astonishing ease and without the slightest incongruity.”  That is, Mozart does what he always does.  He writes for all of us.  Thus, in the interest of fairness, included in the paragraph below will be a high-brow link.

The forth movement is the biggest and best (what the pseudo intellectuals in coach find exciting is next), and one of the best explanations why is found in a video by Richard Atkinson, who analyzes the counterpoint in the finale, culminating in the coda, where five of the previously introduced themes are combined at once — all in five-part counterpoint.  Got that?  Follow the link to the Magnificent Counterpoint to learn more.   

Yes, for those in the stagecoach with their heads held high, ignoring the rough ride, excited by what was going on outside and all around them, it is worth noting that Mozart was riding in that coach too, and was likewise engaged, only he was working and recoding what he saw and felt.  In fact, his entire life seemed to be about finding the right tonality, notes and chords within a given key that create tension or resolve it.  He even sought out instrumental registers, all in an effort to report to others his findings in life.  For those who listen, whatever the level of understanding, birth, death, anger, joy, delight, and everything else imaginable — even divine insight — is chronicled in the music of Mozart.

These theories could certainly help explain how God and Mozart might be of the same mind.

When Emperor Joseph II of Austria told Mozart there were too many notes in The Abduction From the Seraglio (the exact quote according to The New Your Times was: “Too beautiful for our ears, my dear Mozart, and monstrous many notes”) it would be the same as telling scientists there were too many protons, quarks, gluons and other subatomic particles in a chair.

But Mozart also spoke to those who can't, or don't want to understand what a five-part invertible counterpoint is all about.  In the second movement of the Jupiter, for example, he tells us about his pet starling, and about his grief over the death of his father.  Or, on another level, about the atonality he first explored in A Musical Joke.

This understanding, right or wrong, is not what the “experts” have to say about the Jupiter's second movement.  No, it's all about muted strings playing a simple musical question-and-answer phrase, which listeners will hear in the first of these phrases (the question part) again, but not the second part, which will become completely submerged under a cascade of thirty-second notes….

To be fair, the Kennedy Center, where the expert opinion shared above comes from, does conclude that after the simple opening of the Jupiter's second movement, Mozart piles up harmonic and rhythmic complexities in what is one of his most personal and profound musical statements.  But the emotional content, the stuff of Mozart's life, remains hidden, except to the listener.  For despite the excellent presentation of  Richard Atkinson's analysis of the Jupiter's forth movement, does anyone really need more, say a comparison-contrast analysis between the Jupiter's second movement and A Musical Joke?

For many, Mozart's music is so divinely inspired, there is nothing else to know.  Father George W. Rutler, for example, wrote that he'd like to propose, that in addition to the five ways St. Thomas Aquinas proved the existence of God from natural evidence, Mozart should be sixth.

“You cannot compose a symphony at the age of eight and ascribe it just to chemistry or biology,” the good Father said.

But there are countless others, including physicists and mathematicians, exploring the depths that Mozart sometimes seems to have tapped into while writing his compositions.

Robbert Dijkgraaf said in The Mathematics of M-Theory that classically a particle can go in a time t from point x to point y along some preferred path, typically a geodesic.  “Quantum mechanically,” he said, “we instead have a linear evolution operator

Φt: H→H

that describes the time evolution….”

For those who have not taken algebra 1, or just about all of us, other than physicists and mathematicians, these mathematical formulas are like trying to read Greek without knowing Greek.

But M-theory is a fundamental theory of physics that may help explain everything, including how particles remain connected so that actions performed on one affects the other, even at great distances.  Known as entanglement, this theory actually helps explain how God and Mozart could be of the same mind.  Over all, Quantum theory offers real insight, and posits that subatomic particles form patterns of vibrations just like notes in a symphony.

Yes, Emperor Joseph II got it wrong; and in the movie Amadeus too, when after being flummoxed by Mozart on how The Abduction From the Seraglio had the right number of notes (and after Mozart’s mother-in-law fainted at the sight of the Emperor up close), he said:

Well, there it is….”

Not yet; but Mozart certainly had the right idea.