Tuesday, August 4, 2009

New Mozart works discovered

George Szell, the late director of the Cleveland Orchestra, who produced many legendary recordings, once declared that there were no undiscovered masterpieces. Now, that may largely be true. I mean, what are the chances that someone rummaging through the outdoor markets of Nice or an old library of a chateau or country villa in the countrysides of Europe would find another work that is the equal of Beethoven's Ninth or Brukcner's Fourth or Mozart's Great Mass in C minor or Haydn's London Symphony? Very unlikely. But we are discovering new works all the time by lesser known or even previously unknown composers.

About this time last year, I was in Salzburg, Austria where I attended a concert next to the museum dedicated to Michael Haydn, younger brother of the great Franz Josef, and long-time Salzburg resident who knew the Mozarts. (To digress further, M. Haydn's Requiem Mass was very much used as a model when Mozart wrote his Requiem at the end of his life). Anyway, I attended a concert of baroque harp music. None of these composers were familiar to me. Nonetheless, it was enjoyable. We find that new works are being discovered all the time. And recently, two new works that were part of a notebook that was in a chateau in France, have been found to be early works of Johannes Chrysostomos Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was about five years old when he wrote them. One of them is the keyboard part for a larger concerto which has no orchestral parts. The other is a shorter minuet. The works are not in Mozart's hand, but in that of his father, Leopold. (The young Mozart as yet could not yet read, let alone write music; all he did was by ear). The entire notebook was a collection of Leopold of various composers to instruct his young children in the musical arts.

Though these are not masterpieces, they are still great finds. We must always remember that the great composers, especially in their early years, composed in styles of composers they admired. The pianoforte part of the concerto is more baroque in nature and sounds so much like Bach and Handel. It is almost derivative. But, of course, Mozart was young. He had to start somewhere. Even Shakespeare wrote some bad poetry. And I do mean baaaad. However, there are some characteristics of later Mozart that we see in these early works such as his love of long runs of scales!

All to often, we want to place people like Mozart on pedestals and elevate them to almost superhuman status. And maybe they are. Maybe Mozart and others like him found a way, though maybe not consciously, to harvest all their talents and focus it into their life's work while the rest of us are trying to focus on how to do one menial task at our job. Are these newly discovered works great? No. Are they nice to listen to? Yes, a little, but others may well differ with me and that's fine. But, even a genius like Mozart, had to work to achieve such monuments in music like the Jupiter Symphony or the Clemency of Titus or the Requiem. With such discoveries, we can remind ourselves that Mozart was an infant, a child who had to work to achieve greatness and not just let greatness happen to him. Talent without hard work will get you nowhere. Thanks, Wolfgang, for reminding me of that.


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