Saturday, January 28, 2006

Happy Birthday, Wolfie!!!!!!!

John Chrysostom Wolfgang Theophilus Mozart (pause for breath) was born on January 27th, 1756. Last Friday would have been his 250th birthday. As a musician/conductor/composer, I don't see how I missed it, particularly with all the hype going around. I guess I got too wrapped up in other things...such as blog comment threads...

He actually adopted the name "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart" as a sort of stage nickname, "Amadeus" being a Latin translation of Greek "Theophilus". The well-known movie Amadeus isn't exactly the most accurate portrayal of Mozart's life. (It is, after all, the story of Mozart as seen through the eyes of a madman.) However, it does give a basic idea of his personal story, from his father's merciless exploitation of his wunderkind talents (including a hard life of touring that, many experts say, probably wrecked his health, contributing to his early death), his marriage to affectionate but lazy Constance Weber (cousin of the famous composer Carl Maria von Weber), and his obsessive composing efforts while struggling to make ends meet in Vienna.

The real "Wolfie" was probably a bit less geeky and definitely a lot more pompous than the character in the movie (as he is said to have been impatient with and contemptuous of musicians and composers of lesser the point of being cruel to his co-performers or those serving under his baton). He was also constantly plagued by both his ill health and his lack of funds. As the movie correctly portrays, his early successes apparently earned the jealousy and wrath of court composer Antonia Salieri and his supporters, and it seemed political barriers were constantly being thrown in his path. (At least Mozart himself seemed to think so, though there is still considerable debate. At any rate, the two didn't get along.) In the end, Mozart had to go to Prague to get his operas The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni properly staged. Even so, he got little income from his work, and he often had to pawn off the gifts he was given in order to buy meals. Ironically, the King of Prussia invited him to what could have been a lucrative court position, but he abandoned it when Emperor Leopold begged him to stay. In the end, as the movie shows, he died young, poor, and sick while in the middle of writing his Requiem. (However, unlike the movie, in real life it was not Salieri that was helping him write it but rather one of his students and one or two of his friends. In his final moments, Mozart was no longer able to speak, but he continued to use body language to convey instructions to his student. He kept composing right up to the moment of his death.)

No one knows where Mozart's remains are interred, for he was dumped into a nameless, common grave with several other poor individuals. Later, in keeping with laws that were in effect in those days, his body was exhumed and cremated to make room for more. There are no records as to where the ashes were put. The "tombstone" in Vienna stands over no body. It's as if he was simply erased from existence (like with a phaser), but his music remains.

And, man, does his music ever remain! Stylistically, Mozart's works can be immediately compared with those of Joseph Haydn, who was actually one of Mozart's teachers at one stage. However, Mozart's own works seem more inventive and, somehow, have more emotional impact. There is apparently a scientific explanation for this. Some psychologists have said that Mozart's music actually produces the right range of tones to enhance brain function or aid in relaxation. I don't know if that's true or not, but I do know that listening to some of his less action-packed tunes can put me in a meditative (no, not asleep) state.

Love him or hate him, Wolfie is here to stay. Now...where did I put my magic flute?


Pandabonium said...

As Harvard math professor and comedian Tom Lehrer (who often incorporated Mozart's music into his comedic songs) quipped: "It is a sobering thought that by the time Mozart was my age, he had been dead for eight years."

Wolfie was not your basic Bb overachiever. Gotta love him.

uarmzcop: extremely dangerous move in which one tries to take a gun away from a policeman.

Don Snabulus said...

This is a good day to Eine Kleine some Nachtmusik.

lsmdffeq: a strange game involving blotter acid, whips, and a Volkswagen.