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Mozart, Grainger and friends

March 15, 2011

Today has been a great start to my year of chamber music. Well, almost a start. We began rehearsals for the Australia Ensemble’s first subscription week yesterday and played our first lunch hour concert today in Leighton Hall, located in the magnificent newish Scientia building at UNSW. A slightly smaller audience than usual, owing perhaps to the change of venue, came to hear a medley of Grainger and my clarinet quintet Songs from the Bush. Quite a contrast but, being a Grainger-phile from boyhood, not one that in any way displeased me. His ‘Nightingale and Two Sisters’ for piano trio is a gem, and even the hardened Grainger sceptics had a tear in their eye. I suppose the two reasons why I’ve never had a problem with Grainger, and haven’t really understood those who do, are that I don’t regard bad taste as a major obstacle to good art, and I don’t regard perfection in artistic expression as a measure of it either. I mean, Robert Schumann, who was undoubtedly a far greater artist than Grainger, nevertheless continues to suffer from the judgments of those who find his orchestration and musical architecture amateurish, or worse. And yet I would say, focus on his musical content and you would never come to any other conclusion than that he was one of the greatest of all musicians. More importantly, you would revel in what he is and allow for what he isn’t, perhaps even find considerable comfort and humanity in his slight failings. I sure hope my own artistic failings are regarded in this way, otherwise I’m stuffed.

Then there is Mozart, now my constant companion. My friends in the Flinders Quartet and I are preparing his compact concerto in F major K.413 for our concerts together in April, and they correctly forecast that I have chosen quite lively tempi. I wonder where they got the idea… One day, I plan to pursue my theory concerning the Turkish introduction of coffee into Vienna and the effect on tempi in Mozart. One day. I have an admission to make. I did not persevere in researching this work, although it is one I have toyed with for many years and have wanted to play because of the gorgeous, understated Larghetto, with its discreet, irresistible echoes and harmonic twists. In my Dover edition, there are no cadenzas for the first two movements, so I looked for them elsewhere. They are not listed in his K624, so I assumed that he hadn’t written any, which is the case for a number of the most important concerti, like the great C minor concerto K491. So I wrote my own over a couple of days during the new year holidays.

Here they are…

And for the second movement…

Ok, so there they are, for what they’re worth. The only problem being: Mozart did in fact write cadenzas for these movements, as I discovered when Zoe produced the Bärenreiter edition at rehearsal. They might not have been officially published by Mozart but the copies are in Leopold’s hand and, just as significantly, are artistically genuine. Anyone who has tried to write a pastiche of Mozart quickly learns that it is almost impossible to imitate the essential art of the man. Imitate the mannerisms, yes, but the only point of that is to have fun, and the outcome is always dubious if the intention is more serious, because Mozart’s art is so often concealed and extremely subtle, not to mention technically brilliant, sometimes astonishingly so. Look at the details in construction of any great artist and you will find the same thing: alarming displays of genius in a myriad small things, making up larger things, making up the whole. That these cadenzas are by Mozart needs no handwriting expert for authentication: the art is in itself unique.

And yet, I will still play my own. I can’t offer a very philosophical explanation. I have always said to myself, if Mozart wrote a cadenza, then I will play it; if not, then and only then will I supply my own out of necessity. It has nothing to do with any fashionable idea that the performance practice of the era would demand that the performer (me) ought to improvise on the spot. Phooey, too hard, and too anachronistic, and too many other things. I would much rather hear Mozart played well than played authentically. Well and authentically, that’s another thing, naturally. No, it’s simply that I like the idea of artistic homage, and one of the curious and unique ways it is possible for us to pay homage as artists to much greater artists of the past is to include a piece of ourselves in the recreation of their art in our own time. That, whether we acknowledge it or not, is what we do all the time in our peculiar world of classical music, and a most marvellous relationship it is, too.

One Comment leave one →
  1. April 9, 2011 12:55 pm

    Loved the trio tonight in Melbourne. Please keep us posted on your tempi theory (there aren’t many things nicer than Vienna, coffee and Mozart so the fieldwork wold be great)

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