After I was 12, my piano trainer gave me an ideal reward. For my first piano concerto, he assigned me Mozart’s twenty third, in A significant, one of the good items ever written. “Kiddo,” he stated, “it’s a must to perceive that this piece is a privilege.” I begged my father to take me to the music retailer instantly; on the journey dwelling, I caressed the joyful yellow cowl, adorned with laurels. For weeks, my dad and mom didn’t have to drive me to follow. I beloved even these first 4 bars – how they folded in, all intimate lyricism. After which the subsequent bars, how they piped up, as if laughing off the primary.
My trainer’s use of the phrase “privilege” got here again to me just lately — he most likely wouldn’t phrase it that manner now. The phrase hangs closely within the air lately. It has misplaced what optimistic connotations it had. However privilege and Mozart have a captivating, fraught relationship. Simply have a look at his two most well-known operas: The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni. Each plots are centred (not loosely, however obsessively) on the privileges of horrible folks, and derive most of their momentum from destroying their outdated senses of entitlement. Rely Almaviva asserts the correct to deflower his servants; the Don claims the correct to sleep with anybody and something that strikes, whether or not they consent or not.
Mozart was not solely attracted to those harmful plots, however wrote a few of his most vivid and iconic music for these moments of tearing privilege off its pedestal. You have got solely to consider the screaming minor scales and wild chromatic intensities because the Don is dragged by demons right down to hell. And, on the alternative facet of the spectrum, the beautiful pleading phrases – all the probabilities of music with out sharps or flats, simply the beauties hidden throughout the main scale – because the Rely begs to be forgiven for his countless dishonest. These are the 2 doable endpoints of unjust privilege, Mozart appears to counsel: on the one hand defiance and complete damage; or real and heartfelt remorse and acceptance of blame. Each, after all, appear awfully acquainted in our trendy world. And it’s attention-grabbing how sexual misdeeds loomed in Mozart’s thoughts – his consciousness of the hyperlink between intercourse and energy.
This facet of Mozart’s brilliance carries over into his non-opera music. Most listeners know with out realizing (or caring to know) that music has any variety of small hierarchies and “privileges” in-built. Which key’s the house key, as an illustration, or which beat is the downbeat. Some notes really feel proper and settled; others unsuitable and in want of decision. These hidden assumptions, altering from type to type, make expression doable. Possibly probably the most sweeping of all is the final assumption, at any given time and place, of what music “ought to do” – the vary of its acceptable behaviours.
It’s right here that Mozart’s specific persona meets his historic second in a profound manner. It’s value evaluating him to Beethoven, whose profession trusted upending niceties, of doing what shouldn’t be executed. He embraced the persona of a revolutionary. However Mozart behaved extra like an informant – extra harmful, in a manner, and insidious. He typically not less than offers the looks of wanting to slot in with the prevailing type, to be elegant and tidy, to put on the wig and bow. In the meantime, although, he slips his dissent in in all places, at corners between phrases, in a flat be aware right here, or a lacking beat, or an infinite array of ingenious manoeuvres. Within the nice C main Concerto, K503, as an illustration, we start with all the trimmings of pomp and empire: a fanfare, trumpets and drums, the grandeur of the orchestra. Solely 20 seconds in, nonetheless, the piece disintegrates right into a scattered, minor key patter. The place is the beat? Are we in main or minor? Even probably the most basic presumptions of a chunk of music are as much as query – and solely via questioning them does Mozart arrive at his most vital revelations.
When the director of this 12 months’s Lammermuir competition requested me, as their “artist in residence”, what music I beloved to play probably the most, I replied Mozart piano concertos, as a result of – unusual to say – they made me be happy. Subsequent to the operas, they’re typically thought-about to be his most vital physique of labor, and possibly that is partly since you get to satisfy “Mozart himself”: the keyboard turns into a proxy or stand-in for his renegade, mischievous (and but pristine) musicianship. You don’t really feel in these items (as with later Beethoven concertos, or Tchaikovsky) that the piano is locked in a battle with the mass of orchestra, attempting to triumph towards insuperable odds. No, it’s all dialogue, or multi-logue. The piano (Mozart) just isn’t the one or greatest star. You have got the beauties of the strings after all, and possibly much more importantly, you have got the motley winds, who turn out to be opera characters rising from offstage, approaching to precise some temporary however touching cameo. Every part and instrument has its strengths and weaknesses – the pillowy maintain of a violin part, the extra penetrating clarinet (with its sense of the human breath), the ping and readability of a piano. I really feel Mozart had particular gentle spots for the viola, his native instrument – typically instigating from the center, from inside, like him – and the bassoon. The bassoon both pleads and sighs tragically, or laughs. It’s each a messenger of sorrow and a prankster.
The late nice Charles Rosen stated that the complete Classical Model, the bedrock of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, will depend on the type of comedian opera, which is to say: the change-up. The artwork of quick-fire timing, the identical as any comic. You ship your premise, then change on a dime to the punchline.
This mechanism is at work repeatedly in Mozart. You start one phrase because the imperious Rely, and by the top you might be his sufferer, Susanna. None of those voices are notably privileged; Mozart’s type (extra nameless than Beethoven’s) units itself up as a vessel for all of them. The reward of all this switching and crossing is – in some way – entry. At sure moments, suspended inside Mozart’s works, you end up involved with (to invoke one other fraught phrase lately) emotion of unimaginable fragility, a declaration of affection or an admission of error, or a uncooked present of loss. That’s when Mozart makes you realise: the true privilege is to see the world via the eyes of one other.
Jeremy Denk’s recording of Mozart Piano Concertos, with the St Paul Chamber Orchestra is out on Nonesuch on 17 September. Jeremy Denk performs on the Lammermuir competition on sixteenth and 20 September.