Sunday, 4 May 2014

Mozart Schmozart

Last night in the snack bar I was discussing Mozart with a lady (as one does, you know) and I said something I like quoting — I can’t remember who first said it — ‘Mozart is too easy for children and too difficult for grown-ups.’  My fellow piano pupil Anastasia — just fourteen, but a far better pianist than I shall ever be, though she, her mother, and even her teacher won’t believe me when I say it — will, I hope, be playing Mozart soon, and she will approach him with directness and simplicity — ‘Oh, that’s nice — what do the notes say — let’s play them’, and she will do it beautifully. The depth of the music will in some way affect her playing, but not consciously. But when I go to play the same piece, I shall be conscious of fifty years of listening to it played by the great pianists: I shall approach it with fear and trembling; my fingers will all turn to thumbs and I shall make a mess of it. Sometimes it’s better not to know.

This superficial simplicity of Mozart has led even as fine a musician as Frank Zappa to say ‘I don’t know why people bother to listen to Mozart any more — he’s so predictable.’ Sure, if you’ve heard an individual Mozart piece once and then later you hear it again, you will say ‘Yes of course; that’s how it goes on.’ But if you were hearing, say, even the simplest movement from a Mozart piano sonata for the first time, and pressed the pause button or asked the pianist to stop for a moment while you thought what might come next, you wouldn’t be able to guess. Equally surely, when you then pressed ‘play’ or asked the pianist to continue, you would say ‘Oh, of course; how could it have been anything else?’ That isn’t predictability: it’s the inevitability of perfection.

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