We admire the music of Mozart. Its beauty, its grace, its power touches our heart. On any given day there is a concert on earth featuring a composition by the great master. And that fact would surprise Mozart himself because he was a man of his time and wrote for his time. He never thought that his music would cross the centuries.
Today I want to touch on something very important: the time we are trapped in.
Beethoven did write for future generations, and so did many composers after him, but, Beethoven was also someone of his time. His instrument was the piano and the symphony orchestra, for example. Not the harpsichord and the church choir. Later on, we have Chopin penning some of the most beautiful tunes ever written. He was also someone with grace and style, a dandy who got all his clothes made at the tailor, and all his furniture coming from expensive cabinet makers. He was fussy about all the details of his life, including the pianos he would play. He wanted a certain sound to try out his composition, a certain tone, something fragile and brittle that none other than a Pleyel piano could deliver (and no modern piano would have pleased him either, too powerful). The city of Paris had a certain personality, a certain modernity that was vastly different than the Vienna of Mozart or Beethoven. Paris was much more industrial, much more open to the world with its trains buzzing around, its motor boats crossing the river and its newspapers reporting news from all around the world.
If we take a leap in time, we could talk about Fats Domino or Little Richard. Do you know these people? They’re the one who invented Rock and Roll. You situate them now? Good. Now, what is Rock and Roll in its infancy? A stripped down version of jazz with a powerful beat. That snare on the back beat, that simple chord progression, those easy lyrics, that memorable melody: that’s rock, what would later on be described as “Just three chords and the truth”. Fats was a great piano player. A jazz piano player. That’s what he grew up listening to or playing. When he turned on the radio, he got an earful of big bands and quartets and crooners. Jazz was all around him and he played that. No, actually, sorry, I am not correct. He always said that he was playing Rhythm n’Blues, but close enough.
In the 80’s and 90’s music took yet another drastic turn. Bands like Devo or David Bowie used drumbox instead of real people to lay their drum part. It was the rise of the machines. Guitars were electric, so were the pianos who became Synthesizers then work stations. Then came rap where you don’t need anybody on stage but a guy with a microphone, the rest is supplied by a recording made earlier and played (or not) by a DJ. Rap has condense music to its most organic denominator: the voice. It could be sung, but it’s actually spoken, rhythmically spoken. It describes our time. I am not sure that many rappers write for posterity, they write about our present: the fight for equality, the life in the city, etc. I am sure their music will survive, but they probably would be surprised if 300 years from now people get dressed and sit in a religious silence to hear their sacred composition.