The gift of speed
I am a fan of Top Gear, the version that had Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May as their presenters. I thought it was very entertaining. I remember the many episodes where Clarkson tries to solves all of his motoring problems with speed. “Speeeeed!” he would yell while holding on to the steering wheel of some impossibly fast exotic car. Which is a nice intro to Mozart.
Mozart, you see, was a genius. Right, everybody knows that. But what is a genius? I do not pretend to solve this riddle on this blog, but I think Clarkson is onto something when he blares: “Speeeeed!” Because that’s one very significant element of a genius. When it takes a normal person about 3 or four years to understand and digest the principles of improvisation, it took Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart a couple of weeks. Same for counterpoint, same for modulation, same for style, for orchestration, for variation, for everything. And Mozart did it all at once. He was ingesting the concepts of composing an Aria (for Operas) at the same time as he was internalizing how to write a concerto for Harpsichord. But the speed at which he was doing it was absolutely staggering. His father, who had been a teacher for a long time before Wolfgang came, had never seen anything like it. His boy could pick up any melody and play it note for note after hearing it just once, among other musical talents.
A little disclaimer about Mozart’s dad, dear old Leopold. He’s getting a bad wrap these days, he’s seen as someone dominating his son’s life and overwhelming. In fact, he was a good dad. A great one even. When the norm at the time was to beat your child to teach him music, like Beethoven’s dad did, for example, Leopold used patience and directions rather than violence. Music was a happy activity in the Mozart household. When his son started to compose, Leopold never touched the core of the music written. He corrected an obvious mistake here and there, very very sparsely, living the music almost untouched. Even later on, when Wolfgang Mozart reached around 11 years old, his dad could have taken the credit for some of the masterpiece that was produced. But he never did. Instead, Leopold created a professional path where his son could thrive. Even at the time, it wasn’t an easy feat.
I know my little paragraph here, written on an obscure blog, isn’t going to stop the controversy circling around Wolfgang’s Father. But here’s the part that goes to my heart: from the very first composition Amadeus produced, Leopold loved his son’s music. And he always did. He was extremely proud of his son’s achievements. Always.