I wrote about Mozart’s death in the previous blog, and how the legend differ from reality. At the end I left a question: why were legends created about Mozart?
Mozart’s first biography were written during an artistic period known as Romantic. Romanticism has had great composers, among which Liszt or Chopin. Great writers too, by the way, the titan of them all being Victor Hugo.
Romanticism was characterized by its emphasis on emotion and individualism as well as glorification of all the past and nature (Wikipedia). And also drama. The colors in paintings were mysterious and the subjects dramatic. There was a hunchback living among the bells of Notre Dame who was in love with an impossibly beautiful Esmeralda. When one was sad in art, he was about to commit something irreparable. The extreme were preferred rather than the more subtle shades of reality. Halloween is a modern day romantic event, by the way. Here’s a drawing by Victor Hugo. Says it all, doesn’t it?
The biographers of Mozart were part of this trend. They embellished quite a bit because they thought that an artist had to have a hard life. The musician has to be poor, not able to feed his family, in conflict with his time and his surroundings and working tirelessly for his posterity. Something that doesn’t fit at all the personality of Mozart or his music. He enjoyed life tremendously, he was in love with it, from the sublime to the coarse. You don’t have listen to the tales to know it, just listen to the music. Did he write some sad pieces? Yes. But there is an equal if not bigger amount of happy, joyful music that he poured his soul into.
His music touches us because it has a heart that beats in it and that heart is not a desperate one. Even some of his darker works contains notes of optimism. Now wait, I’am not talking about the requiem. Ok, all right, the requiem is desperate. But that’s about it. Don Giovanni, one of his darkest opera, has many funny passages, for example.
I am very happy that I read Jan Swafford biography of Mozart, because, for the first time, the man described correspond to the music. Mozart was someone who loved life and celebrated it in many ways through his compositions. He was a genius, of course, but someone we can all relate to, which is why his music lives on. He didn’t compose for posterity. Instead in his letters he talks about his hopes that people will like what he made when they will hear it tomorrow or in a week, not once he’s dead. He didn’t care about that. He was the first freelance musician and he had to communicate with his audience immediately because that was the best way for him to keep making a living.
That said, I understand why the romantic vision lasted so long. Mozart had an incredible gift for music and developed it extremely early on. His dad himself, a renown music teacher, marveled at the potential of his son, very aware that he was witnessing something truly unique. He couldn’t believe his eyes and ears. and he shared that disbelief with the courts of Europe, who were also amazed. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed more than 600 pieces of music, some of them more than 3 hours long like the operas. A lot of these compositions are considered masterpieces. Even more astonishing is that he did it in such little time: he died at 35 years old. Who can do such a feat? So far, only Mozart. I can understand how this super human accomplishment generated so many tales.