January 27, 2006

Beauty Is What Matters

The radio is playing one of his divertimenti for strings -- they didn't give the K. number, but it sounds like a really early work, rhythmically straightforward, not much dazzling embellishment or many lightning leaps from idea to idea -- it must have beeen written about the time when Haydn said to papa Leopold Mozart, "I swear to you before God and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by name."

All over the world we are celebrating his 250th birthday, in a global audience that sits with one shared multicolored dreamy-eyed smile, as in the audience shots in Bergman's film of THE MAGIC FLUTE.

Some people carp and say that he wasn't enough of an innovator. He didn't break apart old forms and install new ones as Beethoven or Debussy did; he didn't even resuscitate old styles and refashion them, consolidate them, raise them to unprecedented grandeur, as Bach did. He was content to take what he found and do it better than anyone else. He simply wrote down, as fast as he could, what he heard in his head: what the inexhaustible source poured out. He was content to be God's songbird.

Mozart shows up the fallacy of avant-gardism, and that in itself seems like a new thing in this day and age. Thousands of graduate students sit in seminars solemnly nodding, "Yes, Professor, we will question authority. Yes, Professor, we will transgress." Mozart laughs at them. Some art shocks and breaks rules, but those qualities are not what make it art. An artist who does nothing more than invent his generation's device is insuring that his work will end up irrelevant. He might as well have built a horse-drawn plow. It might have its place in history, but who today would want to use it?

Students in art school nowadays are taught that art is not about creating beautiful objects. They are being taught wrong. Listen to Alicia de Larrocha playing the Piano Concerto No. 27. That's all the argument I need.

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