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'This original and gifted composer'- Monthly Guide to Recorded Music.

Piano: 5 PDF Print E-mail
Mozart and Haydn

I have bracketed Mozart and Haydn together not because of the similarities between them, but because of the profoundly different challenges each presents the performer.


A famous person once said that "Mozart is too easy for children and too difficult for adults". There is some truth in this statement. It is my view that there are in fact very few really good Mozarteans, certainly there are less great performers of his music than there are of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Brahms etc.

Why should this be? His music does not present great technical challenges to the able pianist. The structure of his music is transparent and the musical language he employs is comfortably familiar.

The difficulty lies in our perception of what his music means. We carry the burden of a tragic figure who died prematurely. This image haunts the performer, as he/she seeks to find the greatness within the score. Children have no such problems and happily "go with the flow". Thus, it is my opinion, that the mature players should first rid themselves of their anxious reverance and play the music and not the person. The way to play his music lies in the notes.

Mozart was perhaps the greatest of all musical craftsmen. Virtually everything that he wrote flows seamlessly forward, not a note too many or a note too few. Every phrase in perfect accord within its context. Every note a melodic gem. For this reason I feel that the current fashion to decorate his music with ornaments at every available turn is often harmful to the shape of the music and frequently downright tasteless. It detracts from the purity of the melodic line, melody being the crucial first principal of his music.

Mozart was first and foremost a melodist. If you treat every single note as part of a melodic line, you will avoid the machine-gun like delivery that so often mars the performing of the repetetive accompanying figuration that is typical of his style.

The melodic lines of Mozart are cunning in the extreme. Do not allow yourself to be hypnotised into rattling them off as a series of even sparkling scales. To do this is to miss the point.

The critical point of Mozart's music, the fundamental element that lifts him above his contemporaries and elevates his music to the very highest level is: Mozart's melodies are forever trying to escape from the gravitational pull of the underlying harmony.

They twist and turn, jump and dive, always trying to free themselves from the chains of conventional harmonic progression. It is this that gives his music that particular yearning quality. It is this that gives his music its incredible forward momentum.The harmony chases the melody trying to capture it, as indeed it does at the cadence points, only to see the melody surge ahead again and the chase to be continued into the next section of the work!

Performers : this music really goes. Avoid gravitas. Taste the freedom and the beauty of melodic flight. Save your angst for Brahms. Be a child. Chase butterflies - but remember your net has a hole. No sooner do you have it when it is gone, elusive until the end.

But note this : Children too have their dark and tragic moments.

The real Mozarteans all do this. They avoid the trap of over-interpretation. They join with Mozart's free spirit and go where he takes them. Never bland. Never mechanistic. Never reverential.

Mozart was an impresario. He knew his public. He knew how to entertain.

As for the Operas: that is another story. In those psychodramas Mozart explored the human soul as no other composer ever has. Only occasionally does his piano music enter this tortuous and subtle world.

Remember, we are pianists. We play piano music. When Mozart wrote for the piano, he did just that. Don't look for more than is there. What is there is more than enough!  


Poor Haydn, forever the poor relation!

Haydn has an image problem! Always condemned to exist in the shadow of Mozart and Beethoven. All wrong!

Haydn is the true pregenitor of Schubert.

Haydn was the classical composer par-excellence. I use the word composer in a very particular sense. His music is composed - constructed - built! Understand this and you are half way there.

Take any piece by Haydn. What do you SEE? Look carefully. It will be a marvellous example of the composers art. The material is laid out before you, clearly and without fuss. He then proceeds to take it through the twin process of creative examination and exploitation. One element at a time. First this way, then that, then into this key, then see what it does in that key : you weren't expecting that were you? And so it goes on. The perfect length, striking a perfect balance between the predictable and the unpredictable. The man was a genius! His material is always under perfect control. His treatment of it always appropriate. Nothing out of place.

Bland? Boring? NEVER!

If doing everything brilliantly is a problem, if appreciating true craftsmanship is a problem, then you do not understand the art of music. A composer does not have to have a "story" to be great, all he needs is supreme talent and skill. This is Haydn's place is the firmament of greatness.

Roll up your sleeves. Can you make everything that he has crafted come to life? Can you strike the right tempo balance between allowing the detail to be revealed and the form to hang together? In short, can you the performer match up to Haydn - The Composer?!
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