Posted by: rbbadger | June 27, 2012

Sir John Tavener on Mozart

People who like classical music tend to have their favourite composers.  For me, my favourite remains J.S. Bach (1685-1750).  I was introduced to Bach as a child.  I wanted to be an organist, so perhaps this love was a natural one.  While the piano may have a higher percentage of great composers who wrote for it, organists can still take refuge in Bach and many other composers.

When I was about 12, I came across the music of Mozart and immediately fell in love with it.  I also remember seeing Miloš Forman’s masterful Amadeus, though I recognise now that it isn’t history.  (It does, nevertheless make for an awfully good story.) 

While not everyone loves Mozart, I still do.  Glenn Gould, the great Canadian pianist was not a fan.  Norman Lebrecht, the British music journalist, has had his fill of Mozart.  Nevertheless, if you visit any classical music section of a music store, Mozart still occupies a large place.  There are boxed sets containing the entire works of Mozart, even the stuff he wrote when he was a young boy.  I suppose the dances and juvenalia have some merit, as it is, after all, Mozart, but it wasn’t until later on that he developed the voice we now recognize as unmistakably his.

Of course, not everyone feels the same way as Gould and Lebrecht did and does.  The late Swiss theologian, Hans Urs von Balthasar, famously gave away his stereo towards the end of his life, as he had the great works of Mozart committed to memory.  As von Balthasar put it, ““Nothing will be able to separate me from Mozart and from the highest creations of Haydn, from the ever-new and terrible experience that there are things too beautiful for our world”.  As ever, there are quite a few different Mozart societies around the world, from the Mozarteum Foundation in Austria to societies in Europe, the USA, Korea, Japan, and Latin America.  (Interestingly, when Professor Isabelle Anderson was the president of the Mozart Society of America, said society was being run from Las Vegas, of all places.  Professor Anderson taught at UNLV for twenty-seven years.)

Sir John Tavener is an interesting English composer.  He converted to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1977 and wrote a series of works profoundly influenced by the music of the Orthodox Churches.  While he since has come to embrace a much more eclectic approach to religion, he is still known for the works inspired by Russian and Greek Orthodox traditions.  As I remember, he wasn’t terribly fond of Beethoven or the later Romantics.  He didn’t much care for Schoenberg, though he liked very much the work of Schoenberg’s pupil Anton Webern.  The era of Mozart, that of the Age of Enlightenment, is an era with which he doesn’t terribly sympathise.  Anyhow, those of you who like Mozart may well sympathise with Tavener’s thoughts on Mozart.

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