Case Study: Preparing and Interpretation of A Mozart’s Concerto

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Mozarts Concerto
25.12.2018
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Abstract

The rapid development of the piano concertos pioneered with people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart put an indelible mark on the history of piano concerto in the 18th century. The development of this genre of music was mainly unique in the sense that the performer or the soloist could develop concertos that were suited to various purposes and also different occasions. Among different variations of concertos are clarinet concertos, violin concertos, piano concertos, and horn concertos. The main distinguishing factor in all of these concertos is the role that the performer plays in the overall performance of the concerto as well as the effect it has on the interpretation of the kind of concerto. The article discusses the role of the performer’s effect on the interpretation of a piano concerto performance and how they are related to general Mozart concertos.

Introduction

The 18th century saw the rapid development of piano concertos with people like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart putting their almost indelible mark in the history of the piano concerto. The development of this genre of playing music was mainly unique in the sense that the performer or the soloist could develop concertos that were suited to various purposes and also different players. As a result of the variation in the performance and the freedom that the performer has while producing a concerto, there has emerged different concertos, which bear different characteristics, although all of them claim to be related to Mozart concertos. Among different variations of concertos are clarinet concertos, violin concertos, piano concertos, and horn concertos. The main distinguishing factor in all of these concertos is the role that the performer plays in the overall performance of the concerto as well as the effect it has on the interpretation of the kind of concerto (Tischler, 1988). The article discusses how the role of the performer’s effect on the interpretation of a piano concerto performance is related to general Mozart concertos.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the author, and composer of over 600 musical works is arguably the most influential musician of the classical era. He was born in 1756 in Salzburg, Austria, 14 years before Beethoven was born and lived almost during the same period. His works are mostly acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic concertante, chamber, operatic, and choral music. This puts him among the most accomplished musical composers of the 19th century. Mozart began his music career at the tender age of five, having mastered piano and performing for the European Royalty (Hummel, 1994). He was a traveler who loved to explore better positions in his musical composition, at time settling in Vienna to compose most of his well-known music. Even though Mozart enjoyed relative fame in his life, he never had financial security. This forced him to continue changing positions, probably in search of better-paying opportunities. Mozart died at the age of 35 and was survived by a wife and two sons.

Beethoven compares fairly with Mozart in their composition and performance of concerti. The two performers almost lived in the same period. This makes for their similarity in their concerti. According to Newman (2010), the two composers were both born in a musical family where their parents were musicians and thus followed the example of their parents. The two, therefore, became known as classical music composers and build their fame from their unique compositions and performances. The two composers led a life of poverty, which saw them travel to Vienna and other places probably to look for better-paying positions. However, Vienna remained their favorite place for settlement with both of them dying in the same place (Suchet, 2005). Additionally, the two composers influenced later musicians who marveled at their mastery of the artistic and iconic compositions that have continued to remain on top of classical music. Arguably, Mozart’s composition and performance works have influenced a good number of music composers who preceded Mozart, and this includes Beethoven himself, who admittedly acknowledged Mozart’s musical prowess. In fact, Suchet (2005) observes that Beethoven admitted to his students that he could not match the melodious mastery of Mozart’s Piano concerto 24, which itself was a movement at the time.

As such, Beethoven composed some of his music as an homage to Mozart through several themes such as the two sets of Variations for Cello and Piano on themes from Mozart’s Magic Flute. In retrospect, Mozart also acknowledged the works of Beethoven saying that he could give the world something new to talk about, which Beethoven later did through his compositions. The two composers’ lives have been a subject of mythical discussion for many years. For instance, some people still argue that Mozart composed the Requiem for himself (Spaethling, 2005). As such, he remains an unusual figure among his admirers for being the subject of mythical and legendary stories that surround his life even in death. These myths and legends also continue to be a subject of interest for screenwriters and dramatists who find excellent materials in them. For instance, an exceptionally popular case is the hypothetical rivalry between Mozart and Antonio Salieri. Estrella (2010) notes that this presupposition forms the foundation of plays like the Amadeus written by Peter Shaffer. In most of these plays, Mozart is depicted as vulgar and loutish, although many people think this is far from the truth. Another comparison is the genre of music that the two composers produced. They both composed chamber music that was characterized by high classical sound, which brought them into the limelight and enabled them to enjoy the massive following from the public.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 in a musical family, his father and grandfather having been both musicians. Just like his colleague, he started publishing his music at the age of twelve deputizing the Neefe. He spent almost his entire life in Vienna composing and writing music. Beethoven was an accomplished music composer having studied under several musicians such as Haydn, Schenk, and Salieri who directed his early composition in around 1792. Josephson & Kiwak (2007) observe that Beethoven’s works are classical compositions that are classified into an early period, middle period, and late period. The early period was characterized by the need to master the high classical music that was a favorite of the autocratic class of 1800 to 1892 with prince Kinsky, Prince Lobkowitz, and Archduke Rudolph agreeing to pay him yearly income if he stayed in Vienna during that period to compose music.

Beethoven’s work evolved into the middle period in around 1813 when he developed and enhanced the high classical style leading to a dynamic and personalized style (Grayson, 1998). The middle period saw Beethoven compose the symphonies Nr. 3-8, piano concerto Nr. 5, and chamber music that put him into the public limelight. However, this period was also the beginning of Beethoven’s struggle with illnesses that finally led to him becoming completely deaf in life, having discovered his unusual hearing levels earlier on. Additionally, this period is characterized by Beethoven’s contemplation of suicide in an attempt to run away from the woes that life had presented him with as revealed in his 1802 letter to his brother called the Heilingenstadt Testament. Beethoven’s personal life was greatly affected by the hearing disorder making him handle social matters on a normal level (O’Dea, 2002). Thus, most of the time he was led by anger and mad temper with occasional insults to people.

As observed, this problem may have contributed to his unusual interaction with women making it difficult for him to have any meaningful relationship with a woman. As manifested by the departure of his long-time girlfriend Antoine Brentano to whom he writes the letter commonly known as immortal beloved, Beethoven became socially incompatible with so many people due to his deafness. This also affected his performance of music. Beethoven’s personal life is riddled by internal struggles where he wanted to get custody of his nephew, even though the nephew did not like his unapproachable character (Josephson & Kiwak, 2007). The late period is marked by introverted and less dramatic music composition, although elements of maturity and security began to be evident in this period. Even though this period saw Beethoven gain a bit of economical control over his finances, he still could not afford to leave opulent life owing to the fact that his managers could not support him in collecting the funds. Thus, he later died in poverty in 1827 when he was inflicted with illnesses and blindness (Jackson, 2005).

It is important to note that piano concertos as arranged by Mozart offer an extremely interesting variety with each concerto having the possibility of being regarded as a well-organized whole. It is clear that in composing his concertos Mozart completely exhibited his genius approach to concerti composition and revealed the best standard for the contemporary performers to judge Mozart as a pianoforte composer and performer composing majority of the concertos for himself. He put himself among the greatest composers of all times (Girdlestone, 1997). Mozart’s six concerti are among the greatest honored works in literature. The use of the clarinet in the performer also stands out as a special instrument in the performance of the concerto. The effect that the performer has on the composition and performance of a concerto also depends on the kind of instruments that the performer utilizes. The years that followed Mozart’s composition saw the emergence of other instruments including the piano leading to a new genre in the performance of concerti (Zaslaw, 1996). Mozart’s work exhibits a variation in the division of cello-base line as its upper part is automatically played using double basses because of their tendency to play an octave, which is occasionally lower than the one that is composed. The use of shorthand in notations is also another factor that a performer of Mozart’s composition needs to pay attention to as he is expected to fill in and decorate just the same way it is done in the D Minor concertos.

Unlike in other forms of musical compositions such as Jazz, which allows for artistic expression to tentatively undergo an evolution with time, Mozart concertos have withstood the test of time to survive from the 18th century well into the 21st century with the same characteristics. Arguably, the 20th century witnessed a massive evolution of jazz as a way of communication partly from the historical background that the inventors of jazz music were emerging. The birth of jazz music parallels a revolution in music “media” (Dubal, 1995). The American nation had abolished slavery and the African Americans were trying to reinvent their culture through music. However, because of the time-lapse between slavery and its subsequent abolition in 1808, the Creole Americans were not fully conversant with their African music and thus there was a need to reinvent the way they could communicate through music. Among the greatest contributors to the evolution of jazz music were the 20th-century jazz legendaries Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis much the same way as Mozart put a stamp to the concerti music composition and performance. An outstanding feature is that Mozart concerti follow a predetermined form of performance that requires from the performer to have a glimpse of what the composer was expecting or thinking about while writing different notations (Keefe, 2005).

Mozart concertos can be challenging to create and execute. However, with a persistent learning one is able to grasp the complexities that are involved in the composition and performance of concertos. A number of different artists wrote many concertos, which are played today. However, it was Mozart who pioneered the work of concertos with his elevated keyboard concertos to among the prominent positions of instruments. A closer examination of the concertos will reveal a relationship in structure and form to the traditional baroque operatic arias, which were first exhibited by Mozart piano concertos (Feinberg, 2001). The same structure is evident in the violin concerti, especially with its three-movement concerto and vita, which involves six sections. Despite the complexities of producing a concerto using whichever instruments one chooses, it is notable that the role of the performer in influencing the final product of concerto is significant in the production of a Mozart concerto. For an instant, many concertos in Mozart performance needed an intermediary performer to be creative and be able to precisely interpret his own composition (Lateiner, Brubaker & Gottlieb, 2000). The major point is that the performer must know exactly what is composed because some Mozart concerto performers do not understand the composition that they have produced themselves. In concerto performance, the performer takes the center stage and is charged with the responsibility of significantly influencing the artistic and creative process of interpreting the music, which has been composed for this purpose (Josephson & Kiwak, 2007).

The music persona of the performer will only be exposed as much as the perfectness and completeness of the overall performance of the artist. The secret is for the performer to enter into the mind of the composer and allow blending of individual traits of his talent as well as those of the composer. In many occasions, however, the composer is always the same as the performer of a concerto and thus removes the need to try and interpret the mind of the composer before performing the concerto on the stage. It is the sole duty of the performer to ensure that strength and courage form part of the overall performance and exhibit a high sense of unity in playing the concerto. This is always important as it helps to harmonize the sound ideas and images contained in the artistic work as it is interpreted by a bystander listening to the performance objectively (Rosen, 1997). Important also is the ability of the performer to connect the intention of the composition with his artistic personality. This is definitely present in the acknowledgment of the overwhelming imperativeness of the composer as well as the role that the composer plays in transferring his ideas to the performer. Characteristically, the composer and the performer of a piano concerto must exhibit the same approach and interpretation of the music, even though they do not necessarily need to be the same person. Thus, this elevates the role that the performer has in the complete execution of a piano concerto, especially now that the composer does not technically rely on the performer. However, the same cannot be said of the performer who completely depends on the composer for his performance to be effective (Tovey, 2009).

The person listening to the performance several times need to establish the existing connection between the composer and the performer. This should be evident from the artistic personality that the performer shows in his performance while appreciating the enormous essential of the composer and also in the connection of the composer’s ideas. The effects that composers and performers have in the execution of the concerto rest in the realization of the ideas that the composer had when composing the concerto (Grayson, 1998). More often than not, concerto composers are the performers of their own compositions. Arguably, the combination of the composer and the performer in the performance of a concerto is the most fruitful approach in the execution of Mozart concerti. It helps in producing the greatest artistic achievements in the execution of concertos. Evidently, the performer of a Mozart concerto is the main character in a performance invariably written by him. This characteristic of concerto performance makes execution easier and appeals to the listener because the performance is well up to the point in relation to the visualization of the composer. Nevertheless, performance needs to be based on the instrument that is used. For instance, a piano concerto must exhibit characteristics, which are unique to piano concerto as opposed to clarinet or violin concerto, even though the same could have been composed by the same person (Estrella, 2010). This implies that the perfection of the instruments used in the performance of the Mozart concerto is solely the work of the performer. It also means that the performer is given the responsibility of interpreting the work as conceived in the concerto by the composer, especially with a better mastery of different instruments that are used in the performance.

Notably, composers with a better mastery of the instruments to be used in the performance of a concerto are not always proficient with the techniques to be applied in the performance of their composition. It happens that most composers of the concerti sometimes exhaust the creativity required in the composition and performance of a concerto during the process of composing it. This is always the case with the Mozart concerti as performance is completely delineated from the composition of the same concerto (Newman, 2010). In the composition of numerous concerti, Mozart intended to develop virtuosity and emergence of professional performers whose artistic efforts would definitely concentrate on the performance rather than the composition of the concerto. Additionally, the separation of composer skills from those of the performer was consciously intended to enable the performer to concentrate on the execution of the composition while at the same time reading the minds of the composer and the listener. It is a role that the performer of a Mozart concerto put into consideration if they are to get it right from the start (Suchet, 2005). The performer of a concerto has the sole role of establishing principle elements of the classics and the styles that are used in the performance. This is evident in the compositions by Mozart. He establishes virtuoso characters in the technical passages of solo parts, which progressively become difficult and demanding on the part of the performer. The idea is to bring the performer to the appreciation of the work of composing complex and technical concerti with respect to the conception that the composer has in mind. It is important to adhere to the technical part of the concerto, which explores the sonata as a whole as it is expressed in the general outline of the composition (Spaethling, 2005).

Rosenblum (1991) noted that the composition of some concerti may not have been correctly executed as required by the composer. As a performer, it is their role to identify the mistakes that composers have made in composing the concerti. Even though the composer may have a remarkable interest in the final performance of the concerto, performance execution is very important and on many occasions detailed. This is normally much more than the composition and draws the inspiration from written notes and refers to essential interests that the composer has in the concerto, which highlights future interpretation of the concerto by the performer. A well-experienced and dedicated performer spends many hours on mastering the techniques and ideas that the composer has expressed and thus occupies a special place to make corrections in and adjustments to the original composition. A clever performer should not desist from making corrections in the original script of a concerto bypassing the same mistakes into the performance. This shows the special relationship that the composer and the performer have with each other and that espouses the serious role occupied by the performer in the final execution of a concerto. It is unusual for a performer to overlook shortcomings and misses inherent in the concerto composition, which is always committed even by the greatest composers such as Beethoven and Mozart. The transcription of the misses made by the composer should not be seen as a modest approach by the performer and a conceited crossing of the margins outlining his role as secondary to the composer.

Consequently, the role that the performer plays in interpreting and sometimes arranging a concerto is equally important as much as that of the composer. The performer is responsible for popularizing the concerti as perceived by the composer (Zaslaw, 1996). Numerous examples exist of performers who have popularized the works of some concerti composers to worldwide fame. The role that they play does not fit the description of a secondary approach to the successful and excellent execution of a concerto. Agreeably, the purpose of the performer is not to carry out intensive editorial transcriptions of the works of a composer, but rather to participate in the passage of a message, which the composer may not have executed as expected of him. Sometimes, it is normal for the dictation by the performer to result in an unexpected modification of the original composition and to totally deviate from the composer’s original ideas. Notably, these changes are logically conceived owing to the elements of different instruments, which are used in the performance and the instrumentation systems as a whole. The performer has the leeway to use whichever system that will lead to an excellent performance. This means that various modifications of the original concerto will be inevitable in the final performance presented to the listener (Keefe, 2005).

Moreover, existing records indicate that performers fare poorly when it comes to identifying and correcting mistakes of the composer in a concerto script. This difficulty emanates from the fact that many performers have not connected fully with the composers, some of whom produced difficult and complex compositions. The notes of the composer, and especially 18th-century composers like Mozart and Beethoven, were highly conceived and contemporary composers are still marveling at the mastery of these composers, many of whom were able to perform their own compositions better than modern performers. A factor in this might be the transformation of the instruments used in contemporary performance. Ludwig van Beethoven’s and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s compositions continue to be a subject of study by music scholars, dramatists, and screen players. It is evident that the two were accomplished classical era composers whose marks in different genres of music remain indelible in the history of music. Despite all these achievements, the two composers did not lead befitting lives that were a show of the public admiration that they enjoyed amongst their supporters (Dubal, 1995).

Conclusion

Notably, the performance of a concerto and the use of different editions of composers by performers reveal that a small deviation from the original text of the composer or addition of an extra note, transcription in the figuration or any other detail in the original composition will change overall intentions of the composer. During the early development of concerti, the composers were also the performers. However, in the contemporary performances composers are not necessarily the performers of their composition. This makes it important for performers to have a full understanding of their role, which is subordinate to the composer. Transcription should only be done when necessary. One should, therefore, avoid making transcriptions that will completely change the concerto. In situations where the transcriptions completely change the original ideas of the composer, the performer can be said to lack a total understanding of the style of the composer.

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