Ferruccio Busoni. Mozart (and Classical) are no Simpleton Stuff (3)

Ferruccio Busoni (1866 – 1924) at 11 years old in Vienna. Via Wikimedia

We have talked about a concept, classicism, that can embrace for example the works of Horace, Raphael, Racine, Mozart, Goethe, Jane Austen and elements of British and American Georgian culture.

Mozart’s works – according to Ferruccio Busoni (an Italian-German pianist, composer & writer) – faced a curious indifference in 1917. He wrote in that year:

To the Wagnerian generation Don Giovanni’s text and music seem like simpleton stuff. “The baroque splendour – he continued – has made the world insensitive to the pure lines of the ancients.”

Mozart in 1780

Here’s a choice of Busoni’s earlier aphorisms on Mozart published in 1906 in Berlin’s Lokal Anzeiger. A good conclusion in our opinion to our series on ‘what is classical’.

“So denke Ich über Mozart”

So denke ich über Mozart:
Thus I think of Mozart:

Seine nie getrübte Schönheit irritiert.
His never-clouded beauty irritates.

Sein Formensinn ist fast außermenschlich.
His sense of form is nearly supernatural.

Einem Bildhauer-Meisterwerke gleich, ist seine Kunst – von jeder Seite gesehen – ein fertiges Bild.
Similar to a sculptor’s masterpiece, his art – seen from every side – is a finished picture.

Er hat den Instinkt des Tieres, sich seine Aufgabe – bis zur möglichsten Grenze, aber nicht darüber hinaus – seine Kräften entsprechend zu stellen.
He has the instinct of an animal, setting himself his tasks up to the utmost of his limits, but no further.

Er wagt nichts Tollkühnes.
He dares nothing venturous.

Er findet, ohne zu suchen, und sucht nicht, was unauffindbar wäre – vielleicht ihm unauffindbar wäre.
He finds without seeking and does not seek what would be unfindable–perhaps what would be unfindable to him.

Er besitzt außergewöhnlich reiche Mittel, aber er verausgabt sich nie.
He possess extraordinarily rich resources, but never uses them all.

Er kann sehr vieles sagen, aber er sagt nie zu viel.
He can say very much, but he never says too much.

Er ist leidenschaftlich, wahrt aber die ritterlichen Formen.
He is passionate, but preserves the chivalrous forms.

Seine Maße sind erstaunlich richtig, aber sie lassen sich messen und nachrechnen.
His measurements are surprisingly accurate, but they allow to be measured and calculated.

Er verfügt über Licht und Schatten; aber sein Licht schmerzt nicht, und seine Dunkelheit zeigt noch klare Umrisse.
He has light and darkness, but his light does not hurt, and his darkness still shows clear contours.

Er hat in der tragischen Situation noch einen Witz bereit – er vermag in der heitersten eine gelehrte Falte zu ziehen.
In a tragic situation he doesn’t lose his sense of humour – in the most cheerful he can insert an erudite word.

Er ist universell durch seine Behendigkeit.
He is universal through his spryness.

Er kann aus jeden Glase noch schöpfen, weil er eins nie bis zum Grunde ausgetrunken.
He can still drink something from every cup, since he never drank any to the bottom.

Ferruccio Busoni (April 1, 1866 – July 27, 1924). Click for credits

Sein Palast ist unermeßlich groß, aber er tritt niemals aus seinen Mauern. Durch dessen Fenster sieht er die Natur; der Fensterrahmen ist auch ihr Rahmen.
His palace is huge, but he never leaves its walls. Through its windows he sees nature; the windows frame is also nature’s frame.

Heiterkeit ist sein hervorstechender Zug: er überblümt selbst das Unangenehmste durch ein Lächeln.
Gaiety is his most distinct trait: even the most unpleasant he adorns with a smile.

Sein Lächeln ist nicht das eines Diplomaten oder Schauspielers, sondern das eines reinen Gemüts – und doch weltmännisch.
His smile is not that of a diplomat, or of an actor, but that of a pure heart – and yet worldly.

Wolfang Amadeus Mozart (aged 14) in Verona, Italy. Painting by Saverio dalla Rosa (1745–1821)

Sein Gemüt ist nicht rein aus Unkenntnis.
His soul is not pure out of ignorance.

Er ist nicht simpel geblieben und nicht raffiniert geworden.
He has not remained simple and has not become raffiné.

Er ist ein Freund der Ordnung: Wunder und Teufeleien wahren ihre 16 und 32 Takten.
He is a friend of order: miracles and devilries keep their 16 and 32 bars.

Er ist religiös, soweit Religion identisch ist mit Harmonie.
He is religious as long as religion is identical to harmony.

Das Architektonische ist seiner Kunst nächstverwandt.
Architecture is the art closest to his.

Ferruccio Busoni liked Italy but preferred Germany. He died in Berlin in 1924 and there he was interred in the Städtischen Friedhof III, Berlin-Schöneberg. Marlene Dietrich and, weirdly, Helmut Newton rest with him.

ψ

Previous posts on ‘classic’ and ‘classical’:

Tapas, Cartizze and Ragù. What on Earth do we Mean by ‘Classic’? (1)

Ragù, Chianti (and Grappa.) Is ‘Classic’ Just a Trick by Goddess Fortune? (2)

See also:

How Can Japanese Little Girls Play European Classical Music Perfectly?

And the second half of:

Music, Politics and History

How Can Japanese Little Girls Play European Classical Music Perfectly?

Japanese little girl. Click for attribution and to zoom in

In the previous post we have shown two little Japanese girls capable of perfectly playing some music of the classical period.

Which surprised me in many respects and made me reflect.

Germany, Vienna and Italy

First of all by ‘classical style’ we mean the music created from the mid 1700’s until the first decades of 1800 thanks to contributions from Germany (Southern Germany – Mannheim etc. -  but not only), Vienna and Italy, which changed the spirit & the technique of music into something inspired by the ideals of ancient classical art.

In other posts we’d mused about this magical region where many centuries earlier Roma and Germania met (and clashed,) ie the Roman provinces (Germania Superior, Raetia, Noricum and Pannonia) along the axis of what was once the limes germanicus or frontier of the ancient Roman Empire (look at this map!) that separated the world of Rome from the un-romanized Germanic (and non Germanic) tribes (read more: 1, 2, 3.)

It may be a simplification (and an obsession,) but that ‘classical music’ in its narrow sense (in the broad sense it refers to all Western art music since its beginnings) was much later to be born in such cultural crossroads – well, it didn’t happen in our opinion by mere chance.

[Roman & non Roman. Where are hence the traces of this duality in today’s societies? - we had asked ourselves]

Haydn. Portrait by Thomas Hardy. Wikipedia image

Now this ‘classical music’, that followed Baroque and developed before the spread of Romanticism, is characterized by formal balance, a certain restraint and a terse simplicity attained with extreme economy of means together with a very refined taste: which makes the performance of such art daunting despite its apparent easiness. Its model is in fact that of Hellenic art, although adapted to modern times (and to modern music, since we know so little of ancient music.)

This may be a reason why playing Mozart, Haydn or Boccherini and Clementi ‘well’, that is, with the necessary purity, is often more difficult than rendering subsequent and technically harder pieces of the Romantic and contemporary repertoire. I saw pianists who could easily play Brahms and Scriabin but sweated their way through the end of a Mozart adagio.

The Japanese and the Russians

Now, that these Japanese children, coming from a different planet, are able to do this extremely well – isn’t it amazing?

Classical balance and taste is nothing one can improvise. One needs to have breathed such air.

Take the Russians, such formidable musicians. Not completely European ok but closer to us than the Japanese for sure, they have traditionally always hesitated before the classical repertoire (and when they didn’t … the result was often not among the best.)

So, the Russians fail where the Japanese don’t – there must be something in those Eastern cultures I am not aware of.

Some readers have got any ideas?

ψ

In the meanwhile, as an Italian, I know the Japanese – a few I’ve met who study bel canto in Rome – love Italian opera quite a lot whose style always resisted the complexity of the romantic and late-romantic German harmonies and voicing (Verdi Bellini and Donizetti etc. on one hand, Wagner or Richard Strauss on the other hand: two different universes altogether! Roman & non Roman?)

Once more. What these oriental people may find in the Western ‘classical’ style of music?

Mario: “By the way, I heard that classical music makes hogs as fat as whales.”

MoR: “What?? Are you kidding me?”

Mario: “It is true! This Vietnamese pig farmer, Nguyen Chi Cong, found a new way to make his 3,000 hogs eat more quickly and happily by having them listen daily to the music of Beethoven, Mozart and Schubert. It seems the soothing effect is also working for other domestic animals!”

MoR: *Rolling eyes*

ψ

Related posts:

Music, Politics and History

Roman Limes. Between Two Worlds

Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli’s Chilly Genius

From the two Sides of the Roman Limes

See also the series dedicated to the notions of ‘classic’ & ‘classical’ (1, 2 and 3)

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