From the book, Mozart and Great Music: What You Should’ve Learned as a Teen, Book 4.
The meaning of music lies not in the fact
that it is too vague for words,
but that it is too precise for words.
YouTube – Playlist 0: Mozart and Great Music
If you learn one thing only from this little book, then let it be this:
You can directly experience
heavenly states of consciousness
listening to Mozart.
Contrary to popular belief, truly Great Art (such as that created by a Shakespeare, a Mozart, a Michelangelo, a Sesshu, an al-Mutanabbi) is more objectively great than most people realize, not just a matter of subjective opinion.
True, some people have preferences that may exclude Great Art. They may even have profound, sublime experiences with the works of artists that appear simplistic and trite to others.
Some insist that Pachelbel’s Canon in D, a favorite at weddings, is heavenly:
Pachelbel’s Canon can be moving and beautiful.
But it is not objectively Great Art. Not in a world that includes Mozart. Is this merely my subjective view? We will see in Chapter 1. But first, one question must be answered:
What makes Great Art great? The answer, paradoxically, points to how Great Art induces in someone rare and powerful subjective experiences.
Great Art transports one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”
Great Art can imbue a spiritual revelation
each time one experiences it.
Great Art carves out states of consciousness
that transcend the human.
Great Art embodies an eternal mystery.
Great Art catalyzes, transforms, and transfigures.
And more often than not, Great Art requires you to meet its demands before it unlocks its transfiguring mystery.
People who have never tried to meet the demands of Great Art (through education or training), or who have tried but stopped before the door opened, may call all art a matter of opinion. They may believe it all to be mere preference, without one preference being greater than any other.
Pachelbel’s Canon in D may provide extraordinary pleasure for some, but it cannot possibly be defined as Great Art. The same can be said for most popular music today.
These works do not transport one into realms
that makes one wonder, “How is it possible
that a mere human being created that?”
Don’t get me wrong. I spend more time listening to popular music than music that is Great Art. I love jazz, pop, ambient, rock, metal, alternative, and many genres beyond and in between.
I love The Beatles, John Coltrane, The Cars, Evanescence, Brian Eno, Ella Fitzgerald, Enya, Led Zeppelin, U2, Al Di Meola, Fever Ray, Robbie Williams, Devin Townsend, Steve Morse, Yes, Cirque du Soleil, Jon Mark, Peter Murphy, Rodney Jones, Larry Siegel, Dean Martin, Todd Rundgren, Adele, Blue Oyster Cult, Keith Jarrett, and many more artists.
But rarely do their creations rise to Great Art. (Occasionally, in my view, some jazz greats achieve it, like John Coltrane, Charlie Bird, and Dizzy Gillespie.)
Examples of Great Art include the likes of the already famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik (A Little Night Music), 1st Movement allegro. (The “K” stands for the Köchel number, created by Ludwig Ritter von Köchel, who catalogued Mozart’s works.)
Or the achingly beautiful 2nd movement of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21. This video with an animated graph helps you “visually hear” the individual instruments.
Or the groundbreaking Symphony No. 40 in G minor. (The term “G minor” refers to the musical key in which the symphony is composed.)
These pieces of music have been played so much that, as beautiful and profound as they are, they have almost become cliché. So we will focus on other music, less popularized, to achieve some freshness in recognizing Mozart’s heavenly beauty.
Among the many composers who consistently create Great Art, Mozart stands alone. The unique Danish comedian, conductor and pianist Victor Borge, sums it up best:
“I always thought that if you went to heaven,
you would meet all the great people;
anybody who came up there
would all gather in huge rooms.
But Mozart has a room all by himself.”
The great conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim gives us in these two short videos a description of how to begin telling the difference.
How This Little Book Can Help
The aim of this book is simple—to give you a direct personal experience with a heavenly state of consciousness while listening to Mozart’s music.
Or if you already have access to Mozart’s heavenly mansion, to provide you a glimpse into more rooms within that mansion, with greater appreciation.
Fortunately, YouTube provides all the musical examples we need to unlock the doors to the mansion. Throughout this book, I will link to YouTube videos that offer inspired performances. And inspired performances make a difference.
Mark Twain once said:
“The difference between the right word
and the almost right word
is the difference between the lightning
and the lightning bug.
And so it is with great music:
The difference between the right performance
and the almost right performance
is the difference between heaven
and a dictionary definition of heaven.
Also, at the beginning of each chapter I provide a link to the YouTube playlist that includes all the pieces of music mentioned in that chapter in order. (Note: If a video becomes unavailable, an alternative can usually be found by searching YouTube using the Köchel number.)
Links to the playlists, and much more, are also available at:
Listening to inspired performances is crucial.
Not all recordings are inspired.
Not all do Mozart justice.
But lucky for us, intrepid lovers of Mozart have made available many of the performances I had hoped to find.
But be aware of the limitations.
Mozart’s music, like all great music,
is best experienced by an inspired live performance
in a great concert hall or chamber venue.
Next best, on a great sound system in stereo. Or on headphones.
Therefore, YouTube can only offer a small experience of that heaven. Be prepared to track down and purchase inspired recordings, recommended by me or by some of the guides listed in “Recommended Readings and Recordings” near the end of the book.
Here’s a glimpse into what follows:
Chapter 1: Why Is Mozart Great? surveys what people from several professions think of Mozart, indicating a broad appeal.
Chapter 2: Hearing Mozart, Part 1: Serenade No. 10 for Winds, “Gran Partita” focuses on one piece of chamber music to illustrate how Mozart provides a harmonic approach to music rather than a purely melodic one.
Chapter 3: Mozart—The Child, the Myth, and the Man details his childhood accomplishments while also subverting the man-child myth.
Chapter 4: Hearing Mozart, Part 2: The Magic Flute, Overture extends the idea of listening to Mozart differently in a harmonic, multi-level way, even when he is composing something especially melodic.
Chapter 5: Mozart’s Piano Concertos covers some of Mozart’s greatest contributions to music, pitting a solo pianist against an orchestra, foreshadowing a composer like Beethoven who extends the distinction even further.
Chapter 6: Hearing Mozart, Part 3: Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat introduces the idea of musical rhetoric, and classical music as oration and conversation.
Chapter 7: Mozart’s Chamber Music: “A Blessing of Inconceivable Richness” strives to illuminate Mozart’s incredible range of music for small ensembles: sonatas for two players, trios, quartets, and quintets.
Chapter 8: Hearing Mozart, Part 4: Singular, Idiosyncratic, and Special-Occasion Gems surveys a range of unusual compositions that illustrate Mozart’s wide range of musical interests.
Chapter 9: Mozart’s Symphonies points to a few symphonies, with greatest emphasis on his final one, the “Jupiter.”
Chapter 10: Hearing Mozart, Part 5: Symphony No. 40 in G minor dives deep into a symphony regarded as Mozart’s finest.
Chapter 11: Mozart and Opera: Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) touches on his seven great operas, with the great The Marriage of Figaro as the main attraction, thought by many to be one of the finest comic operas of all time.
Chapter 12: Mozart’s Heavenly Mansion provides a special listening session of heavenly musical architecture.
Next you will find “The Mozart and Great Music Checklist” and “Recommended Readings and Recordings.” There is also an appendix that offers a compilation of links to online resources for audio and video recordings.
Several chapters include an “Extended Discussion” section for readers interested in going more deeply into a particular piece of music or some other musical fundamentals.
The recommendations in this book, faithfully applied, do deliver. They will help you experience Mozart’s heavenly music in ways that may transfigure and transform you.
So let’s begin this marvelous and very dear musical adventure.