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Mozart's Grace

Mozart's Grace

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 200
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  • Book Info
    Mozart's Grace
    Book Description:

    It is a common article of faith that Mozart composed the most beautiful music we can know. But few of us ask why. Why does the beautiful in Mozart stand apart, as though untouched by human hands? At the same time, why does it inspire intimacy rather than distant admiration, love rather than awe? And how does Mozart's music create and sustain its buoyant and ever-renewable effects? InMozart's Grace, Scott Burnham probes a treasury of passages from many different genres of Mozart's music, listening always for the qualities of Mozartean beauty: beauty held in suspension; beauty placed in motion; beauty as the uncanny threshold of another dimension, whether inwardly profound or outwardly transcendent; and beauty as a time-stopping, weightless suffusion that comes on like an act of grace.

    Throughout the book, Burnham engages musical issues such as sonority, texture, line, harmony, dissonance, and timing, and aspects of large-scale form such as thematic returns, retransitions, and endings. Vividly describing a range of musical effects, Burnham connects the ways and means of Mozart's music to other domains of human significance, including expression, intimation, interiority, innocence, melancholy, irony, and renewal. We follow Mozart from grace to grace, and discover what his music can teach us about beauty and its relation to the human spirit. The result is a newly inflected view of our perennial attraction to Mozart's music, presented in a way that will speak to musicians and music lovers alike.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4511-8
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

    (pp. 1-6)

    “Whoever has discovered Mozart even to a small degree and then tries to speak about him falls quickly into what seems rapturous stammering.”¹ So reports Karl Barth, German theologian, notable Mozart lover—and the producer of a number of his own rapt assessments of the composer’s art. Indeed, the sound of Mozart urges many critics to make pronouncements that invoke musical perfection and more: no less a skeptic than Bernard Shaw said that Mozart’s was “the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God.”² Donald Francis Tovey strikes a more Christ-like note:...

    (pp. 7-36)

    What is so special about the sound of Mozart? Consider the opening of the Adagio from the Clarinet Concerto, much beloved for its pellucid beauty (example 1.1). There is nothing the least bit exotic in the first four-bar phrase. Everything is transparent, straightforward: simple harmonies (tonic and dominant), guileless melody, slow harmonic rhythm. And yet there is a force at work that holds this texture together in beautiful suspension, a focal energy that creates a sense of apartness and integrity. Note first the warmly cohesive, floating quality of the string sonority: the pedal tone in the viola sustains the sound,...

    (pp. 37-116)

    Of the countless articulations that mark our lives, there are some few that remind us of our place among larger rhythms. In the face of these we are stilled with a sense of something greater than us, something that transcends the quotidian. Time adjusts accordingly.

    When Giovanni fatally wounds the Commendatore in the opening scene of Mozart’sDon Giovanni, the turbulent music of their struggle suddenly gives way to a music of suspended animation (example 2.1). Mozart creates the stunned reaction to the Commendatore’s death out of the headlong immediacy of dramatic commotion. At its height, Giovanni’s fatal thrust pierces...

    (pp. 117-164)

    If man is the melancholy animal that knows he must die, so too is he the hopeful animal that knows renewal. As a basic rhythm of life, renewal is available with every onset of spring, every sunrise, every breath. In much Western art music, the potential for renewal is composed into the musical experience: an intramural renewal is enacted every time a recognizable tune returns within a movement. In the Viennese Classical style, these returns take place at many different levels, including the second four-bar phrase of a parallel period, the repeats of larger thematic groupings in sectionalized forms, the...

    (pp. 165-170)

    To conclude with the notion of renewal may seem as though to slide the capstone of a Christological narrative neatly into place. After all, we began with thoughts of perfection, of the perfect made musical, like the spirit made flesh, or the corporeal made light as spirit; we ventured into realms of human expressivity, experienced visitations of elevated consciousness in liminal moments that “unveil the Grail”; we spoke of a loss of innocence, then we spoke of grace, and now of renewal. And in the case ofAve verum corpus, we heard how Mozart’s sacred music limns the Christian mystery...