Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Sturm und Drang in Mozart

Sturm und Drang (German: "Storm and Urge", although usually translated as "Storm and Stress") was a European artistic and philosophical movement which ran counter to the Enlightenment rationalism of the times. It ran from 1776 (though it can be traced back as far as the 1760's) when it first appeared in common usage, through the early 1800's. Sturm und Drang is actually a better term to describe all the “classical” music which followed it commonly known as “romantic” music today, because counter to the false notion implied by the word romantic; i. e. fictional, Sturm und Drang represented an attempt at emotional realism, focused at an individual and personal level, which the movement's proponents considered to be neglected by the schools of “enlightened” rationalism, empiricism, and universalism.

A perennial favourite of mine is this piano piece by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) called the Fantasy and Fugue in C Major K394, which was written in 1782, clearly within the influence of Sturm und Drang. Almost all of Mozart's music is catalogued with what some have called K numbers, the more learned call them Köchel [KUR-shel] numbers after the man who created them, the Austrian musicologist Ludwig Ritter von Köchel (1800-1877).

Mozart was among the most prolific composers. He probably dashed this out, or as was more likely ... was just taking dictation, as few of his original manuscripts show any corrections of any kind. I want that point to sink in. Mozart was also clearly ambidextrous, able to use each hand independently of the other, as was demonstrated on many occasions, one good example being while sitting on a terrace behind a café in Linz, writing music with his left hand while writing a letter to his father with his right.

The date of this particular work, 1782, places Mozart in Vienna and established as a composer there; during the time he was being paid in solid gold snuff boxes if one remembers rightly from that mix of urban legends, etc. made of his life called Amadeus. He was already world famous before his big arrival in Vienna in 1781. From this point in his career, Mozart would have but nine years to live and would compose most of his greatest works within a span of ten years. I'd like that point to sink in too, because when one contemplates Mozart, there is just so much of it, a veritable ocean of music that literally poured through him. There's never been and probably never will again be another Mozart.

That being said, you will hear things under the strict playing of the inimitable Glenn Gould that you'd likely miss or take in another way, especially in the fugue. More than anything else I have always believed that this piece represents Mozart drawing directly from nature, especially in the mathematical games he plays with turns in the tonality; what are often called harmonic progressions, or episodic series. In the Fantasy you can imagine scenes from a country setting, perhaps the day is fair interrupted by an occasional pelting of rain or hail, or there is something arduous being done, perhaps something to do with animals, horses maybe, anything at all your mind can imagine. This is not music about anything in particular.

With the fugue Mozart is offering, as it were, a toast to the great Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) who was and is in “classical” music's sense of it, everyone's musical grandfather. But Mozart takes the fugue into harmonic territories Bach seldom dreamed of. This is truly modern music in ways that Bach was not. As usual, I have a few criticisms of Gould's interpretation, but one has to admit that he makes the work cohesive. And there are contours, more geometric games with the harmonic progressions which leap out at you, which can only be achieved if one plays the piece at this galloping gait of his.

Featured: Glenn Gould's performances on You Tube


No comments:

Post a Comment