Mozart braucht unsere Ehrungen nicht – wir brauchen ihn! (1/2006)
The Salzburg Mozart Year 2006 was opened January 27 (Mozart's 250th birthday) with an artist's speech by Nikolaus Harnoncourt who also performed Mozart's Symphony in G minor, KV 550, with the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.
The whole speech
As I consider the symphony by Mozart to be the real opening speech, I would like to welcome you beforehand.
The G minor symphony, K. 550 we are about to play was composed as the centre-piece of the three last symphonies which certainly belonged together. Apparently they represent a kind of pathway taken by a human being to a destination. The first of the three last symphonies is in E flat major, the key of love but also of “ceremonial seriousness”. From there Mozart takes us to the depths where everything is questioned in the symphony in G minor. This is followed by the brilliant C major of the ´Jupiter´symphony which joyfully resolves everything and allows the listener who was previously distraught to go away in harmony. Mozart composed over 40 symphonies but only two are in G minor. At that time G minor was sensed as the key of death but also as the key of sadness.
In the first subject, as you will hear straightaway, not a single note is played directly. Every note has an appoggiatura, a grace note from below or from above and so what appears to be very simple or indeed a matter of course, becomes intangible; it is blurred and we hear it as if we were looking through the rippling of water. The second movement begins with the slightly hidden fugal subject of the ´Jupiter´symphony. It is in E flat major, as if to eradicate the nightmares of the first movement, as it were pleading for hope for a better world.
We´ll now play the first two movements.
Now, after this incredible music, where every language becomes impoverished and we ought to be silent, I am now supposed to say something about Mozart and if possible about this year as well? No, no festive address is appropriate for this music. How can I find something else to say about Mozart? Nobody can but everybody is doing so now. In this year Austria is synonymous with Mozart. But this has nothing to do with him. I am afraid it is more a matter of making money and doing business. In actual fact we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. What Mozart demands of us and has demanded of us for over 200 years would be so simple: we should listen very quietly and attentively and if we could understand his wordless entreaties and pleas, then as I´ve said already, we really ought to be ashamed of ourselves rather than puffed up with pride.
We are now celebrating him and it almost sounds as if we want to celebrate ourselves. However, we have absolutely no reason to be proud of anything to do with Mozart. That was true already when he lived in Salzburg and in Vienna. He demands something of us with the unrelenting austerity of the genius and we offer him our celebrations with their economic multiplier effect and business transactions and we allow his music to dribble out in bits and pieces from all sorts of marketing channels. This should simply not be so. It is scandalous and a disgrace, how can it be tolerated? Nevertheless if such a year of reflection is to have any meaning at all, in spite of everything, we have to listen, listen, listen and then perhaps we will be able to understand a fraction of the message. Mozart does not need our award ceremonies – we need him and his agitating and churning storm wind. A year like this is in reality a chance for us.
What is the subject of the case he makes? It is art itself; it is music and we will be called to account for what we have done with it and what we still do and also for what we have failed to do.
Art and music are an essential and integral part of human life; they are given to us to counterbalance what is practical, useful and exploitable. I can well understand what some philosophers mean when they say that it is art and indeed music that makes a human being a human being. It is an inexplicable enchanting present, a magical language.
Recent generations have increasingly concentrated on what is directly usable in the belief that the expectation of happiness can only be found in material goods. Happiness is equated with prosperity and prosperity with possessions: I am better off the more I own. This attitude already has an influence on education and on school curricula. All artistic subjects, all the things that challenge the imagination and are – one is almost tempted to say would be – indispensable for a humane life are gradually being suppressed. Nowadays most children cannot even sing any more because they re not encouraged; they do not know how to make the notes and they do not know any songs. But making music and understanding music begins already at the age of 3, 4 and 5. Later on it is left to the radio and the walkman.
Now, this year warns us in all urgency that our children have a right to a complete education and not merely training. It is symptomatic of our educational aims that methods of assessment, for instance the Pisa Study, more or less disregard music. If I may just make an aside: the two articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights dealing with education and culture, articles 26 and 27, are embarrassingly feeble. If art education does not have the same importance as reading, writing and arithmetic and if the idea of usefulness dominates everything – we are already very close to this – then there is extreme danger that materialism and acquisitive greed will become the idolatrous religion of our time.
Have we not arrived at this situation already? A few years ago Cardinal König said, “The pathway taken by Europe has led to a dead end: technology has priority over ethics, the world of objects is of greater importance than the values of persons…” In the 17th century Pascal spoke about the two mutually conditioning ways of thinking of human beings: he referred to them as arithmetical thinking and the thinking of the heart. Around the year 1840 Kierkegaard warned against the menace of materialism, writing, “At the moment nothing is feared more than total bankruptcy in Europe (…) but what is overlooked (…) is the much more dangerous, apparently unavoidable insolvency of the intellectual aspect, and this is imminent.”
I am not so concerned with ensuring a greater regard for art in its illustrious higher echelons, it is more a case that these highest forms of art will ultimately cry out into emptiness when nobody understands the language any more. Music is certainly not the distant mysterious language of an arrogant, self-assured and privileged minority. No, everyone can understand its message, can partake of its riches if the antennae are correctly adjusted from an early age.
As art is at home in the realm of fantasy, it contains something puzzling, something that cannot be explained; its invisible might is powerful and dangerous, its effect subversive. That is why those in power have repeatedly tried to exploit it. Unsuccessfully – because art is always oppositional and in supreme command and can neither be tamed nor appropriated. It is a language of what cannot be said and yet it comes nearer to many of the final truths than the language of words, of comprehension with its logic, its clarity, its dreadful yes or no.
The role we allow art is often that of making it useful to us, taming it or also so that we can boast about it. In our wonderful, subsidised musical life people should be able to find joy and relaxation after the tedium of work and shold regain strength for hectic everyday life (the Nazis called that “strength through joy”, with a similar justification as found in the articles of the Declaration of Human Rights). This is a dangerous step in the long and illegal process of making art “useful”.
Music by the great composers hardly ever made use of this trend, it was always much more: the sensitive reaction to the spiritual situation of the time. It was and is a mirror that helped listeners to recognise themselves, allowing them to look into the abyss. When Mozart´s G minor symphony was heard for the first time, people asked whether this kind of shattering experience was indeed permissible. At that time listeners felt that this symphony went to the extremes fo musical language. Hans Georg Nägeli (1773-1836), music aestheticist and cultural philosopher in Zurich, doubted – as did some of his contemporaries – whether such things were permissible and within the bounds of what could be imposed on audiences. In those days probably no one was able to go home in a calm frame of mind.
Art leads us, indeed often pushes us to arrive at a certain realisation: it is the mirror in which we have to look. In order to avoid that, people have assumed a way of approaching art merely as something aesthetic or popular. “Nice” music is heard, “nice” pictures are seen but preferably one does not allow oneself to be shattered by the experience or given a thorough shake-up.
Fifty years ago, when I was a young musician playing in an orchestra, I had to play Mozart´s G minor symphony several times a year and it was always sweet and pretty; the listeners blissfully put their heads on one side and afterwards they spoke about “Mozart happiness”. However, the score on my desk said something different. Everything is questioned, indeed destroyed: the melody, the harmony, the rhythm. Nothing is as it really should be apart perhaps from the romantic trio of the minuet movement. Maybe it can be explained by the fact that in those days, after the war, people needed radiant harmony and pure happiness because they had experienced the exact opposite in its most cruel manifestation. In those days more or less all interpretations of Mozart emphasised bright and positive aspects and suppressed anything that was shattering.
This symphony became my personal symphony of fate and it changed my life to lasting effect because one day, after 17 years as a cellist in an orchestra, I no longer wanted to play it that way ever again and so I left the orchestra…..
In this symphony one can also see a great example similar to many works of literature and the fine arts: how far can, should or must art go, or we could also ask what can and must the listener be prepared to tolerate? Mozart repeatedly came very close to this limit.
Like all great artists Mozart as a person remains a mystery, indeed he is uncanny. People believe they know everything about him – his life is extremely well documented – but when one wants to say something about him, one realises that one does not know him at all.
Our historical or biographical “knowledge”, generally speaking, is indeed no knowledge. We acquire it indirectly and think we are eye-witnesses. We take the images, for instance from television, as facts and we believe that we were there too but did not sense anything on our skin and in our hearts. The images are images but reality is only pretence. It was quite different.
We will never find out the truth about Mozart; it is the image we create ourselves that we consider to be this truth. Only his music contains the truth. It appears to be impossible to understand the person and so we arrive, as in the case of many artists, at a kind of Doppelgänger view. It is as if there were two Mozarts: the child at play, the cheerful extrovert young man, whose friends said of him that he was never in a bad mood and who from his youth wrote letters in a polished style; he was educated, witty and self-assured.
The Mozart we find in the biographies with his financial and artistic crises and problems in the family: was he rich or poor? Did he quarrel with his father or was the relationship harmonious and loving? Did Mozart fail as an artist after the unsuccessful performance of Le nozze di Figaro in Vienna? I do not believe a word of any of this because as Oswald Spengler says, “Nature should be treated scientifically, one should write poetry about history”. And that was what people did, beyond measure. But the other Mozart is the true one, he is intangible and inconceivable and it is impossible to make any kind of assessment of him. If we wish to comprehend him, we have to realise with shame that our yardstick does not match his system. He comes from another planet. He lives only through his music: serious at every moment, oppressive even when he is joking: the Musikalischer Spass (Musical Joke) is just as dark a piece as the ghostly laughing aria in Zaide.
What a shock it must have been in the Mozart household when the father recognised the genius in the small child. One thinks one is faced with a delightful intelligent little child and discovers that it is a crocodile. A genius like Mozart does not occur suddenly, it is like a meteorite from the universe. He was not a playing child but a playing adult.
In human society there are no models for bringing up a genius. It goes without saying that such a demonic being dominates his surroundings. He cannot be “brought up”, he is a beloved and at the same time feared member of the household. From his very first musical statements Mozart´s path as an artist is absolutely unwavering and is characterised by a breathtaking certainty, exactly the opposite of his exterior life circumstances.
Even as a child he composed works whose emotional substance goes far beyond what he could have experienced and lived through. From the young man he always was and always remained we can discover the last most intense secrets about love and death, about tragedy, guilt and happiness.
He compels us to look into emotional depths and then afterward up to heaven; perhaps he was a quill in the hand of God.