Pin It

There is life after Mozart 

Wolfgang may elicit whistles in the parking lot, but certainly not goosebumps

Hang around a busy concert hall some evening at about the time the musicians are taking their bows and putting away their bows. Listen. You're going to hear a lot of satisfied concertgoers, well intentioned but off key, as they hum or whistle their way to the parking lot.

If you have any knowledge of music at all, you're going to know what was performed that evening. It might be Dvorak's "New World Symphony," any one of a dozen Beethoven creations - concerto, symphony, or incomparable piece of chamber music. Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky will forever be heard. Who could fail to recognize those warhorses? Even Vivaldi, with his 700 concertos, can't be mistaken. (Or is it one concerto 700 times - from police whistle and string ensemble to extended fingernails and washboard?)

And Mozart? You read about him in last week's New Times. I am not here to bash Mozart. With some friends like he has, who needs bashers? Besides, I dare not be too critical for fear the author of last week's cover story would make me prepare my own granola tomorrow morning.

But Mozart certainly makes my point. Whether it is the 40th symphony or various others; "Eine Kleine Nachtmusick"; one of a couple dozen concerto quartets (personally, I prefer the string quintets); the "Haffner," "Posthorn," or other serenades; or who knows what else - it's all Mozart. And it's all, can we say, unimpeded by emotion. That's right, Mozart never gave anyone a goosebump. Of course there is that one scene in "Don Giovanni," but we'll get back to that soon.

So what music does cause goosebumps? How about the last scene from "La Boheme"? Foul, you say! Emotion in opera is generated by the words and story as much as by the music. I'll concede the point, for the sake of time if nothing else, and for the sake of the "Don Giovanni" reference.

If you're looking for an example of what Mozart isn't, how about Beethoven's "Eroica," or the almighty "Ninth"! This is going to be a short list.

To get you started in a different direction, I suggest you give a listen to Iannis Xenakis or Krzysztof Penderecki. The devil, you say! Actually, the name of Penderecki's most respected opera is "The Devils of Loudon," so you're not far off.

Trust me; you will never hear anyone whistle a tune from Xenakis while striding to the parking lot. But much of the music of these two composers will give you those goosebumps, and that's something Mozart just won't do for you. Xenakis and Penderecki are not like chalk on a chalkboard, as often accused, or a catfight, which, by the way, is not the nickname for Penderecki's fourth symphony.

Want some more names? Try Gyorgy Ligeti, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Oskar Lindberg, or Pierre Boulez. How about some Americans, like Gunther Schuller or Milton Babbitt, John Cage, or Elliott Carter?

My introduction to bizarre "music" was on the Pomona College campus many years ago, hearing John Cage "perform" a concerto for two tape recorders and a stopwatch. This long forgotten attention-flogger extended for more than two hours without a break. Members of the audience took breaks as needed, as long as needed. In spite of or because of such creations, John Cage eventually became the poster boy for the avant-garde in music.

Does Cage really belong on the same podium with Penderecki or Xenakis? Listen to all and judge for yourself. But beware; Cage himself considers his most significant composition to be "4' 33,"" to be performed on any instrument for any length of time. The only inflexible requirement is that the instruments make not a single sound.

You already know many of these names and are probably familiar with some of the music. It's hard to be a music fan and not know Penderecki's "Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima." I encourage you to listen to a lot more than you already know. You'll be absorbed, maybe overwhelmed, but you'll never whistle it and you will never be bored. (Raise your hand if you've never dozed through one of those 30-minute Mahler symphonic movements.)

There is more to this topic than any of us will ever have time for. I'm a rank amateur, neither musician nor musicologist, with no chance of listening to as much as I'd like. Life is too short.

By the way, don't tell anyone I told you to trash your Mozart CDs. I have nearly a hundred of my own and wouldn't give up a single one. No, I'm not running a lending library. Keep the Mozart. Listen to it once in a while, but give something new a chance. You'll find something in music you never knew was there. You might even find something new in yourself.

Who knows what direction music will take. Today's Xenakis may be the Mozart of tomorrow. It hasn't been that long since Stravinsky was a revolutionary.

The music is easy to find. Splurge a bit. Drop a couple of bills. I guarantee each of my neighbors spent a lot more than that on fireworks this month, and all they have to show for it is a bunch of shell-shocked dogs.

But don't get me started.

Don Hornaday, father of Staff Writer Jeff Hornaday, is a Grover Beach resident.

Readers Poll

What is your opinion on public art projects in San Luis Obispo?

  • It's good for the community, and we should have more of it.
  • Public art is an eyesore and a waste of public funds.
  • Such projects are good, but residents should have more say in where and what they are.
  • I don't care about public art.

View Results

Pin It


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Search, Find, Enjoy

Submit an event

Trending Now