About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Monday, December 30, 2013

Memorable Listening

A few months ago I got an email from ArkivMusic, publishers of Listen magazine as well as being a wonderful online source for classical recordings, asking me to participate in a survey. When I clicked on the link, the single question was "Please share with us your most memorable experience with classical music. This could be the greatest live performance you have ever seen or the most inspiring moment with a piece of music, a musician, a teacher or a place. If there is a single experience that stands out for you, we would love to hear about it."  I closed the window. It's a great question. After thinking about it, I decided I couldn't answer it - there were too many memorable experiences to choose just one. I decided to write here about some of the many memorable experiences I have had with classical music.

Their question is really open-ended, but I decided for now to limit it to a few live concert listening experiences that made an impact on me.

The first concert that I remember going to was in the high school gym of my town, Neenah, Wisconsin. Rafael Mendez gave a concert. I was about 10 years old, sitting in the bleachers with my family. I was blown away by the sound of his trumpet. I was so focused on the music that I was oblivious to everything else. Shortly after that, when it was time to sign up for a band instrument, I started trumpet. Amazingly, I still have the program from that concert.

When I was 15 or 16, my high school band/orchestra director organized a trip into New York City to hear the Cleveland Orchestra with George Szell. By this time, my family had moved to Connecticut and I had switched to horn. The concert was in Carnegie Hall, my first visit to this wonderful hall. I don't remember the details of the concert anymore, but I remember the feeling of hearing this great orchestra, sitting at the top of the beautiful hall.

The summer after my freshman year at Eastman, I went to the International Horn Symposium at Indiana University. This is more than one concert, but the week-long symposium is one experience in my memory. This was the 4th IHS Symposium and there were a lot of big names of the horn world there, all of whom I had only heard on recordings (LPs!). Hearing the Chicago Symphony horn section, Dale Clevenger, Tom Howell, Richard Oldberg, and Norm Schweikert, playing the Schumann Conzertstuck with piano accompaniment in a recital hall packed with a totally silent audience of horn players was an unforgettable experience. I had never heard playing like that -- so perfect and exciting. I was also wowed by Alan Civil in recital, a completely different style than the CSO hornists, but equally exciting and very impressive. One of the pieces he performed in recital was Hunter's Moon by Gilbert Vinter.  It's a novelty piece, very fun to listen to and play. At the time of this symposium, it was not well known, at least in the U.S., and was out of print. Now it's back in print and you can find performances of it on Youtube. No one plays it like Alan Civil did, though. Everything I heard him play was full of life and good humor. He also performed with a quartet made up of his wife Shirley Civil, Jim Buffington and Martin Morris, on a program that included a hilarious medley incorporating Der Freischutz, Jingle Bells, and a jazz improvisation by Buffington.

Jumping forward three years, I graduated college and moved to Chicago to study with Dale Clevenger, having convinced him to accept me as a student. (Go here for that story.) There were lots of great reasons to be in Chicago in the mid-1970s, including the Chicago Symphony. It was the Solti era and the renowned brass section was amazing. Just listen to recordings from that time. As a member of the Civic Orchestra (the training orchestra of the CSO) I could buy tickets to Friday afternoon concerts for one dollar. The tickets were almost always for gallery seats, often in the last row, but that didn't matter. For reference, the regular price of the gallery seats was $6. The first Chicago Symphony concert I went to was conducted by Claudio Abbado and included Brahms 3rd Symphony. What I remember best, of course, is the horn solos, which were beautiful -- intrinsically musical, with an ease that made it seem easy (which it is not!). I have gone to many. many outstanding CSO concerts over the years, but this first one still stands out in my memory. You couldn't ask for a better introduction to the symphony.

I wondered what other people wrote in response to Listen's question. There are some wonderful stories in the winter edition of Listen, of concerts attended, recordings heard, and interactions with great musicians. You can read them  here. How would you answer?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Mozart and ... Vampires?

While I was searching online for yet another Mozart book, the novel Mozart's Blood popped up on the screen. It's a vampire novel! With Mozart as a character! How bizarre and ridiculous! I thought.

Then I started reading the reader reviews and many people liked the book. They complimented the historical and musical details and the interesting story. So I checked it out of the library.

I am not a reader of vampire novels. I read the first Twilight novel, mostly to see if it was appropriate for 4th graders (it isn't), and I was a fan of Dark Shadows when it was on TV long ago. But I haven't been interested in the avalanche of vampire novels and television shows that have appeared in recent years. As I read Mozart's Blood, it sometimes seemed to me that the vampire story was an awkward addition to an interesting story of a young soprano trying to succeed in the 18th century. This might be due to my own disinterest in vampires.

The historical details of 18th century Europe, as well as 19th century San Francisco, ring true and are a highlight of the novel. There are abundant musical details of the 18th century, too. I learned more about castrati than I realized there was to know. Author Louise Marley, who is a former opera singer, has also captured the essence of what it's like to perform in an opera and also the way musicians see and hear music, whatever the century. The main character, soprano Teresa Saporiti, was a real person and did premiere the role of Donna Anna in Mozart's Don Giovanni.  Mozart is an important part of the story, though he only appears briefly, and his music is also important to the entire novel. And there's also a werewolf!

When I was reading this outside of my house, I kept trying to hide the cover. No one ever commented on it, but I felt somewhat like I did two summers ago when I was reading Shades of Gray by Jasper Fforde, which is a wonderful dystopian novel set in the future. Everyone who caught a glimpse thought I was reading 50 Shades of Gray and wanted to know how I liked it.

Author Louise Marley has written a number of novels, several of which are about musicians. You can find out more on her website: Louise Marley: Words and Music.

If you want to check out the bizarre worlds of Jasper Fforde, he also has a website: http://www.jasperfforde.com/.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Talent: Nature or Nurture?

Some time ago I watched this video on the Horn Insights blog. It irritated me, even though I agreed with some of the ideas. The ideas come from a book titled Talent is Overrated by Geoffry Colvin. I haven't read this book, but I did eventually read The Talent Code, by Daniel Coyne, which argues the basic idea, that the three things anyone needs to become an expert at anything are an excellent coach/teacher, 10,000 hours or 10 years of practice, and the practice must be focused and meaningful. I do agree with the idea that whatever you are born with as far as potential, without those three elements it is unlikely that a person will become extraordinary.

But Mozart was extraordinary from the time he was a very young child, before he had had time to amass 10,000 hours of practice. He also surpassed his teacher, his father Leopold, as a young adult. Then, just this week, I read this article, Studying the Science behind Child Prodigies from NPR. It looks at cellist Matt Haimovitz, a former child prodigy whose mother played piano and took him to concerts, but there is no one else in his family with his kind of talent. Ellen Winner, a psychologist who studies child prodigies, argues that the brains of such children are different than the ones the rest of us have. Haimovitz was mentored by outstanding musicians, like Itzhak Perlman, and is today a successful adult musician.

Both the video and the NPR article are too short to do justice to this debate. There's truth on both sides.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why was it more fun?

If we think that maybe at least some people did have more fun in the 18th century than we're having in the 21st, we naturally wonder why that would be, and maybe even how we can have more fun now. There are several good theories, in my opinion. The Mozarts' fun was generally centered around getting together with their friends and acquaintances to play games, talk or make music, so I
'm considering what is different now that stops us from having that kind of experience.

We've all heard that electronics in general and the Internet, Facebook, etc. are stopping us from having live interactions with our friends. Certainly the Mozart family had no choice but to interact in person or through hand-written letters with their acquaintances. There are many articles and studies about the ways in which people interact with their devices instead of the people that they're with. Recently NPR reported on a study that too much time on Facebook can make us sad. A recent New York Times article looked at how our extreme use of our smart phones is distracting us from the events and people in our lives. My favorite book on the subject is Hamlet's Blackberry, by William Powers. Powers takes a long view of technology, looking all the way back to the ancient Greeks, and suggesting reasons and ways to take control of how and when we switch off and reconnect face to face.

Then there's that three to four hour break after lunch that many residents of Salzburg and Vienna enjoyed in the 1700s. In spite of our many time-saving devices today, we work a lot. I don't know anyone who could take a break like that from work.

Perhaps because 18th century families tended to stay in one area instead of moving away from family and friends, it was just a part of their lives to socialize together. The Mozart family, though, does not fit this description. Leopold Mozart was estranged from his mother and siblings, perhaps because of his choice not to go into the family trade of bookbinding and also because of a dispute over inheritance. His wife, Anna Maria, had lost her family. Her father and sister died when she was still a child, leaving only her mother and herself. The Mozarts also traveled much more than most people at that time. Their large social group was made up of neighbors, fellow musicians, visitors to Salzburg and people they met on their travels.

There are no doubt other reasons as well. So many things back then were different and difficult, but there are some specific aspects that I envy, especially the frequent musical gatherings and that three hours in the afternoon!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Did people in the 18th century have more fun?

When we think about life in the past, we often think of what people didn't have -- indoor plumbing, central heat, air conditioning, shopping malls, airplanes -- the things that make our lives easier and more comfortable. People in the past, of course, didn't realize that they were missing these things. We might also have an impression of lives of hard labor, poor medical care, and a lack of education for many. This was no doubt true for many, though some might argue that it's still true today in many places in the world.

I have been thinking about this because of The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context, by Ruth Halliwell (see previous blog post here). Halliwell includes lots of information about the daily life of the Mozart family, as well as the economics and politics of their time and place. The Mozarts would fall into middle class of 18th century Salzburg. They were not rich, but neither were they poor. They were educated and valued education. Leopold had a reasonable position with a salary in Salzburg that enabled him to support his family and retire with income to live on. He was always hoping for a better position or a promotion, but on the other hand, his job allowed him to travel extensively with his family.

Aside from the extraordinary three-year tour of Europe when Wolfgang and Nannerl were children and the later trips to Italy with just Wolfgang and Leopold, what were their daily lives like? Halliwell has used Nannerl's diaries to find a window into those lives. Nannerl's diary is a barebones account of activities, with no description or commentary (though there are a few lighthearted or nonsensical additions from Wolfgang), so, Halliwell explains, most historians have not found much value in them. She has used the entries to reconstruct the events during the visit of Wolfgang and Constanze to Salzburg in 1783.

During the three months that Wolfgang and Constanze visited, Nannerl went to church nearly every morning, sometimes with Constanze. Mornings were often devoted to giving lessons, or sometimes to playing visits. After the mid-day meal, many Salzburgers had a three to four hour break from work!! The Mozarts spent this time entertaining, walking, or playing music. They had visitors almost every day. Nannerl mentioned over 170 people in her diary during the mid-1770s, an indication of how social the family was. Of course, during this three month period in 1783 there were no doubt many friends who wanted to see Wolfgang, but its' clear that even at other times the family had frequent visitors. A group of friends regularly came over to shoot air guns with darts (Bolzlschiessen). Members took turns designing a humorous target, which sometimes featured members of the group in caricatures, and prizes were awarded for the best shooting. Other days they would host musical afternoons with various musician friends. Other entertainments included card playing and skittles.

In the evenings there were sometimes concerts at the court, which Leopold would participate in as part of his job, or the theater. The Mozarts lived across the street from the theater and would go every day that the troop was in town. As an "old" man Leopold wrote that he could only manage to get to the theater once a week. ("Old" because that is how Leopold described himself, though he was 67 when he passed away.)

When I told my husband about all of the above, his remark was, "I think they had more fun than we're having."

In addition, carnival season offered many opportunities for entertainment. Carnival in 18th century Germany was the weeks before Lent began, so it included February, to give some perspective. (Carnival today in Rio is a modern version.) Because Lent is time for forgoing many pleasures, such as rich foods and some types of entertainment, carnival was the season for concerts and operas, masquerade balls and other parties. New operas and other works were commissioned for carnival. Mozart's operas Lucio Silla, Mitridate, re de Ponto, and Idomeneo were commissioned for carnival seasons. The Mozarts celebrated carnival not only in Salzburg, but in Munich, Vienna, and Italy. Nannerl attended a masked ball in Munich one year dressed as an Amazon. There is no record of the reaction to her costume,as far as I know.

Certainly many things were harder in the 18th century. Many children died in infancy; Leopold and Anna Maria had five infants die. Travel was difficult, slow, and dangerous. Opportunities were limited, especially for women. But, the amount of free time, at least for people in the Mozarts' circle, is astounding, as well as the amount of socializing they did and the number of friends and acquaintances. Maybe they did have more fun.

(Facts in this post come from The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context by Ruth Halliwell, Mozart's Women by Jane Glover, and Mozart; A Life by Maynard Solomon. If there are errors or omissions they are mine, not these authors'.)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Just the facts, ma'am, about the Mozarts

One of the best classes I ever took was called Music in the Middle Ages. It was my senior year at Eastman and the course was taught by Dr. Hendrik van der Werf. I learned a lot about medieval music, but the most important lesson was one that was more universal. Dr. van der Werf taught us to think critically about all the historical information and commentary we were reading, even when it was written by experts in the field. His big question always was: how do you know? Are you sure you know? What are you basing your ideas on? In the case of the middle ages, he pointed out that we use the music that has survived to draw conclusions. We don't know how much music originally existed, so we can't know how much was lost over time or what percentage of the original amount what we have is. Do we have 50% and 50% is lost? Do we have only 10%, or 75%? We don't know. We could be missing music that would throw a very different light on music in the Middle Ages. The message was, any conclusions we make from the existing evidence, including the artwork of the time, must be provisional and subject to rethinking.

This idea of examining evidence and also thinking critically about it obviously applies to many parts of life - politics, advertising, all those scientific studies that turn out to have been funded by an interested industry. However, I have been thinking about Dr. van der Werf's concept in relation to the Mozart biographies I have been reading.

I was impressed with Maynard Solomon's biography of Mozart and his use of primary documents in making his points. I also thought that Jane Glover solidly supported her points with the use of letters and scores. But even as I read them, I wondered about how they used the letters of the Mozart family. The letters are so extensive and nearly everyone who uses them only quotes bits, often the same letters over and over. Even if you get a book of the letters, they aren't all in there because there are so many.

One of my summer projects was to find and read The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context by Ruth Halliwell. This was a "project" because it is a very expensive book, so I needed to find a library with a copy. This involved getting a library card for the Northwestern University Library and checking out the book, which is 788 pages long (though the very extensive bibliography is part of those pages). So there was a significant investment of time on my part in traveling and then reading, but it was worth it. The Mozart Family is a wonderful book. Halliwell has read all the letters, as well as Nannerl's diaries and other primary sources. She puts into context some of the quotations that have been used out of context, and she notes where a statement is just mysterious and we don't really know what the author was trying to say. Halliwell also gives an amazing amount of background information, such as the political situation, economics of the Salzburg area, and what daily life was like at the time.

One lesson I got from reading this was how broad and minutely detailed the historian's work is. Simultaneously! For an example of the minute details, Halliwell includes a long explanation of how Leopold and Nannerl communicated after her marriage and move to St. Gilgen, while Leopold remained in Salzburg. The two tradespeople who carried letters and parcels back and forth are identified and details about them are given, as well as the particular days and times they would come and go. How Leopold would quickly shop for Nannerl's requested items and send a response is also documented. It is an unexpected look into the 18th century. There are also highly detailed sections on the medicine of the time and smallpox, which crosses over into religion and the state of vaccines.

Echoing the problems of studying the Middle Ages, quite a few of the letters have been lost. We know this because in some cases the replies still exist. Scholars have actually worked out a chronological sequence of letters, giving numbers to both existing and missing letters, though there are missing letters that haven't been entered into this system.

I came away from Solomon's biography thinking that Leopold Mozart was a tyrannical control freak who interfered with both of his children's lives and happiness and that Wolfgang was a visionary musician with reasonable plans who finally had to escape from his family in order to write the music he needed to write. After reading Halliwell's look at the Mozart family (which is not a biography of Wolfgang Mozart) I had a more nuanced view of both men. Leopold had valid concerns about some of his son's plans, based on his own experiences touring with the family, for example. Wolfgang was neither an eternal child, as some writers depict him, but neither was he always kind and sensible. Does Halliwell draw her own conclusions, like other biographers? Yes, but as I read the book, it was always clear to me when she was giving her own opinion or interpretation. For example, she presents quite a bit of evidence that Leopold loved Nannerl and was a good father to her, as opposed to some other authors who present him as carrying little about her and her musical education. On the other hand, when the Mozart family arrived in Vienna during a smallpox outbreak, Leopold took Wolfgang and fled to a safer location. Halliwell states that the conclusion that Leopold valued Wolfgang above Nannerl appears unavoidable.

Author bias in biography is inevitable. Just as a reader needs to consider the source of the information being presented, so he or she also needs to be aware that no author is completely neutral. I find that this makes reading biographies more interesting. It's another layer to consider.

The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context is a wonderful book for learning more about the time and place of the Mozart family. Next - did people have more fun in the 18th century?

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mozart in Fiction: the LAST Nannerl Novel

The last of the novels about Nannerl Mozart, that I located is titled Mozart's Sister, (obviously a popular title), by Rita Charbonnier. I did not like this book.

While it is clear that the author knows something about Mozart and his family, the characters are two-dimensional caricatures of the real historical people. Leopold Mozart is depicted as uniformly stern, doting only on his son and treating Nannerl almost as if she didn't exist, interacting with her only to stifle her musical abilities. Anna Maria, the mother of Nannerl and Wolfgang, appears to be coarse and uneducated, her dialogue peppered with swearing. The first appearance of Nannerl shows her as a strange, possibly autistic, little girl with a gift for music. Wolfgang is self-centered and casually cruel to others.

The events also do not follow the historical record. Captain d'Ippold was in reality a lifelong friend of the Mozart family, as well as a suitor of Nannerl's. In this novel he rejects Nannerl and her family and deliberately moves to another city to get away from them. When Nannerl meets her future husband, Baron Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg, he is a charming, handsome man, though in reality he was quite a bit older than Nannerl and appears to have been somewhat of a curmudgeon. His children have all been given now names, too. That seems like a small point, but if the real names are easily available, which they are, and the book is filled with real people, why change their names?

Even before I finished the book, I started considering why I disliked it so much. I enjoy historical fiction and read a lot of it. I recognize that everything in a historical novel will not be true. How much needs to be true, or what aspects of history need to be preserved in a novel?

A problem with historical fiction is that readers take the fiction parts as fact. I recently participated in an online discussion thread on education in which one writer sited Salieri's killing of Mozart in the Amadeus movie to make a point about some people's jealousy of gifted individuals. The person making the comment and the person who responded to it both believed that Salieri really did kill Mozart. I jumped in with the generally accepted facts about Mozart's death as well as what we know about Salieri.

I used to have my 4th graders read Mr. Revere and I, a historical novel narrated by Paul Revere's horse. I really like this book and it brings parts of the American Revolution to life for young readers. It doesn't bother me that a horse is telling the story, though I made a point in teaching with the book to clarify aspects of the story that were not historically accurate, such as that the real horse that Revere rode on his famous ride was a borrowed horse, not his own. However, the Revere family and other historical figures, such as Samuel Adams, are depicted realistically, and the important events of the time are also accurate.

Then I began thinking about the other Mozart novels I read. They all include some fiction, of course. My favorite turns out to be the first one I read, Mozart's Last Aria. Notable fictions that author Matt Rees has created include Nannerl making a trip to Vienna after her brother's death and having one character die who in reality lived a reasonably long life. Both these elements are important to the plot, and Rees includes extensive notes in his afterword about the history behind the story that explain what he changed. He also has a discography of the music referred to in the story and an explanation of how he structured the plot. 

I find that whenever I read historical fiction I always wonder what's true and what the author made up. That is what inspired me to start reading nonfiction about Mozart. The afternotes and discography that Matt Rees included at the end of Mozart's Last Aria enhanced the reading experience for me and saved me from searching for some answers. I also think that including actual works of Mozart as important parts of the plot is excellent!

There is one more novel that I haven't yet read, this one being about Anna Maria Mozart. There's is also a movie titled Mozart's Sister that I haven't seen. For now, though, I'm reading another nonfiction work, The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context. The author has done extensive research with the primary documents. I'm looking forward to reading it and then writing about it!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Tribute Concert for Dale Clevenger

Dale Clevenger has retired from the Chicago Symphony; his last concert was Tuesday. The send-off at the tribute concert on Monday from the CSO, colleagues, students, and friends was awe-inspiring.

As a former Clevenger student I was thrilled to receive an invitation, not just to the concert, but to play in a large horn choir made up of his students, former students, and colleagues. My daughter Jamie was invited, too, as a current Clevenger student. Our piece was the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony, a work strongly connected with Dale. If you have never listened to the Chicago Symphony recording of Mahler's 5th with Georg Solti conducting, go do that right now! Here is the horn obbligato from the 3rd movement, with Daniel Barenboim conducting:

We all arrived at Buntrock Hall at Symphony Center for the rehearsal on Monday morning. Nearly 70 horn players had come from all over the country, Europe, and Japan to play in this concert. Buntrock Hall was filled with horn playing and conversation as we all reconnected with our colleagues. I talked with people I hadn't seen in 30 years, horn players I knew when I was in the Civic Orchestra, and friends of Jamie, people I had never met before -- all horn players!

After the warm-up time, we went onto the stage of Orchestra Hall and rehearsed the Adagietto with Dale conducting. It was exciting and a bit nerve-wracking to be playing on the stage with hornists like Norm Schweikert, Eric Ruske, Jeff Nelsen, Gail Williams, and the CSO horn section! In addition to being a great horn player, Dale is also a fine conductor and used our short rehearsal time to the best advantage.

After the rehearsal, while most of us went out to find some lunch, Sarah Willis (4th horn in the Berlin Philharmonic) held a special Horn Hangout via the Internet as part of the tribute. (I watched it later on youtube.) Many people in Chicago, Italy, and other places came on to offer congratulations, memories, and thanks to Dale. His son Jesse Clevenger, a fine horn player himself, talks near the end of the session; his thoughtful and deeply felt remarks go to the heart of why Dale is such a great musician. The entire video is well worth watching:

Cut to the concert! The horn choir, all dressed in black, were all given seats in the terrace (behind the stage). The CSO Brass opened the concert with a Gabrieli Canzon. Dale conducted the entire program except for the Mozart Symphony #25. He brought a box of tissues with him, which he showed to the audience. The CSO Brass were superb, as always. Next, the other five members of the horn section -- Dan Gingrich, Jim Smelser, Dave Griffin, Oto Carrillo, and Susanna Gaunt --  played the Mozart 3rd horn concerto arranged for 5 horns and strings by Dan Gingrich. This was such an inventive arrangement, with the solo phrases moving through the section and the horns taking the woodwind parts as well. A standing ovation followed. The CSO Brass came back on to perform parts of Der Rosenkavalier. Beautiful and impressive. Another standing ovation. During the applause, the brass gave Dale a tusch, an improvised fanfare given by brass (and sometimes percussion). It is a sign of the highest respect and is only rarely given. I have only seen a couple of tusches, one was for Carlo Maria Giulini when he stepped down as Principal Guest Conductor of the Chicago Symphony, and one for Georg Solti when he retired.

The chair for the tribute video.
A video tribute, with interviews with a number of CSO players followed. Before beginning the video, the stage crew brought out a large, comfy chair for Dale. The video was both moving and funny. It has been circulated on Facebook, but here is the link:  http://cso.org/ListenAndWatch/Details.aspx?id=24191    

The concert continued with two movements of Mozart Symphony #25. This is the piece that opens the movie Amadeus.   Ricardo Muti conducted this piece, which features some high, acrobatic horn parts. The last piece on the program was the Adagietto. Ian Harwood, who was in charge of us horn players and did an awesome job with that, had told us that we needed to leave the terrace quickly, pick up our horns and music, and get on the stage as soon as possible. So at the close of the Mozart, most of the terrace stood up and left. We did move quickly, though most of us wanted to play a few notes before playing on stage! I ended up toward the back of the crowd and the sight of 70 musicians all carrying horns, streaming down the circular stairs of the rotunda and into the backstage area was a striking spectacle. I wish someone had been there with a camera. We crowded onto the stage and Dale gave the downbeat. Someone else will have to comment on how well we did. It was an intense experience that seemed to go by in an instant. Lovely arrangement for horn choir by John Schreckengost. Dale and the choir received a standing ovation.

Maestro Muti watching the horn choir
Afterwards there were greetings and farewells in the rotunda, and then about half of the 70 horn players went across Wabash to the Exchequer for pizza and more chatting. The next morning I said good-bye to my friend Henry, who drove 11 hours from Knoxville to attend and play in this concert.  

I know from talking with other horn players and friends in the audience that this was a truly special occasion for people. I think it's because of Dale's stature as a musician, a horn player  and a teacher. When I play horn, it's his sound that's in my ear and his voice in my head. But it's also because of the kind of person he is. He is a very generous, "people" person, always ready to include new people in his life.

Two nights after the tribute I was at a rehearsal with a young horn player, still in college, who had also played in the concert. We both agreed that we were still buzzing from the whole experience. We're not alone.  To echo my friend Henry, "It was a night I shall never forget."      

Joe Fournier, Joe Fournier Studios

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rosetti Concerto for Two Horns

A week ago today my daughter Jamie Leff and Jesse Clevenger played two movements of one of Rosetti's concertos for two horns with the Buffalo Grove Symphonic Band. It's a charming piece and they played it beautifully. Here's a video of their performance (taken with an iPhone from the front row).

This is the concerto numbered C57 in Eb.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Mozart in fiction, part 5

I finished reading Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon, but I'm going to postpone writing about it until a later post. I will say that it's a fantastic book, with lots of research behind it. At times it was as gripping as a really well-written novel.

So, speaking of novels, I also finished another of the novels about Nannerl Mozart, this one being Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser. This begins in the cemetery in Vienna, with Nannerl searching for her brother's grave, then flashes back to her childhood of exciting travels and performances with Wolfgang. This Nannerl is wide-eyed, describing the exotic cities, beautiful clothes, and stunning concerts that she and Wolfgang gave, while also making short asides revealing the negative. The novel ends with Nannerl having made a success of her marriage and step-children, with a brief coda taking place at the end of her life. Since she is a narrator, she naturally explains all her actions and decisions as being logical, or glosses over the parts of her real life history that put her in a poor light. Wolfgang (whom she always calls Wolfie though in actuality his family called him Wolferl) is the thoughtless, carefree prodigy who lives in the moment with no thought for the future. Leopold is definitely the boss in the family, whom Nannerl argues with as a young girl, but comes to rely on as an adult.

I am getting tired of novels about Nannerl, but maybe it's because I haven't read a really good one yet. There's one more to read, and there's also a movie. Perhaps I will decide that the truth is more interesting than the fiction.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Leopold Mozart: Tiger Dad?

I haven't read Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, but I have read about it. And, it struck me as I was reading Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon, that Leopold Mozart was something of a tiger parent himself.

From what I gather, the thought behind tiger parenting is to demand the highest level of achievement from one's children, even when that means acting in ways that some would call unnecessarily harsh. For example, Ms. Chua told her daughter that the homemade birthday card the girl made for her wasn't good enough. (In her defense, she later explained it was a folded piece of paper with a smiley face drawn on it that had taken her daughter almost no time or thought to do.) The tiger mom also drills her children in areas like math both so they will get better and so they will feel more confident and like the subject.

The only acceptable musical instruments for the children of a tiger parent are violin or piano, or both, and hours of daily practice are required. Both of Ms. Chua's children demonstrated a high level of achievement in music, one performing at Carnegie Hall, though the other eventually rebelled and quit, taking up tennis instead.

Obviously, a tiger parent exerts a great deal of control over his or her children. The ultimate goal of the tiger mom is the success of her children, which she can take pride in. This mother seems to realize that in the end, her children will have their own lives, which she has worked hard to prepare them for.

Leopold Mozart was a working professional musician, with a home filled with music through friends and students. It was an ideal environment for the talents of his children to surface and be nurtured. The family letters and others' accounts show that Leopold loved his children dearly, especially Wolfgang, but that he was quite an autocratic parent as well. He did require hours of practice from both children. Wolfgang played both piano and violin extremely well, and Nannerl was an excellent pianist as well. (Most likely Nannerl did not play the violin because of the standard for the idealized female countenance, which the violin would have pulled askew.) He pushed them to work hard, which probably resulted in the several serious illness Wolfgang and Nannerl had in childhood. At one point on tour Nannerl received last rites. Leopold also took total charge of his children's education. Neither child went to school or had tutors. He appears to have done an excellent job. Wolfgang and Nannerl were well read and spoke several languages.

Unlike the tiger parent of the 21st century, Leopold could not let go of his children as they grew up. In Mozart: A Life, Solomon uses the family letters to show that Leopold tried to convince Wolfgang that he (Wolfgang) was incapable of managing on his own. Leopold wrote to him, arguing that Wolfgang had no experience arranging travel and would not be able to cope with these demands. He later tried to persuade Wolfgang that he should write pieces that people would like and not experiment with new ideas, and that he should move back to Salzburg and become a court violinist and organist. Nannerl didn't marry until she was in her 30s, very unusual for the time. Though there is nothing to indicate why she didn't marry earlier when she had suitors, some have speculated that Leopold either didn't find any of the potential husbands good enough, or he wanted to keep Nannerl at home to take care of him.

So was Leopold Mozart a tiger dad? He had some of the characteristics of one, but also had some unusual ideas about the goal of child rearing.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Mysterious Portraits

The New York Times recently ran an article in the Arts section titled "Portraits of Mystery: Wolfgang, Is that You?" The International Mozarteum Foundation, which is located in Salzburg, currently has an exhibition of Mozart portraits. According to the article, there are 14 portraits in various media that were done during Mozart's lifetime. The Mozarteum show includes 12 of these, nine of which belong to the Mozarteum. Recent research has revealed some new information about some of the images. The most famous portrait, the unfinished painting by Joseph Lange, Mozart's brother-in-law, was analyzed using x-rays and infrared. This showed that a smaller completed portrait had been mounted on the canvas, showing that the unfinished painting is an enlargement of the smaller complete work. Another painting was determined after cleaning to not be Mozart. A small portrait on ivory from 1783 that experts had doubts about is now proved to be authentic.

Portrait of Mozart by Joseph Lange
To me, as a non-expert, it is interesting how different the portraits look from one another. Most show Mozart with a full face and a bit of a double chin, though a miniature painted when he was about 16 years old depicts him as thin. Though the article doesn't address this, I thought it may have been taken after one of Mozart's illnesses. He had a number of serious illnesses as a child. The portrait from 1783, when he was about 26 looks very young -- I thought it was of him as a child.

A portrait that I find truly mysterious is the one at the Sibley Library in Rochester, New York. Sibley is the music library of the Eastman School of Music. When my husband and I went back for a reunion in 1991, the new library had been recently completed and we were able to take of tour. Going around a corner, we came to the bottom of the stairs and a striking view of a large portrait of a smiling Mozart. Everyone in our group exclaimed over it -- it's a beautiful painting and he's smiling! According to the library's web site, the painting is by Johann Heinrich Tischbein, a German painter of the 18th century. The library has no image of the painting on its website, and I have not found the picture that I remember anywhere else. Is it authentic? Tischbein died in 1788, so he would have had to paint  it during Mozart's life (as he died in 1791). If so, it should be counted among the 14 portraits painted during his life. There is no mention of it in the New York Times article. Further investigation is needed!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Mozart in fiction, part 4

Last time I said I was going to go back to nonfiction and I am now reading Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon. It a big book, over 600 pages, and calls for focused reading. It's very interesting, with many ideas to think about. But since it is a slow book, I slipped in In Mozart's Shadow: His Sister's Story by Carolyn Meyer.

This is a young adult novel; the jacket states it is for ages 12 and up. As a 4th grade teacher I regularly read books for kids, and there are many that I don't whole-heartedly like. This includes novels that are highly acclaimed and books my students love. For example, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan is very popular with upper elementary readers. If you aren't familiar with it, it's set in the United States today and is about a boy who discovers his father is Neptune. Adventures follow. It's a great premise, but I could hardly make myself continue reading the first book. Even as the main characters were setting out on an important quest, I was bored and wanted to quit reading. (I didn't tell my students.) There are also many books for young people that I do like a lot, including Harry Potter (though I don't think the later books are children's literature) and the Mysterious Benedict Society.

That said, In Mozart's Shadow is disappointing. Nannerl Mozart is the narrator, from the time she is 13 years old until Wolfgang's death. The Mozart family had an exciting life, and Nannerl narrates all of it, but I never felt engaged in the story or that I knew Nannerl. We skim the surface of the events, which seem to pass quickly, followed by more trips and concerts. What we learn about Nannerl is that she loves music and performing, that she was bitterly disappointed to be left behind beginning with the trips to Italy that Leopold took only Wolfgang on, and she continued to be unhappy about not being able to participate in a musical life and not marrying happily. It becomes a one-note theme in the book. On the cover is a young lady in 18th century garb, looking sad, with downcast eyes. Wolfgang is depicted as a mischievous brat, Leopold Mozart as an autocratic father who only cared about his son, not his daughter, and Anna Maria, the mother, as a put-upon caretaker. There are also some adult themes, such as mistresses and dalliances, that may not be appropriate for all 12 year olds.

As I finished reading this novel, I started wondering how a writer could structure an interesting novel about Nannerl Mozart, for any age reader, since neither this one or Mozart's Sister, by A.M. Baud, were satisfying for me. In the real Nannerl's accounts of her family, she wrote in a a cryptic style that revealed little of herself. She referred to "the son" and "the father" when talking about her brother and father. "On 12 December 1769, father and son went alone to Italy," she wrote, remembering the event years later. And, "The Pope wanted to see the son, and gave him the cross and the brief of a militiae auratae equus." So it is difficult to deduce her personality and response to events. In addition, including every major event in her life can lead to a lack of depth, or a very long book.

I think if I were trying this I would try to pick up some of her personality from the letters of other family members. Like Carolyn Meyer, I would assume that Nannerl must have been devastated by not being able to pursue a life in music and ending up married to a man with 5 unruly children, living in a small town, isolated from her friends and any cultural life. I would not attempt to include everything in her family history, but perhaps focus on part of her life. This was a successful strategy in Marrying Mozart, which focused on a few years in the adult life of Wolfgang Mozart. As I tell my 4th graders, historical fiction means there are some true things, but there are also fictional events and people. Sometimes even the real people end up partly fictional.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mozart!

Detail from Mozart family portrait by Johann Nepomuk della Croce
Today is the 257th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. After I participated several times in the Schubertiade sponsored by Pianoforte Chicago, though sadly not this year, I thought what fun it would be to have a similar celebration of Mozart's work. Mozart wrote many chamber works, and he wrote much more for wind instruments than Schubert did. The Schubertiade is always heavy on pianists and singers. The word Schubertiade was coined by Franz Schubert's friends, who would get together with him to play his music in a relaxed setting in someone's home. The Mozart family also had such musical evenings, having friends over to play pieces by Mozart and other contemporary composers. I'm guessing this was probably a common entertainment among people who played instruments before television was invented.

Mozart evening, anyone?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mozart in fiction, part 3

After learning about five different novels written about Nannerl Mozart, I was able to track them all down, mostly through the secondhand book source, alibris.com. I chose one at random recently to read: Mozart's Sister, by A.M. Bauld.

This is a very strange book. My husband described it as "like a nightmare." It has a bizarre dreamlike quality. I would say it has only the slightest connection with Nannerl Mozart's real life. The narrator is Franz Xaver Mozart, the younger son of Wolfgang, who is visiting his aged, infirm aunt Nannerl, as he actually did. This seemed at first to be a similar format as Mozart's Last Aria, however, this Franz Xaver expresses disgust with his decrepit aunt, and, in a science fiction twist, he can transform himself into a spider (shades of Kafka!) and travel back in time to observe his family before his birth. Other historical events that appear in this novel include a visit by Vincent and Mary Novello, who did in fact travel from England to visit the elderly Nannerl and interview her about her life and her famous brother. And, like both Mozart's Last Aria and Marrying Mozart, letters are very important in advancing the plot. The Mozart family is, of course, known for being prolific letter writers.

The author invents several important characters who have significant interactions with Nannerl and Leopold Mozart, including a love interest for Nannerl. Bauld does include an Author's Note clarifying which characters were invented, but these characters add to the strangeness of the mood and the depiction of the real people. Most of the characters seem to be unhappy. Example (and spoiler -- alert!): Nannerl love interest is an itinerant draper and amateur musician who is Jewish. They fall in love, but neither tells the other, and after a series of unhappy misunderstandings, he eventually leaves, possibly to perish in a shipwreck on the way to Van Dieman's Land (Tasmania). But maybe not. maybe he made it up.

I was very confused by the end of this book. I think I will go back to nonfiction for awhile.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Mozart for real

After reading two novels about Mozart (see here and here) I decided to switch to biography to see if I could find answers to my questions about what was true and what was fiction created by the authors. The book I chose was Mozart's Women by Jane Glover. I found this while searching on Amazon for books on Mozart; Jane Glover is the music director of Music of the Baroque here in Chicago, so I ordered it. I highly recommend this book. Glover's theme is Mozart's relationships with the women in his life, including opera characters, and his enlightened attitude toward women. She includes a lot of fascinating and in-depth biographical information and thoughtful discussion of Mozart's works and his process of writing music, in particular opera, as it developed over his life.

An interesting aspect of biographies is that they're not "the truth," but are actually a reflection of the time they are written in and the viewpoint of the author. When I first studied Mozart as a college music student, what I picked up about Mozart was that he was an incredible genius who was so removed from the world that he would never be touched by anything -- not by the scenery while traveling, not by the death of his children. The evidence for this was in the music he wrote. His father Leopold was a great man, though a lesser musician than his son, who gave up much to nurture this extraordinary talent. Constanze was a careless ditz, and it was a tragedy that Wolfgang had married her. Then came Amadeus, the play and the movie, and the popular view of Mozart became one of naive  potty-mouthed, immature, musical genius.

Glover agrees with other current biographers and paints Leopold as overbearing and unwilling to let go as Wolfgang grew up. Constanze was playful and a good partner to Wolfgang, and she turned out to be a smart manager, though she took over the finances too late to make a difference to her husband. Glover is clearly outraged by the unfair treatment Wolfgang's sister Nannerl received. A very talented musician, she toured with her brother until she was 19. At that time her father kept her home while Wolfgang continued his extraordinary career. This was in spite of the fact that a number of talented women at the time had successful musical careers as singers, pianists, and teachers.

Wolfgang Mozart himself is depicted as a serious musician, as well as an extraordinary one. He was extremely social and had a wide circle of friends all over Europe. An aspect of his musicianship and personality that surprised me was that he was known for his kindness and patience in working with the singers in his opera productions, including older singers who struggled with the parts he had written.

I was fascinated by the discussions about the writing of the operas and subsequent productions. Mozart was very involved in the libretto, working in partnership with his librettists, and expressed strong opinions about the themes and drama of the stories. The operas that he wrote with Lorenzo Da Ponte -- The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi fan tutte -- were real partnerships that changed opera forever. Both the themes and the music were unlike other operas of the time, which seemed to have fallen into patterns that everyone expected. For example, composers wrote in a way that encouraged applause at the end of the overture and arias. In Abduction from the Seraglio, Mozart blends the end of the overture into the beginning of act one, removing the opportunity for applause. Likewise, the arias are woven into the dramatic action, focusing the audience's attention on the drama and reducing the chances of applause.

In music school, students study works of the past as fixed entities. While there are new, radical productions of operas and sometimes older works are adapted into new pieces, I always thought of the composer's original work as existing in an original fixed form. As musicians, we often think about honoring the composer's intentions by following what's in the score and learning about convention of the time. It was eye-opening for me, then, to read that Mozart regularly rewrote parts based on his singers' abilities. In some cases he had to make parts easier, for older or less talented singers. In other cases he added new arias to please a singer who wanted a bigger role. So this means that there are multiple versions of how some of his operas can be performed? I'm not that knowledgeable about opera, so I wonder what directors do with these choices today? Is there now a standardized version of each opera?

It appears that Mozart's Women contains so much interesting information and is such fun to read that I forgot my original intention of sorting truth from fiction. I did pick up some ideas that the Weber family was somewhat different that they were portrayed in Marrying Mozart. Mozart's Women paints a happier picture overall of the family than the novel does.

There is more to read -- fiction and nonfiction. That Mozart fascinates us is clear from the amount of other works generated by him and his life.