Classical Music vs. The Romantics

From the Guardian, Martin Kettle worries that Mozart’s genius is not being appreciated.

What leaps out from this and other concert schedules of the modern era is the total absence of Mozart’s symphonies. The Proms are still, after all, pre-eminently an orchestral music festival. The symphony is still the principal form of orchestral music. Mozart wrote 41 of them. They are among the most brilliant symphonic works ever written. Yet none of Mozart’s symphonies features in the 2012 Proms. Not one of them.

Nor, crucially, is this year’s Mozart symphony famine a one-off omission. It is, on the contrary, entirely typical of recent years at the Proms. There was no Mozart symphony performed in the whole of the 2011 season either. Nor any in 2009. Nor in 2007. Two years ago, 2010, there were two Mozart symphonies (Nos 35 and 40). In 2008 there was one (No 34).

Separately Limelight magazine names Sergei Rachmaninov the greatest pianist of all time:

Who was he? A pianist and composer born in Russia, who graduated from the Moscow Conservatorium in the same class as composer Alexander Scriabin. Among his compositions is the Piano Concerto No 2, often voted the most popular piece of classical music of all time.

Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto is… how can I put this… rock and roll. As noted in this article on the bicentenary of Liszt, the romantics were the first to “turn a musical performance into something like an athletic feat,” which is clearly true of Rachmaninov. The concerto punches you in the gut with a sort of Cassius Clay like playfulness that is an easy transition for someone used to the Velvet Underground.

Rachmaninov is like a gateway drug, to Bartok, Liszt, Dvorak, Ravel. Then a spiraling addiction into some of the grumpier Operas (I’m looking at you Verdi), or the mathematical show-offiness of Bach.

But Mozart is a bit difficult to fit into that. He’s both too well known and not well known enough. And when you take an effort to delve deeper you get Operas about freemasonry? This has been a problem since almost the day he died. Mozart’s technical skills can be baffling to those who aren’t sure what he is trying to do, and the growing crowd of musically omnivorous listeners want to know what they are listening to. Cliches about his genius only impede communication.

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