'Mozart is too "chocolate-boxy" '

Tim S's picture
Submitted by Tim S on Fri, 2006-01-20 11:05

There was an amusing debate on Mozart in the UK just prior to Christmas:

For lovers of Bach, Radio 3's decision to play the composer's entire works was a stroke of genius, garnering glowing responses from listeners and critical acclaim.

Fans of Mozart, however, will not be so lucky. The station has rejected the idea of playing his entire works in one go, to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, fearing the effect would be "too chocolate-boxy".

...Anthony Lewis-Crosby, the managing director of the London Mozart Players, the UK's oldest chamber orchestra, said: "There's nothing chocolate-boxy about Mozart. It's all wonderful music."

Mozart's music, despite some gorgeous moments (try Laudate Dominum), has always seemed to me somewhat banal, inoffensive and lacking in depth. Certainly sitting through *all* of it would be quite a chore, wouldn't SOLOists agree?

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And Ingrid Bergman was pretty as a sewer rat...

Don E. Klein's picture

Mozart needs defending around here? What’s next, fresh air? Sunshine?

Chocolate better than schmaltz

Haydn77's picture

I will take the taste of 'chocolate' Mozartian/Haydnian Classicism over the schmaltz found in much Romantic music everytime. (I should state that I disagree completely with the characterization of Mozart's music as "chocolate-boxy".)

And the notion that there is more depth in the '1812 Overture' than in Mozart's music is laughable, to say the least.

Actually there are quite few other statements on this thread, such as this description of Mozart's music: 'banal, inoffensive and lacking in depth', that I will address later.

Let me just say now that Mozart was a much greater composer than Tchaikovsky or Rachmaninoff.

Nice fireworks.

Daniel Walden's picture

Damrau certainly has her trills down, and she's putting all the drama that the music will hold into it. But the problem is, it won't hold much. Der Holle Rache is a vocal pyrotechnics display, but not much else. It's a showpiece. For some REAL fireworks, check out this video of the gorgeous Anna Moffo singing Sempre Libera from Verdi's La Traviata. Note how ridiculously fast she takes her trills while still perfectly landing every note, and note also how high she goes while still keeping support and emotion in her voice. That's a high E-flat she hits at the end, only two half-steps below the highest note in Der Holle Rache.

Way to Mario-up the Chocolate Box Meister

Tim S's picture

If you're going to perform Mozart, this is surely the way to do it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvuKxL4LOqc

Diana Damrau singing Queen of the Night. Pure venom!

Yeah, I understand what

aukade's picture

Yeah, I understand what people are thinking when they call Mozart's music banal...if you have ever heard his innumerable symphonies and his hyper piano pieces, you would know. Personally, I was introduced to Mozart when I was 12, and he was given to me via his requiem. I fell in love with his vocal pieces such as Tuba Mirum, Lacrimosa and Kyrie Eleison. Truly genius. But then again, his requiem is a highly disputed piece of work, whether it truly was his creation is still under question. If you ask me, it wasn't characteristic Mozart music, except for perhaps the repetitive coda with variations.
But when you are asked compare Mozart to composers such as Brahms, Debussy or even Bach, you feel like you are being asked to stir hot tea with a spoon of cheese; it isn't possible.
Mozart had his expertise, and his ease with the notes was truly remarkable, but if you look at his work on the whole, it is characterised by three words; repetitive, unnecessary, hyper.
Sorry Amadeus. May God be with your soul. Amen.
When in doubt, think.

It's the orchestra!

TimV's picture

Exactly, Shayne. It's the approach to classical music whereby you remove the expression just because the composer didn't issue instructions on every bar. (It's the equivalent of saying that life was very gray before colour photography took off.)

JoeM, thanks for the quote. I understand the point and appreciate that the response to music has elements of both the emotional and rational (recognition of complex patterns). The best music ticks both boxes.

Maybe it's the orchestra

sjw's picture

If you don't like Mozart maybe it's just that you've listened to the wrong people play it...

There's no joy ...

Volkov's picture

There's no joy in anyone's life who calls one of his biggest hits "Clarinet Concerto in A major - K.622"... only banality.

What's wrong with the tried and tested method e.g. "I Was Made For Lovin' You" (apostrophe madatory), "Mmm Bop!" (exclamation mark essential) etc. etc.

and as for "Piano Concerto No 23 in A major K488", don't get me started! No wonder this stuff hasn't taken off with the kids!

Not so simple...

JoeM's picture

Tim, I understand where you are coming from with the idea that joy in music is often equated with banality. I've seen enough cynical reactions to "happy" music in the rock world. But to play "devil's advocate" for a moment, consider this quote from Rand in THE ROMANTIC MANIFESTO:

“It must be stressed that the pattern is not so gross and simple as preferring gay music to sad music or vice versa, according to a ‘benevolent’ or ‘malevolent’ view of the universe. The issue is much more complex and much more specifically musical than that: it is not merely what particular emotion a given composition conveys, but how it conveys it, by what musical means or method.” She even goes on to say that she'd take a funeral march over the "Blue Danube Waltz, or the Nelson Eddy-Jeanette Mcdonald" type of music.

My observation regarding certain "joyous" musics like Mozart, or maybe even certain Broadway showtunes, is the manner that joy is depicted. In the case of Mozart and his era, such music comes off as "foppish", or maybe "dandiesh?" Broadway has a similar feel to its "gay" stylyings (and I wonder if that isn't a big issue for many "manly" men when listening to such stylings). Joy can be depicted in many ways, and it's not merely the tone of the work, but the "movement" it inspires in the listener. Not everyone equates "foppish" joy with real joy, and it can be said that it is a decadent style of joy, one that maybe is undeserved because the music shows no struggle or work towards that happiness. (I liken this argument to a criticism of the Maxfield Parrish painting featuring the barefoot woman atop the mountaintop in a state of joy; the woman's face shows joy, sure. But the bare feet show no signs of wear or tear in climbing that mountain, no struggle, no effort.) It's not the same as saying that suffering is an end in itself, but that the greater the celebration, the struggle will increase exponentially. Rand knew this, which is why in her novels she made the tension for her heroes monumental.

Spaceplayer: "The Music Listens To YOU."


Ashley's picture

Did Tim just type "hot sex" two times in the same post as he mentions chocolates? How am I supposed to work under these conditions?

Sure, caramel creams have their place

Tim S's picture

But no, we refuse the immaculate fondant, the caramel creams, the nut clusters.


No one is rejecting Mozart's caramel creams outright, we are just saying we prefer the hot sex of the Romantics thank you very much. An occasional caramel cream makes good filler when you've exhausted yourself of the hot sex, but life would quickly become dull - not to mention sickly - if we got those priorities mixed up.

A few years ago I would have agreed

Jason Quintana's picture

I've always been an addict of the late romantic era but more recently I've come to appreciate the more subtle intensity of Mozart, which at times does indeed build up to intense passion. The second movement of the Jupiter Symphony comes to mind as an example. I also must admit that I do appreciate the beauty of the "civilized", buttoned up, polished and orderly approach by the classical master. One of my fondest recent memories is wandering around Vienna last Summer with Mozart blazing into my ears from my MP3 player while I was surrounded by palaces and buildings that existed in the late 18th century.

Mozart does work better as background music. I can't listen to Mozart with the same level of attentiveness that I listen to say... a Mahler symphony.

- Jason

Yawn. :-)

Lindsay Perigo's picture

Mozart occasionally wrote melodies that verged on the sublime. Mostly he managed to sound frivolous in a dull kind of way. Later composers broke free from the formalism of his time & eclipsed him. I guess we should be grateful to him - Tchaikovsky was a huge fan - but he's scarcely the embodiment of "total passion for the total height."


Lanza Morio's picture

Hey Tim,

I like what you say here:

Will someone tell me why, in this cockamamie cynical world, joy is equated with banality?

An answer is in your answer. It's a cockamamie and cynical world. Joy is not what people are searching for.

A believable hero is one the great challenges in fiction writing. Victor Hugo created Jean Valjean among others. Rand created several too bless her heart. The path of least resistance is to have your "hero" be a mix of bravery, buffoonery, and bad manners. A squeaky clean melody is similar to a squeaky clean fiction hero. It takes depth of character and experience (in the artist) to make it believable.

There are only a few ways to be triumphant (now there's an unhip word) and a zillion ways to be otherwise.


Lanza Morio's picture

I like Mozart. There's a fantastic waterfront coffee shop here in Austin called "Mozart's" and the background music is usually lesser-known Mozart. His stuff is catchy and rich in its own way. For some reason I don't have the depth of experience with Mozart's stuff that I get from Beethoven, the Rach man, and Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture. At least not from the more popular Mozart works. His more obscure stuff has more staying power for me.

I consider the Tcaikovsky's 1812 Overture to be something of the perfect example of joyous music. If we can forget about the Bad News Bears and Mighty Mouse the 1812 has a tremendous power in the direction of the joy. There is a depth there that I don't get from Mozart. His popular stuff seems frivilous. Catchy but it doesn't get to your gut.

I'll bite...

TimV's picture

It seems an incredibly broad brush approach to evaluate Mozart in this manner. Sure, the overriding emotion coming from Mozart’s music is joy. Will someone tell me why, in this cockamamie cynical world, joy is equated with banality?

Of course there are works of wonderfully poignancy. (For example; in The Marriage of Figaro Act III: Aria: "Dove sono i bei momenti", or the Adagio from Clarinet Concerto in A major - K.622, and the Adagio from Piano Concerto No 23 in A major K488).

But no, we refuse the immaculate fondant, the caramel creams, the nut clusters. Instead we get this wholely adolescent enthusiasm to run for the works of the syphilitic angst-peddlers of the Romantic Movement. (I didn’t start with the broad brush!)

Well, I was kinda hoping

Tim S's picture

Well, I was kinda hoping someone would come back with their pants on fire telling me where I'm so wrong about Mozart! The guy wrote a ton of stuff so there must be something good in there...?

I'll have a look out for Don Giovanni at least, thanks Derek.

"Like piddling on flannel" -

Reidy's picture

"Like piddling on flannel" - Noel Coward

Doesn't get *my* juices flowing!

Derek McGovern's picture

I'm with you here, Tim. Mozart's music is exquisitely crafted, but the final act of Don Giovanni aside, he never gets my pulse racing. Nor does he move me in the way that, say, Elgar does in the second movement of his Violin Concerto, or that Puccini achieves in almost every opera that he wrote. Mozart, of course, was writing at a time when composers didn't wear their hearts on their sleeves. But even without that constraint, I'm sure that passion would never have been his strong suit.

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