Monday, August 04, 2008

In Context—Mozart and Beethoven

I have played primarily (mostly?) Mozart for the last two weeks. In that context, rehearsing Beethoven's fourth symphony today brought into relief the rhetorical differences between the two composers.

Mozart is always an opera composer. In symphonies, concerti, and chamber music, the lyrical (without the lyrics, mind you) explicitness of his rhetoric sings forth from the operatic stage. His cast of characters listens, responds, provokes, flirts, dances, and weeps. The lacking libretto is merely a technicality.

Beethoven's is a purely instrumental rhetoric, more abstract, yet in some ways more elemental. In a Beethoven symphony there are not characters, per se, rather the interplay is between emotions summoned through the composer's singular mastery of harmonic narrative and rhythmic persuasion. Whereas it is not easy to imagine words set to Beethoven's melodies, his music is vivid in meaning and formally cohesive.

Mozart's music lives in a world of intricate human relationships. Beethoven reaches for truths beyond the world of words.

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