There are several worlds of music which are distinguished by different styles. We have a romantic world and a classic world, a baroque world and an atonal world. But Mozart is a world unto himself. His creative achievements and monumental output cannot be compared with that of any other composer.
Each work by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is individual. All of the sonatas differ to such a great extent that a pianist cannot approach any two pieces in the same manner. There is actually but one way to play Mozart and that requires a great deal of patience and study. The student and professional musician must know and understand all aspects of the score- the historical and personal circumstances under which the piece was composed, a full appreciation for other works of the same period in Mozart’s career and, probably most important of all, a perfect mastery of the notes themselves.
During my own pre-performance preparations I spend a great deal of time researching the composer’s state of mind at the time of composition. I have noticed that Mozart would often be at work on several different pieces at the same time, works being composed in different spirits. For example, the Concerto for Piano in A Major, K. 488 , and the Concerto for Piano in C minor K.491 , were written, as their Kochel numbers suggest, around the same time. Yet the A major concerto is marked by a light gayness, whereas the C minor concerto is a deeply tragic, passionate and moving composition. It goes without saying that both works cannot be performed in the same manner.
Another point which is of great importance is an inspection of the different editions of Mozart’s works. It is always stimulating to examine these scores because one can see how other individuals interpreted the music. One may not agree with their versions though many new insights and ideas may be gained.
Not only do editions offer diverging opinions on the performance of Mozart. Different musical times produced dissimilar performances. Pianists of our day often play classical music either with a romantic feeling derived from the nineteenth century or with the mathematical accuracy typical of our own day. Though there is great expression in Mozart’s scores, we cannot accept a romantic reading. Though his rhythms are precise, they cannot stand a mathematical treatment. Mozart’s music must be played as Mozart wrote it. It has sufficient room for interpretation but if a style derived from a musical era must be used it should be from the classical period, not from the romantic or twentieth centuries. Can you imagine someone playing a piece by Arnold Schoenberg in classical style?
The first premise of the performer is to love the music. The pianist, violinist, clarinetist and conductor must have an emotional and intellectual bond with the composer’s ideas and feelings. It is not enough for the performer to merely master the technique required to rattle the work off.
It is interesting to observe the many changes in audience tastes regarding Mozart and his work. When I was a student in Vienna at the turn of the century only six or seven of Mozart’s concertos for piano were deemed entertaining or worthy enough to be played in public. The other concertos were completely disregarded. My, how times have changed!
I have always believed that good works acquire more value with age: when one stands near a group of tall buildings they all seem to be of average height, yet when one looks at these structures from a distance there will always be one or two buildings that tower above the others. In the years immediately after his death, Mozart was considered a frilly, inconsequential composer, but now, more than 170 years since the classical era, he is appreciated for his depth and extraordinary musicianship. When welook back at the other composers of that age, Mozart stands taller in our minds. The same thought can also be expressed with regard to Haydn.
It is relatively easy to play Mozart’s chamber music because the parts fit together like a perfectly constructed jigsaw puzzle. The performer in a quintet, or, for that matter, a concerto, must be aware of all other parts and their functions. Quite often I have found the viola part in a chamber or concerto work to be of the utmost importance as it has expressive lines to play and this factor of Mozart’s scoring cues the soloist on the performance of his own part.
Haydn is also a composer of the first magnitude, but I would only perform his works on the modern-day piano and not on the harpsichord. Many musicians insist on performing Haydn sonatas on the harpsichord for musicological reasons. Unfortunately, these reasons apply only to the date of composition and not to the actual works. One often finds many expressions, ornaments and accents which can only be done justice to by the piano. In his Andante in F minor Haydn distinctly calls for the use of the “open pedal” and, as we all know, the harpsichord had no pedals. The present-day piano, it must be cautioned, is not similar to the instruments used in the classic and romantic periods. True, the keyboard was basically the same, but our contemporary pianos have the sostenuto pedal which neither Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert nor Chopin could have utilized in their lifetimes. I therefore do not use this pedal in playing the works of the German composers mentioned though I sometimes utilize it in Chopin’s music.
There are several changes in our modern piano which I feel would enable the performer to achieve a more unified musical effect. We need a more cantabile sound in the upper octaves and a less ponderous feeling in the bass. Our upper octaves are too brittle and our lower ones are far too thunderous, thereby creating many technique problems and the lack of a uniform tone.
The so-called “Mozart piano” differed from Chopin’s pianos which in turn differed from our 1961 pianos. Each composer wrote for his own instrument, exactly as our contemporary composers are writing for our pianos. To further expand my own repertoire as well as to give our modern musicians a chance to be heard, I include a contemporary piece in every program. Our duty to the living composer is one of the most important functions of the performer and I am delighted when a contemporary work holds its own among the masters. I heartily perform and enjoy some contemporary music, such as Aaron Copland’s Piano Quintet and Ben Weber’s Sonata da Camera for violin and piano.
In conclusion, then, let all music be played as the composer wished. Let us not adapt baroque, classical and romantic scores; let them stand on their own and let them be heard in the spirit of their composition.
Mozart’s Piano Music, by Mieczyslaw Horszowski. 1961.