Leopold, who was educated by the Jesuits and Benedictines, taught and tutored his son. At twenty years of age, Wolfgang was a highly skilled performed and composer, at home in every branch of composition. His music is never cute, trite, or folksy; it is deceptively simple, graceful, and elegant. His slow movements however reveal an intense and complicated cosmos. The “Elvira Madigan” send movement exemplifies this. His musical jokes had bite. He mocked poor instrumentalists in Ein musikalischer Spass, (A Musical Joke) in which he intentionally composed into the music many wrong notes that mediocre musicians were prone to make.
At twenty, Mozart had been protected from all influences that would or could prevent him for total concentration in music. He had few intimate friends at this time, and most of them, professional.
As a twenty-year old, Mozart needed a permanent position. He was hired by the Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus Colloredo, but they mixed like oil and vinegar. Leopold, also employed at the court, had taken several absences to concertize with his son. Second, Mozart proved to be insubordinate. When the Archbishop ordered Mozart to compose a Short Mass (Missa Brevis), he was served a short Short Mass. He wanted complete control over his music—its style, its length, and its content. In a sarcastic letter to his father, he wrote, “The two valets sit at the head of the table; I, at least, have the honor of sitting above the cooks.”
Eventually, he was dismissed, though he swore that he had quit with the final words: “I hate the Archbishop to madness.” He wanted his freedom, and he got his freedom but paid a high price for it. He was a jobless genius, the first freelance composer in music history. Meanwhile, he had fallen in love with Constanze Weber.
Disgusted at the lack of musical appreciation among the rich, he saw through people but was continuously taken in by them. He suffered from his tenuous status. The more he suffered, the deeper he entered into his soul. It has been said that his growth as a creator was like that of a precious and rare plant whose inner secret remains a mystery.
Mozart observed people, knew them well, but did not mingle with them. In his operas, he lampooned the high and mighty aristocracy. They saw themselves in his sarcasm when his music mocked them, though the names had changed. Irate, they ostracized him. This black-listing meant fewer concerts, fewer students, less money for the support of his family. Life began to close in on him.
Mozart’s Dark Side
When Mozart and Constanze were married in 1781, they settled in to a bohemian lifestyle. His irresponsibility in practical matters prompted Leopold to interfere and manage his business affairs.
Mozart was a musical thoroughbred. But genius can sap one of those personal qualities essential in a competitive world, filled with cunning and conniving. Not one to compromise, he lacked discretion and tact, respect for the Office of the archbishop or for those of the aristocracy. He sought to do things his own way and tolerated no criticism of his music. When Emperor Joseph II, a fairly benevolent ruler, noted that “The Marriage of Figaro” contained too many notes which strained the ear, Mozart bristled, then corrected him: ‘Sire, the opera is perfect as it is.’ At the end, with his integrity intact, his music awaited immortality.
We, the Gifted
Too often children and young adults denigrate themselves as merely ordinary and with no special talents. This self-image needs to be corrected. Every child is gifted in one way or another, a fact which every parent and educator ought to affirm and hold sacred. Today’s child is tomorrow’s adult who will shape our culture and pass on that culture to the next generation. Among our youth are those who display artistic talent, whether in writing literature or poetry. How can they develop their gifts if they are not encouraged to do so? Promoting guitars and Rap is not the answer.
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And what of adults and their talents? So often, they discover their gifts later in life, perhaps after raising their families. They too should be encouraged to pursue their talents. Graduate and professional schools can boast of older students who pursue a second profession or discipline. After a business career, they often turn to artistic pursuits.
The American Church needs Catholic writers, Catholic composers, musicians, dancers, painters, and sculptors who are also practicing Catholics. We desperately need church leaders with educated taste to foster and support their pursuits, leaders who will acclaim these artists.
How sad, that the secular artistic world is convinced that the Church is not a valid artistic identity; therefore, Catholics in the arts are not worth mentioning. The few Catholic writers and poets, for example, who have been recognized have done so entirely in the secular artist world—with no support from within the Church.
The words of Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus” convey a caveat: at all costs, avoid mediocrity; embrace excellence. The life of Mozart is also a warning about talent, about molding and managing it in an otherwise indifferent and coarse culture. One, two, or five talents—all should be developed to build up the culture and the kingdom of God, as Mozart did.
The music historian Richard Taruskin notes that “celebrating Mozart means celebrating ourselves. In him, we see our species transcendent, effortlessly bring forth with George Bernard Shaw called ‘the only music yet written that would not sound out of place in the mouth of God’” (NY Times, 9 September, 1990).