With just a week to go until the Pinkies take to the stage for our concert, ‘Legends; homage to the greats‘, our lovely accompanist John Flinders, explains why Mozart is one of his favourite musical legends…
When I was growing up in the 60s and 70s Mozart would not have made it onto a list of my favourite composers. I was mostly drawn to the tempestuous works of 20th century giants, especially Rachmaninov and Britten. Rachmaninov’s gloomy nostalgia was an apt accompaniment to my very conventional teenage anguish, whereas Britten’s music seemed to articulate my sense of being an outsider, and the open secret of his homosexuality was obscurely comforting to a boy whose own sexuality was then still very private.
Their compositions evoked a world of emotions at fever pitch and they moved and excited me far more than 18th and early 19th century music did – Haydn was way too perky; Beethoven too loud and irritable; and Mozart was well, perfect. Everyone said he was a genius, so clearly the worlds had no need of my opinion on the matter. And the very concept of perfect music alienated me; human beings have quirks and flaws and it seemed unlikely that a perfect piece of music would speak to me at all.
It was when I finally began to study his works that I started to realise what I had been missing. His piano writing is challenging yet practical; if I worked hard it was largely achievable. But playing his music requires courage. It is like putting yourself under a magnifying glass – every flaw is exposed. My growing admiration was mingled with a certain amount of fear. A wrong note in the music of some composers passes by without causing too much damage to the overall effect; a wrong note in Mozart is like mud on a diamond. And then I began to accompany singers, and was won over from that moment on – his vocal music simply amazes me. Far from distant or mechanical, it is fascinatingly expressive of human fallibility; it’s the quality of the expression and the composer’s psychological insight that is hard to fault. When he sets a text to music he demonstrates an extraordinary understanding of its emotional content.
Take the Offertorium (a movement from the Requiem which was left unfinished at his death), which forms part of our concert on January 10th. Like many of his compositions it is enjoyable as a purely abstract experience, but if, for example, you explore the words that provoke the viciously angular vocal lines that the chorus has to negotiate about halfway through, you discover that it is a plea for the souls of the faithful to be saved from plunging into hell. It’s a convincing depiction of that almost hysterical prayer and if I feared that fate I’m pretty sure that I would plead hysterically to be preserved from it. I still love Rachmaninov, and Britten, but Mozart’s ability to translate human behaviour into melody and harmony is uncanny – perhaps it is a sort of perfection but it’s one that, despite my youthful expectations, I find more and more rewarding.