“Beauty is truth, truth beauty” – That is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know.
“Ode on a Grecian Urn” by John Keats, 1819.
Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius. W.A. Mozart
Let’s start with some equations. The kind that philosopher-mathematicians can spending years trying to prove:
And then let’s apply some of these equations to the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. While his genius can’t be put into a box or quantified, I think we’re safe saying that as a composer he was always searching for beauty, and as we see, he said himself that love is the soul of genius. Can authenticity, truth and God be far behind?
Simple elements of pitch and rhythm became tools of soaring dreams, playfulness, tender thoughts or driving passions in his hands. Mozart wrote a fair amount of religious music, but taken at face value, it doesn’t always seem very, well, religious, whatever that means. His masses written for Salzburg Cathedral can seem operatic, their joyousness can feel almost flippant. We can’t really know of course how Mozart felt about God, but then, we can’t actually know that about anyone. We do know about his tempestuous relationship with church leaders and about his impatience with a Catholic hierarchy that didn’t always appreciate his music, or at least wanted to control it in one way or another. Those feelings peek through the notes sometimes, I think.
What we can guess at, though, as we listen to his music for the church, is that Mozart was on a continuous search for beauty, and that beauty was his authentic expression of a love for God. Authenticity is a difficult thing to define, but like so many other things, we know it when we see it.
If you’re able to be at St. Alban’s this Sunday to hear Mozart’s Missa brevis, K. 194, which will be sung during the 11:15 service, you might find its exuberance inappropriate to the words of a usually somber Kyrie eleison or Agnus dei, but I hear an authentic expression of joy in these and all parts of the sung Eucharistic celebration – Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. And joy seems as close to truth and beauty and love as I can imagine. There’s no proof of this, but I suggest that a lot more is known than has been proven.
The DaPonte String Quartet, musical ambassadors from the great state of Maine, are in town this week, performing at St. Alban’s on Friday for the Arts@Midday series [Oct. 23 program] and accompanying the Mozart Missa brevis, K. 194 on Sunday at 11:15. Join us for one or both if you’re able.
Some of these were not full fledged Christian, like John Keats, but great. What I like about Mozart’s life is his love for his sister, Fanny. Fanny had the same great genius as her brother, but her father planned for her a conventional marriage, whereas for her brother a tour of Europe to the crowned heads and a brilliant career. But W.A. wrote constantly to his sister about his music because often she was the only one to understand. For Mozart despite his infant popularity, lapsed into a poor solitary who died penniless because of the disapprobation of the public. We should think today of the people we frown upon, and like to frown upon, even in Church, and how they might have hidden talents that will one day be seen as great.
I cannot tell you how many times I ripped on Reilly Lewis re Bach vs Mozart. Comparisons,
sometimes. ” But Reilly,” says I, “Mozart is laughter and joy and love!” I shall next tell him
you said so! Thanks you, Sonja.
I think Mozart ends this mass, and the Requiem, using the Dona Nobis because the arc of Kyrie to Agnus Dei doesn’t make a lot of musical sense, for a classical composer. I’ve only heard this mass once in church, at St Margaret’s Westminster, and it was sung with an Anglican Choir–it was quite a treat, and maybe mass isn’t supposed to be a treat–but it was.