A well-known musical anecdote leaps to mind as I begin to write about Mozart in general and Mozart the opera composer in particular. A young student once asked a world-famous composer how he, the composer, went about the business of writing an opera, symphony, or concerto. “Why,” the composer replied simply, “I just sit down and write music.”
This is precisely what Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart did: he just sat down and wrote music. He did not theorize about music and then proceed to put theory into practice the way Gluck did. He followed no rigid formulas, be they of his own making of those of others in the manner of the Italians. He did not work and rework, refine and revise to get the results that satisfied him the way Beethoven would. (As a matter of fact, with Mozart most first drafts were also final drafts, with little or no alteration required.) Nor did he construct a musical edifice methodically from detailed architectural plans, stone by stone, until a cathedral had been built—the way Wagner would work.
Then, when writing about Mozart’s work on The Magic Flute and his death shortly after, Ewen maintains that this is another example of Mozart’s uniqueness. He writes:
The Magic Flute provides us one of many evidences of Mozart’s uncommon capacity to separate the man in him from the musician. As a man he was in the depths of deapir while writing his opera, completely depleted in strength, in a state of almost uninterrupted melancholia. He was dying, and he knew it. A Requiem that had been commissioned he was actually writing for himself, racing against time and death to complete it. He did not live to do so. Wracked though he was with pain, and with the long shadow of death hovering over him, his musical self remained healthy and sunny whenever he was required to write farcical music for the merrier episodes of his opera.
Mozart died less than three months after the premiere of The Magic Flute—on December 5, 1791.
Do you agree with Ewen’s assessment of Mozart? Please add your thoughts!