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Happy 250th Birthday, Mozart! Today I will celebrate by listening to the Kyrie from your C-Minor mass, going on a date with my wife, who like Constanze, makes me more responsible, profitable and tolerable than I'd be on my own, and informing my small audience about your exceptional life:

Mozart, an ugly child with one eye noticeably larger than the other, was raised by his father Leopold, a musician bent on making Mozart a success. It's hard to say whether Mozart was a prodigy by nature or by nurture. What is certain is that Mozart grew up in a sort of home school music boot camp that gave him such advanced skills in harpsichord/piano performance and composition that he was rocking for royalty and high society as a grade schooler - like a trained monkey on parade, one of my professors once said.

Unfortunately, like the Michael Jackson of his day, unable to have a "normal" childhood full of whimsy and play, Mozart lacked social graces as an adult and often chose goofing off or pulling pranks over the serious work of composing and self-promoting. Was Mozart aching for a childhood he never had? Among his favorite past times was a game some think he invented called musical dice and bowling, a lowbrow pastime then in its infancy.

Mozart wrote church music, masses for the wealthy Catholic Church which along with government was the primary patron of the arts until popular secular music forms like comic opera funded by business men and ticket sales brought Mozart's music to the masses - something he always wanted more than the restrictive and pious worlds of sacred music and government sanctioned safely scripted "serious" opera. We modern Christians sometimes look back on this period of Church-funded art as the good ole days and fail to see the whole dismal picture: restricted themes and forms and lengths and ranges etc, character and acceptance of set beliefs were not requirements for the job of Church composer - only skill and acceptance of pay, the inability for Church composers often to accept contracts from outside the Church once working for her. This was a stifling existence for an artist of great ambition with many varied interests artistically and thematically - and even more stifling for an often immoral and brash man like Mozart.

Frustrating for Mozart as well because he could write, it seemed, anything he wanted, quickly and in one draft, and was therefore limited only by what he could find a market for, what he could be paid to compose since there was little time after composing for pay to compose for fun. The comedic opera for the common man The Magic Flute is one of the few examples of what Mozart composed for his own amusement - not that he didn't enjoy composing other pieces but this humorous and whimsical opera composed for pennies gives us a glimpse at what Mozart was willing to compose simply for his love of the music itself. It might reveal what Mozart would have written had money been no object. And *cough* it was pop music.

Unlike Beethoven and other great composers, Mozart's scores are eerily clean. No scratch outs. No rough drafts. He was said to be taking dictation, simply writing down what he heard playing in his mind, composing constantly inside his mind until a piece was completed, then transcribing it onto paper with pen. All the drafts and revisions took place in his imagination.

Mozart, despite this rare gifting, popularity with both the commoners and royalty (though he wasn't their favorite because he broke the composition rules of the day for length, form and range often), and his more than 600 compositions, Mozart died in relative poverty. Buried in an unmarked grave. His wife outlived him by fifty years and in those years sold many of his manuscripts, returned to his birth place in Salzburg and promoted Mozart and the city as his home. Her tireless efforts created the Mozart tourism industry, expanded his fame and the reach of his music and birthed the Mozart "brand" worth over six billion dollars today.

Proof that greatness is not always rewarded but always rewarding, Mozart reminds the artist that art is what we make because we can't help ourselves, not something we do just for money but something we do when there is none. It's who we are. And he reminds us that beauty and divinity can, and often do, force their way into the world through the most ugly and irreverent of people. So look for them - beauty and God - where you least expect them.

Happy Birthday, Mozart.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks always for your post, Shaun.

Blogger Rica said...

Wow! Very thought-provoking. I didn't know that much about Mozart. Where did you find this out, Shaun?

Blogger Kathryn said...

he's one of my favourite composers. I thought that Tom Hulce did an excellent job with his portrayal of the man. I've always been amazed by the genius of Mozart. Playing his stuff on piano was always a humbling experience for me. . trying to do my best. . with varying degree of 'success'. . I often thought, "wow, its a good thing he's not here to hear me butcher this!" I've always preferred the piano recordings. . though i do have some orchestral stuff. . which is just other worldly.

Blogger GrovesFan said...


Somehow, Mozart reminds me of you. Passionate about your composing, caring little about pleasing the masses as long as what's created in your head gets out somehow. Amazing stuff from both of you!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh lord

Blogger Stephen said...

You didn't know that Shaun was really a "serious music" composer at heart? :-)

Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...he always wanted more than the restrictive and pious worlds of sacred music..."

It's amazing how heavy themes in life have shown their cards in evey era of human existence. Keep writing, Shaun. I' blessed by your music and your blog....no matter who listens or reads.

Blogger Paula said...

Hey Shaun! Guess what - I didn't have to use the "imaginary boyfriend" that you created at christmas for me. I guess they've all given up on me :)

Sorry to hi-jack your topic, but I've tagged you for a meme over at my blog. Feel free to do it....or not!


Blogger jimmy said...

That last paragraph was brilliant! Thanks Shaun.

grace and peace, jimmy

Anonymous Anonymous said...

so whats the deal? you gonna make us read this mozart entrie forever or what...

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What happened to Mr. Groves? We miss him!

Anonymous Anonymous said...

you been kidnapped sg? ikon tonight?
just curious....experiment perhaps?


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