The snow is swirling outside my window in Chicago as I write this on a mid-January morning. My thoughts turn to Austria – Vienna, to be specific – and what January in the mid-1700’s must have been like. No central heating, no electricity, only the sounds of horses’ hooves and ravens’ cawing punctuating the city’s day-to-day silence. Continuing to let my mind-wander, I arrive at the apartment house of Mozart…not Mozart the icon, the subject of plays, movies and commerce in later centuries … not even the Mozart on the front of yellow or blue volumes perched on music stands in conservatories, concert stages, and living room pianos…
But Mozart the Human.
Words come to mind: child prodigy, wildly creative spirit, common pauper grave… not of his times, but rather, timeless in his humanity.
I invite you to take 10 minutes during January, Mozart’s Birthday month, and listen to one of my favorite (lesser-known) works – his Rondo in A minor, KV 511. Written for keyboard in Vienna, only 4 years before his death at age 35, it exemplifies Mozart’s ability to capture human psychology in sound – a miracle!
A Rondo (a popular musical compositional form for the Viennese Classical masters) is a short work, in which the theme reoccurs in between other musical ideas. Mozart’s Rondo in A minor has been part of my life – on and off the performing stage – for several decades. It is a conversation one has with oneself, perhaps puzzling out an answer to a nagging “life question” or musing on meaning.
Mozart chooses a minor key to paint the emotional state in sound, and fashions a melody of merely 8 notes from which the entire experience of the Rondo emerges. He “raises the question” and then proceeds to ponder it, to “weigh the arguments” inherent in the question, often choosing different “keys” – i.e. moving into the sunnier major mode and increasing the energy of the piece as it develops. The “conversation” continues, reacting to the pro/con arguments until the Rondo’s final appearance, fully enriched and informed by the discussion, as if, for sure, one feels refined and lifted by the experience of probing the questions.
At one time or another, we have all stood in awe of Mozart’s genius: his iconic legend, and the cornerstone pillar his music fashions in the canon of Western Classical music… perhaps to the detriment of experiencing his music in a way that directly relates to all that is human in us, some 230 years after he left the earth.
Music grounds us in our humanity. There is no composer who does so in such a direct and sublime fashion as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
To those of you who find yourselves puzzling Life’s questions both big and small, I extend an invitation into the company of this piece. Listen to it and let its music filter through your own life experiences.
You will find Mozart the Human in that company, and your life will be enriched.
I wish you an enjoyable Rush Hour listening moment this month!
Deborah Sobol, Founder and Artistic Director
As part of RHC’s 15th anniversary year celebration, we will be sending you a Listening Moment from Deborah Sobol on the 15th of each month.
For January Deborah has selected two recordings of the Rondo in A minor:
Selection 1:The first by Penelope Crawford on the pianoforte, the direct ancestor to our modern grand piano and the type of instrument Mozart himself would have played during his lifetime.
Selection 2: The second, with pianist Christian Zacharias on a modern grand.
If you listen to them both, don’t be alarmed by the distinct difference in pitch, a reflection of 300 years of the instrument’s evolution.