Sunday, May 2, 2010

In review--Mozart, MD. (Magical and Divine)

Freiburger Barockorchester
Rene Jacobs
Mozart Symphonies Nos. 39 and 40
Harmonia Mundi

I came across information about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s connection to the Vienna chapter of the Freemasons recently and I wondered about the brotherhood’s influence on the magical aspects of Mozart’s repertoire. Mozart joined the Freemasons (was initiated into the brotherhood) in 1784 at the age of 28. As someone not versed or even knowledgeable about the Freemasons outside of the fact that the brothers practiced metaphysics, the only conclusion I reached was that the opera The Magic Flute definitely had metaphysical symbolism. And I also noticed over the years that music scholars would refer to the architecture of Mozart’s compositions. That statement now makes more sense in the light of the Freemason connection.

Sound healers, music therapists, and psychoacoustic practitioners, including the founder of psychoacoustics Dr. Alfred Tomatis (French ear, nose and throat doctor) have also commented on the healing power of Mozart’s musical compositions, though even the experts alter the music to suit medical needs. But what about listening to the symphonic versions (recordings and live)? I’m not a scientist, but I swear I healed a sore throat once listening to Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (recording) and I boosted my tests scores listening to Mozart in 2007 when I returned to college. Prior to achieving a higher GPA I felt skeptical towards the “Mozart Effect”; now I’m a believer.

Freiburger Barockorchester with Rene Jacobs at the helm, perform Mozart’s symphonies No. 39 and No. 40 in all their splendor and glory. Mozart composed the symphonies in 1788, four years after his initiation into the brotherhood. Whether or not the Freemasons had any influence with these works, I don't know. The liner notes reveal a more practical and get-down-to-business composer. Mozart was touring at the time and presenting his new works at prestigious events as well as, challenging himself artistically.

In the liner notes, the two symphonies are added to a triptych with the Jupiter Symphony. “…it might be said that Mozart attempted in these three symphonies to demonstrate every facet of his expertise as an instrumental composer. Variety and multiplicity, as displayed here, are certainly characteristic of a group of works of related content designed to belong together, an ‘opus’.”

Symphony No. 39 in E Flat major feels festive at times, but the forward thrust of strings coupled with urgent horns and woodwinds gives off a powerful effect, especially on the final movement. It possesses Beethoven-like broodiness and is in contrast to the regal opening with its horn blasts engaging in a call & response with the woodwinds. The second movement feels light and airy in an otherwise weighty symphony.

Symphony No. 40 in G minor begins with a wall of strings stating the theme with flute and woodwind flourishes that lighten the mood somewhat. The entire symphony feels like an urgent matter, but mostly in the first movement. Perhaps this is because I visualize one of the final scenes in the movie Amadeus when a carriage rushes across Vienna to dump Mozart’s body in a pauper’s grave (with this movement playing in the background). In fact, it’s a challenge not to hear music that appeared in the movie without recalling also the movie’s visuals, not to mention actor Tom Hulse portray Mozart’s laugh.

The symphony’s second movement possesses a romantic aura that feels soothing coming after the first movement. The higher range instruments such as a flute play a greater role while also adding a playful quality. The scales move upward so the music has an uplifting quality. Running over 15 minutes in length, I feel that Mozart must have given a lot of attention to the second movement. It certainly radiates natural beauty and perhaps even beauty of the natural world, not to mention, its exquisite craftsmanship.

The third movement is a short and lively minuet. However, the fourth movement returns to a heavier grave mood with a powerful call and responses erupting between the strings and horns. I often make the mistake of thinking of Mozart’s music as light and playful until I listen to his more serious pieces such as this symphony, but even it has its moments of enchantment.

Mozart was a lot of things; a Freemason, a musical genius, musical architect and a creature from another world. And if listening to the Austrian composer’s music also heals sore throats and raises IQ levels then we have even more reasons to luxuriate in Mozart’s large body of works.

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