It would have been difficult for Geothe’s line “Architecture is frozen music” not to float into mind after I stumbled across this passage in Mozart, by Wolfgang Hildescheimer, another fabulous Christmas gift from my friend Steve, who I forgot to mention is also a musician, playing the clarinet, bassoon and other winds. Hildescheimer writes:
Classicism and Romanticism introduced subjective feeling into music as a conscious element of expression. … Previously, objectivity had prevailed, concealing the creative impulse (Bach’s fugues = mathematics, etc.). Although this objectivity has not been elevated to a preclassical principle, or ascribed to to a more primitive stage of music’s expressive capability, the idea of a greater individual expression persists as an implied truth even into this century. It serves to encourage a viewpoint by which we are to see music history as a large building, like a Gothic cathedral, on which different masters have worked at different times, knowing that they would not live to see the crowning climax, and compelled to reconcile themselves to one part in the work. The high point is generally thought to be Beethoven. Now, we know that his music would not be possible without Haydn and Mozart – he knew it himself – but we are not prepared to accept the idea of Beethoven as the fulfillment of what Mozart began and, because of that, on a qualitatively higher level. For we do not believe that the history of music is the conquest of new territory, making earlier conquests worthless or even slightly less worthy. If that were the case Dufay would surpass Orlando di Lasso, and Sweelinck would replace Dufay, etc. One would succeed the other, up to the crowning glory of High Classicism, aftert which, as most people still agree, everything goes downhill.
So the history of music is the history of architecture? Well, it is a thought. It brings to mind architecture’s succession of increasingly refined advancements on the art of building. It recalls ancient Rome’s conception as a set of fine buildings erected over hundreds of years to display an increasingly imposing sense of Rome’s ambitions as a state. In either case, we reach a stage where “everything goes downhill.” And in the history of architecture there was recovery in the Renaissance and beyond, and then another pitch downhill, which continues. Rome, at least, has managed to keep the Vandals almost entirely outside the gates since 1950. In any event, the lines from Mozart’s biography are a lesson in how greatness may be achieved – or lost. But at least we still get to choose to listen to Mozart and Beethoven.