Mozart, music, architecture

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I’m reading a biography of Mozart by Marcia Davenport, published in 1932. It is excellently written. Of course, Mozart is famous for writing the most enchanting music without crossing out notation on his manuscripts in the least. That is because he wrote the music in his head and merely transcribed it onto paper when he had the time, which could be amid parties, the chatter of friends and other environmental conditions that would block most writers, musical or otherwise. But it was as if his mind were giving his hand dictation. Here is a passage about how Mozart wrote his three greatest symphonies in eight weeks, even though he was depressed by the recent failure of his opera, Don Giovanni, to translate from success in Prague to further success in Vienna, where he was a court composer for Emperor Joseph. The Jupiter was written 1788, just a few years before his untimely death in 1791:

Yet his conception of the symphony is perhaps less remarkable than the development he showed from one work to the next. If each symphony had been written a couple of years after the other it would be much more comprehensible. The poetically beautiful E flat has been chosen for the honor of being Wolfgang’s farewell to his youth. The dramatic G minor is supposed to be the culmination of all the tragedy and frustration in his life. And the mighty Jupiter is the salute to the future – the promise of the next century. This may or may not be true, depending upon one’s taste for reading things into music. Certainly Wolfgang himself had no such ideas. He wrote these symphonies like everything else – in pure creative power and mental delight. “Whence or how they came,” he neither knew nor cared. As soon as one was written down he was ready to retire into solitude and start evolving the next. This remarkable feature of his development is not the romantic one, the dividing his life into periods each to be expressed by a type of music, but the plain matter of the instrumentation. In these three symphonies he made successive strides straight into the full-voiced expressions of the nineteenth century, the world of orchestral giants.

Architecture has been famously compared to music (“Architecture is frozen music,” said Goethe) with good reason. There may be an interesting parallel to be drawn, in the passage by Davenport, from how Mozart (and perhaps composers generally) inject “meaning” into their work and how architects do so (or not) with their buildings. She adds a couple of pages later:

Even while one is captivated by the beguiling beauty of his melody and the subtle brilliance of his orchestration, the science of Mozart’s music is, in the end, more thrilling than its loveliness. It has irresistible appeal to minds trained in the great schools of art and logic. One word has repeatedly been used about it: architecture. And it is a good word to use, for the music is built with the same instinct for proportion and the same fidelity to elemental laws of structure that built the Parthenon and Chartres Cathedral. Bach’s music, in a sturdier and less lyric way, is of the same kind. The surface ornaments of Mozart, like the scrolls and cherubs on a Baroque façade, have preoccupied many and have diverted their attention from the underlying structure, but those who see it as a whole know its universal value. The accident that Mozart happened also to be full of spontaneous melody, dramatic fire, tender humor, sophisticated grace, and profound emotion is a bonanza of Providence. Such an accident does not happen twice.

Here is the closing fugue (Schlussfuge) of Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony.

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Mozart, music, architecture

  1. Thanks, Yang. I try to mix it up. A bit.


  2. I enjoyed reading this! Thanks, David – refreshing to read about other art forms!


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