Thursday, September 20, 2007

Some thoughts on Mozart

About a year ago, I was walking through the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood of Philadelphia with a friend of mine, an eminent musician who grew up here and now works elsewhere. We were discussing those who express disproportionate hatred toward the classical works of sacred music--Mozart, Haydn, etc. "They're iconoclasts," the good musician said to me.


As it turns out, Pope Benedict XVI might well agree with my friend:

“When in our home parish of Traunstein on feast days a Mass by Mozart resounded, for me, a little country boy, it seemed as if heaven stood open. In the front, in the sanctuary, columns of incense had formed in which the sunlight was broken; at the altar the sacred action took place of which we knew that heaven opened for us. And from the choir sounded music that could only come from heaven; music in which was revealed to us the jubilation of the angels over the beauty of God."

Music that could only come from heaven. Those who snidely dismiss Mozart's sacred music as "operatic" should take note. (BTW, I'd love to know why many of the same people don't dismiss Haendel's Messiah for similar reasons, even though, unlike many or perhaps even most of Mozart's Masses, it was not written with the intent of being used as sacred music. Yet many parish choirs insist on screaming the Hallelujah Chorus every Christmas and Easter.) One may also wish to recall the transformation of the Christus-Orpheus figures in the Roman Catacombs. Even if Mozart's sacred music was "secular" at one time, there is nothing to prevent this secular association from dissipating, as I believe it has.

More Ratzinger quotes on Mozart can be found here. Hat tip to Rocco.

As if Benedict's remarks weren't enough, check out this video of Pope John Paul II utterly absorbed in prayer during the singing of a Mozart Mass at the Vatican Basilica on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, 1985.

I have begun to wonder if Mozart isn't one of the most unjustly mis-treated figures of musical history. From the libel that was the movie Amadeus, to Glenn Gould's remark that he was "a composer who died too late," to a present-day illogical, allergic reaction to the use of his music in church, poor Mozart just can't catch a break, it seems.

We should be the first to give him one.

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