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The Triumph of Genius
In 1892, the year following the centenary of Mozart's death, George Bernard Shaw, critic as well as playwright, felt it necessary to scold his readers for hardly yet having gotten out of the habit of regarding Mozart's compositions as "tuneful little trifles fit only for persons of simple tastes." In this the 250th anniversary year of Mozart's birth, what with all those cd compilations of tunes meant to work the "Mozart Effect" on unsuspecting children and of melting adagios meant to accompany their parents in wine-drinking and more, the situation may not be much improved. On the other hand, a public imbued with Peter Shaffer's intriguing, albeit distorted, Amadeus may have a different picture of the man. Who can forget that moment when the aged Salieri—broken and consumed by envy—recalls first hearing the adagio from Mozart's "Gran Partita" for winds and double bass (K361),1 the oboe entering from on high as if from another world, its line then picked up with heartrending seamlessness by the clarinet? It was as though, exclaims Salieri, he was hearing the voice of God.
Such moments of pure enthrallment occur in Mozart as perhaps in no other composer—not all of them his most profound musical utterances, but moments of such surpassing loveliness as indeed to evoke another world. "As from afar," rhapsodized the young Franz Schubert, himself no stranger to loveliness, "the magic notes of Mozart's music still greatly haunt me… . They show us in the darkness of this life a bright, clear, lovely distance, for which we hope with confidence." One may think of the slow movements of the Third Violin Concerto, composed relatively early, or of the great Clarinet Concerto, composed only two months before Mozart's death. Or, to take his more explicitly religious music, the familiar "Laudate dominum" from his Solemn Vespers (K339) or the rapturous Ave rerum corpus (K618). No composer on earth has inspired more talk about heaven than Mozart. One of his celebrated ...