Friday, November 05, 2021

Mozart on the Piano

A week or two ago I opened my neglected two-volume set of Mozart Piano Sonatas, and now I find that I have fallen into a new habit. Sure, we all know that Mozart was a great composer, but in some way it feels that when I am playing his piano music I am able to understand more about why he was a great composer.

I have absolutely no desire to play this music for anyone except myself, and I take all of the deviations from expectations dictated through what we have come to call the Viennese classical style as special gifts given to people who accept them as such.

Through my daily meetings with Mozart's musical mind I have come to learn more about music than I thought I did, particularly because playing the piano is and has always been a struggle for me. I never had the early "training" that allows the hands to, as one of my young violin students who also plays piano says, "know what they are doing," though the time I spent learning to play scales with both hands together in parallel motion when was in piano class at Juilliard (with Frances Goldstein) has stuck with me over the decades. Well, some of the scales.

Playing piano will always be a matter of translation for me, and I know that it will never feel like a musical mother tongue. I have also come to understand that it doesn't matter as long as I can derive personal pleasure out of playing, and can continue to grow as a musician.

But I have to confess. I sometimes have a physical urge to play. I often wake up in the morning with Mozart piano music in my head, and the deep desire to play and shape it with my hands. Playing the piano every day (and playing Mozart every day) seems to fill in gaps in my psyche and my spirit.

What a gift Mozart gave to us in his piano music.

UPDATE: While looking for Mozart posts and piano posts to tag on this blog, I came across this. If it's November it must be Mozart indeed!


Anonymous said...

I for one do not understand the notion of an instrument as a "mother tongue," perhaps because I never settled on one. To some colleagues I'd mentioned a "keyboard" in a conversation, and they all interpreted it as a piano keyboard. But is it not true that the fret board, the keys on a woodwind, the valves and their relationship to pressure as well as, say a lute, guitar or viola da gamba, are ALL keyboards? Just different shapes? Just of a different sort? Perhaps this perturbation in my interior dictionary is at fault? Or perhaps the seeming hegemony of piano, cembalo and organ keyboards is at fault? The keyboard on which I most often think is a set of lines and spaces. Given Mozart's writing for strings and singers as examples, I cannot imagine he thought "on a keyboard." What say you?

Elaine Fine said...

I equate keyboard with either piano, harpsichord, fortepiano, clavichord, or organ. Because of the way he uses voicing and register in his keyboard music, I do believe he thought about the physicality of the keyboard while writing for it. Even if he didn’t need to be sitting at one while writing. Also, I think of a keyboard as an instrument where all five fingers of both hands are engaged in the process of pressing or hitting keys, unlike a mallet instrument where the fingers do not relate directly to the pitches that result from keys plucking strings, causing hammers to strike keys, or causing air to travel through pipes. Accordion would be a modified keyboard, but a bandoneon, which has only buttons, would, to my mind, not be a keyboard.

Anonymous said...

Interesting response. While we can never know about Mozart, your "to my mind" and mine differ, proving perhaps that conceptualizing musically is not a wholly similar mental module across the small population of those who compose. Best wishes.