The Instigator
The_Harlequin
Pro (for)
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The Contender
Insert-strange-name-here
Con (against)
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9 Points

Mozart's Music Suffers from Having Too Many Notes

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 1/30/2011 Category: Arts
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 3,879 times Debate No: 14603
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (11)
Votes (3)

 

The_Harlequin

Pro

Purely for fun, as I know Insert-strange-name-here personally in real life. This is a general argument which we have and would like somewhat resolved.

First round: Introduction
Second round: Argument
Third: Rebuttal/Conclusion

I shall provide a definition for the sake of clarity:

The music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is, while technically dazzling and occasionally sublime, more often than not overwrought, emotionally turgid, and therefore, overrated.

Ground rules:

1. All points must be backed up with a source

2. My burden of proof is that Mozart was a self-indulgent composer, not a bad one

3. Con's job is not to prove that Mozart is a good composer, but that he used the notes at his disposal economically

Good luck! I leave you with a beautiful piece to prove I don't think the poor boy is all bad.


Insert-strange-name-here

Con

My thanks to The_Harlequin; the gauntlet is accepted with the greatest pleasure!

I am somewhat uncertain as to how best approach this debate, particularly in the light of Pro's ground rules. However, as I understand it, I am required to defend Mozart's frequent use of passages based on ornamentation or scales, whether tonic or chromatic.

I shall therefore be focusing on the following points:

- Much of Mozart's best work, for instance the Queen of the Night's two renowned arias, Die Holle Rache and O Zittre Nicht, are among his more profligate in terms of notes.

- Mozart was a composer of the Classical period and should therefore be judged, in part at least, in contrast to his contemporaries. It is in this context that his reputation initially arose, until he came to be seen as the epitome of this period. It would be hard to claim that his status as one of the greatest composers of this period is "overrated".

- Profligacy with notes is not limited to Mozart, the Classical period, or so-called "Classical music" at all. If we look at Baroque (Bach's Brandenburg concertos, for instance), Romantic (Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet overture) and Neo-classical music (Prokofiev's Classical symphony) all contain far more more ornamentation and frenzied semi-quaver passages than you can shake a conductor's baton at. If one looks at Irish trad, (any reel ever) Mozart starts to appear positively restrained in his use of notes. All of the above benefit, in my opinion, in their use of notes.

- Mozart's music is far from being void of emotion (if you don't believe me, listen to the Romance from his 20th piano concerto), and is far more frequently sublime than Pro gives him credit for.

- The quote in Amadeus from which the summary of our argument has been derived is used to display the musical ignorance of the Emperor and the irrationality of the Musical Director's dislike.

All the above examples have been chosen with an eye to the ease with which they can be found on Youtube and should anyone have difficulty finding a suitable clip, I will be more than happy to provide them with a link.
Debate Round No. 1
The_Harlequin

Pro

Thank you, Con!

I will now get on to my main argument. Pro argues that Mozart's ornamentation detracts from the overall experience of his music. While ornamentation has its place, there is a point at which it becomes downright masturbatory. If we look at any of his piano concertos, for example, we find ourselves lost in long passages of scales for the sake of making the performer look good. Mozart was, of course, a slave to form. The concerto was to be written for a virtuoso, and if it actually sounded nice, all the better. Oftentimes he seems to be showing us how much he knows about scales as opposed to any kind of melody.

First, I will argue that Mozart can compose excellent music sans ornamentation:

We always find Mozart at his best with his simplest melodies. For example, the brooding opening figure of the first movement of his 40th symphony is wonderfully articulated without being based extensively on ornamentation. Look at his Clarinet Concerto. Definitely one of his best regarded pieces. No cadenzas, no extravagant solos, just elegant and beautiful music.

Now I must argue that where his music does become ornate, it does not improve it:

Mozart's best remembered works rely on simple, elegant melodies, and yet he is synonymous with ornate displays of technical prowess. Why is this so? Oftentimes Mozart likes his melodies too much, and simply shows off in between repetitions of the same melody. (Yes, I know it's ritornello, but this is boring ritornello) Think of a work like his 25th symphony. It begins with a wonderfully propulsive figure, but after these 4 notes, he just gets bored. We have a good solid minute or so before we get thrown off into a lovely, but absolutely incongruous section. Then the indulgences begin. It becomes an orgy of scales before returning to the same 4 notes. It wears a listener's patience thin. Mozart's curse is that he takes a fundamentally good idea and embellishes until one simply does not want to hear that figure again. Surely Der Holle Rache does a lot to reinforce the perception that Opera is just fat European women singing vowels? That brilliant and famous figure is quite frankly abused. Eventually, the ear really cannot take any more notes.

I have attached a video which I hope will explain what I mean. If Mozart were alive today, I am convinced he would sound something like this.




Insert-strange-name-here

Con

Thank you Pro. Good points indeed.

I feel we may be straying slightly from the issue in discussing Mozart's use of ritornello themes, but it is an interesting point. I would certainly consider that he is more restrained in their use and more creative in their development than many others (Beethoven, or Grieg for instance). With regards to your example of his 25th symphony, I fear we may be straying into the realm of personal preference as I actually really enjoy it. The scales serve not only as part of the development but also help in terms of modulation. As for Der Holle Rache, I feel unable to allow even personal taste count as a difference here. And yes, it is European women singing vowels, though I would question the word "just", in this case. It does much to redeem female virtuosos as a profession from the stereotype largely based upon the roles given to them by later composers, Puccini being a case in point, who could only have benefited from closer adherence to Classical form Mozart so cleverly subverted.

I dispute Pro's assertion that Mozart's best music is his simplest. Take the link to the ever-excellent Jupiter symphony Pro included in his first post. Sublime indeed, though not overly simple. Then there is Mozart's requiem, possibly his most popular and critically accomplished piece of music, despite the fact that he doesn't skimp himself over the notes. On the other hand, many more of his best and most-beloved works are comparatively restrained.

The point is, though, that the quality of the music is not based on the quantity of notes per bar and the concept of "too many notes" is a spurious one. One might as well denigrate the works of Wodehouse or Saki for using too many words orbeing excessively flowery. The joy in reading their works lies in their love and use of words and language, and so it is with Mozart and his notes. Sometimes, a handful is an elegant sufficiency; other times, both he and the listener revel in the use of notes and the complexity of the music. If one was to start paring a composer's works down to the bone, barring the use of technical flourishes and passages based on scales, major or minor, tonic or chromatic, then the end result would eventually begin to resemble Cage's ludicrous 4:33.
Debate Round No. 2
The_Harlequin

Pro

I thank the Con for appreciating present constraints I have faced in getting an argument up, so now I'll have to throw one together.

As promised, this is time for rebuttal.

What the Pro have put to you here is that Mozart obfuscates his music with his embellishment. Con have spoken on how this embellishment enhances his music.

What Pro have said boils down to one main argument: Mozart is repetitive. He recycles figures until you're just bored of it. He justifies this by splicing in a scale or two here and there. He will introduce a blindingly brilliant figure, entertain us with it, frantically whizz about with a scale and then move on to another which really shouldn't be in the same piece. The modulation in the 25th symphony for example, has been cited has clumsy and does not do justice to the constituent parts of that piece. Yes, using scales gets him where he wants to be, but at the listener's expense.

The point I have made about Der Holle Rache is that it reinforces a stereotype. Not that it's "just" vowels, thats just how it is perceived. This is exactly why people hate classical music. A composer delighted with one repetitive figure that he intends to abuse.

The Jupiter symphony's fourth movement is a five voice figure, don't try this at home. It took Mozart, an admittedly great composer, most of his composing life to reach a point at which he could carry it off, and here he does so with flying colours. Overall, though, he seems to always want this much complexity. It rarely ever works that well. In his later works such as the Requiem and the Jupiter Symphony he does make some very intricate music very well, but just as often he ends up veering around too much with the piece.

Now Con argues that because we have identified SOME Mozart pieces here which benefit from his lack of musical economy, that all of his pieces do. Proof by induction. But no case for this has been offered. He contends that embellishment is necessary to ensnare the listener just as flowery language is to ensnare a reader. He offered Wodehouse as an example. Personally I would say that Wodehouse was ruthlessly economical with words. Wonderful at short stories. What expression is really about is saying as much as you possibly can with as little as you possibly can. At his best, Mozart does this. He says more with a few notes than we ever could in a thousand words with. But sometimes, he produces bloated, self indulgent pieces. My main contention is that he could benefit from a bit more minimalism. It's the repetition of phrases that kills him. Beethoven constantly introduces new themes throughout his music and that is where he is at his best. Mozart does this too in the Jupiter symphony. There is variation. It isn't permutations of one melody, it's different melodies colliding with each other pleasantly.

Look at Beethoven's 5th symphony. The opening figure of the 1st movement is what is always remembered. But he is constantly introducing new ideas. In the 4th movement he produces another excellent melody towards the end which has not been in the piece hitherto. He does not simply dwell on the ingenious opening figure. He finds more figures. In a lot of Mozart's work, he fails to do this, and loses the interest of many a listener.

Now Con's argument would appear to come down to an attack on minimalism. The point of minimalism is to express oneself better with less. Look at Sibelius, who had a certain revulsion to the concept of "too many notes" to the point where his 7th and final symphony was a one-movement piece. He manages to express himself perfectly well, clearly and directly without having to risk boring the listener.

The Pro states that Mozart simply makes too much of a fuss about his music. Some is sublime, but often, it's a frilly mess. Please affirm the motion. Thank you!


Insert-strange-name-here

Con

Sorry to be so late in posting this one - my excuse is less impressive than Pro's and I thank you for bearing with me.

First, I would like to counter a few lines of argument that have been running through the debate. Firstly, about PG Wodehouse - I have no idea what stories of his pro has been reading, but they are not conservative in the word count. I am not proposing that one must exult in the language to catch a reader's attention. I would merely suggest that some writers do so, with wonderful results. The same is true for some composers.

It is interesting that Beethoven has appeared so frequently in both our arguments. I think this may have something to do with the fact that it is really rather easy to mention both he and Mozart in the same breath - in many ways, Beethoven finished what Mozart began, something anyone who has played or listened to Beethoven's early works in particular cannot fail to appreciate. They are both collusi not only in music, but in European culture as a whole. Though I must admit a slight preference of Beethoven, I think it is highly selective of Pro to use his 5th symphony as an example of successful development of a theme. That particular work is a textbook in the art and it represents one of the high points of Beethoven's work, much as the Jupiter symphony does for Mozart. If one looks, for example, at the third movement of his 6th, or the Scherzo from his 9th, it is clear that Beethoven is as much a slave to a single theme as Mozart is. Mozart occasionally overuses a single theme, as does Beethoven, or for that matter any other composer you might care to mention.

Then there are Pro's seemingly contradictory complaints that Mozart manages, at one and the same time, to include too many melodies and yet is too repetitive. Were such a claim true, I think it would serve to establish Mozart as some sort of anti-genius. Sadly, it isn't. In any case, excessive repetition would appear to constitute a case for more notes, something I cannot see Pro keen to promote.

Pro's assertion that Mozart "reinforces a stereotype" in some of his arias is an interesting one, though somewhat tangential to this actual debate. I would suggest, however, that Der Holle Rache, or many of his other arias, are both more popular and accessible than the minimalism he extols.

Pro's argument has been based on a very narrow selection of Mozart's works (how many times has the word "Jupiter" appeared in our debate?) and I think it most unfair to rule out the entire corpus of one of Europe's most brilliant and prolific composers on such a slender basis. I have recently been learning Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 16 and the opening movement is indeed almost as overblown as Pro would have you believe - its based on a line of exquisite melody followed by two of scales. The second and third movements, however, contain no such pointless prevarication, nor does the vast majority of those pieces of his which I have studied or listened to. Shall we dismiss Mozart without considering his operas, still among the most popular ever written, or his revolutionary string quartets, or his beautiful concertos and sonatas?

Every great artist has days when they fall short of their usual standards of perfection (is it any wonder that we had to wait until Kenneth Branagh for an uncut version Hamlet? Even Shakespeare frequently benefits from editing). Mozart had his off days, like everyone else. Such days were not characterised by "too many notes". To suggest that there is such a thing as "too many notes" and that such a thing is quantifiable is ludicrous in the extreme! It is indeed true to say that in Mozart's music, as in the music of all other great composers, there are as many notes as are needed, neither more nor less.

I hope you will join with me in opposing this motion. Thank you for your time and attention.
Debate Round No. 3
11 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by innomen 6 years ago
innomen
Take a look, better before or after. Of course this is a dramatization, but that's sort of what we're doing anyway.
Posted by Insert-strange-name-here 6 years ago
Insert-strange-name-here
With regards to Pro's comment, I only argued that embellishment can improve a piece of music or art, not that it necessarily does. It is not present in all of Mozart's work and where it is, I do not think it can be regarded as detrimental.
Posted by innomen 6 years ago
innomen
I don't see pro adequately demonstrating specifically where some notes should be cut to improve the piece. Also, yeah, the Jupiter was over done, i would have thought that the requiem would have been touched on since the movie was pretty much the underlying theme to this whole debate, and that was sort of the culmination in the movie, and honestly i cannot imagine complaints that there were "too many notes" in that work. I love the debate, my favorite topics of all time.
Posted by The_Harlequin 6 years ago
The_Harlequin
With regards to Grape's comment in his vote, I would like to say that was roughly the same road the Pro had pursued, arguing that Mozart as a composer treats his music as if embellishment makes it better.

Con to me seemed to argue more that complexity does in fact improve the quality of music and art in general.
Posted by innomen 6 years ago
innomen
The Jupiter is one of my least favorites, along with Eine Kleine Nacht.
Posted by The_Harlequin 6 years ago
The_Harlequin
Jupiter appears 6 times. Thrice by Pro, thrice by Con.
Posted by The_Harlequin 6 years ago
The_Harlequin
Dear Con, read PG Wodehouse's "Golf Omnibus". Please. You can thank me later. The stories held within might be no more than say, 20 pages long, but they are perfect.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 6 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
does this mean INH is insert-normal-name-here?
Posted by innomen 6 years ago
innomen
I would have loved this challenge.
Posted by belle 6 years ago
belle
lmao @ resolution. good times.
3 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 3 records.
Vote Placed by 1dustpelt 5 years ago
1dustpelt
The_HarlequinInsert-strange-name-hereTied
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Vote Placed by innomen 6 years ago
innomen
The_HarlequinInsert-strange-name-hereTied
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Vote Placed by Grape 6 years ago
Grape
The_HarlequinInsert-strange-name-hereTied
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Reasons for voting decision: I think that Con made a good case that the complexity of a piece of music is not a good measure of its quality.