Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a better composer than Richard Wagner
Debate Rounds (4)
Sometimes agreeing with the other side can make it fun! Let's begin.
It is undoubted that both Mozart and Wagner were excellent composers who made great contributions to music of their time, as well as helped shape the music of today. But I believe that Mozart's music had many things over the writings of Wagner, which will be summarized by a few points.
There are a few pieces I'll reference in this round, but there are two I will focus on, specifically Mozart's Don Giovanni and Wagner's Tannhäuser.
1. Length of Time
The composer William Lloyd Webber (father of Andrew) would often ask his composition students "Why write six pages, when six bars will do?" In his mind, as well as in mine, there is no point in wasting notes in music. Wagner nearly achieves this, but his pieces are simply too long. That sounds like a major complaint, but let me ask you: what purpose does an overture that lasts a quarter of an hour serve? Tannhäuser is one of his shorter operas, one that's only three hours long. Others go on four times as long, such as The Ring Cycle. But then you have Mozart, who wrote Don Giovanni's overture with just as much grace and majesty, perhaps even more, and it only took six minutes! Not only that, but Mozart himself wrote it the morning it was to be performed, supposedly with a huge hangover, and it was still as excellent as anything anyone else could have written. It doesn't mean everything has to be short, but getting a message across quick, even in music, is often very important, something that Wagner seemed nearly incapable of.
2. The Instrumentation
Wagner tried something revolutionary by overloading the lower brass in his instrumentation and sending the higher strings to the stratosphere. A creative and important step, but did it really improve his music? I would like to argue that it didn't. Wagner's music can range from being very muddy sounding in the lower end to piercing in the higher to almost messy sounding in the middle. Mozart, on the other hand, has a perfect balance, putting everything to its best use. The Tannhäuser overture is showy and boisterous, much as Wagner was himself. Wagner was a great showman, but it didn't always help his compositions. Mozart's Don Giovanni overture succeeds in being beautiful without overloading the ears. Wagner's instrumentation is great for short, instrumental climaxes, but it's too frequent to come out that way.
3. The Emotion
There isn't much to say here that hasn't been said, like the fact that Wagner is so intense in his high highs and low lows. What I'd like to examine is the common argument that Mozart only wrote happier music, and was incapable of writing sad music full of grief. As Milton Cross wrote in Volume II of his Encyclopedia of the Great Composers and Their Music, "It is quite true that a great deal of Mozart is delightful without being profound . . . However, the greater Mozart - the Mozart of the best symphonies, quartets, operas, and concertos - is a profound artist as well as an aristocratic craftsman" (page 524). A great example of this is his Requiem in D Minor, a piece written, but not completed, by a dying, saddened Mozart, who worked himself to fainting at his desk while he worked on it. There is a haunting, depressing air surrounding pieces like Requiem aeternam and Lacrimosa, with intense pieces like Dies irae and Confutatis sprinkled about. It is an excellent example of Mozart at his best, and proves his virtuosity and flexibility.
Back to Con.
Your point two states that Wagner's music is muddy, piercing, and messy, due to his revolutionary step in music. Logically, climaxes in music are exciting and keep the audience on the edges of their seats. Mozart, on the other hand, made music with many interjections. He made loud, unneeded sounds every few moments. Let us compare the music.
Wagner's Here Comes the Bride:
Mozart's Don Giovanni:
Now you tell me who has the 'perfect balance' and the 'showy and boisterous piercing' noises.
Your third point is emotion, defending Mozart in emotion. You did not attack Wagner's music. I have nothing to say, except that Wagner did have a lot of emotion, like his own quote, "I write music with an exclamation mark!" and he is creative, like he says, "Imagination creates reality." On the other hand, listen to Mozart's music here:
(skip to 7:29, where the play is simply laughable):
I could burst out laughing at this part, meant to be a very dramatic part in the whole thing. Wagner's music is serious, creative, and mysterious.
I will add some information about Wagner's pieces. He created probably the most famous wedding piece, Here Comes the Bride. Everywhere, people use this song in their most important moment in their lives, their weddings. Wagner's song's legacy will go on and on, providing brides and grooms a simple and beautiful piece to celebrate something truly beautiful.
In case you don't know how it sounds, which I'm sure you do know,
Back to Pro.
To touch quickly on the part about emotion: I didn't attack Wagner because there's nothing to attack, but there is a stigma against Mozart's music for being "too happy." Now, there is a lot that he wrote for the sake of it sounding good without sounding profound, and I would ask the reader to look back at the Milton Cross quote in the previous round. I also ask anyone to listen to pretty much anything in the Requiem. The only "happy" one that comes to mind is Tuba Mirum, but that fits the context of the piece quite well.
As for the "laughable" part of Mozart's opera, I believe this reaction is less to do with the pigeonholed idea that fast, major keys must hold some sort of happy, joyous connotation. This idea is nearly exclusive to Western music, and other societies have not built their music around this concept. For Mozart to be able to present tension in the fast paced, major key by quickening the dialog and expertly combining the voices in a way that only serves to emphasize this tension is not to be laughed at, but to be praised. He did something most could not at the time - be successful in presenting a negative idea with musical concepts that were stereotyped with the exact opposite.
Comparing the lightness of "Here Comes the Bride" with the heavier Don Giovanni is hardly fair; they serve different purposes, which is why I took the two overtures to be compared.
Why exactly does Mozart sound better? The balance that I talked about in the part about Wagner's "piercing" music is that Mozart knew exactly how far to go with intervals between bass and treble, and Wagner doesn't do this quite as successfully, as is apparent in the overtures. Mozart seemed to have an innate understanding of the harmonic series (and thus the partials between them) that seems absent in most of Wagner's music. The music Mozart uses balances these frequencies in a way that makes the music balance itself out perfectly. Wagner, on the other hand, balances ideas in such a way that often push these patterns to a breaking point. This is certainly alright in moderation, but it seems quite frequent in Wagnerian music.
Finally, I would like to point out why I mentioned the length of pieces. Ultimately, Con and I can agree that length is irrelevant when taken by itself. However, coupling the length with musical ideas that have been said again and again is something a bit different. One composer who made what appears to be a perfect musical metaphor for this idea is Erik Satie, an early avant-garde impressionist. His composition "Vexations" is believed to be a political statement against Wagnerianism, specifically its incredibly long ideas. In his instructions for the otherwise short piece, it can be read "In order to play the theme 840 times in succession, it would be advisable to prepare oneself beforehand, and in the deepest silence, by serious immobilites." It has been interpreted, rather appropriately, as a direct dig at the Wagnerian idea of "unendliche Melodie." It's very important for me to note that this term means "unending melody," and it was not a term used to make fun of or put down Wagnerianism, but an actual term of a technique used quite frequently in Wagnerian composition. It would be coupled by a series of complex chords, but that does little to save the monotony of it all. Wagner used this to lengthen his pieces, when simply using them in moderation would work. Mozart wasn't void of repetitiveness, but it seldom equaled Wagner's.
Back to Con again.
binkie forfeited this round.
As my opponent has forfeited the third round, I simply extend my argument and urge the voter to vote pro!
There is nothing to attack on the emotions part, as you have just defended it, providing no attack to Wagner's music.
You said he was successful in presenting a negative idea with musical concepts that were stereotyped with the exact opposite. I don't see how he was successful with it, unless the point of the part was to be plain funny. How would it be praised? All skill it required was to put some major keys in a bad situation.
Alright, "Here Comes the Bride" is not comparable to Don Giovanni, but can you find a piece of Mozart's that matches the lightness and serenity of "Here Comes the Bride"?
Again, "Here Comes the Bride", if you listen to it, has the perfect lightness, harmonics, and feelings in it. It is not "piercing", and as for the piercing noises in his overtures, they are well balanced and placed in the right moments. He was a pioneer in music, searching for the right sound, and eventually grasping it.
Unless you would wish to debate against the credit of Erik Satie, born 53 years after Wagner, and probably not used to Wagner's style, I don't believe I should count your source, the "Vexations". Also, its interperation as a dig at Wagner was only one out of many different interperations, such as insulting Conservatoire de Paris. In fact, the most popular theory is ""Vexations" as the product of romantic despondence. It was written in the wake of Satie"s split with Suzanne Valadon, a beautiful French painter who wore on her blouse a corsage of carrots and kept a pet goat in her studio. Satie was smitten. Their six-month affair was the sole romantic relationship of his life. 'For me there is nothing but icy loneliness which makes my head go empty and fills my heart with sadness,' he wrote when Valadon dumped him for a wealthy banker. That icy loneliness runs through "Vexations." Its repetitions marry lovelorn melancholy and irresolvable anxiety. It could qualify as the avant-garde"s original breakup ballad."
Could you please give me a few pieces when Wagner's pieces are just a repetition of a couple of lines?
Back to Pro.
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