Monday, May 2, 2016

Erosion

I subscribe to several email services by which I receive daily doses of art and cultural history. Each day I learn new vocabulary, read a poem, look at (and learn about) a piece of art, enjoy snippets of literary and music history, etc. Many of these bits and bobs are connected to the date – “On this date in [fill in the year,] such-and-such happened.] Together these are a nice way to start the day.

Much of what I read is new to me, but of course, much of it is familiar, too. Sometimes I skip over the topics I already know about, but sometimes I read the familiar pieces with close attention if they are favorite topics. Such as Mozart.

Yesterday’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac included a feature about the premiere of Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro on May 1, 1786 in Vienna. The article included the usual stuff about Beaumarchais, political tensions, da Ponte, and Emperor Joseph’s famous edict about excessive encores. But two items caught my attention and made me wonder who had researched and written — and edited — this little essay.

The first item was a characterization of da Ponte’s adaptation of Beaumarchais’ play La folle journée, ou le Mariage de Figaro as “a frothy drawing-room comedy about a servant girl named Susanna and her beau, Figaro.” That would be like referring to Shakespeare’s A Comedy of Errors as a play about two sets of twins. Yes, each statement is accurate as to fact, but only as to circumstance. Figaro is a profound exploration of the human condition; yes, it is very funny at times, but that’s not really the point of it. If you don’t know Figaro, go find a recording, or better yet, a video, and have the translation at hand. This opera is far more than a bedroom farce or even a drawing room comedy, as the final few minutes will reveal.

The second item was this extraordinary statement: “Mozart died in 1791. The last five years of his life were spent composing four operas that became standards in the opera repertoire, including Don Giovanni, which again included a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.”

The writer is either profoundly ignorant of Mozart’s life and works, or was the victim of an ignorant editor who, for the sake of focusing the essay on opera, chose to mention only Mozart’s final operas, giving the impression that he composed nothing else in the last five years of his life.

Shall we take a look at what Mozart actually composed in the last five years of his life? Let’s start with Figaro, and cascade on from there, as shown in the list below, which includes 152 items. Yes, here are the four last magnificent operas, but here too are the Requiem and several other sacred works, including the priceless Ave Verum Corpus; a large number of lieder, arias, and scenes; divertimenti, including Ein musikalischer Spaß and Eine kleine Nachtmusik; many dances; five concertos (three for piano, one for horn, and the exquisite clarinet concerto); seven keyboard sonatas, several sets of variations, and other single-movement keyboard works; a great deal of chamber music including the late quartets; and, of course, the four great final symphonies.

So, can we agree that the last five years of his life were not “spent composing four operas”?

Let’s edit that last sentence.

Before: “Mozart died in 1791. The last five years of his life were spent composing four operas that became standards in the opera repertoire, including Don Giovanni, which again included a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.”

After: “Mozart died five years later, in 1791. Among the dozens of major works he composed during this period are four more operas that have become standards in the opera repertoire, including Don Giovanni, which again included a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte.”

That’s better.

Is this a tempest in a teapot? Not really. My concern is not necessarily with the specifics of this error, though of course I am a stickler for accuracy.

My larger concern is with the constant erosion of knowledge and understanding of all sorts of things, whether it’s music or our relationship with the natural world, as I’ve written about most recently. A concurrent concern is that as we gleefully abandon precision in our use of language, we become inured to sloppy writing and careless (or nonexistent) editing.

For example, in the case of this throwaway essay on Mozart, the writer probably wanted to convey this simple fact: that Mozart wrote four operas after 1786, and that one of them, like Figaro, was based on a libretto by da Ponte. Then why not say that, and only that? As written (“The last five years of his life were spent composing four operas”), the statement conveys an entirely different – and incorrect – impression.

We are quick to abridge, to gloss over, to make everything tweet-able and post-able, to manipulate information in order to make a point, but in doing so, we create and perpetuate error. When we accept these casual processes for understanding and communicating, and cheer them on, and reinforce them by re-tweeting and reposting without comment or criticism, we only add, albeit incrementally, to our own collective ignorance.

So yes, it does matter.

K
COMPOSITION
DATE
492
Le nozze di Figaro
May 1, 1786
493
Quartet for Piano and Strings in E flat
June 3, 1786
507
Canon in F for 3 voices in 1
After June 3, 1786
508
Canon in F for 3 voices in 1
After June 3, 1786
508A
Canon in C for 3 voices in 1
After June 3, 1786
508a
2 Canons in F for 3 voices in 1, 14 Canons in F for 2 voices in 1
After June 3, 1786
494
Rondo in F for Keyboard
June 10, 1786
495
Concerto in E flat for Horn
June 26, 1786
496
Trio in G for Piano, Violin and Cello
July 8, 1786
496a
12 Duos for Basset Horns
July 27, 1786
497
Sonata in F for Keyboard Four-Hands
Aug. 1, 1786
498
Trio in E flat for Piano, Clarinet and Viola, "Kegelstatt"
Aug. 5, 1786
499
Quartet in D for Strings, "Hoffmeister"
Aug. 19, 1786
500
12 Variations in B flat
Sept. 12, 1786
501
5 Variations in G
Nov. 4, 1786
502
Trio in B flat for Piano, Violin and Cello
Nov. 18, 1786
503
Concerto in C for Piano, No. 25
Dec. 4, 1786
504
Symphony in D, No. 38, "Prague"
Dec. 6, 1786
505
Scena and Rondo for Soprano, "Ch'io mi scordi di te?"
Dec. 26, 1786
298
Quartet for Flute, Violin, Viola and Cello in A
1786-87
516f
Musikalisches Würfelspiel in C
1787
336c
2 German Hymns
?Early 1787
509
6 German Dances
Feb. 6, 1787
511
Rondo for Piano in A minor
March 11, 1787
512
Recitative and Aria for Bass, "Alcandro, lo confesso"
March 19, 1787
513
Aria for Bass, "Mentre ti lascio"
March 23, 1787
515
Quintet in C for Strings
April 19, 1787
515b
Double Canon in F for 4 voices in 2
April 24, 1787
516
Quintet for Strings in G minor
May 16, 1787
517
Song, Die Alte
May 18, 1787
518
Song, Die Verschweigung
May 20, 1787
519
Song, Das Lied der Trennung
May 23, 1787
520
Song, Als Luise die Briefe
May 26, 1787
521
Sonata in C for Keyboard Four-Hands
May 29, 1787
522
Ein musikalischer Spaß
June 14, 1787
523
Song, Abendempfindung
June 24, 1787
524
Song, An Chloe
June 24, 1787
509a
Canon in G for 4 voices in 1, "Lieber Freistadtler, lieber Gaulimauli"
After July 4, 1787
525
Eine kleine Nachtmusik
Aug. 10, 1787
526
Sonata in A for Violin and Keyboard
Aug. 24, 1787
527
Don Giovanni
Oct. 29, 1787
528
Scena for Soprano, "Bella mia fiamma"
Nov. 3, 1787
529
Song, Des kleinen Friedrichs Geburtstag
Nov. 6, 1787
530
Song, Das Traumbild
Nov. 6, 1787
531
Song, Die kleine Spinnerin
Dec. 11, 1787
516b
Quintet in C minor for Strings
1788
535a
3 Contredanses
?Early 1788
533
Allegro and Andante in F for Keyboard
Jan. 3, 1788
534
Contredanse, "Das Donnerwetter"
Jan. 14, 1788
535
Contredanse, "La Bataille"
Jan. 23, 1788
536
6 German Dances
Jan. 27, 1788
537d
Arrangement of Aria for Tenor by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach
February 1788
537
Concerto in D for Piano, No. 26
Feb. 24, 1788
538
Aria for Soprano, "Ah se in ciel"
March 4, 1788
539
Song, Ein deutsches Kriegslied
March 5, 1788
540
Adagio in B minor for Keyboard
Maarch 19, 1788
540a
Aria for Tenor, "Dalla sua pace"
April 24, 1788
540b
Duet for Soprano and Bass, "Per queste tue manine"
April 28, 1788
540c
Recitative and Aria for Soprano, "In quali eccesi"
April 30, 1788
541
Arietta for Bass, "Un bacio di mano"
May 1788
547a
Sonata in F for Keyboard
?Summer 1788
545
Sonata for Keyboard in C, "For Beginners"
June 16, 1788
542
Trio in E for Piano, Violin and Cello
June 22, 1788
543
Symphony in E flat, No. 39
June 26, 1788
546
Adagio and Fugue for Strings in C minor
June 26, 1788
547b
5 (6?) Variations in F for Piano
July 1788
547
Sonata in F for Violin and Keyboard
July 10, 1788
548
Trio in C for Piano, Violin and Cello
July 14, 1788
549
Canzonetta for two Sopranos and Bass, "Piu non si trovano"
July 16, 1788
550
Symphony in G minor, No. 40
July 25, 1788
551
Symphony in C, No. 41, "Jupiter"
Aug. 10, 1788
552
Song, Beim Auszug in das Feld
Aug. 11, 1788
553
Canon in C for 3 voices in 1, "Alleluia"
Sept. 2, 1788
554
Canon in F for 4 voices in 1, "Ave Maria"
Sept. 2, 1788
555
Canon in A minor for 4 voices in 1, "Lacrimoso"
Sept. 2, 1788
556
Canon in G for 4 voices in 1, "G'rechtelt's enk"
Sept. 2, 1788
557
Canon in F minor or 4 voices in 1, "Nascoso e il mio sol"
Sept. 2, 1788
558
Canon in B flat for 4 voices in 1, "Gehen wir im Prater"
Sept. 2, 1788
559
Canon in F for 3 voices in 1, "Difficile lectu mihi Mars"
Sept. 2, 1788
559a
Canon in F for 4 voices in 1, "O du eselhafter Peierl"
Sept. 2, 1788
560
Canon in F for 4 voices in 1, "O du eselhafter Martin"
Sept. 2, 1788
561
Canon in A for 4 voices in 1, "Bona nox, bist a rechta Ox"
Sept. 2, 1788
562
Canon in A for 3 voices in 1, "Caro bell'idol mio"
Sept. 2, 1788
563
Divertimento in E flat
Sept. 27, 1788
564
Trio for Piano, Violin and Cello in G
Oct. 27, 1788
566
Arrangement of Handel's Acis und Galathea
November 1788
567
6 German Dances
Dec. 6, 1788
568
12 Minuets
Dec. 24, 1788
571a
Quartet for Soprano, two Tenors and Bass, "Caro mio Druck und Schluck"
?1789
570
Sonata in B flat for Keyboard
February 1789
571
6 German Dances for Orchestra
Feb. 21, 1789
572
Arrangement of Handel's Messiah
March 1789
573
9 Variations in D
April 29, 1789
574
Kleine Gigue in G for Keyboard
May 16, 1789
575
Quartet in D for Strings, "Prussian"
June 1789
576
Sonata in D for Keyboard
July 1789
577
Rondo for Soprano, "Al desio, di chi t'adora"
July 1789
578
Aria for Soprano, "Alma grande e nobil core"
Aug. 1789
579
Aria for Soprano, "Un moto di gioia mi sento"
Aug. 1789
580
Aria for Soprano, "Schon lacht der holde Frühling"
Sept. 17, 1789
581
Quintet for Clarinet and Strings in A
Sept. 29, 1789
582
Aria for Soprano, "Chi sà, chi sà, qual sia"
Oct. 1789
583
Aria for Soprano, "Vado, ma dove? -- oh Dei!"
Oct. 1789
584
Aria for Bass, "Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo"
Dec. 1789
585
12 Minuets
December 1789
586
12 German Dances
December 1789
587
Contredanse in C, "Der Sieg vom Helden Koburg"
December 1789
588b
Andantino in E flat for Keyboard
?c1790
588a
Overture and 3 Contredanses
January 1790
588
Così fan tutte
Jan. 26, 1790
589
Quartet in B flat for Strings, "Prussian"
May 1790
590
Quartet in F for Strings, "Prussian"
June 1790
591
Arrangement of Handel's Alexander's Feast
July 1790
592
Arrangement of Handel's Ode to Saint Cæcelia
July 1790
592a
Comical Duet for Soprano and Bass, "Nun, liebes Weibchen"
August 1790
593
Quintet in D for Strings
December 1790
594
Adagio and Allegro in F minor for a Mechanical Organ
Oct.-Dec. 1790
386b
Concerto for Horn in D
1791
609
5 Contredanses
1791
595
Concerto in B flat for Piano, No. 27
?1788-91, Jan. 5, 1791
596
Song, Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling
Jan. 14, 1791
597
Song, Im Frülingsanfang
Jan. 14, 1791
598
Song, Das Kinderspiel
Jan. 14, 1791
599
6 Minuets
Jan. 23, 1791
600
6 German Dances
Jan. 29, 1791
601
4 Minuets
Feb. 5, 1791
602
4 German Dances
Feb. 5, 1791
603
2 Contredanses
Feb. 5, 1791
604
2 Minuets
Feb. 12, 1791
605
3 German Dances
Feb. 12, 1791
605a
Contredanse, "Il Triofo delle Donne"
Feb. 28, 1791
606
6 "Landler"
Feb. 28, 1791
613
8 Variations in F on "Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding"
March 1791
608
Fantasia in F minor for a Mechanical Organ
March 3, 1791
610
Contredanse, "Les filles malicieuses"
March 6, 1791
611
German Dance
March 6, 1791
612
Aria for Bass, "Per questa bella mano"
March 8, 1791
614
Quintet in E flat for Strings
April 12, 1791
616
Andante in F for a Small Mechanical Organ
May 4, 1791
617
Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica, Flute, Oboe, Viola and Cello
May 23, 1791
617a
Adagio in C for Glass Harmonica
1791
618
Motet in D, "Ave verum Corpus"
June 17, 1791
619
Cantata, "Die ihr des unermeßlichen Weltalls"
July 1791
620b
Contrapuntal Study
?September 1791
621a
Aria for Bass, "Io ti lascio, o cara, addio"
?Sept. 1791
621
La clemenza di Tito
Sept. 6, 1791
620
Die Zauberflöte
Sept. 30, 1791
622
Concerto in A for Clarinet
October 1791
623
Freimaurerkantate
Nov. 15, 1791
626a
Cadenzas for Piano Concertos

626
Requiem in D minor
Late 1791

Source for Köchel list: The Mozart Project




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