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CLASSICAL  October 2009

CLASSICAL October 2009

Subject:

Mozart by Rushton

From:

James Tobin <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Thu, 8 Oct 2009 14:55:35 -0700

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

text/plain (76 lines)

MOZART. By Julian Rushton.  (The Master Musicians series). Oxford,
2006;  paperback September 2009. 306 pages.

Julian Rushton has had a distinguished career.  He is Emeritus West
Riding professor of Music at the University of Leeds; he served as
President of the Royal Musical Association from 1994 to 1999; he is
Chairman of the Editorial Committee of Musica Britannica and has been
editor of Cambridge Music Handbooks, to which he contributed a volume
on Don Giovanni.  He is the author of a book on Mozart's Idomeneo
(Cambridge), as well as The Musical Language of Berlioz (Cambridge)
and The Music of Berlioz (Oxford).

Some of Rushton's peers have high praise for this volume.  Cliff Eisen
says that it includes the 'finest short biography of Mozart that I know.'
In a somewhat back-handed critical compliment, Charles Rosen says: 'It
is too short - not too short for Mozart but for Rushton, who has certainly
more to say that would be of interest.'

My own reaction is that it is indeed too short, both in the biographical
chapters and the discussions of music.  In contrast, the recent volume
in this series on Tchaikovsky, by Roland John Wiley, at nearly twice the
length, is much more engaging, especially for the musically informed
general reader, with respect both to biographical and musical details.
Both books deal with biography and the works in alternating chapters.

Biographically, Rushton's account is concise and well-written but
comes to something around a hundred pages, with Mozart's life before
Vienna given half of that.  One wants more detail, especially about the
production of Mozart's last operas, the circumstances of the composition
of the Requiem (though Rushton does indicate which portions of it were
sketched or written out by Mozart), and Mozart's death.  Particularly
interesting, though, is an explanation of why he, as well as J.C. Bach,
was unsuccessful in Paris, having to do with reaction against Gluck:
Mozart was not given an opportunity to show that he could absorb both
French and Italian musical currents.  As a guide to the history of
Mozart's compositions, Rushton's account is adequate and can serve
as a reference.

The fact that Mozart's compositional output was several times greater
than Tchaikovsky's makes Rushton's compression of his musical analysis
appear strained, in comparison with Wiley's book.  Wiley discussed even
individual songs by Tchaikovsky; Rushton discusses just about all of
Mozart's greatest piano concertos in a single chapter, and does so in a
manner which requires rather sophisticated knowledge of technical terms.
For instance, the term 'ritornello' is central to his summary of concerto
form and he uses this term, undefined, five times in eight lines.  He
makes short shrift of the earlier symphonies, a decision in which I can
heartily concur, and it was gratifying also to see that he finds particular
merit in no. 29 in A (K. 201) Rushton includes fifty musical examples,
from about thirty-five works, quite a few of those being early ones.
These run as long as 72 bars of Symphony 27 (K. 199), filling about
five pages in this case.

It is difficult to decide the target audience for this work.  Not a
popular work, to my mind, contrary to the views of some reviewers, it
might be of particular interest to advanced music students for the expert
musical analysis it includes and for the musical examples they will be
able to read.  As there is limited direct reference to these in the text,
however, the reader with more limited expertise can skip the score-reading
and even the more advanced analysis and concentrate on the more general
account of the development of Mozart's ability and style, and the
chronological account of just when in Mozart's career he wrote certain
groups of works, notably the concertos and quartets.

As with other volumes in this series, the supplementary features are
very useful for reference purposes.  They include a Calendar; a List
of Works, by type of work, with dates, keys and K. numbers; 17 pages
of 'Personalia'; and an index with emphasis on particular works by Mozart.

Copyright 2009 by R. James Tobin

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