View Poll Results: Has the way you listen to music changed significantly since the first you've heard??

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  • I try to focus on the music as much as possible.

    8 44.44%
  • I just let the music happen.

    10 55.56%
  • There is no music - there's only the listener.

    2 11.11%
  • I listen with a conscious ear to specific things.

    7 38.89%
  • I try to focus on what the music does to me, as hard as possible.

    1 5.56%
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Thread: New Ways of Listening to Mozart

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    Default New Ways of Listening to Mozart

    Mozart was the first composer that I loved. When I was 11 or 12, I heard the piano sonata in C from the K.500's (it goes C, E, G, B, C, D, C), and I thought it was the prettiest thing I'd ever heard. I always secretly reverenced Mozart as my great composer-love. Bach might be profound, Beethoven might be the beginning of modern music, but Mozart was love.
    But for a long time, my love never really went beyond this. I had heard the Magic Flute at a young age, heard the 40th symphony, and two famous arias from La Nozze di Figaro. My acquaintance was pretty superficial.
    In my junior high years, I began trying to listen to music with a greater degree of attention. I wanted to get everything I could from these pieces, that I had begun to read so much about. In most cases, my experience of listening to the more studied and revered pieces did not correspond to what I read about them. This lasted well into high school and early college. I remember getting the Paris Symphony from my university library and finding it the most insipid, drum and trumpet things from that era that I’ve heard. What was I doing wrong? This was the Paris Symphony! It had been named, because apparently it was impressive enough to achieve some notoriety. But it did not appear at all impressive to me. So what did I do wrong?

    In a quest to figure this out (and to figure out Mozart’s work in the process), I decided to embark on a project of listening to all of Mozart’s music. Maybe the Paris Symphony would appear revolutionary for the time, even exciting, when properly contextualized, harmonically, formally, with more pieces of the same type, in the same era.

    The biggest change, not only in my Mozart experience, but in my experience listening to classical music in general, has come from two things. 1) From the habit of closely following and reading the commentary for every piece that I could find mentioned (which is nearly all of them) in Hermann Abert’s classic “Mozart,” a huge 1400 page tome that is available in English translation for some amount of money and in German for a whole lot more.

    Many people disagree with the idea that one can listen to a piece “wrong”. Music is art, and you can’t be doing it wrong – if you think are wrong, then you, definitely, are yourself wrong – especially for giving others the doubt that they might be listening to certain types of music in a wrong way, which is to selfishly ruin their enjoyment of their music. You have not only spoiled your own listening – you have spoiled others’.

    But I have not found this to be the case. Especially with classical music. Every type of music that I have listened to has benefited in some way or other by the assistance of a more experience ear. I would never have found the Velvet Underground had I not read, in the opinion of some, that that band was far more ambitious and successful than that of the Beatles, a band I discovered on recommendation from another ear, though not as experienced (my father). As a side-note, you are not living in glass box. The very existence of this forum testifies to our need to talk about our enjoyment and understand our enjoyment in terms of others’ enjoyment of the same piece. For those who say – that’s all well and fine – but it’s perverse to read music criticism (Pitchfork, Scaruffi, Rolling Stones) – just listen to your own ear – that’s all that matters! These people themselves have arrived at their band favorites and composer favorites through initial recommendations, whether that be the ear of a computer (Spotify), the ear of a friend (dad, classmates), or the ear of someone who listens to music for money, all day long (music criticism). That this last category, in my opinion, is unnecessarily reviled seems clear to me and definitely unhealthy.

    But back to classical. With classical, many listeners approach composers and their works like they do the Beatles and the Velvet Underground and Captain Beefheart. The chief difference between these bands and their productions and the productions of Mozart and Hadyn is their formal sophistication. In a classical piano sonata, an average theme probably lasts about thirty seconds (at the most). Many might be much shorter. To listen to a classical piano sonata and register A section, B section (development), A section repeat, is to think you are understanding all you need to about a piece when you are understanding much too little.

    The ideal classical music listener is much more formally sophisticated. The ideal listener notes each 3-30 second doodad invented by the composer and notes them down mentally, prepared to see not only their individual development in the B section, but their slight alteration in the A repeat and which themes, if any return, for a coda to the piece. This is art music. Music, in the case of many styles of classical music, for other musicians. True appreciation of Haydn is difficult without this realization – with Mozart it’s passable because he’s so often so pretty.

    All this leads to the second thing that changed my listening which is (2), in a effort to develop this kind of listening, I adopted the moronic, pedantic, juvenile method of noting down, in a one word description, each 3-30 second theme as it appears. This quickly leads to entries like this, which I have noted in my own records of my own listening in this fashion (my example is one of Mozart’s early string quartets): 417b – Allegro – famous, declaration, shout, calmer, indian, pettily rounds off, sweetness, dancing, tapping, short intensity
    Repeat
    Famous but with thicker texture, threats from below, shout, dance, fuguish texture, threat theme, poking and prodding
    At murky waters, sloppy slide home
    Famous, declaration, shout, ---, indian, pettily rounds off, sweetness theme minored, dancing tapping themes modified?,
    Intensifying insuations, more tappiing textures, ends
    Andante – A - nice, spirals up, cadences, spiraling up thicker, ends, repeat all, minor, plangent, plangency continues, nice theme
    Returns, spirals up, cadences, spiraling up thicker, ends in a prolonged way, minor again, plangent, plangency
    Nice theme continues, spirals up, cadences, spiraling up thicker, ends in a prolonged way
    B - Pressing in minor, declamatory harsh minor, dancing, lush nice, hopping up theme, rounds off in crescendo,
    Delicate, Plangent, declamatory again, spiraling up again
    A theme again, codas softly, spiraling up softly to close
    Menuetto – harsh, elegaic, repeat, softer lines, up and down, harsh elegaic returns, softer lines, up and down, harsh elegaic again,
    Hopping, plucking, counter line, return of hopping main theme, higher, more romantic, return of main theme
    Harsh, elegaic, softer, up and down, harsh elegaic again
    Allegro ma non troppo – harsh, rejoinding line, repeat, sweet, pressing, sweet romantic, pressing harder, repeat of sweet to
    Pressing harder,
    1Scales, harsh, scales harsher, harsh harsher, more romantic, cut feeling, romantic more strained, all over place, repeat
    More romantic through all over place
    2Rockish, light fly, repeat; rockish turns romantic, rockish var., ends, repeat
    3Gypsyish mournful, repeat; mournful turns romantic, pressed, goes down, high, repeat;
    4Romantic nice harmonies, pretty scaling, repeat; pressed, scaling, viola enters, repeat;
    5Quick cut feeling, shots fired then titters, viola violin shots fired, viola, 1st violin, ends!
    The words used to describe the themes, of course, are almost meaningless. The only meaning the meaningless appellation has is that the appellation be meaningful to YOU! They must trigger at least vague memory of what the theme sounded like earlier to you. The areas that I have underlined are areas that I liked.
    Now, why is this method not disgustingly artificial, unrelated to the music-listening experience, and completely distracting? Because the meaning is in the relationship between all these micro-themes. Note in the Allegro ma non troppo, in the fifth variation (what I call the fifth variation) – my final word in my listening experience – “ends!” Listening to these variations, I at least expected a reprisal of the main theme at the end, like a proper theme and variations. What do I get? It just ends. Right there, with the best and most interesting variation of the set actually. Quite surprising? Did Mozart intend this? I think so. Would I have noticed this without this method? Perhaps. Want another example? In the Allegro of this quartet, the two themes that I label “dancing” “tapping” are transformed in the development section into what I call “poking and prodding” (and which I liked, as a I underlined it). Did Mozart intend this correspondence? Yes. Would I have heard it without this method? In this case, I think it’s even more unlikely. I think observing things, finally, like the presence or absence of some of these things in the second A section and which themes he happens to pick for the coda (if there even is one) are observable only with this method, without a very experience and attentive ear (again, I’m talking about microthemes here, not general feelings for a section that lasts a minute or two minutes long).
    Finally, this method is valuable because the overall arrangement of a piece as a whole lends a particular character to a work. A work is somehow actually, fundamentally clearer, when it’s put on paper, than when it’s merely vaguely noted in your head. Classical music is written down. Often when trying to make distinctions between classical and other types of music, this is the only distinction that’s harped on. Putting just the form down on paper, can help quite a bit in understanding what the composer is trying to do, actively, on a micro-level.
    What has this method brought me? A MUCH enriched experience of Mozart. Here’s my personal preference among his works, so far – I’m at K 417e right now.
    Just as far as genre is concerned, I have to agree with the majority that the operas beat everything, but not by much. The early operas can be, though are not necessarily, as boring as many of their librettos (which is pretty boring). But there’s not much to equal La Nozze di Figaro and Don Giovanni (I’ve already listened to much of these – though not all of them). Then comes the string quartets, which, to me probably beat, the piano concertos. The wind concertos (especially the clarinet, but not so much the horn and the flute) are excellent and are often at about this level. Some of the divertimentos are here, though not all. The amazing partita for winds fits in here and other amazing serenades fit in here. The piano sonatas and masses come next and can be very surprising – especially the early ones. It should also be noted about the early masses that listening to masses without an awareness of how individual sections are constructed and the lyrics being sung at any given time and what is usually and not usually done with a specific section can make for very boring listening experiences. The Great C Major mass has some great, exciting sections (the opening allegro, for instance, but also some very boring ones – but most would sound boring without carefully noting form). The early masses are good too. I would like to put the symphonies, lower, because of their initial effect on me in me in putting me off of Mozart (Paris Symphony), but honestly even the first 27 or so are not that bad and can be quite interesting. Obviously, the last 10 or so (not to mention the last three) are their own type. Honestly, the theme music, in terms of sheer variety, can often beat much of what follows (Thamos, I’m looking at you). Isolated arias may fit in somewhere around here. The violin sonatas maybe come next, about where the violin concertos are. Some of his violin concertos I find really boring and I think the violin sonatas maybe beat them. The concertos for two pianos come next near the bottom, though not at the bottom. Near the bottom, but not at the bottom, come the theme and variations work. The much lauded variation of twinkle, twinkle little star are designed to be exercises in virtuosity (except for one or two variations out of, like, 12). The church sonatas might be at the bottom, as they are very conventional (they had to be). Their redeeming grace is that they are short. I think I would put arias that absolutely go on much, much too long with bad librettos at the very bottom.

    Here’s the vertical rannking:
    Operas
    String Quartets
    Piano Concertos
    Wind Concertos (Especially the Gran Partita and Serenades)
    Most Masses
    Piano Sonatas
    Symphonies
    Some Divertimentos
    Theme Music (Thamos and others)
    Some arias
    Violin sonatas
    Violin concertos
    Concertos for two pianos
    Themes and variations work
    Church Sonatas
    Much too long arias



    Everything is better or worse than something else – except for two things – the best thing and the worst thing.
    By the way, here’s a quote from Abert about the Paris Symphony, who listened to all of Mozart and much other music from the era and found reason to bash it: “In terms of both form and character, The ‘Paris or ‘French’ symphony in D Major K297 is largely a concession to French audiences, whose intellectual abilities Mozart notoriously held in low regard…[gives a quote by Mozart]…Above all, however there is the superficially brilliant, demagogic aspect of the work, an aspect that includes the conscious avoidance of depth or originality in the basic ideas and their development and, the desire for brevity notwithstanding, a certain volubility that insists on repeating familiar material as though afraid that the listener might not have understood it properly…It is difficult, therefore, to find anything specifically Mozartian In the symphony’s first two movements, still less to discern any progress between it and its immediate predecessors…[says best section is the final] ….Incomparably more important is the sinfonia concertante in E flat major K297B…”

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    Senior Member PlaySalieri's Avatar
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    Thank goodness I just loved the Paris symphony from the moment I heard it.

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    Well, then, is the Paris symphony in your top 5?

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    Quote Originally Posted by llambers View Post
    Well, then, is the Paris symphony in your top 5?
    you mean top 5 mozart symphonies - no it would be probably about no 10.

    You are determined to find genius when your ears do not immediately reveal it to you - I'll give you that.

    I also have many blind (deaf) spots - Brahms solo piano for example - while I like Brahms other works I just cant get any joy from the solo piano. I just dont have time to do what you have done with your study of Mozart's works.

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    I've done it with Shakespeare's works (along with Harold Bloom's Invention of the Human) and have found it immensely rewarding. So much so, in fact, that I think I can say, truthfully, that that stuff is the best stuff I've read and the stuff I enjoy the most of the stuff I've read.

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    And I have found much of Mozart rather boring (at least more than the average listener might expect to find more boring - but not more than someone who heard that everything before Entfuhring and the 25th symphony was boring).

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    Quote Originally Posted by llambers View Post
    And I have found much of Mozart rather boring (at least more than the average listener might expect to find more boring - but not more than someone who heard that everything before Entfuhring and the 25th symphony was boring).
    Some of it is boring - I made the mistake of listening to a CD of the canons - that was dull. But I listen to the best that composers have to offer and there's not much in mozart's output after say k150 - that I dont truly enjoy. Sounds like Mozart is just not for you if you have to get your notepad out to get anything from it.

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    By the way, for anyone who's thinking about going through the early Mozart, here's some motivation: a piece that is really far too unknown, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4oY3lP_i9iA.

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    It is, if some things are only visible with the notepad. And you, I assume, would claim that they are not or if they are, they're not worth hearing? That's fine to assume that. Certainly more charitable toward the object of hearing as much good music as possible - your goal.

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    Pre 20/21, I just let the music happen.

    20/21, I listen with a conscious ear to specific things.

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    What specific things to do you listen for? Does what you listen for vary by genre, by piece, by what you think the composer is trying to do? Do you listen polyphonically when you hear homophony, or vice versa?

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    Mozart's genius is very often a case of art concealing art: his music is so carefully constructed and thoroughly worked out that it can seem entirely effortless, both on the part of the listener and on the part of the composer. This is frequently an illusion, here and elsewhere, and if we just let Mozart's surfaces wash over us like elevator music, we're bound to miss all of the subtle detail that fills his scores.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mahlerian View Post
    Mozart's genius is very often a case of art concealing art: his music is so carefully constructed and thoroughly worked out that it can seem entirely effortless...
    Somebody elsewhere recently said that the art that conceals art is very important, so long as it doesn't work too well.


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    Yah, working too well, would mean that the art in some sense becomes senseless. Enjoyable on some purely subconscious level, but the moment consciousness enters in - - -

    gone!

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    That's quite a process, and I'm sort of envious. You made a plan, executed it and recorded the results. I just sit back and listen to an entire work, sometimes noting to myself illuminating features I hadn't really noticed before.

    My Mozart preferences:

    Piano Concertos
    Sacred Choral
    Solo Keyboard
    Chamber

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