I recently had an experience where, starting postgraduate study at a new unfamiliar university, I found myself quite nervous in the hours leading to our first course meeting (basically an informal meet-and-greet, but that didn’t stop me having a few nervous poos which I don’t shy away from revealing, because it’s in keeping with todays theme: Mozart loved writing letters about pooping). Feeling nervous about what to expect moving into the unknown, my tensions were set at ease when people started asking pretty dumb, irrelevant questions that only related to personal problems of their own. Thus, I was released from my nerves as I remembered that people, wherever you go, are people, and for the most part have no idea about what is going on and so wherever you go, at whatever age or level, people are people (and are pretty stupid).
Perhaps that was a too long, too self-involved, preamble, however it’s these little reminders of how silly people can be that calls to my mind Mozart’s (alleged) late night cramming to finish one of his greatest operas, Don Giovanni. (You may think this segue into talking about classical music and Mozart is a little thin, but please bear with me).
Classical music and opera today has seemed to have, unfortunately, developed an inaccessible aura that discourages a lot of people from listening to and enjoying it, and Mozart, while needing no real introduction even to the most classical musically challenged, is just an empty name alongside a long list of composers that are ignored by a lot of people. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, however, demands a special place in classical music history as a flat-out genius composer (a statement that I don’t hugely feel a need to justify, just watch Amadeus and find out for yourself), described by Tchaikovsky as a musical Christ, and an all around pretty hilarious dude.
Mozart’s opera Don Giovanni is regarded by its fans as a perfect opera, telling the story of a roguish-noble-cad-murder-seducer named Don Giovanni who, unwilling to repent for his misdeeds, is met by a ghost-statue and taken to hell. One of the world’s most performed operas which, according to the legends surrounding its composition, Mozart still had not finished writing until the night before it was scheduled to premier on 29 of October 1787. Now, accounts vary regarding the actual timeframe of Mozart finishing the opera (as well as whether this incident actually occurred). The most common story says that having not yet started composing the opera’s overture (its introduction) Mozart was joking with friends who began ribbing him that it was crunch time. Apparently feigning anxiety, Mozart started writing at midnight the night before the premier and in one single stretch wrote the overture from beginning to end (again I have to emphasise: apparently) without any corrections or retouching. The copyist was then sent the music sheets still wet with Mozart’s pen ink and the orchestra had to sight read the overture for the opera’s premier performance, to be greeted with rapturous applause at its conclusion.
Phew, just having written about all last-minute cramming makes me feel stressed (maybe that’s just flashbacks to my own down-to-the-wire deadline submissions). What I take from this (fictional, factual, whatever) incident is that people are people, even if you are a classical music genius or just nervous about being in a new situation (oohhhh we are coming full circle here guys!), people are dumb and do silly things, so no need to get worked up over little things, especially little things like completing an opera in a timely manner so the orchestra can actually freaking practice it before its premier!
Seriously though, Mozart, get yourself together.
Everist, M (2002), ‘Enshrining Mozart: Don Giovanni and the Viardot Circle’ , 19th-Century Music, Vol. 25, No. 2-3, p165-189.
Sutherland, D (1963), ‘Don Giovanni’, Prairie Schooner, Vol. 37, No. 1, p36-83.
Unknown (1887), ‘Don Giovanni’, The Musical Times and Singing Class Circular, Vol. 28, No. 536, Oct. 1, p593- 595.
Goulding, PG (1995), Classical Music, the 50 greatest composers and their 1,000 greatest works, Random House.
Music With Ease (2015), Synopsis of Don Giovanni and opera by W A Mozart,http://www.musicwithease.com/don-giovanni-synopsis.html.