Archive for Amadeus

“Like a rusty squeezebox… ” – Mozart’s Serenade No 10 for Winds III. Adagio

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on June 27, 2020 by telescoper

Although it has introduced many people to the music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which is a very good thing, I have to admit that I didn’t really enjoy the film Amadeus. This is partly because not much of it is actually true and partly because, even treated as a piece of fiction, the two main protagonists are depicted far too crudely.

It is probably true that Mozart was quite a strange man as an adult but I attribute that largely to the fact that he was an infant prodigy which, together with having a very pushy and ambitious father, denied him a proper childhood. You see the same phenomenon in the modern era with child stars in Hollywood and the music industry.

The film is also very hard on Antonio Salieri who is made out to be a musical incompetent, which he certainly wasn’t. Salieri actually wrote a lot of very lovely music, though he obviously wasn’t Mozart.

One thing that the play/film does get right however is in Salieri’s description of the Adagio movement from Mozart’s Serenade No. 10 (K361) for wind instruments (and string bass):

On the page it looked nothing. The beginning simple, almost comic. Just a pulse, bassoons and basset horns, like a rusty squeezebox. Then suddenly; high above it, an oboe, a single note, hanging there unwavering, till a clarinet took over and sweetened it into a phrase of such delight! This was no composition by a performing monkey! This was a music I’d never heard. Filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the very voice of God.

I stick to my opinion that Mozart wrote a lot of music that wasn’t really all that good, but I also think you should judge artists by their best work rather than their worst and Mozart wrote enough masterpieces any one of which would confirm him as a creative genius of the highest order. This piece is one of those masterpieces. The whole Serenade – seven movements, lasting almost an hour – is beautiful but this movement stands out.

The hallmark of a genius is often simplicity, isn’t it? That goes for science as well as the arts. I don’t really know what beauty really is but the essence of it often lies in simplicity too.

Now I have to make a confession and ask for help from readers. The confession is twofold: (a) I have never heard this piece in a live performance; and (b) I don’t possess a recording of it. I’d therefore like to ask my readers for recommendations as to the best version to buy on CD or download.

In the meantime here is a taster in the form of a performance by the wind musicians of the London Symphony Orchestra. Enjoy!