Monday, October 13, 2008

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Thomas Jefferson, draft of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, USA, June 1776

When Jefferson penned these words another man, over 3,000 miles away on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, was beginning his own pursuit of happiness and search for independence. Despite the all too brief and arduous existence that was the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, no composer has presented a happier persona to the world. As Johannes Brahms wrote of Mozart: "It is a real pleasure to see music so bright and spontaneous expressed with corresponding ease and grace."

Mozart's attitude to life was a reflection of the enlightenment spirit that was sweeping the world at that time. By stubbornly standing up to his employer Archbishop Colloredo, and then building up an enviable reputation as a freelance musician in Vienna, he showed tremendous self assurance, self confidence and self determination. Between the years 1776 and 1783, as the American colonies fought for and finally won their independence from Great Britain, Mozart at exactly the same time emerged from under the domination of his Salzburg employer Archbishop Colloredo and his father Leopold, and with the new found love shared between himself and his wife Constanze (they married on August 4th 1782) began an exciting and frenetic life in Vienna; in the space of less than ten years, from his marriage in 1782 to his untimely death in December 1791, Mozart wrote a breathtaking number of mature masterpieces that have now immortalised his name, including 6 operas, 19 concertos, 6 symphonies, a requiem, 15 quartets and quintets, 12 keyboard sonatas, plus a large selection of songs, choral works (including the Ave Verum Corpus), miscellaneous chamber works etc.. But while others extolled Mozart's unique gifts, Goethe writing: "Mozart is the human incarnation of the divine force of creation", Mozart himself remained determinedly and rebelliously down to earth: "I write as a sow piddles" he once wrote! His choice of subject for the opera The Marriage of Figaro should come as no surprise then, Lorenzo da Ponte's libretto being based on the 1784 play by Beaumarchais that was at first banned in Vienna because of its satire of the aristocracy.

In this new blog I'll occasionally be posting my own thoughts on the subject to which I am so devoted, that often elusive and seemingly contradictory pursuit of happiness in music and the arts. Meanwhile, as a curtain raiser listen to the excitement of Mozart's famous Overture to the Marriage of Figaro and tell me if this isn't a remarkable example of the pursuit of happiness:

2 comments:

juld1c said...

I love this - very interesting idea and Jefferson/Mozart link. Would be very interested in more thoughts on the question of happiness and music/art from both composer and audience points of view.

Qwerty said...

Jack - good luck! It will be an interesting journey. Depends on what you define as happiness and that discussion has been ongoing since Aristotle's definition and before.
Listening to, and playing music has given me the most most incredible moments of exhilaration, joy, sadness and regret, sometimes in its own right or as a backdrop to life's events. For me it goes beyond 'just' happiness but trying to come up with a definition over the years gets me into old hippy territory (no disrespect to old hippies you understand :-).