Story by Michaele Benedict
A Love Affair with Mozart
Mozart and I have been spending two or three hours together every day for the past two months. Sometimes I grumble at these meetings. I have been known to swear. But I have never failed to show up, and I am never bored. I love Mozart more now than I did when I knew him less intimately.
On Saturday, Feb. 7, I am supposed to play the solo part in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21 in C Major, Köchel 467, with the Coastside Community Orchestra in their winter concert at the Community Methodist Church in Half Moon Bay. My part is about 50 pages long and takes about 25 minutes to play if you don’t stop.
Although I have been getting paid for playing the piano since I was 13 and had my first church job, I have never played anything as long, as exposed, or as difficult as a Mozart piano concerto. I got the job when the orchestra decided it wanted to do a piano concerto and two likely soloists politely declined to perform without pay. I am the orchestra’s regular pianist; it is a volunteer orchestra, and if they ask me to play, I have to do it. Usually I enjoy it.
In this case, my confidence was not boosted by the reaction of two musician friends when I told them about the concerto. “What? WHAT?” one of them said. “Oh, dear!” another one said. That made me mad, so I practiced so long and so hard that I worked myself into a disastrous muscle spasm and had to go to the doctor.
You may know Mozart from the film “Amadeus”, which was a singular allegory about the nature of musical genius but which wasn’t very true to history. In February, 1785, when Concerto 21 was written, Mozart was married to the dippy Constanze, whom he adored, and had a year-old son, Karl Thomas, one of his two surviving children. He had presented six string quartets to Joseph Haydn, who considered Mozart the greatest composer he had ever known. He was short of money as always, though he lived well and had a special affection for gold buttons on his jackets. He was 29 years old and had only six more years to live.
As one studies a major work like the piano concerto, things begin to reveal themselves which are not obvious from listening to recordings, or even from playing through the work the first dozen times. My first realization, of course, was that when you are mad, scared, or unconfident, it is difficult if not impossible to play Mozart.
The second and happier realization was that this particular concerto is truly play…as in play the piano, not work the piano. The conversation between the orchestra and the solo instrument is so lighthearted and joyful that the player cannot help but join the party.
Lesson three: You cannot read music when you are crying. The slow movement of this piano concerto, which is sometimes called the “Elvira Madigan” because it was used in an old Swedish movie of that name, pulls at the heartstrings, and it does it every time. Fish up a performance of the Andante on YouTube or iTunes and see if it doesn’t get you.
The entire work is like a little opera, but to tell you more would be against the whole premise of classical music, where you get to create your own plot as you like. I can only say that Mozart, who could sometimes be coarse or unkind in his everyday life, is angelic in his music; in this, the film “Amadeus” was absolutely true.
Who could fail to love someone who saw and wrote so convincingly about a finer, brighter world than the one we live in? It is more than 200 years since Mozart walked the earth, but the power of his vision has remained undimmed. What a privilege to get to play one of his major works. I hope I don’t make too many mistakes.
Michaele Benedict lives in Montara.
Her most book is called “Searching for Anna,” for more information, please click here