Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday appproaches (Jan 27), and Norman Lebrecht rains on his parade
, dismissing the composer as a less than innovative artist, "the superstore wallpaper of classical music, the composer who pleases most and offends least." He paints Mozart as a suck-up:
The hard-knocks son of a cynical court musician, Mozart was taught from first principles to ingratiate himself musically with people of wealth and power. The boy, on tour from age five, hopped into the laps of queens and played limpid consolations to ruthless monarchs.
Lebrecht suggests that listeners skip Mozart and listen to Shostakovich's Leningrad Symphony. Steve Burton finds this suggestion odd (link via Pejman):
Lebrecht's invocation of Shostakovich as an alternative to Mozart seems particular ironic, since Shostakovich's reputation outside Russia during this period was, precisely, that of a tired musical reactionary who composed to order for the Soviet power elite. Even I, growing up in darkest middle America, soon learned that it was a bad idea to express any interest in his music in the presence of the sort of clever musical intellectual who talked loudly in restaurants about cool stuff like "reshaping the art" - unless you wanted a quick lesson in the meanings of the words "sneer" and "scoff." So trying to use Shostakovich as a progressivist stick with which to beat up on naughty old "regressive" Mozart is just bizarre.
Sensitivity to the marketplace is not anathema to musical innovation, and what is new is not necessarily good. Mozart's art and his relationship with his patrons should be considered separate topics; Mozart's inventiveness and the quality of his work shoudl be treated likewise.
Burton labels Mozart's alleged lack of ingenuity with a word that normally, but not in this case, has political connotations: conservative. While few men of his century would have much in common with the modern Left (particularly in the realm of foreign relations), Mozart and his fellow composers certainly agreed with today's liberals on the merits of taxpayer-supported funding for the arts.