EFFREY BROWN: Welcome, Rob Kapilow.
Let’s start by acknowledging this is one of the world’s great musical geniuses, right?
ROB KAPILOW: So true. I mean, just, whenever you think of musical prodigy, who do you think of but Mozart? Writing simple keyboard pieces at 5, violin sonatas and orchestral music at 6 and 7, first symphony at 9. It’s really disgusting, if you’re a composer like me. You just don’t even want to think about Mozart’s birthday.
Follows, some conversation about his Symphony Number 40, which has never been one of my favorites, actually–I’ll take the Jupiter any day, just to name one. But then we get some good analysis of the thing:
ROB KAPILOW: The whole universe in three notes, a cosmic essence.
We hear Mozart think out loud. What I can do? And he says what if I just…
JEFFREY BROWN: Even those three notes, what…
ROB KAPILOW: Yes, what can I do with these three notes?
And it’s not much. Right? This is not great. He says, what if I just take the ending and put it down here in the flute and oboe, and overlap like this? Try it up higher, even higher.
Trying to find out, what does the idea mean? And then the ultimate final step is, we reduce the whole thing to nothing but the first three notes. Who would dream that this could be the topic for an entire piece?
JEFFREY BROWN: We started, though, this conversation about genius. Your case is that that is sort of the essence of it, is taking something simple, creating a whole universe in a sense.
ROB KAPILOW: Exactly.
There’s that quote from Ezra Pound, genius is the capacity to see 10 things where the ordinary man sees one. We just hear that opening idea, but he sees, as you have just heard, at least 20 things in an idea that we never could have imagined.
A great Mark Twain quote: “There never was yet an uninteresting life.”
Inside the dullest exterior, there is a drama, a comedy and a tragedy. And Mozart heard the drama, comedy, and tragedy in all of us, and turned it into music.
That he most certainly did, with a scope, depth, and passion found just about nowhere else–except, ironically enough (or perhaps not, given the profundity of Mozart’s influence on him), Beethoven.
I’ve said many times in conversation with friends of mine that I can’t for the life of me see how anyone could be a truly serious musician without believing in God, or at the very least some undefinable power higher than ourselves, on a plane of existence only very occasionally and fleetingly reachable by us mere mortals. Mozart is a perfect example of why that is so; without at least a nod in the direction of the Almighty, there can be no explaining or understanding him, and even then only in the crudest and most incomplete of ways. Anybody who can hear some of his best work, some of it dating to his childhood, and then scoff at the notion of a higher intelligence far beyond our own and basically incomprehensible to us as the inspiration and wellspring of that work–and the insuperable mystery underpinning it–is not talking about anything I’ll ever understand. And has probably never written a note of listenable music in his life…and never will.
Which is not to say that there aren’t any good musicians who aren’t atheists themselves, mind. I’m sure there are–some insist that Beethoven himself was, although that science is far from settled, to coin a phrase. But I think they either are laboring under the influence of an overpowering arrogance and conceit, or are simply not interested in delving into the “why” of it at all. But hey, your mileage may vary on that one. I can only say that, while I’ve written hundreds of songs myself, a small handful of which were decent and I was actually proud of, I never wrote a single one of them by myself. They all came from someplace else entirely, exactly as if they were handed down to me very nearly whole from there, and you can refer to that place by whatever name you want to.
Composers–other than a lot of modern ones whose work is mostly reductionist, a sort of tinkering with simple mathematics and little more–have a voice in their head that sings to them instead of just talking, and they can then capture snatches of that melody and put it down for the rest of us to hear, using their own talent, training, experience, and personality to filter it. You can call that whatever you like, too. But if you know what you’re about, you can’t call it Nothing, or say it isn’t there. Or so I believe, anyway.