Mozart Symphony no. 40 in G minor, The "God" Symphony

>> Saturday, January 30, 2010

Before we end out the month, the month in which Mozart was born on 27 January, 1756, I must feature my favorite of Mozart's symphonies. Yesterday I featured a 1980's medley of classics set to a techno beat and one of my readers dubbed the Mozart no. 40, G minor  the "God" symphony (thanks Jasper!), and how right he is! (Glenn Gould called it banal? What an ass!) This symphony, composed in 1788, was part of a very productive summer in which Mozart also composed his 39th and 41st symphonies.

Presented to you in five parts, here are all four movements of Mozart's Great G minor Symphony, played by the Prague Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras. (I might add that the tempos in this performance are perfetto!)


Jasper January 31, 2010 at 1:28 AM  

And here after thinking myself outclassed by the recent Hooked On Classics contest, I find my comments picked up for publication on the one’n’only Nettl musicblog! Guess I’m moving up.... Of course, if that blog’s author keeps on hurling names at maybe the most original man of all time, propriety will--to my regret, no doubt--force some distance between myself and said forum. You see, if a genius of such inimitable order as Glenn Gould (RIP) indeed declared that what I once considered divine in fact to be banal, well then I’ll just count myself mistaken (which I still am, by the way).

Rattles your sensibilities, does he? You’re talking about a performer who could mesmerize mainstream listeners with the likes of Webern and Hindemith. Want a little more rattling? Try this one: “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer.” It’s not hard to find many more such examples from this iconoclastic sphinx. For them I can only proffer you the same apology Leonard Bernstein gave a NYC audience: “Mr. Gould is so valid and serious an artist that I must take seriously anything he conceives in good faith[...].”

But should our aesthetics prove stubborn, as they are wont to, we can always do for ourselves one less and cough up such pronouncements as Gould’s to the eccentricities of genius. (For my part, I cannot but adore the mind of that performer who pronounces that he “detest[s] audiences, not in their individual components, but en masse; [...] they're a force of evil." That one still gives me a good chuckle.)

As for this work of perfection, The Fortieth: Not for nothing did Bernstein kick off his Norton Lectures with this piece. He offered it there as an example of the “beauty of ambiguity,” specifically that between diatonic harmony & chromatic melody--a playful winged free whirling through the changelessly rooted laws of acoustic proportion. Whatever else one may think of that lecture series, his running analysis of the 1st Movt pointing out that startling balance seems well taken enough and gives fair testimony to its elegance--however lofty, however banal.

If you’re taking requests, Lynette, I propose (i.e. challenge) that you devote some full week in the coming months just to Gould, that you perhaps temper your judgment somewhat (i.e. repent). There’s certainly no dearth of Gould material to be sifted through. Just witness the half-dozen some documentaries floating around online (including the two excellent CBC portraits, one in 1982 & another in 1998). Should you accept the endeavor, you can take inspiration from this prophetic testimony to your blog’s existence:

“A record [or blogpost] is a concert without halls and a museum whose curator is the owner.” -Glenn Gould

As always, thanks for the post! Keep singing, J.

Lynette January 31, 2010 at 8:16 AM  


Thanks for the lecture on Glenn Gould. You know, I've always held that genius does not have to equal "ass". There are plenty of brilliant performers out there who are/were not egotistical asses. In my mind, the true genius does not have to criticize and cut others down in order to make himself look taller, greater, more brilliant, or whatever.

Repent? Never! And while I'm still in the mood to spit on sacred cows, I'll mention that I HATE Callas. She sounded like she was singing through a rubber hose! :)

Lynette January 31, 2010 at 8:37 AM  

P.S. “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of a bag of nails, with here and there also a dropped hammer.”

On Beethoven, Mr. Gould and I heartily agree! ;)

Lynette January 31, 2010 at 12:32 PM  

I just did a little more reading up on Gould and it seems that it is now speculated by many psychological experts that Mr. Gould had Asperger's Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism, (of which I am quite familiar as my partner's oldest son has Asperger's). Mr. Gould's eccentricities align perfectly with what I know and understand of Asperger's, especially his disdain of audiences and the lack of emotion in his technique and interpretations. (Asperger's people lack the ability to empathize and/or relate to the emotions and feelings of the people and situations around them.) And little wonder he would describe Mozart as "banal", for Mozart is among the composers described as "heart chakra" composers, whose music is best-known for the emotion it evokes from the listener. Gould didn't have the ability to tap into that emotion so it offered no stimulation for him. It is little wonder that he excelled in the playing of Bach (who by the way is one of my LEAST favorite composers), whose music was much more calculated and mathematical.

Lynette January 31, 2010 at 2:19 PM  

Great article about Glenn Gould and the possibility of Asperger's Syndrome in his case.

Jasper February 7, 2010 at 9:40 PM  

Thank you for posting this article on Aspergers and Glenn Gould. I cannot say I found it so illuminating. Of course, if someone wants to make the case for Gould's Asperger condition, it's not remotely difficult: Just listen to this most memorable of segments from 32 Short Films About Glenn Gould, and you'll find much ammunition for said thesis in a few minutes of interviews about his eccentricity. But how does such a pronouncement really help us? Instead of illuminating a problem (Gould's unusual musical direction), we're just labelling it.

For example, would it profit my understanding of Wagner's music if I say we'd just discovered that he "suffered" from clinical megalomania (which, for argument's sake, I'll ask you to imagine we had just defined) ? (Frankly, I think it highly questionable that such a "discovery" would even help us better understand him as a person, much less his artistic output or innovations.) You pointed out that his operatic orchestral rearrangement put him, innovatively, in a more flattering position of authority. Once I make the clinical diagnosis, should I just dismiss any musical considerations for the orchestra so expanded, its different aural quality and greater coordination achieved by such changes? Maybe I should just pronounce them happy byproducts of a megalomaniacal 'need' to glorify oneself on the part of a person who happened once to be of some musical consequence once upon a time. But wait--how then did he manage to drop himself and orchestra out of the audience' view, now recessed into a newly innovated 'pit'?! Well, we'll just attribute that to some competing psychological condition, or take it as testament to the strength of his musical insight that in one area he was able to 'overcome' himself. But I hope you see how circular and meaningless this kind of reductive exercise is, and if so with something so plain as megalomania (and Wagner most certainly had something of that), how much the more so with a condition like Asperger's, which isn't even all that well understood.* Yet by such category we would hope to explain something essential about one of the most talented, capitvating, and original artists in recent worldwide memory? Please....!

You can't really believe that a great musical genius's greater inclination for Bach than Mozart is best explained by his (presumed) social developmental disorder? Granted, cloth it in language appropriately distant (the social scientific truisms of the day that make us snore) and language appropriately sweet (your heart chakra talk & other nebulae), and it sounds oh so sensible enough. Of course, the suggestion is anything but sensible and sounds to me quite insane. But then again anytime I hear the admonition that "Experts now concur..." I cannot but role my eyes in preparation for what is likely either inane or false.

Jasper February 7, 2010 at 9:40 PM  

I hesitate even to begin discussion here, as I simply cannot fathom how any listener to Gould could find him musically unemotional, and that puts us, Lynette, at the outset so far from one another that discussion here may well be fruitless. His recordings of Bach are so numerous and so ubiquitous, that it is very possible a listener may just associate him with Bach performance, and if such listener cannot but find the contrapunctal style overly intellectual and thus lacks a sympathetic ear for Bach (as you bravely confess above), well then it is entirely natural for that dullness of the ear to pass by association from Bach to the performer, Gould himself. But happily the documentary audiorecord belies the suggestion: his piano transcriptions of Wagner are contagious & mystifying; his Brahms interpretation is by now appropriately infamous and maybe even prescient; and as for Mozart, well your recent posting of the Fantasia prompted me to happen upon this amazing clip wherein his evident musicality, so manifest in passing as he strives to convey his point to the interviewer, is just astonishing--and, what's more, he explains his approach! I love it-- thoughtful, emotional, sincere; somehow managing to be revolutionary without a trace of artificiality. Far from "disdaining" his audience, he is seeking actively to excite within them some musical comradeship, in which space he finds himself very much alone. That he will use any & all means, however unprecedented, to that end I take to be a testament to his integrity, not the symptom of some unartistic "condition" easily labelled by textbooks.

So our differences span aesthetic experience and aesthetic principle, which naturally makes for a lot to say and leaves us, naturally again, with little left to say, besides my thanking you, as ever, for the (otherwise) lovely postings--for your "curating", to borrow Gould's wonderful term.

* I would be most interested to know what of musical interest you might be able to share about your stepson (whom you mentioned above). Of course, I do understand if this is not the forum for it, but it would be an interesting topic to share if you were so inclined....

Jasper February 7, 2010 at 9:44 PM  

I should mention, however, that I found the Nat'l Post Aspergers article informative for other reasons.


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