Stephen Hough
Stephen Hough
Stephen Hough

Writings

A Few Thoughts on Mozart for Salzburg

To talk about Mozart is to risk the embarrassment of speaking in that most despicable of dialects: the cliché; but perhaps it’s worth the risk, because we can touch something vital and central to our being when we listen to his music, however confused or confected our voices of commentary.

In Beethoven we sense someone wrestling with his material – Jacob struggling with the angel; but Mozart is the angel – Gabriel appearing without effort or toil. His compositional skill is worn so lightly it seems like an aura rather than clothing. All the shavings from his workbench have been cleared away, but then we realize that the carpentry was pure Creation in the first place, not craft.

Mozart is the only composer I know who is able to explore every human mood and emotion – with all their messiness, ambivalence, roughness, brokenness – and present them to us in a circle of perfection, yet without triviality. He is able to find words for the unsayable, and then to make them rhyme. In his most joyful music we are aware that unalloyed happiness is rare, perhaps non-existent in human experience; and in his most sad or tragic moments the pity is always deflected from the ego, but remains deeply personal.

The Austrian pianist, Artur Schnabel, once quipped: “Mozart is a garden”. If so, it is surely the Garden of Eden.

Salzburg Festival 2006

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Stephen Hough