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Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

Trade marks

There is not much point in complaining, as a group of students did to me recently, that 'all Mozart sounds the same'. Of course it does, superficially. We should no doubt be as hopelessly confused by a succession of pieces by a composer like Haydn if their style from one to another varied as much as does Schoenberg's first and third string quartets.

Genius is most apparent in the way gradual change is applied to a fundamentally stable personality, a change that is best defined as polishing, a maturity made evident by the increasing sophistication of a manner established early in the creative output. Just as a person will grow into maturity with the same face and the same sort of temperament, so we should expect a composer to have the same basic identity which evolves through continuous refinement to fulfil the creative goal. Most artists are aiming to achieve one great objective, and it is therefore reasonable to expect that most of an artist's work will establish its own identity, relating to and an advancement upon earlier work.

Mozart's first real piano concerto (K175) may well sound much the same sort of thing as his last K595. It is, after all, from the same creative wellspring. But those more closely familiar with the composer will hear in the latter that he has grown older, acquired greater self assurance, technical facility and, most significantly, a sublime wisdom that comes with maturity. The 'sameness' that seems in line for censure is in fact a notable virtue.

What counts is how ingenious are these subtle variations within one stylistic personality. If Jane Austen, Dickens or P G Wodehouse, Brahms, Mahler or Martinu, all seem to be repeating themselves, it is maybe because they are. It is an artist whose creative personality is altered, affected or damaged by circumstance, like Goya or Schoenberg, that will remodel themselves, maybe to become something they always should have been and, in the process, confuse us. Great art is part of a chain of events that always links its emissaries to the past in order to create a future. The artist is provided with a face, a particular way of doing things. The best have their inevitable trade-marks; the rest either invent them artificially -- or do without.

Copyright © 26 October 2004 Patric Standford, Wakefield, UK





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