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Perhaps Krafft paints the arrogant spark from which the noble idea of brotherhood must spring. He's composed: there's a cessation of hostilities, a will to nonviolence, that glimmers in the face-full moment of her brush. His beaming confidence hovers beyond the uncoiling worry we find so often in Berlioz, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich. Idealized portraits of those bedeviled egotists do not exist; their images bear no Krafft. In the music of the post-classical masters we are attacked by the unexpected and the dangerous; few possess Mozart's composure, his decorousness, his panache. Propriety in Berlioz? Sunshine in Shostakovich? Composers coming after Mozart battle with God, with tradition, with themselves. None of them is Mozartean, for they are grounded in wild, beautiful despair. The man who transcended the ego of his successors initiates the inevitable rushing away from his brief reign. Our end is his beginning.

By here, exhausted by my search, I put on the earphones and listen. The piece -- the Andante of the String Quartet in F, K590 -- brings me into it as music, where at once I'm thrust inside the rhythmic hill-and-dales, the melodic gracefulness, the bobbing hesitations, the pauses for breath and rest, hurrying and hurrying less and hurrying not at all, the incantatory tonal balance that keeps arriving in predictable waves until the next moment in which all those things I'm hearing and been thinking I've been hearing (in my calculating-writing mind), are lost to and seduced by another beginning (a slow, a sudden onset, I can't tell) that pans a landscape, rises to mountains behind fields -- and I leave the music, my thoughts straying to Big Sur, California, a place from which I've just returned, amid the beach-close islands of white rock, cliffs of white sand, the fog-dripping boughs of the cypress trees, a hot sulfur-spring creek cascading into the ocean, where in a pool the gulls bathe, the end of America, the end of dreaming. And yet you say all music allows this drift into and away from itself. It is music's nature. I can't deny it. But music history includes Mozart as much as it culminates in him, as Aristotle embodies philosophy. What rings clear to me -- once the Andante has ended -- is that music of the twentieth century demands we listen, for in lacking the terra firma of tonal structures it requires more (often too much) attention, while music of the eighteenth century and before, in its harmonic simplicity and stasis, demands our attention less. Mozart was the apex of a music whose duality combines our directed and undirected attentions. It is a music that makes us conscious and unconscious as we listen. It gives birth to a self, playful and sober, who confesses and masquerades. And it says that the self can be the persona, which 'I' must go through to get to myself. Wolfgang c'est moi.

A section of coastline at Big Sur, California, USA
A section of coastline at Big Sur, California, USA

And so, in Krafft's portrayal, I see him, I don't see him. Hide and seek. In the same way I do and do not see myself. One element, finally clear, is Krafft's ironic implication has come home to roost. To understand the composer is to reach for such maxims -- 'While Bach wrote for God's glory, Mozart wrote for ours' -- in which I, like Krafft, arrange him, for my sake, to a pose. The analytical tempest in me, which Mozart awakens and sets moving, wants him enlarged by his tempestuousness and his enigmas. And yet that is my way of posing him, my way of portraying him. So that he obliges my ambivalence about his fame. So that his certainty opens up my uncertainty about him.

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Copyright © 8 April 2007 Thomas Larson, California USA


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