Happy Birthday Wolfgang

On this date in history, January 27th, my favorite composer of all time was born in Salzburg, Austria. If he were alive today, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be 258 years old. Mozart, who began playing musical instruments when he was just 6 years old, is said to have composed his first symphony at age 8. From then onward, until his death from a mysterious fever at age 35, the Great One churned out more than 600 musical compositions. By my calculation, that averages out to roughly 22 compositions per year, or 2 per month for each month of his life — prolific composing to say the least.

That said,  in addition to recognizing the birthday of Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (the name on Mozart’s certificate of birth), I think that this is as good of a time as any to mention the firestorm of controversy that has erupted in the blogosphere, in the wake of free-lance writer, Mark Vanhoenacker’s piece in Slate magazine announcing the death of classical music.  (Click here to read.)  To quote Mr. Vanhoenacker:

“When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brunnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton.”

 While I can say that so far, I have not spotted Brunnhilde on the streets here in Boca Raton, Vahhoenacker does present some interesting data regarding the current state of, and the future of, classical music. For those of you who do not like to click links, one very telling example he cites is that “Symphony Hall”, one of the only two remaining Classical channels offered by Sirius XM radio, has 3500 Facebook likes, while the All-Pearl-Jam channel has 11000.  He also points to the fact that in 1937, the average age of Los Angeles orchestra concert attendees was a baby faced, 28. Suffice to say that the average age of today’s concert going audience is significantly older. He goes on to present further evidence of classical music’s death, which I shall not detail here. Simply stated, however, the reasons for classical music’s demise are many and varied, ranging from its becoming lost amid the plethora of popular music available to today’s youth who find it boorish and uninteresting, as well the lack of government funding for the arts in general, and perhaps an all around perception that classical music is the province of the overly educated elite, or formally schooled musicians, and without a degree from Julliard one has little chance of understanding its complicated compositions.

In any case, the reaction to Mr. Vanhoenacker’s piece has been especially heated, with classical music lovers going on the attack. In response to his detractors, Vanhoenacker granted an interview, which was published on New York’s classical station WQXR’s website. (Click here to read.) In this interview, Vanhoenacker defends himself by saying that much of the vitriol sent his way by angered classical music lovers is misdirected, and that he is, in fact, a classical music fan. He goes on to explain that the title of the article “Classical music in America is dead” was composed not by him, but by an editor. So in a sense, Mr. Vanhoenacker seems to be saying that he’s only the messenger, so please don’t shoot.

Personally, I enjoy classical music for the simple reason I can work to it. When I am writing, I can’t work in total silence, but I can’t work to the right-wing talkers that dominate the airwaves either,  or to rock, country, R&B, hip-hop, bluegrass, or jazz. I found out years ago that playing classical music when I work improves my focus and helps me to ignore background distractions. And understand that I have little in the way of  musical education, so I am far from being an elitist music snob. I simply find the strains of Mozart, Brahms and Haydn uplifting, and when I find myself in need of inspiration I turn to some of the selections I keep on my iPod, or I stream one of the (few) classical radio stations that remain on the air.

In the end, I imagine that Vanhoenacker’s dire predictions shall prove true, as few radio stations, even public radio stations, can afford to play classical. Government support of any substance is unlikely to rescue them from their fate, and their once hardcore benefactors are aging and fading from the scene.

I hope that I am wrong.

Happy Birthday Wolfgang.

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13 thoughts on “Happy Birthday Wolfgang

  1. We have an old plane hanger i town that was converted into studios for artists. On the weekends they have Sunday Chatter, which is local classical music performers and then a poet. I saw a real harpsichord played and was in 7th Heaven (where did that come from?).Chrisostomus Wolfgangus!
    If only you had lived another 35 years, you could have slacked off a little.

    • Although I am quite familiar with Mozart’s work, I was not aware of the fact that he lived only 35 years. I didn’t know that until I fact checked this piece. I can’t imagine what his body of work would have consisted of had he lived another 30 or 35 years! Thank you for reading.

  2. There will always be a place for classical music. I hope. I’m not really a HUGE classical fan, but there are times when nothing soothes this savage beast quite like Mozart. It is timeless — and incorporated time and time again into contemporary music.

    • I came to classical a bit late in life. As I mention in the blog, I have little musical education, and even less musical talent, but I do enjoy listening to classical and Mozart is my favorite composer. I do not listen to it as a steady diet though. There are other genres that I prefer when driving, or working out for example. Thank you so much for reading, and taking time to comment.

  3. My wife and I have been running around the edges of classical music for several years, attending concerts on occasion. We are a bit more engaged with classical than previously and recently got a CD which presents works by the masters which helps us with identifying the styles of the various composers. I don’t know about the death of classical but I will say that listening to classical helps the process of knowing what is good popular music and what is junk.

  4. Growing up in the farm country of South Central Iowa in the sixties and early seventies, I could have thought that classical music had already passed on … if indeed it ever lived.

    The birth of classical music occurred for me during the 20 years or so that I lived in Europe. And it was there that I came to realize that the classical genre has “staying power” … So I fear not for its demise.

  5. I beg to differ – apparently Mr. Vanhoenacker isn’t a parent or interested in self-help – he isn’t aware that classical music has simply moved over to the aisle marked, “Improve your baby’s Learning! Help your child to do Advanced Calculus by 6 months of age!”
    and
    “Simply listen to this tape once a day and watch your life magically transform as our subliminal message rewires your brain under the guise of soothing music”

    Apparently, classical music has a great future in the mind control arena – –

    🙂

    • Very good point you mention here, TamrahJo. I have heard of this, and although I can’t attest to the validity of these claims that Classical music will make your child ‘smarter’, I don’t see that it can do any harm either.

      By the way, I read something awhile back (although I can’t seem to lay my hands on it now), that dogs enjoy classical music too — more than any other type of music. Don’t know if that’s true either, but I leave the classical station on all day for my golden retriever all the same.

      Thank you so much for reading here and commenting.

      • 🙂 But of course! It was wonderful getting caught up with your world/works of art this a.m. and a little side note – with a preceding story to set the stage:

        Me: “Wow! I love your new hairdo! It looks great on you!”
        Them: “Um, it’s not new, I got it cut this way about 6 months ago – you’re just now noticing?!?”

        Love your blog design – it’s brand new to me and lovely to look at/navigate – but then, you probably have had it that way for a year or more – – – LOL

    • I intended to mention here, TamrahJo, that I wanted to thank you on your comment regarding my blog design. Nobody has ever mentioned it. I have tried to keep it simple, and somewhat easy on the eyes. I looked through WordPress’ designs ad nauseum before settling on this one. When I write, I wanted the writing to stand on its own. That is one reason I don’t use many graphics here. Thanks again.

      • Your writing definitely stands on it’s own! 🙂
        As a blog-surfer, your site allows me to quickly/easily get caught up with you, like posts and comment –
        As an amateur website designer – it loads fast, and is easy to navigate –
        I hear ya on searching ‘themes ad nauseum’ – I haven’t changed my theme in over 2 years here at WordPress – the sites I build on self-hosted WordPress platforms, I use Pagelines Framework as it gives me so many options to customize without having to reinvent the wheel or write CSS code ad nauseum! LOL – Kudos again!
        🙂

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