Mozart's Compositional Process


#1 Oct 10, 2006

Mozart's description of what happens to him as he composes has some similarities to the process of writing poetry as I experience it. Some may see this comparison as somewhat presumptuous or pretentious. "Once I have my theme another melody comes," Mozart begins.1 And so it is, for me, with writing poetry. I get the germ of an idea, some starting point, a strong note or theme. Then, another idea comes along linking itself to the first one in a similar way to the linkage of that melody Mozart mentions to his theme. By now there is emerging "the needs of the composition as a whole" both for me and for Mozart. For both of us, too, the whole work is produced by "melodic fragments," by "expanding it," by "conceiving it more and more clearly." Mozart finishes his work in his head. The composition comes to him in its entirety in his head. I finish my work on paper and I have no idea of the ending until the end.

The compositional process, though, is not some dreamy affair in which the work is finished and complete in my mind at the start. This romantic idea is often imputed to Mozart but, as Neal Zaslaw informs us, this view is based on a forged letter.2 -Ron Price with thanks to 1the ABC Radio National, The Science Show, 10.1.98 and 2 Neal Zaslaw,“The Mozart Project,” Internet Site, 20 August 2006.
It’s not so much the process of creation
that makes the comparison to Mozart
interesting to me but, rather or, perhaps,
in addition, it is his view of death.

Mozart said in 1787, four years before his passing, that:

“When we come to consider it closely, death is the true goal of our existence. I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is indeed very soothing and consoling.” Like myself, on going to bed Mozart would act as if these moments before sleep would be his last.–Ron Price with thanks to William Stafford, The Mozart Myths: A Critical Reassessment, Stanford UP, Stanford, 1991, p.209.


#2 Oct 10, 2006
The following bears some relevance to the above comment:

Part of the experience of many, if not most, people who have manic-depressive illness, or bi-polar tendency as it is now known, is the death wish. Its first manifestation in my life was, perhaps, at the beginning of my second year of pioneering in about October 1963. It has been part of my experience for nearly thirty years as I am about to retire for the night. It is usually after midnight most nights; the feeling is dissipated if I wake up in the middle of the night and by morning the feeling is reduced to a quiet melancholy. The intensely sad emotion is gone. One of the bi-products of this more than forty-year long and periodic visitation is that the fear of death is not a part of my experience. Death has become, over all these years, a friend, as Mozart says, soothing and consoling. Manic-depression has its compensations, for some sufferers. The day time is usually a happy experience unless my personal circumstances are particularly difficult in some way or some bi-polar episode is on my horizon.-Ron Price, Pioneering Over Three Epochs, Unpublished Manuscript, 2006.

It took me many years to accept
this visitation, this wish for an end.
For years it seemed to me a sickness,
a grey eminence, who introduced himself
to me night-after-night, for he had a dark
soul and he seemed to turn the screw into
my very heart of hearts. But he became
familiar and now is just a quiet melancholy
who insinuates himself into my brain like
some immense exhaustion as if I was holding
up the world and it was all too much;
it was time to let go and put an end to
this great weight, put an end to the work,
pass on the torch, at the opening of yet
another plan,1 to another generation
in this the forth epoch of my journey.

1 I dedicate this poem to Roger White who suggested this topic to me years ago. And so, as the Five Year Plan(2006-2011) passes the one-third mark of its first year, this poem is written as a celebration of my acceptance of this long standing visitor, the death wish. He is a visitor who for years brought sorrow and sadness to my brow on going to bed at night but now, at least in recent years, he has become a familiar part of the landscape of a constant introspection.

Ron Price
22 August 2006.

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