On Mozart and pop music

A lot of people, myself included, complain about the music of Mozart. It often seems long winded and verbose, weighed down with endless scale passages and ornamental frills.

I think, by the standards of modern music, these complaints are valid. But I’m starting to “get” an aspect of Mozart’s music that I find quite interesting. Mozart’s music is really about conversation—it’s about the different “voices” (e.g. instruments or melodic characters) talking to each other. And the voices all have different personalities and “say” different things. In this sense his pieces are really like ensemble character dramas. Of course it’s not only Mozart who composed this way; many, perhaps all classical composers did. But I think the trait is especially pronounced in his music.

This is, in many ways, at odds with modern pop music. With pop music there is one voice, one point of view (usually the singer) and they are supported by the backing instruments. The singer says “I state this observation…” and the instruments say, “we agree and support you.” What doesn’t happen (for the most part) is a conflict between the singer and the instruments. You wouldn’t, for example, have a singer singing about tender love while a thrash guitar plays distorted chords in the background.

In this sense, I think modern music is more individualistic and ego driven. It’s about my opinions (me being the singer) and my emotional pain and nobody else’s. Music from the classical era is more communitarian—it’s about the group and how they interact. Something can be said for both styles, but as someone who has written modern, individualistic music for most of my life, I find a challenge in the more conversational style. And Mozart, despite his verbosity, is a good model.

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