MOZART: What would he have thought of Chopin’s music?

Rodney Chin, former Student of Musicology

I'd like to think that Mozart would have enjoyed Chopin's music; after all, it's no secret that the latter held the former in the highest esteem, and Chopin was not in the habit of issuing compliments to others (and if he did, only grudgingly). However, he did genuinely enjoy Mozart and Bach, even playing their music.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid that the overwhelming evidence is decidedly the opposite. The best proof we have is the fact that there was a piano competition between Mozart and a guy named Muzio Clementi; the duel was arranged by Emperor Joseph II, who wanted to put the greatest pianist in Austria against the greatest pianist outside. Mozart, a notoriously arrogant musician, had always written to family and friends of how other pianists had caused him to "almost laugh to death" after hearing them. Clementi, however, was not the average pianist, and Mozart being confined to Austria, could not have known about him. Mozart did not die laughing after this legendary contest.

Clementi was a pianist far ahead of his time; his technical effects, especially in creating a dazzling passages, was an unknown ability for Mozart, who prided himself with his own clean and unaffected playing. Maynard Solomon's biography of Beethoven quotes him as saying that "Mozart's playing was neat and clean, but rather antiquated." In other words, Mozart represented the past. Which is not to suggest that Mozart was ineffective. Indeed, most of his peers attest to his unsurpassed legato (Mozart refers this as being able to "flow like oil.").

The authors Marcia Davenport and Harold Schonberg wrote that Mozart was very disturbed after his encounter with the great Italian, and that he was so shaken up by his rival's superior technique that he resorted to writing vitriolic letters about him. Mozart even called Clementi "a charlatan, like all the Italian," What would he say, then, about Chopin?

Superior as Mozart's music is to Clementi's, he just was not in the same league as a pianist. It would be Clementi's virtuosity that inspired Beethoven, John Field and the other early Romantics. The pianist/author David Dubal calls Mozart "the supreme classicist", and all the musicians of Mozart's day support this. Though Chopin loved Mozart, the converse would not be true, for Chopin represented everything that he detested in Clementi.

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