“When I listen to his music, it is as if I am doing a good deed. It is difficult to convey what exactly his beneficial influence on me consists of, but it is undoubtedly beneficial, and the longer I live, the closer I get to know him, the more I love him”…
Editor’s Note: Unlike most composers of the Romantic period, who idolized Ludwig van Beethoven, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky honored Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart above all other musical greats. Below are excerpts from letters of Tchaikovsky to his patroness, Nadezhda von Meck, and from the Russian composer’s diary, in which Tchaikovsky is effusive in his praise of the Austrian composer. Tchaikovsky even wrote a musical suite that orchestrated three of Mozart’s lesser-known piano works and Franz Liszt’s piano version of Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, in an attempt to enhance Mozart’s contemporary reputation, which in Tchaikovsky’s day was not as great as it is today. Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana remains beloved to this day and remains the Russian composer’s most famous tribute to his musical idol. There is a link to a recording at bottom.
“I not only love Mozart – I worship him. For me, the best opera ever written is Don Giovanni…. True, Mozart does not grip one as profoundly as Beethoven; his sweep is not as broad. Just as in life he was a carefree child to the end of his days, so in his music there is no subjective tragedy of the kind which reveals itself so strongly and powerfully in Beethoven. However, this did not prevent him from creating an objectively tragic figure, indeed the most striking and powerful human figure ever portrayed through music. I mean Donna Anna in Don Giovanni…. The music of Don Giovanni was the first music which produced a tremendous impression on me. It awoke a holy enthusiasm in me, which would later bear fruit. Through this music I entered that world of artistic beauty inhabited only by the greatest geniuses. Before that I had only known Italian opera. It is to Mozart that I am obliged for the fact that I have dedicated my life to music. He gave the first impulse to my musical powers and made me love music more than anything else in the world….
I know that my veneration for Mozart surprises you, my dear friend. In fact, I, too, am surprised that such a broken, morally and mentally not quite sound person as myself has managed to preserve the ability to enjoy Mozart, who does not have the depth nor the strength of Beethoven, nor the warmth and passion of Schumann, nor the splendour of Meyerbeer, Berlioz, Wagner, etc. Perhaps this is because Don Giovanni was the first opera which served as a spur to my musical feeling and opened up before me a whole hitherto unknown horizon of the highest musical beauty? Mozart does not overwhelm or stagger me — instead, he captivates me, gives me joy and warmth. When I listen to his music, it is as if I am doing a good deed. It is difficult to convey what exactly his beneficial influence on me consists of, but it is undoubtedly beneficial, and the longer I live, the closer I get to know him, the more I love him….
I bow before the greatness of some of his works, but I do not love Beethoven. My attitude towards him reminds me of how I felt as a child with regard to God, Lord of Sabaoth. I felt (and even now my feelings have not changed) a sense of amazement before Him, but at the same time also fear. He created heaven and earth, just as He created me, but still, even though I cringe before Him, there is no love. Christ, on the contrary, awakens precisely and exclusively feelings of love. Yes, He was God, but at the same time a man. He suffered like us. We are sorry for Him, we love in Him His ideal human side. And if Beethoven occupies in my heart a place analogous to God, Lord of Sabaoth, then Mozart I love as a musical Christ. Besides, he lived almost like Christ did. I think there is nothing sacrilegious in such a comparison. Mozart was a being so angelical and child-like in his purity, his music is so full of unattainably divine beauty, that if there is someone whom one can mention with the same breath as Christ, then it is he…. It is my profound conviction that Mozart is the highest, the culminating point which beauty has reached in the sphere of music. Nobody has made me cry and thrill with joy, sensing my proximity to something that we call the ideal, in the way that he has…. In Mozart I love everything because we love everything in a person whom we truly love…. Of course, whilst I do love everything in Mozart, I won’t claim that every minor work of his is a masterpiece. No! I know that any one of his sonatas, for example, is not a great work, and yet I love every sonata of his precisely because it is his – because this musical Christ touched it with his radiant hand.”
See here for the source for Tchaikovsky’s letters and diary entry.
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