I knew I’d made a mistake. Instead of going down the pub Saturday night with me mates, I stayed in and watched Howard Goodall’s TV programme about classical composers. I wanted to improve my musical education. I’d have been better going back to five finger exercises. He was on about Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven in that get-an-earful media-chic demotic which they use when they want you to think they’re talking like wot the kids speak in the street innit. You could tell he only just stopped short of telling us how Wolfgang Amadeus played a gig in Vienna. This was the gist…
Bach’s music had been serious and, even worse, religious – and Christian at that. But Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote not to edify but to entertain. With pre-echoes of Sigmund Fraud, Howard told us they were into “the pleasure principle.” Mozart’s and Haydn’s music in particular lacked seriousness and anxiety. But we could have pointed to unease in any number of Haydn’s 104 symphonies. As for Mozart and unease, anxiety and sheer terror, has Howard never listened to either of the G-minor symphonies, the barren last movement of the A-minor piano sonata (which he performed just after the death of his mother), the Qui Tollis from the C-minor Mass, Elvira’s agony in Don Giovanni and Pamina’s in her second act aria in The Magic Flute – to say nothing of the Requiem?
Moreover these three composers wrote in a time of political turmoil and violence with the aim of soothing the aristocracy. O come off it Howard! Mozart was driven from his freelance career in Vienna because his Figaro and Don Giovanni mercilessly satirised the upper classes.
Oh I forgot, he mentioned Schubert and played a bit of one of the great man’s love songs. This, said Howard, was immature, the sort of thing a teenager today might write. What drivel! Schubert’s love songs were the model for Hugo Wolf, Schumann, Richard Strauss and everyone who came after. An die musik and Du bist die ruh adolescent? I’d like to meet today’s teenager if he can write songs such as those. Actually, Howard did say that Schubert was pretty good. Good enough to be compared with Adele from whom we then heard a sample which was so banal it acted as the perfect reductio ad absurdum of Howard’s argument. Oh and Mendelssohn wrote good incidental music for telly progs about Fingal’s cave
Don’t even get me on to what he said about Ludwig van. But let me warn you: next week he’s going to ruin Wagner and Chopin too. I shall stay well away.