Mozart: A New Perspective

This is a subject that is very near and dear to me. Anything at all meaningful that I’ve accomplished in this life (aside from Dillon) has been in music, and about music.  Jazz is my first and most enduring love. It has been my chariot, my journey through time, my identity and my therapist. It has taught me many things, perhaps most importantly that there is another dimension from which springs inspiration of every kind. Artists are most likely to experience this phenomenon, enough times to where we acknowledge it, embrace it and, ultimately, depend upon it. It becomes as real to many of us as the instrument we hold in our hands, be it a paint brush, a chisel, gems, feathers and leather, or a horn. My personal experience with these exceptional moments began when I was playing jazz with a good group of musicians. I was suddenly disengaged from my own performance, watching and listening to myself without concentrating as I played, and noticing that I was playing much better – over my head, in fact.

I remember thinking afterward, “Wow, what a rush! That’ll probably never happen again…” but it did, again and again, as time passed. In the last 15 or so years I’ve actually been able to call on it and help it to happen, simply by giving my mind and heart totally to the music I’m playing at the moment. It usually catches my breath and brings wet eyes these days.

We could debate the question of whether our minds create inspiration, or do they receive inspiration from an outside source that we might translate into something tangible… I know many of my jazz musician friends and I agree that we become the middlemen, the vessels, the translators of a huge vat of timeless inspiration that we occasionally tap into for a few moments. For my part, some exceptional music comes through me and out into the world from time to time, music that I know I’m not able to think of or create consciously. And so, sooner or later we have to wonder… was it that way for Mozart??

I think not. Probably genius is cognizant of everything it thinks and does. Having been in the presence of several musical geniuses, I know that their brilliance is not an occasional thing, it’s there always, consistent, dependable, predictable. Only *they* know if they’re really “on” or not… they always sound “on”  to the rest of us.

I finally got the answer to a question I thought would never be answered for me. It’s a somewhat strange question… would I get a different/clearer perception of Mozart if I visited Salzburg, where he grew up, than I would by listening to his music? He lived in Salzburg until he moved to Vienna when he was 25. He’d already composed and performed a great deal of his music while there, so I guessed that if there were such a thing as a spirit, his spirit might as likely be around his first home as it would be around Vienna. More than likely spirits can be anywhere, everywhere. I’d had a joke with some of my friends, that I was hopeful that, in Salzburg, Mozart would enter my body. A brilliant jazz bassist, Ricky Keller, used to smile and say, after a particularly great performance, “Jaco entered my body.” Jaco Pastorius was an influential jazz bassist in the ’70’s and early ’80’s.

And so I had joked (and secretly hoped) that Wolfgang would indeed enter my body. In truth I had no idea what might happen, if anything, in Salzburg. Would there be any sense of his presence there? Would there be any sign of beauty, peace, contentment… anything that I could sense might have inspired Mozart in his early years?


B and I took the train from Munich to Salzburg, and caught a taxi from the station to the old section of town. We walked barely a half a block, and there was the Salzach River, flowing quietly through the city. From there, I knew within a block or two where Mozart’s first home was, and I got goose bumps.
















We crossed the river on a bridge half filled with tourists, and over to the Mozart family’s first residence. It was a simple structure, long, three stories high, and well-cared for, a very old, plain-looking building that used to house a famous composer & musician 250 years ago. Okay. I stood in front of the sign outside the building so B could take my picture there. Then I turned and touched it. What happened next  I can’t put into words… tears came and I felt that I’d found a place I’d been looking for, for a long time… an old and dear friend, a magical place that held the secret answers to all my silly questions.














We finally went inside, and that was somewhat disappointing. The interior is now a museum, with a gift shop on the main floor. I did get to stand before Mozart’s piano for a minute or so. There was a curiously lonely feeling about it, almost as if it missed Wolfgang, was incomplete without him and wanted him to be there, playing it. It sat at one end of a large, empty hall, save for a bust or two and some pictures and documents on the walls. There were several benches along the wall, where B and I sat on for a few minutes, just to absorb the ambiance. A video at the opposite end of the hall was showing pictures of Wolfgang and playing excerpts of his symphonies. As we sat and listened, an emergency vehicle of some sort went past, right outside the window behind us, its European siren totally drowning out the music we’d been listening to. As the siren diminished in the distance, we heard the music again, exactly in tune with the siren, and a quiet voice in my head said, “Yes, it’s a far different world now than it was then. But my music survives… my music survives.”

We had a drink in the little bar downstairs after B had bought me a Mozart T-shirt in the gift shop. I heard the voice again, and several more times as we walked around Salzburg. It seemed to be telling me that his music was not understood as he wished it to be, that his intent for much of it was to be light-hearted, playful, humorous. He was disappointed that more people, who felt they understood his genius, still didn’t get it in the way he’d intended. He told me to listen again, with new ears, and try to understand the real reasons his music was so new, so different and refreshing at the time of its conception. Sure, his music was better, sure he was a genius and nearly everyone knew it… it was his intent in his music that he wanted people to understand better… his intent was, in his mind, the most important part of it. He wanted us to understand it on his level, not just ours.

All this is most significant to me on several levels. One, I have long believed that we are each defined by our purity of intent. The universe rewards us for it, and the Buddhists know this. The depth of our purity of intent, and the Universe’s acknowledgement of it, is usually what defines the goodness that comes to us in this life .
Two, the voice was making sure I understood what it wanted. As we walked around Old Salzburg, I began hearing the opening theme of his Prague Symphony, Symphony #38 in D. It’s my personal favorite of all his symphonies, and it made delicious background music to our walk, but nothing of any import occurred to me, except a feeling that Mozart’s immense creativity was not inspired by his physical surroundings in Salzburg… but rather that it definitely came from within him. Don’t get me wrong… Salzburg is inspiring.











As we walked through the big square with a beautiful statue of Mozart on the east side, the voice went silent, as did the music in my head. It was replaced by a strange peacefulness which seemed to somehow assure me that my reason for coming to Salzburg had been fulfilled, and that the rest of the trip was simply for enjoyment of the moment.

Steve at Buonasera

It wasn’t until a week later that I understood what had happened to me in Salzburg, and why. It was a quiet afternoon at our villa in Tuscany, so quiet I was wanting to hear some music. Mozart, of course! I would download a few symphonies to play into this peaceful vineyard setting. I mistakenly downloaded #32 rather than 38. What the hell, I’d play that instead… it *was* Mozart, after all. It wasn’t 30 seconds into the piece when I began hearing it as Mozart wanted me to! it was simply a matter of guessing where the music would go next, where Vivaldi might have gone, where Bach and Haydn surely would have gone, then hear with surprise and delight, where Mozart took it instead! As the piece continued, I suddenly heard every nuance, every turn of melody and chord that was different, and better than all the other logical places that a melody and its chords could go. And it wasn’t just the melody and chords… it was different, surprising rhythms, with new and previously unacceptable intervals between melody and chord… it was counter melody and bass line where previous counter melodies and bass lines were not supposed to work. And then, in the midst of all this differentness and newness and playfulness… was immense heart.

I sat there under the trees, listening to the his 32nd on my laptop… quivering. The realization of Mozart’s real intent was overpowering! All the dukes and duchesses of his time would sit and listen to his quartets, concerti and symphonies live, and be entertained by continually thinking they knew where the music was going to go next, only to be surprised and delighted to be wrong! His music did NOT go to entirely logical places… it went to different, better places, with his brilliant good taste and intuitive understanding of the elements he was working with. I’m sure that breaking the compositional rules of the period were either not tolerated or indulged to any degree, yet each of Mozart’s pieces seems to twist and turn and toy with his listeners’ abilities to follow and understand what he was really doing! As I write this I have goose bumps again, because I know beyond any doubt that what I’m writing here for you is true.

As I sat there listening, and finally understanding, there were more wet eyes, then an almost uncontrolled laughter, as the 32nd kept going with its smooth yet unexpected turns, carrying with it the ever-present “Got you again, didn’t I?”

The second movement began with warmth, heart and great depth of feeling all around. And even then, some rhythmic differences… off-beat nuances which had previously never been attempted, let alone successfully married to the emotion they were carrying. Incredible.

I can’t tell you if Wolfgang was smiling with me then, all I know is that I was grinning from ear to ear. I had finally gotten to the depth of his music that he wants all of us to get to. The realization that I have so much of his music to listen to now with a different ear, is most exciting. And I now know Wolfgang Amadeus much, much better, and appreciate his artist’s heart more than I can say. Already he has taught me a new depth of quality, something I’ve not known how to upgrade since reading “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” years ago. While consistency of high quality might have been a breeze for him, it’s a daunting challenge for many of us. Still, it’s not out of our reach or ability to strive for, each time we put our hands, and our hearts, to the task.

I have since sat down at the piano and played. I was not a whit better… perhaps a little bit worse, even. Mozart, if he entered my body at all, did not improve my fingers or my technique. What I think he did, however, was improve my perception of quality, and of purity of intent… things that mean much more to me these days than how I play.

Wolfie, you were a genius scamp, often irreverent, with a fantastic sense of musical humor and heart. You set new standards of acceptability in the interval relationships within melodies, and between melody and chord. You gave us a new glimpse of what music of all genres could be. You defined quality in music for centuries to come. You are my favorite hero for all those reasons, and more. In my eyes you are one of the great spiritual icons, who used music as a vibrational catalyst for enlightenment. You have touched and transformed the lives of thousands, and now you’ve touched, and transformed mine.

Steve Hulse

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