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New book on Mozart focuses on composer's piano music          Send a link to a friend

[JAN. 11, 2007]  CHAMPAIGN -- Two and a half centuries after Mozart's birth, the versatile and prolific composer continues to attract new generations of listeners with his symphonies, operas, masses, sonatas, chamber music and concertos for piano and strings.

But it's the keyboard music -- especially the works written during the mature phases of the composer's life, between 1775 and 1791 -- that has most recently captured the attention of William Kinderman, a music professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The musicologist-author-pianist -- himself a 21st-century study in versatility -- presents fresh insights on the composer, his life and his work in a new book, "Mozart's Piano Music," published by Oxford University Press.

Among the endorsements on the book jacket, the one from internationally renowned pianist Emanuel Ax may best sum up the contents. Ax notes that Kinderman's study is "for everyone who wants to get to know Mozart's piano music from the inside out."

In more prosaic terms, Kinderman describes it as "the only book of its kind that offers a comprehensive view of the piano music, including the piano concertos."

"I have tried to make it useful to different kinds of users," he said. "There are many pianists and listeners interested in Mozart. This study covers all of the music for what was then a rather ‘new' instrument."

In Mozart's time, Kinderman noted, the piano had just recently become the keyboard instrument of choice. Other keyboard instruments of the day were the clavichord and harpsichord, which Mozart used as a child.

"Mozart is the composer of that era who contributed most brilliantly to the repertoire," Kinderman said, adding that he wanted to reach readers who know Mozart's piano works but are unfamiliar with the "rhetorical nature of these compositions."

One key to the enduring power of Mozart's music, Kinderman said, is the "musical language" embedded within it. "The phrases and shaping have gestural (qualities) that run parallel to speech," he said.

Although parts of the book -- including excerpts from scores and some detailed analysis -- may be especially interesting to piano students and music scholars, Kinderman said the book is not directed only at those audiences.

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"For those who know Mozart's music, the book can be read straight through, and new research material is offered in the form of a handbook." The discussion is organized by musical genres, but within those chapters are continuing threads that place the works within the context of the composer's life and times. The book also includes a discussion of Mozart's childhood compositions and a chapter on his creative process, which may appeal to more general readers.

In these sections, Kinderman brings home "one of the larger issues I wanted to address": the "genius" factor.

"More than any other composer, Mozart is regarded as a kind of genius," Kinderman said. That characterization was italicized and bold-faced in the popular 1984 film "Amadeus," where Mozart was portrayed as what Kinderman describes as a "blasphemous, childlike character -- a vehicle of God."

But, in fact, he said, "Mozart didn't produce major compositions without effort." Careful study of autograph scores and other manuscripts in Salzburg, Krakow and Berlin by Kinderman and other scholars reveals a different reality.

"Mozart, when he had a good idea, would sketch out a chunk ... then put it on a shelf," Kinderman said. "Later, when he might be on a tight schedule and needed to compose for a performance, he would pull it out.

"When Mozart died, he left quite a number of such fragments," Kinderman said. "We sometimes discover that the first section of an autograph score will stem from an earlier period than the rest." Such was the case with one of his later compositions, the Concerto in C major, K. 503.

The beginning of this score was written on a rare type of paper that had been in his possession two years before the completion of the concerto.

Kinderman's intention was not to diminish Mozart's reputation as a superbly creative and talented artist; the musicologist said he was instead motivated by the desire "to present him in a more human and pragmatic context."

"I want to remind readers that the notion of Mozart as divine 'genius' is, at the very least, exaggerated."

[Melissa Mitchell, arts editor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign News Bureau]

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