What Would Mozart Do?
Published online: 1 March 2005
In recent days, as I contemplated what to share with CMS members, my attention was continually summoned away to the dizzying array of Mozarteum on performing groups' programs as we cranked up the celebration of the 250th anniversary of his birth. This most luxurious of distractions led me to a recurring vision: one of a bumper sticker whose inscription was not the common "WWJD—What Would Jesus Do?" but "WWMD—What Would Mozart Do?"
At this particular moment in time, this acronym could not only mean what I thought when I envisioned it, but could also mean "Worrisome Weapons of Mass Destruction" which to some has political overtones, and to others, like Mozart himself,
might merely indicate "wrong notes," perhaps primarily in the Requiem, or the Coronation, or the great Mass in C minor.
But since he is not alive, we will not know what it might mean to him. It is, however, fascinating to consider what Mozart might actually do, or at least be interested in with respect to where we are with music as a human endeavor while we sing,
play, or act birthday tributes to him across the country. Should we, as we are urged to by the WWJD sign, try and predict what "Wolfy" might have done in a certain situation we encounter? Probably not. But it may be fun to guess what he might say about the state of music in our country.
How would Mozart react to America? When he died in 1791, America had experienced only one Presidential election, a phenomenon totally unknown to his world. Most Europeans--those who were interested anyway--were convinced that a second election was unlikely and that the great hero of the American Revolution would simply ascend to a throne he founded himself in his new land when the timeline suggested. Little did they imagine what this nation would become. What Would Mozart Do, himself, with the knowledge of what America has become? Would he have chosen to live in a land where he could not travel more than two hours in any direction in a large part of the 3.2 million square miles of our continental forty-eight states without hearing a work of his performed at least once in the course of a month or so? And if so, how would he have chosen to live? In 2004-5, at 102 locations across this land, Mozart had symphonic works performed no fewer than 6.34 times each (reported by members of the American Symphony Orchestra League per their statistics). Additionally, the 647of Mozart presented by these 102 orchestras represented 6.5% of all orchestral works performed by these groups during 2004-2005. And, though Mozart was second only to Beethoven in the sum total of performances presented that included 461 composers, no single work of his was in the top twenty of works most often performed - and this is just symphonic works and only in America!
Could Mozart have even dreamed of such success? Most of the experts I have talked to about this agree that Mozart, should he have lived to see such dissemination of his recorded and performed work, would be the wealthiest professional musician who ever lived. This may seem absurd. History is cumulative. But, though it is true that he lived in a different time and was acculturated for that time, is it not fun to imagine what wealth might have done to him? What would be his reactions to having lots of money, but at the same time watching fewer and fewer young people seek out his work to satisfy their needs for aesthetic experience? Would this have corrupted him or made him a noteworthy elitist? Would he have been excited by and taken to new sources of sound through electronics and digital media as many have predicted Bach would have? Try to imagine Mozart with an iPod in his ear or a car sound system booming next to you at a stoplight. Some of us delight in this; others cringe.
After all, what good is all this idle speculation? Well, perhaps no good. My wife reminds me, nearly daily, not to consider and certainly not dwell on "what ifs." But applying our own visions of what our historic masters might have said about our 21st
century world is a fun diversion. And I, for one, do not engage in enough fun.
Last modified on Tuesday, 07/05/2013
C. Tayloe Harding, Jr.
Tayloe Harding is a composer and music administrator and Dean of the School of Music at the University of South Carolina. A passionate advocate for advancing the impact of higher education music study and experience on American communities and national society, he is devoted to an array of organizations whose missions are consistent with this advocacy. As President of the College Music Society from 2005-2006, he led the creation of the Engagement and Outreach Initiative where the efforts of the music professoriate are articulated with a variety of national constituencies, including other higher education disciplines and populations, music businesses and industries, and general audiences all in an effort to meet common musical and civic goals. He was a founding member of the leadership teams for the Brevard Conference on Music Entrepreneurship (BCOME), the Round Top Roundtable: The Next Generation of Music Leadership in America and the National String Project Consortium. As Dean at South Carolina he has brought a bold idea to fruition: to more fully prepare tomorrow’s professional musicians by combining conventional professional music study with a systematic curricular exploration of music advocacy, music entrepreneurship, and community engagement in music by forming the Carolina Institute for Leadership and Engagement in Music. An active member of and consultant for NASM, CMS, SCI, and ASCAP, he is a frequent presenter on issues facing the future of university music units and their leadership, and remains active as a composer earning commissions, performances, and recordings for his works around the world.