MOZART: MEANING AND EMOTIONS
September 5th, 2016
Opera is dated, compared with modern Movies and Television Programs,
but Mozart did a good job depicting Emotions in Opera, as well as ideas
Mozart was a MASTER at depicting the emotions of Operatic Characters.
He also depicted emotions in Meistermusik and The Masonic Funeral Music.
Music often symbolizes ideas, emotions, and events as a set of messages to the
If we don't know what the music is symbolizing (if anything), part of the musical
experience is lost on us.
The music may still be beautiful and enjoyable, but if symbolism is involved and
we don't understand it, it's like appreciating the paintings of Van Gogh for their
pretty colors as abstract art, not realizing that all those Yellows are Sunflowers.
One can't be an Art Expert and not be aware that Van Gogh was painting
Things and People - not just using bold colors.
Those are Sunflowers, and Wheat Fields, and Bridges, etc.
Or not realizing that da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" depicts a woman.
Such an "Art Expert" would quickly be dubbed an Imposter in need of a trip
to the Eye Doctor, and possibly to see a Neurologist.
There's Meaning in all that paint (depictions of Things and People, and perhaps
additional meanings beyond that, in some cases).
One of the "Sunflowers" Paintings.
Vincent van Gogh.
Is this a bunch of "Pretty Yellow Colors" or "Sunflowers"?? Both.
There are two things we can appreciate: The Colors and the Sunflowers.
IE, The Building Blocks and the Meaning of the Creation.
And there's usually Meaning and Emotion in Mozart's musical Notes.
Musical Notes and the Meaning of the Musical Notes.
Parallel: "Pretty Yellow Colors" and "Sunflowers".
That's especially true of Opera, where Mozart wrapped the Music around
the Words, giving the Music the Meaning of the Emotions in the Words.
Now we have: Musical Notes, Words, and the Emotional Meaning of the
Words in the Notes of the Music.
We can appreciate both the Music and the Meaning of the Music, if any.
The meanings and emotions in Mozart's music are more difficult to grasp than
seeing an image in a painting, and it's all subjective, but the meanings are there
in many cases, and possibly in most or all cases.
And the strength of our emotional reaction to Mozart's music is probably
related to the amount of Emotion and Passion Mozart put in the music, combined
with the strength of our ability to understand and appreciate it.
People who don't care for Mozart, or who "don't get it", or who "just don't like
tinkly music" are completely baffled by what Mozart was saying, and partially
not attuned to the emotional language that Mozart was using, as well as other
musical issues (possibly including a musical memory of what Mozart wrote
earlier in the piece, compared with the modified phrase now being presented,
and its modified meaning.)
People who don't understand the emotional connection between the words in
Opera and Mozart's music, are essentially looking at a painting of "Sunflowers"
and seeing only "Pretty Yellow Colors", not realizing that Van Gogh painted
a picture of Sunflowers.
What a waste!!
They've missed the point of the painting!!
Van Gogh, Mozart, and many other artists and composers, painted Meaning
with Paint and Music - especially true of Opera.
Their creations are not just Pretty Colors and Pretty Tunes.
They actually MEAN something.
That's why they created the Paintings and the Operas!!
To paint a picture of Sunflowers, and to describe a character's emotions
with music (or the ambience of a scene - the tension, the fear, the joy, etc).
Why else would Mozart write an Opera??
To have the characters singing RANDOM TUNES, disconnected from the action??
So when the statue of the Commendatore comes to Don Giovanni's house for
dinner, he announces his entry with, perhaps, the tune of "Three Blind Mice"??
Or "Ring Around the Rosie"??
And Don Giovanni reacts by singing "Mary Had a Little Lamb", but with the
words that da Ponte wrote??
Or something similar to "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik", composed by Mozart, with
words added to the music?? Happy music??
Or a pretty Song by Mozart, but with da Ponte's words for the Statue to sing??
Those are descriptions of Mozart as a HALF-WIT, composing Random Pretty
Tunes for the characters to sing, and maybe adding a dash of Yellow Paint for
The notion that the melody (and orchestration!!) sung by an Opera character
is emotionally disconnected from the action, or that it's not important, is so
far removed from reality (in Mozart's MATURE Operas) that it boggles the mind.
In Mozart's Mature Operas, the music and words are linked
together - Locked Together - like concrete, and the music
brings the characters to Life, with the words, even more-so
than the words.
That's the whole point of adding the music!
Mozart's music adds Life to the characters - and to the scene.
That's why it's an Opera and not a Play!
It's a Play with meaningful Music.
For Mozart, music was LIFE ITSELF.
In an Opera, the music represented the Life of the character,
or the feelings one would have about a scene, or the feelings
the characters would have about a scene, based on ordinary,
Common Sense and typical behavior.
The Life of a character was the character's FEELINGS - the
Emotions felt by the character.
Mozart was certainly not anti-intellectual (!!), but he knew
that a character's feelings were more interesting and
important than his thought processes.
And the music he wrote for the characters DESCRIBED their
feelings, as explained by their words.
Which is more interesting?
1. "I need to say something to him right now, and I'll
say it as I walk forward."
2. "I offer you again a final proof of my love....".
Which is more interesting?
1. Meaningless, pretty music.
2. Meaningful, pretty music.
In an OPERA:
Without the music, you have a Play.
Without the words, you have meaningless music.
Without the characters, you have a Symphony.
Conceiving of Mozart as a composer of pretty but
meaningless music in an Opera, is not only vacuous and
ridiculous, it's insulting, and implies that it never occurred
to Mozart to write descriptive music for the words and
Emotions of the characters and bring them to life - the
main point of the Opera.
Why would an Opera have people in it if we're not
interested in them??
If we don't care about Don Giovanni or Donna Elvira,
why are they even in the Opera in the first place??
We need to be emotionally moved and connected to them
in some way to care about them.
(IE, for example, who WAS Don Giovanni??
What kind of man was he??
Did he deserve to be dragged down to Hell??
Did he hurt people??
Who?? How badly??
How do we know the answers??
Show us how he treated his victims.
Show us their pain.
What kind of Emotions do WE have when Don Giovanni is
finally dragged down to Hell??
Do we cheer??
Do our Emotions at that point add to our enjoyment of
[Yes - absolutely.
The man who was deriding Donna Elvira's sincere affections
just a few minutes ago, has been dragged down to Hell
where he belongs.
The action with Donna Elvira reminds us WHY he deserved
to be dragged down to Hell.
That's why the scene exists - to remind us and show us just
how rotten and appalling Don Giovanni could be.
It's "The Don at his Worst".
But Justice has finally triumphed, and the world is set right,
(Emotions: Normally does not apply to the Recitatives in Mozart's Operas,
or applies only partially.)
In fact, Mozart was so good that he could have 2 characters singing
simultaneously, with different melodies, expressing 2 different emotions!!
Opera may be old and dated today, but the people of the 1700's didn't have
television and movies.
They couldn't be entertained by Gone With the Wind or
The Wizard of Oz - or even Casablanca,
Forbidden Planet, Cinerama, South Pacific,
Star Trek, Star Wars, Amadeus,
The Bridge on the River Kwai,
North by Northwest ("Well then, who are those people
living in your house??? Do you KNOW this man???"),
Dial M for Murder (I think)
("Lady - Get out of the house right away!! Those calls are coming
from INSIDE your house!!"),
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,
007 (James Bond), 2001,
The Sound of Music, This Island Earth,
Flying Down to Rio, Song of the South
Treasure Island, La Dolce Vita, Vertigo,
Invasion of the Body Snatchers,
From Here to Eternity, Rear Window,
Oklahoma, Picnic, Some Like it Hot,
Ben-Hur, The Guns of Navarone,
Mr. Roberts, The Seven Year Itch,
The Creature From the Black Lagoon,
Frankenstein, War of the Worlds,
On the Waterfront, West Side Story,
A Tale of Two Cities, Doctor in the House,
Blackboard Jungle, My Man Godfrey,
The Incredible Shrinking Man,
King Solomon's Mines, The Thing,
The Graduate ("Elaine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!").....
And Television programs like Gunsmoke with
James Arness (Matt Dillon) and Amanda Blake
(Kitty of the Dance Hall), Alfred Hitchcock,
Charlie Chan, Superman, Walt Disney,
77 Sunset Strip, Sergeant Bilko, Your Hit Parade,
Jackie Gleason, Steve Allen, George Gobel,
Jonathon Winters, Ernie Kovacs, Dragnet,
Perry Mason, The Twilight Zone (a few of the
programs were pretty good), What's My Line?
(Dorothy Kilgallen, the blindfolded panelist who went first, guessed
the celebrity guest "Marilyn Monroe" on the first try!!).....
and all the rest.
Can you imagine how much fun Mozart could have had, working on Hollywood
Movies or Television Programs?? I think he would have loved every minute of it!!
The terror of the Shower Scene in "Psycho", and of the wounded Mutant
(large Insectoid) in "This Island Earth" is much greater than any terror
we feel when the Statue comes to dinner in Don Giovanni, but Hollywood
had far more time and resources to experiment and create fear and monsters.
And the animation of the Commendatore's statue was just a small part of the
Opera, although a crucial part, and Mozart did a good job with it.
Mozart tried, he was a Pioneer, and his dramatic instincts (and musical
instincts) were excellent.
Opera was the closest thing to "An evening of Escapist Entertainment, to
temporarily forget about our daily problems, and enjoy various other situations
being depicted on the stage by believable characters - characters and situations
that are so interesting (or funny, or frightening) that we completely forget about
our own problems, and satisfy our emotional needs."
The audience had to be emotionally engaged, in some way, for that formula
And it's still true today - especially in television "Soap Operas".
Do people who watch Soap Operas Like, admire, feel fondly, hate, despise,
want to help, identify with one of the characters, know someone like that,
would like to meet one of them, etc??
It's emotional engagement, and it was true of Opera many years ago.
Mozart knew what he was doing, as usual, as he emotionally engaged his
And that's part of why Mozart was such a great composer: He had the ability
to describe emotions with his music. Describing the Emotion or Personality
of an Opera Character in a certain situation such as Happy, sad, tense, fearful,
joyful, nasty, secretive, deceitful, loving, tender, angry, indecisive, vulnerable,
sincere, hopeful, contrite, forgiving, bewildered, pleading, determined,
dependable, capable, silly, simple (PAPAGENO), devoted, wronged, brave,
depressed and hopeless (PAMINA), conniving (MONOSTATOS), confident,
calm and calming, wounded (DONNA ELVIRA), Righteous and Justified (the
group of MASQUERADERS about to enter Don Giovanni's house on a mission
of Justice to expose and possibly kill Don Giovanni for the crimes he's committed,
explaining things to the audience, and gathering up their courage for this
honorable but risky and dangerous mission), etc, etc.
Mozart did this ALL THE TIME with his Operatic characters.
And the ambience of a scene, expressed musically, was also done ALL THE TIME
by Mozart, where the ambience relates to emotions.
From the sudden storm that arose and nearly sank the ships in the Opera
Idomeneo (followed shortly by "Pieta!! Numi Pieta!!", as the sailors plead with
the gods for Help in saving their ships and their lives), to the scenes in The Magic
(Phonetically: Pyet-ahhhhh!! Noooo-meeee Pyet-ahhhhh!!......
Pyet like Nyet - the Russian word for "No".
Italian: Pieta!! Numi Pieta!!)
Mozart described the fury of the Storm AND the sailor's desperation, fear, and
the urgency of the situation, by using music.
In fact, their cries are more like Demands than Pleading, but that's probably
quite realistic for the situation - an Emergency situation where they don't want
the gods to think it over, but to just Do It Now. Save Us Now!! Take Pity on Us
and Save Us Right Now!! PLEASE!!
There's some Pleading, but it's insistent Pleading. Almost Demanding Pleading.
And Mozart made it clear that there were quite a few sailors who needed to be
saved as we hear another group in the background ALSO singing the same words
as an echo of the first group.
Thus: "Pieta!! Numi Pieta!!..... numi pieta......". 1st Group, 2nd Group.
Very realistic. Tense and frightening. Can they all be saved??
Mozart knew what he was doing, as usual.
And the emotions of the terrified Sailors are given Center-Stage importance,
out in front for all of us to hear - loud and clear.
Mozart is not "elevator music" or "background music", and it requires some
natural musical skill and our full attention to appreciate it.
The world's greatest composers all rated Mozart as the Greatest Composer,
but apparently not everyone can hear Mozart with the ears of the world's
Perhaps the Jupiter Symphony doesn't symbolize anything beyond "Great
Music", but many other Pieces and Passages DO symbolize ideas, emotions,
and events (and ambience and character), and connecting the music with the
symbology aids in our understanding of the Piece, and aids in our understanding
of WHY Mozart wrote the Piece, or at least, why we THINK he wrote the Piece.
(And who knows?? Perhaps the Jupiter Symphony represents great contentment,
achievement, power, success, happiness, high self-esteem, and pride, since
Mozart wrote it when living in a large, spacious, airy (and expensive) apartment
on the edge of town, in the midst of Nature and some distance from the dusty
City, as MICHAEL LORENZ of Vienna has pointed out in one of his website
articles (overturning some old theories and pointing out some interesting,
Some people were even referring to Mozart as "von Mozart", assuming that
that was his real name, and Mozart apparently made no attempt to correct
them - "Von" being a predicate of Nobility.
IE, Mozart had "Arrived", as far as he was concerned.
And the old theories that he moved to the outskirts of town to escape his
creditors and save money don't seem to make any sense since Mozart's Apartment
rent was the same amount (or about the same amount) as he was paying earlier,
and MUCH higher than anyone else's rent.
The Apartment he found was a "good deal", surprisingly low-priced for the
high square footage, but still expensive.
Mozart wasn't saving any money with that move.
He apparently moved there to improve his living conditions, and whatever else
would accompany that. Such as a better mood, perhaps. Such as a better
environment for composing, perhaps. Such as better living conditions for his
wife and kids - and possibly Safer living conditions for the kids with far fewer
carriages going to and fro.
One would think that he also felt that he had met his familial responsibilities
to a greater extent, and could take pride in that.
And since he wrote his last 3 Symphonies there - Great Symphonies, his Plan
or his Hope - to be able to spend time composing in a more pleasant environment,
worked out quite well.
And at least 3 of his compositions (the last 3 Symphonies) were masterpieces.)
Thus, even the Jupiter Symphony might symbolize Mozart's up-beat emotional
state (at least partially), rather than being entirely abstract music for the sake
of Art, and a Symphony he hoped to perform or sell and make some money from,
as Mozart normally did [per NEAL ZASLAW]. That is, Mozart normally wrote
music with a Sale in mind - music to earn some money with, as opposed to "music
for the sake of Art and to satisfy the Creative Urge.
I also get the feeling from the last 3 Symphonies that Mozart was also saying:
"I'll write music any way I want to!!
I'm not going to write these in order to please somebody else.
Take it or leave it!!
I am Mozart, and I'll do what I want!!"
That attitude seems to come through especially in the case of the 40th Symphony -
a complex Honeycomb of stratified phrases made of Lightning Bolts or Strobe
Lights in the First Movement, with an under-current of a Swelling Tide, rising
to its "Natural" Level, and completely unstoppable.
That attitude (if it existed) may have been a more Authentic Mozart - a Mozart
filled with self-confidence and aggressiveness, more-so than we usually see.
I would imagine that Meistermusik and The Masonic Funeral Music might have
been exceptions to the money-making motive [maybe not], but the Last 3
Symphonies (39, 40, 41) were almost certainly written with eventual sales in mind,
or as "Promotional Material" to have on hand in case the opportunity arose.
And those 3 Symphonies are filled with Passion!! Emotion!! Excitement!!
We might not be able to figure out what Emotions Mozart was depicting in the
40th Symphony, for example, but he seems to be Driven - as driven as Beethoven,
hair swinging, sweat dripping off his brow, working out some kind of personal
problem (Neglect?? Lack of appreciation??), fully in command of his Private
Universe of complex and compelling music, instructing this intricate machine
called an Orchestra on what to say, how to be heard, how to align the gears
properly, how fast to turn the gears, how some gears need to trip other gears
into action, how everything has already been timed, counted, and measured,
how everything will work correctly if they just follow the blueprint and the
operator's manual, demanding our attention, confident, right, accurate,
certain, perfect, and Mozart.
The First Movement of the 40th Symphony is as much a Machine as we
experience with K.608, except that THIS Machine has Emotions - Mozart's
Emotions, unlike the independent and aloof Machine of K.608 which has a
mind of its own, no interest in Bi-Peds, and certainly NO Emotions, apparently
working out some kind of Cryptographic problem, mechanically deciphering
a message from one machine to another, much as the early British computers
of Bletchley Park did, lo these many years ago, letter by letter, word by word,
phrase by phrase, steadily turning the incomprehensible encrypted groups of
Letters into familiar and usable Words and Phrases, like a Knitting Machine,
slowly making a sweater with a design on it.
MIDI File recordings of 3 Pieces: Symphonies 40, 41, and K.608 portion.
Symphony-40 = G-Minor. K.550 Piano version. (First Movement).
Symphony-41 = Jupiter. K.551 Piano version. (Fourth Movement).
Pianist for Symphonies 40 and 41: Hisamori.
Quality: Excellent overall.
Jupiter: A little bit clunky at times, but an amazing
tour de force!! Incredible!!
And an Amazing composition by Mozart!!
Click the links below to play.
K550-1-Sym40-Piano-HISAMORI.mid G-Minor. First Movement.
K551-4-Sym41-Piano-HISAMORI.mid Jupiter. Fourth Movement.
K608-3--M194-Piano-MORTON.mid K.608 Measure-194. 3rd Movement.
Short. Clunky but clear.
The Machine Speaks.
For an example of Abstract and Emotionless, Passionless music by Mozart,
listen to K.608, 1st and 3rd Movements - "Fantasia in F Minor for Mechanical
Organ" (for a large Music Box, or "An Organ in a Clock").
It's a GREAT Piece, and we're lucky to have it, but it's music with no Heart,
no Soul, no Humanity, no Emotion, and no Passion, except for the middle
movement which is surprisingly warm and tender. Mozart turned the organ
into a primitive Robot, with a great intellect and no feelings.
(Count Deym, the owner of the Wax Museum where K.608 was played, might
have had a little talk with Mozart about his "heavy" music, since the next
Piece, K.616, was a lightweight "Dance for a Fairy Princess" in its style.)
It wasn't really a Robot, being programmed by humans to merely follow
orders, never inventing actions of its own.
That's not a Robot - it's a recording with the machine to play it.
Like a Phonograph Record and Turntable.
Like a CD Player and CD. Etc.
(A lot of people today don't seem to know what a Robot is.
A Robot has a mind of its own, and the ability to take action.
The mechanical organ in the Wax Museum was NOT a Robot, but Mozart
turned it into a Robot, in a way, with his music - possibly just for his
own amusement, where the mechanical organ SEEMS to have a mind of
its own - a cold, passionless, indifferent mind in 2 of the Movements.)
This Mechanical Organ was just a big Music Box - the "Latest Thing",
and all the rage.
It was a new "Wonderful Thing", and seemingly somewhat Robotic, I think,
to the people of that era who had few mechanical devices in their lives, and
no electric motors.
Mozart imbued it with a Robotic Persona (in the 1st and 3rd Movements of
Powerful, Uncaring, Cold, Grim, Unaware, Dispassionate, Indifferent,
Emotionless, Obedient but able to think, Single-Minded,
Naive, Certain, Brilliant, Simple, Complex, No Smiles, No Laughter,
No Humor, No Speech, No Desires, No Philosophy, No Vision, No Hearing,
No Sensations, No Goals, No Hopes, No Joys, No Sorrows,
No Common Sense, No Doubts, refers to People as "Bi-Peds", etc.
Just a depiction of a Robotic High Intellect with no Emotions.
What's the Opposite of it, more or less??
A High Intellect WITH Emotion.
What Pieces display Emotion??
Essentially, All of them, except K.608 ..
Even the great Jupiter Symphony is imbued with Emotion.
We may not understand exactly what Emotions are depicted in the Jupiter,
but we can Feel that they're present.
If they weren't present, the Jupiter would sound cold, passionless, lifeless,
and mechanical - and STRANGE.
We might expect an Odd Piece that was written for a Music Box - a new device
for people of the 1700s, but not a cold, passionless, lifeless, mechanical, strange
Symphony for an orchestra from Mozart.
Mozart put some kind of Passion into every Piece he wrote, except K.608 ..
That includes The Masonic Funeral Music, and if it exists, Meistermusik.
They are overflowing with Passion. Overflowing with Emotion.
NOTE: An odd exception might be the Opera "Cosi fan Tutti" in which Mozart
wrote gorgeous music, but with most of it being "Tongue in Cheek" with
fake emotions. Many of the important emotions were either glossed over, or
heavily overplayed, so that the clued-in audience knew that the duet or solo
they were hearing was just "Amusing Tongue-in-Cheek Silliness" for the sake
So MOST of the Opera actually contains NO genuine emotion at all, since most
of the emotions portrayed aren't "real".
Even the 2 Boyfriends acquire fake identities and disguises in order to fool the
2 Sisters, adding to the Fakery, and display (presumably) fake emotions when
wooing the 2 Sisters (although the Sisters DO react genuinely).
All the fake emotions might be one of the reasons that this beautiful piece of
musical wedding cake frosting failed at the Box Office.
It's just speculation, but perhaps Opera Goers want to hear Real emotions, and
are somewhat annoyed by hearing several hours of mostly Fake Emotions.
If true, that highlights the importance of depicting emotions in music, as well as
the ability of a Mozart Opera Goer to detect fakery in emotional depictions.
The Opera also lacked a real Villain and a Hero (since it was almost pure
comedy), as well as lacking a larger cast of characters (6 characters if we
count Despina's various roles as only 1 character), and some characters that
were too similar to count as unique characters (2 Sisters and 2 Boyfriends).
And, of course, lacking some of the Zany humor of Figaro, where the long lost
Bambino has a birthmark of a Shovel (!!), he is finally found due to his unusual
birthmark, and the woman he can't stand turns out to be his Mother!!
Mamma Mia!! Funny!! And it was Emotional!!
In any event, the "Fake Emotions" issue might be ONE of the factors involved in
Cosi's relatively poor showing at the Box Office despite the wonderful music.
The title of the Opera - Thus Do All Women - might have been a major annoyance
as well, especially since the 2 Fake Boyfriends and the 2 Plotters pushed the
2 Sisters as hard as they could into just having some innocent fun while their
Boyfriends were away, doing their Military Service, with nothing serious in mind.
It was an insulting Stretch to say "Thus Do All Women" when only 2 Women were
involved, and were practically Bulldozed into accepting Male company, followed by
the High-Pressure, Deep-Love tactics used by the Fake Boyfriends on the 2
lonely women - not unlike Don Giovanni's tactics, a man who lied his way across
Europe, deceiving every woman he met.
The Fake Boyfriends were just trying to win a bet ("My Girlfriend would be
faithful in my absence."), but they had the wisdom and maturity of 2 Simpletons,
and weren't paying any attention to the emotional wreckage they were potentially
Fortunately, most of it is pretty "light" and humorous, but one of the Arias by
one of the Sisters leaves no doubt that Mozart (and da Ponte) knew that she was
hurting with shame over what she had done in succumbing to the intense pressure
from one of the Fake Boyfriends. It's not funny and it's not fake, but the Aria is a
bit strange with incredible, unnatural leaps, and I think we tend to forget about
her feelings as we move to the next scene.
Thus, the impression remains, to some extent, that "Thus Do All Women"
succumb to the advances of Men, or something like that.
(But Men don't???)
It's kind of a strange Opera with gorgeous music.
Mozart needed the money, so he wrote the Opera.
The title might have been a partial turnoff to the people of Vienna, and I can't
say I blame them.
But the constant fakery with Emotions might have been a BIGGER turnoff, even
though we occasionally get genuine emotions portrayed in the music.
Comedy works, Villainous behavior works, a "Magic" Opera works, but an Opera
filled with mostly fake, phony Emotions doesn't work very well, and doesn't
"connect" with the audience very well.
Cosi is the EMOTIONAL OPPOSITE of The Masonic Funeral Music, and the
MFM wins in Listener Appreciation despite Cosi's Thick Blanket of beautiful
The reason might be due PARTLY to the emotional honesty of The Masonic
Funeral Music (and Meistermusik), compared with Cosi.
I wouldn't be surprised.
The MFM is emotionally HONEST, while Cosi is mostly emotionally FAKE.
And most of the adjectives that I have used (and others have used) to describe
The Masonic Funeral Music involve EMOTIONS.