I’ve reached a point in the semester where I feel all inspiration has hit the sh-tter. Surely I’m not alone, so even though I can feel myself slipping into an abyss of regret and contrition, I feel slightly less lonely in my current downfall.
It sounds more bleak than it is, however. I know myself well enough to understand when and why these feelings, which take a blow at my productivity, arise. It happens more often than I would care for. And because my creative output is a direct result of my current mental state, the waves in which my thoughts flow can cause either an abundance of material, or an amplitude of nothingness.
Unfortunately, I currently seem to be face-to-face with the latter. In the last week, I’ve missed deadlines. I’ve turned in assignments late. I’ve walked into class wearing last night’s joggers and oversized T-shirts. It’s as unpromising as it sounds, yet I know myself well enough that I can sense when these feelings of insipidness will strike next. It’s like a sixth sense — and my halted work ethic seems to be my ghost.
Additionally, I also know that in these moments of creative desperation, I almost exclusively turn to opera. But lately, opera hasn’t been cutting it, which makes me believe that this slump is different from others. Opera has always been my salvation — it’s always been what I turn to in times of despair, exasperation and even elation. So what do I do when the sole material that satisfies my creative drought suddenly leaves me feeling unfulfilled?
I go across the street, from the opera house to the concert hall.
Though I have a proclivity for the operatic arts, I’ve also maintained a love of orchestral works. My knowledge may not be nearly as advanced, but for every five operas I listen to, I try to get at least one concerto or simfonia in the mix. A few days ago, I found a Spotify playlist that includes all of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s piano concertos in full. All 27 to be exact. And one by one, I listened to them. Every last one.
Everyone knows Mozart was a prodigy — even to non-classical music fans, it is common knowledge. He wrote his first piano concerto at age 11, though many anthologies list his first complete piano concerto with No. 5 in D major (K. 175). This is because he sampled so heavily from other composers in his first four piano concertos. In fact, many anthologies don’t even include the first four in the master list of his piano concertos — they’re in their own category. This is most likely because Mozart sampled so heavily from other composers for these primal works. In No. 1 in F major (K. 37), the first movement (Allegro) employs use of melodies based on an early sonata by German composer Hermann Raupach.
It wouldn’t be entirely inappropriate to say that this first concerto is elementary. Though beautifully melodic and filled with pathos-infused phrases, it has 11-year-old written all over it. I mean, he didn’t even write the whole damn thing. But I don’t say this to slander his name, because what other 11-year-old still has his music headlining at concert halls all over the world over 200 years after his death? I can’t even put on a real pair of pants to go to class.
But his (and my) rudimentary works aren’t the point. In fact, it’s his own evolution that I find so interesting. And what piques my interest regarding Mozart’s piano concertos is the growth. Mozart started so young, and figured out who he was as an artist along the way. As I listened to every single piano concerto over the span of four days, examining each one in succession, I noticed the themes and techniques commonly associated with Mozartian style. I’ll spare readers an in-depth analysis of every single piece, but his final one, No. 27 in B-flat major (K. 595), seems like a complete 180 from his early attempts. Written in 1791 (the year he died), Mozart employed characteristics that would soon be common in the following century. Each movement is longer and more detailed, and doesn’t follow the strict compositional patterns of the time.
Of course, comparing his 11-year-old writings with those in his prime seems hardly fair. Additionally, it feels strange humanizing Mozart in such a way that compares to the everyday person. He was such a genius that relating his endeavors to, let’s say, my life, seems almost disrespectful. But the course of personal evolution can be made less daunting when we know we’re not alone. Very little of how Mozart lived on a daily basis is known; whatever musicologists have learned about his life is through the letters he wrote to his family and colleagues. Even though he was, in my humble opinion, the greatest composer of all time, Mozart was human, which is something I tend to forget often. So comparing his creative struggles to mine shouldn’t be too outlandish.
Would Mozart cringe reading his early compositions, the same way I do when I read my own work from previous years? It’s hard to say. I’ll just tell myself “no.” Mozart thought everything he wrote was perfect. Therefore, I should feel the same about my own work.
Arya Roshanian is a “senior” majoring in music. His column, “From The Top,” runs Tuesdays.