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Speeches, Interviews

28.01.2006

Keynote speech by Franz Welser-Möst at the conference "The Sound of Europe" in Salzburg.


 

Mr President,
Chancellor,
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

 

My language is really music, and so I ask for your understanding if my speech is perhaps not as polished as some we have already heard.

The invitation I received to this conference tells of a society in Vienna in 1913 that was looking for a grand idea for the 20th century; the script I had prepared earlier took for its theme Mozart as a metaphor. I would like to try to connect these two topics. Recent mention of Mozart repeatedly emphasises his persona as a European, but usually this is only a reference to his extensive travels. If we take Europe to refer to Western culture, we must ask ourselves what Mozart’s status in Western culture is, and furthermore what constitutes Western culture. Among the arts that arose from Western culture, music is the most independent and highly developed. Poetry and painting exist at the highest level in other cultures as well. But the phenomena we commonly call “classical music”, music with this complexity and depth of expression, arose in this form only in the culture of the West. But this culture rests on two pillars - Hellenism and Christianity. The creative tension between the two modes of thought has still not been resolved today. At certain points, the two coincide, as in the concept of a common humanity, but they diverge when it comes to the question of the range of human action. The fundamental point of view of liberal, Western ideology that everything is possible is rooted in Hellenistic thinking, just as the modern belief in science.

In opposition to this stands Christianity with its fundamental view that not everything can be possible. This basic tension has left its mark on Western culture. And no one has reconciled the inherent contradictions better and resolved the contrasts more convincingly than Mozart. This makes him a towering figure in the highest art of Western culture. And for this reason, I see him as the European.

The two models of Hellenism and Christianity meet in Mozart.  There is - as far as I can see - no other, equally strong connecting link. Goethe, for instance, was closer to the Hellenistic model. And it is most significant that he set himself the task of writing the second part of The Magic Flute, which remained unfinished. The Magic Flute provides a precise demonstration of how Mozart manages, even with the text of a third-class writer, to write a work of such deep humanity that it is not only acceptable but exemplary for the Hellenistic and Christian schools of thought. What is true for The Magic Flute can equally be said about Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte, the late religious work, and even about his chamber music, symphonies and concertos. Even where there is no text involved, it is obvious to me how Mozart builds a bridge that spans these pillars of Western culture.

I return to the title “Mozart as Metaphor” to ask what constitutes Mozart’s greatness. Recently, I have been annoyed with many statements about Mozart’s genius. For instance, a number of articles in the British press have claimed that he wrote only a few hits and that was all. On the other hand, there are serious studies of his music that seek to emphasise the Apollonian, the dramatic, or other expressive elements. I believe that the true greatness in Mozart’s music - and we should be careful not to project the Romantic picture onto Mozart that the person is the work - is to be sought and found exclusively in his music, and we can learn from that. There is no other composer who brings the different elements of music - form, harmony, melody, rhythm and tone colour - into such perfect balance. Therefore, the same chord in Mozart sounds like the work of a genius and in another composer, simply ordinary. Mozart is the reconciliation, equalising and balancing major elements. For a society, too, identity depends on the ability to balance. Within Western culture there ought to be an equilibrium among the different disciplines: a balance among natural sciences, humanities, religion, art and politics. In the 20th century, this equilibrium was more or less lacking. Politics has made its way into many other fields. for example, church matters are reported in the political pages of newspapers, and where we should be making artistic judgements, political slogans are bandied about. The 18th century is called the Century of the Enlightenment and the 19th the Industrial Age, we can confidently call the 20th the Century of Politics.

I believe that the emphasis on politics, with the keyword “Two World Wars”, has violently disrupted the balance among the above disciplines, which is of major significance for Western culture and thus for Europe. Again and again I encounter examples of the current lack of balance: moral and ethical questions are almost exclusively considered on the basis of science and politics and, to a frightening degree, the media have been raised up as judges of moral, ethical, or specialist technical matters. One has only to look at talk shows or the articles on Mozart I mentioned. I believe that in my own field - namely that of the creative artist - there is a great need to depoliticise. Incidentally, after 20 years in the business, I can no longer stand the sight of combat uniforms in most productions. To avoid any misunderstanding: of course an artist can and should have a political opinion and express it. But in the creative arts, it has been a very long time since there was any aesthetic debate.

There is a need, in light of what has been said, to clarify our categories. We must once again know what is what. Over and over one hears about the “Europe of Values” but we stand helpless in the face of “Americanisation.” I have been living with one foot in the United States for the past three-and-a-half years, and I find much there to enjoy. But I have learned that the average American means something completely different when he speaks about values than we Europeans do, namely house, car, dog.

At the beginning of the 20th century, radical changes and transformations were brought about by dramatic political clashes. If we are looking for a grand idea for the 21st century, we can perhaps learn from the luminous figure of Mozart that the characteristic proper to Europe, the thing that is expressed in both the Hellenistic and the Christian stream, is the equilibrium of the disciplines I spoke of above.

What is to be done? Other than clarifying categories, we need innovation in our creativity and our individuality. Innovation is the equilibrium between science and the humanities, religion, politics, and art. It is possible only with give and take, just as in music which, at the highest level, is also only give and take. Equilibrium has nothing to do with comfort. On the contrary, it requires intensive, possibly even uncomfortable dialogue and discussion among the disciplines. For my domain, I would like to say that we must not relinquish to politics the duty to educate - to educate and not to train. Rather, in the spirit of depoliticising, we must also do our share in order to hand on what Stefan Zweig called “the holiest superfluity of life.”

My wish is for a Europe of quality and not quantity. This is the only way we can take advantage of our unbelievably strong tradition. We do not have a chance against the quantities that America, India, or China can offer. As the Americans say: “Don’t try to get even, be ahead.” Identity has something to do with intimacy and only when we know who we are will we be able to act with self-confidence.

 

Thank you

 

Date: 02.02.2006