Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Mozart Personality and the Beethoven Personality

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was timid in his dealings with his benefactors.  That could be why he had so much trouble securing a job while in Vienna.  Other factors included the unpopularity of his father, Leopold, and Salieri's jealous guarding of his position as court composer (though the two were rivals, theirs was not the heated rivalry portrayed in the film Amadeus).

At the time Mozart lived, composers were considered servants.  Leopold was under the employ of the Archbishop of Salzburg, as was his son, and when Wolfgang broke off ties with the Archbishop to pursue a career in Vienna, he, in essence, became a freelancer.  Still, in all of his dealings with those of the noble classes who commissioned works for him to write, he was considered of a lower class than they.  This is not to say that the nobility heaped scorn upon Mozart, for they did not, but they also did not treat him as their equal, for those his gifts rivaled theirs, in the society of the time, they were of a higher pedigree.

Beethoven was different.

Ludwig van Beethoven refused to be treated like a servant.  He is considered a transitional figure from the classical to romantic periods not only because of his music, which threatens to break all classical constraints at times but never does, but because of his view of his music and his status in society.  His music was art.  His status was that of the greatest living composer.  As such, he was not one to be treated as a mere servant.  He demanded to be paid what he felt he was worth, and would often withhold compositions if the person who commissioned it did not pay him the agreed-upon amount.

In Harold Schonberg's Lives of the Great Composers, Schonberg has this to say about these two musical geniuses (and I'm quoting from memory here, so if anyone owns this book and can provide me with the actual quote--in the chapter on Beethoven--I would greatly appreciate it):
           While Mozart would timidly knock at the servants' entrance, 
           waiting to gain admittance, Beethoven would kick down the
           front doors, sit at the head of the table, and demand to 
           be served.
It is this quote that inspired today's post.

I think most people with talent--any talent--fall into one of these two categories better than the other one (I should make it clear that people who have these personalities may or may not have the talent of these two artistic giants--the personality type has nothing to do with a corresponding level of talent).  The Beethovens of the world have such powerful personalities that people forgive them their idiosyncrasies and cater to their every demand.  The Mozarts of the world, meanwhile, are often championed by a handful of people who recognize their talent, but are largely ignored by the powerful or the populace until after their deaths--and sometimes, not even then.

There is a third type of personality, too, which I'd like to call the Wagner personality.  While Beethoven types demand that the world recognize their genius, Wagner types demand that the world recognize their divinity.  Not that Wagner really fit this type, himself (his was more of a strong Beethoven personality), but he did inspire religious fervor in many of his supporters, and so we have Wagner types today, who try to create a religion around their work, complete with objects to worship.  The more common name for them is prima donna.

Unfortunately, I have a Mozart personality.  I'd like to imagine that, deep inside, resides a Beethoven personality, but he only comes out in the company of friends and family.  In public, I knock timidly at the servants' wing door, waiting to be admitted.  Still, I have enough of a Beethoven personality not to leave until someone opens the door.


  1. Why you knocking at that empty house, man?

    Joking, nice post. Never thought of this stuff before. The two countenances of art.

  2. Trust me, it sometimes feels as if the house IS empty--in which case, I should just move in, right? ;-)

  3. Nope. Either it's haunted or the subject of a property dispute. These are the only reasons such a house would be left empty.

  4. You're probably right. If I don't see any lights on, I'm knocking at another house. :-)


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