What are you working on? (DYM I.21)

By John Allen

The version of Mozart popularized by the film Amadeus composed music with unbelievable ease, effortlessly producing masterpieces as if he were merely a scribe for the finished music flowing in his head. If only that were true.

When it comes to working on something, it looks like Mozart was more like us than we thought.

In Listen to This, a cogent collection of essays on music, Alex Ross debunks this popular portrait of Mozart as a musical wizard magically conjuring timeless masterpieces.  He describes a more sophisticated and complex reality of Mozart's creative process: it required long spans of time, exploration, multiple failures, layered thinking, and a non-linear approach to composing. 

In other words, Mozart put in a lot of hard work on his masterpieces:  
Scholars have also demolished the old picture of Mozart as an idiot savant who transcribed the music playing in his brain. Instead, he seems to have refined his ideas to an almost manic degree. Examination of Mozart’s surviving sketches and drafts— Constanze threw many manuscripts away— reveals that the composer sometimes began a piece, set it aside, and resumed it months or years later; rewrote troubling sections several times in a row; started movements from scratch when a first attempt failed to satisfy; and waited to finish an aria until a singer had tried out the opening. Ulrich Konrad calls these stockpiles of material “departure points”—“ a delineation of intellectual places to which Mozart could return as necessary.” In other words, the music in Mozart’s mind may have been like a huge map of half-explored territories; in a way, he was writing all his works all the time. The new image of him as a kind of improvising perfectionist is even more daunting than the previous one of God’s stenographer. Ambitious parents who play the Baby Mozart video for their toddlers may be disappointed to learn that Mozart became Mozart by working furiously hard, and, if Constanze was right, by working himself to death (Kindle Locations 1394-1402).