To begin with, programming wonks know that ‘=’, which is rendered in English simply as ‘equals’, in computer languages can refer to two distinct acts. The first is that it can assign a value to a variable as in this snippet of C–
for(a=100, a>=0, -7)
printf(%i", ", a);
Which provides the output-
100, 93, 86, 79, 72, 65, 58, 51, 44, 37, 30, 23, 16, 9, 2
The second is as a test. Does one thing equate to another? The answer is either yes or no. In ‘C’ the way to express this meaning is ‘==’. Some more code-
for(a=100, a==0, -7)
printf(%i", ", a);
Looks mostly the same doesn’t it? Only changed the one symbol, but because ‘a’ will never have the exact value of 0 the loop will never end until you overflow the limit of your negative integer values (which varies and is not specifically relevant) at which time you will have “unpredictable” results (unpredictable in this case meaning not only probably wrong, but bad in ways that are likely to cause your computer to stop working.
Is any of this relevant? We shall see.
As I mentioned last week in my discussion of Rimsky-Korsakoff it was a popular theory among many Romantic composers that Mozart was poisoned by Salieri because Salieri, a merely ‘good’ composer, was jealous of Mozart’s ‘Musical Genius’ and offended by his crass personal behavior (a modern re-telling of this can be found in the musical and movie Amadeus).
Well, how true is this story? The modern historical consensus is- not at all.
In the 1780s while Mozart lived and worked in Vienna, he and his father Leopold wrote in their letters that several “cabals” of Italians led by Salieri were actively putting obstacles in the way of Mozart’s obtaining certain posts or staging his operas. For example, Mozart wrote in December 1781 to his father that “the only one who counts in [the Emperor’s] eyes is Salieri”. Their letters suggest that both Mozart and his father, being Germans who resented the special place that Italian composers had in the courts of the Austrian princes, blamed the Italians in general and Salieri in particular for all of Mozart’s difficulties in establishing himself in Vienna. Mozart wrote to his father in May 1783 about Salieri and Lorenzo Da Ponte, the court poet: “You know those Italian gentlemen; they are very nice to your face! Enough, we all know about them. And if [Da Ponte] is in league with Salieri, I’ll never get a text from him, and I would love to show here what I can really do with an Italian opera.” In July 1783 Mozart wrote to his father of “a trick of Salieri’s”, one of several letters in which he accused Salieri of trickery. Decades after Mozart’s death, a rumour began to circulate that Mozart had been poisoned by Salieri. This rumour has been attributed by some to a rivalry between the German and the Italian schools of music.
However, even with Mozart and Salieri being rivals for certain jobs, there is very little evidence that the relationship between the two composers was at all acrimonious beyond this, especially after 1785 or so when Mozart had become established in Vienna. Rather, they appeared to usually see each other as friends and colleagues and supported each other’s work. For example, when Salieri was appointed Kapellmeister in 1788 he revived Figaro instead of bringing out a new opera of his own; and when he went to the coronation festivities for Leopold II in 1790 he had no fewer than three Mozart masses in his luggage. Salieri and Mozart even composed a cantata for voice and piano together, called Per la ricuperata salute di Ophelia… Mozart’s Davide penitente (1785), his Piano Concerto KV 482 (1785), the Clarinet Quintet (1789) and the 40th Symphony (1788) had been premiered on the suggestion of Salieri, who supposedly conducted a performance of it in 1791. In his last surviving letter from 14 October 1791, Mozart tells his wife that he collected Salieri and Caterina Cavalieri in his carriage and drove them both to the opera; about Salieri’s attendance at his opera The Magic Flute, speaking enthusiastically: “He heard and saw with all his attention, and from the overture to the last choir there was not a piece that didn’t elicit a ‘Bravo!’ or ‘Bello!’ out of him.
Now you can see why this was an attractive myth to Romantics who were rebelling against what they saw as the strict formalism of Classical Music in favor of a more emotive and evocative expression which was presaged by the music of Mozart. They saw in him a champion, despised and thwarted by ‘the establishment’ and ultimately martyred to the cause at the hands of its representative.
So what of the ‘evil’ Salieri?
Reasonably popular and relatively wealthy and respected during his lifetime, after the Romantics turned against him his music languished in obscurity, rarely performed until Amadeus revived the long forgotten 19th century canard. Today it has a certain cachet among Art Music hipsters (and believe me it’s an incredibly Nerdy and Geeky subculture).
Wait- what about the Genius thing?
As Perrine and Arp (.pdf) put it in Sound and Sense: An Introduction to Poetry–
The attempt to evaluate a poem should never be made before it is understood; and, unless you have developed the capacity to feel some poetry deeply, any judgments you make will be worthless. A person who likes no wines can hardly be a judge of them. The ability to make judgments, to discriminate between good and bad, great and good, good and half-good, is surely a primary object of all liberal education, and one’s appreciation of poetry is incomplete unless it includes discrimination. Of the mass of verse that appears each year in print, as of all literature, most is “flat, stale, and unprofitable”; a very, very little is of any enduring value.
Great poetry engages the whole man in his response- senses, imagination, emotion, intellect; it does not touch him on just one or two sides of his nature. Great poetry seeks not merely to entertain the reader but to bring him, along with pure pleasure, fresh insights, or renewed insights, and important insights, into the nature of human experience. Great poetry, we might say, gives its reader a broader and deeper understanding of life, of his fellow men and of himself, always with the qualification, of course, that the kind of insight which literature gives is not necessarily the kind that can be summed up in a simple “lesson” or “moral.” It is knowledge–felt knowledge, new knowledge–of the complexities of human nature and of the tragedies and sufferings, the excitements and joys, that characterize human experience.
You tell me, which is better-
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away”
As I mentioned, performances of Salieri’s work are hard to find, but to give him the best possible chance and most direct comparison I found a performance of his 2nd Symphony (he didn’t do that many and was more a sacred, choral, opera composer) that is not too bad. He composed it in his mid to late 20s.
Mozart’s numbers are all screwed up with many Symphonies attributed to him actually pieces of his father’s or mere musical sketches with fragmentary orchestration composed while he was but a boy (though child prodigy was his stock in trade). This is Symphony No. 29 composed solely by him when he was 18 years old in 1774.
So, relevant or not? What is truth? Beauty? Or just a changing law? Must we have truths? Are mine the same as yours?
I wash my hands (unlike Thom Tillis).
Obligatories, News and Blogs below.