Alright, I admit it. I probably went a little overboard last week when I called Mozart’s music downright trite. Obviously, I’m not a huge fan, but I must own up to admiring certain attributes of the master’s oeuvre. While many find his music acutely profound, I find it profoundly cute—especially its attractive, glossy surface that easily seduces both the ears and cerebral cortex. But my question is, how much stimulation is actually registering? Whether or not a composer aims to arouse those neurons to fire inside the brain, listeners are going to approach whatever they’re hearing heuristically, albeit to varying degrees ranging from full-on analysis to just-shut-up-and-dance.
That said, it seems to me the most important thing that composers should focus on is the outermost layer of musical surface—that visceral sense of what something actually sounds like before our minds have the chance to process it. No need to tether this pleasure-based element to underlying macro-structures: who on earth has the ability to pull something like that off anyway? Ahem. That’s right, Mozart. And so if his music really does make babies smarter, shouldn’t we all be taking up the cause to advance human kind?
Does anyone know of any newborns who happen to be fans of Milton Babbitt? Just wondering. Toy manufactures make infant toys with bold patterns and textures to incite the senses. Shouldn’t composers be polishing up the sheen of their own music, rendering it palatable to everyone, even those still in diapers. After all, Mozart was only five years old when he began composing. Natural talent and training aside, I’m beginning to wonder on behalf of all of us composers: Perhaps the key to deeply engaging listeners lies at the most uncomplicated, superficial level of musical expression—the façade that hides all that ungainly counterpoint and harmony.