Although it has been far too long since I have attended a proper and regular concert, the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, has definitely surprised me with the eloquence and pulchritude of their performance, not that I am in any particular position to judge them accordingly. Despite this, Bethoveen’s 5th Symphony, the main focus of the night, although one of the most heard pieces of classical music in our contemporary culture, always manages to transport one back into history with its energetic introduction. The same can be said for Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, headed by the talented Jonquil, towards the end of the procession, who captured the hearts of the audience, and for me personally my mind. Both pieces were played in a spirited manner, and were undoubtedly stimulating as the vibrations produced by sonority of the melodies filled the Chan Centre and elevated the mood of the audience. Bramwell’s Tovey’s brilliant conducting had definitely much to do with the overall quality of the performance, yet the talent of the musicians cannot be negated. Once the orchestra had reached the end of the fourth movement in Bethoveen’s 5th, all that I pondered is how I could possibly relate this repertoire to the topic of Enlightenment. Assuredly, there it was. Both Bethoveen and Mozart were the ‘children’ of the Enlightenment, the ultimate products of its labors and processes, and they were not different from thinkers such as Voltaire.
These two masters of classical harmony were, and are, representations of the genius of the culture promoted in the European Age of Enlightenment. The entire amalgamation of their sound merely resonates the same principles of free thinking and criticism as that Locke and Voltaire. Yet their medium is strikingly different, but in essence transmits the same messages of ‘hope’ and even ‘light’ that comes to define the theme of the ‘Enlightened’ and more importantly the way historians view the ‘Age’ itself. Our contemporary has fashioned the view that Mozart and Bethoven’s music are inescapable facets of higher cultivation. It is almost as when one imagines the great thinkers and philosophes of the period it is impossible to dissociate them from the harmony of this fashion of music. It is perhaps for this reason why society associates Classical music to educated intellectuals and the theoretically inclined. Whatever the case may be, the manner in which these composers have left their mark on society, is in no way different from that of the philosophes.
Both Mozart and Voltaire left their life’s work on paper, Mozart his symphonies, as Voltaire his theories through the due process of printing. They are thus no different from each other, but merely in the contrast of opinions and mediums. Both men valued the importance of print as not only a means to share their work, but to leave it in the hands of posterity. This is the underlying importance of the Age of Enlightenment, not just the cultivation ideas and thought, but the ability to spread them around for the advancement of humanity. In the first time of human history, individuals had the ability to mass produce their work and spread it by the use of a convenient medium Beethoven, who gained ascendancy during the transition from the Enlightenment to the Age of Romantics continued this process which took its due form throughout the 18th century. Yet there are two crucial parts to this development: the first lied in the hands of men such as Mozart and Voltaire, while the second lies within our own.
Towards the end of the performance it became obvious that the differences between the printed word and music were not only similar in the mode of capturing, but also in the mode of expression. Just as individuals read a work by Voltaire and than use it as a form of expression, such as education or simple conversation, so did the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra ‘read’ the works of Mozart and Beethoven and expressed it to the audience. This interlocking circle of expression is a natural occurrence which first grew distinct roots in the Age of Enlightenment, but still exists and perpetuates in modern times as well. One only needs to look at the way information traverses the world we inhabit, and understand that despite its inherent complexity is still remains true to the process of the ‘old masters’.
Published in The Art of Polemics, Issue 2, on Sept 9th, 2014.