Mozart's contemporaries often noted his childlike qualities, though later writers felt this denigrated his seriousness. The Romantics exalted the "gloomy" or daemonic Mozart, yet the spirit of play is an important element in many of his works and calls for deeper examination. Accordingly, this article examines Mozart's compositional practices to delineate the various modes of musical play he used and their significance. These considerations also apply to Haydn, although his characteristic wit may be more fine-grained than Mozart's play-impulse.
Plato considered play as fundamental to art, and the leap as the primoridal form of play. Among Mozart's near contemporaries, the philosophers Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Schiller, Christian Gottfried Köörner, and Hans-Georg Näägeli reflected on the importance of play in art. Though he does not mention Mozart explicitly, Schiller's description of the play-impulse is particularly important and has not before been fully mined for the insights it can give into musical practice. The concept of "deep play" discussed by the anthropologist Clifford Geertz in the context of Balinese gambling is also helpful in this musical context. Play is dynamic and must "deepen" itself or cease. These insights are the starting point of a close discussion of the finale of Mozart's Piano Sonata in B-, K. 570.
This apparently innocent work is a kind of compendium that "saturates" the possibilities of play. Careful attention to these variants allow a new kind of analysis, neither limited to abstract manipulation of motifs nor to rhetorical exposition of topics. Consideration of what one might call the "phenomenology of play" avoids the trap of reducing music to a text and also aids consideration of the discontinuous "leaps" that are so important in Mozart, along with his more continuous musical rhetoric. These dimensions of play are felt most immediately in the texture of scale and step, the play of the hand.
Considerations of play also illuminate Mozart's Don Giovanni and the vexed questions of music and eros. Though Giovanni is a vicious character, Mozart's musical "seduction" is blameless and indeed glorious. Ultimately, eros and play must be kept alive even within the confines of marriage and law, so that Zerlina and Masetto may emerge enriched by their encounters with Giovanni. As Schiller points out, play purges a certain grossness from sensuality and thereby discloses a new kind of beauty. Mozart accomplishes this in his ombra music through the ultimate leap, the salto mortale of Giovanni's deadly game with God. Giovanni's fall is Mozart's triumph, incorporating morality in its musical "deep play."
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