Act I, Scene 5, a) No. 3: Ah, chi mi dice mai/Chi è lá
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Tracks 28-30
Yesterday morning, before the sun rose, I opened the cold door to my small car parked near the entrance to Washington park. As I drove away from the leafless trees, turned at the end of the block, I turned on the car radio. It was tuned to the classical music station, WGUC. Sadly, this is the only classical music station in Cincinnati and because their concept of classical music is a little soft for my tastes I often prefer the news. I recognized the tune I was hearing as Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
. I listened, thought about changing the station, then listened some more.
I was reminded of Donna Elvira. It was the descriptive quality of Strauss' music that made me think of her. Often, in Till Eulenspiegel
, the music comes so narrowly close to noise that the listener is thrilled to be able to hang on to some sense of organization and to grasp the musical painting Strauss envisioned. With Donna Elvira it is a bit different. Though sudden scales in the strings and large melodic leaps in her line convey her anger toward Don Giovanni she never reaches a scream or otherwise ugly sound. And we then hear, in her voice, the beauty Don Giovanni was interested in violating.
As far as we can know, it is only by circumstance that the genius of Mozart lived at a time and place not interested in pushing the concept of music toward clusters and extremes. For the composers following him, it is a lucky circumstance. More than his contemporaries or predecessors, Mozart was sensitive to the meanings pitches and rhythms can have. And the musical language we encounter in scenes like Dona Elvira's has enough to teach composers of any time and place. Strauss could not have expected his listeners to comprehend the music in Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks
without Mozart's music of moderation as a point of reference.