Act I, Scene 5, b) No. 4: Madamina! è questo
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Norton Recorded Anthology of Western Music, CD 8 Track 32
Leporello's catalogue is memorable because there is so much going on without the least sense of clutter. The strings take on laughter and forgetting, the flutes and bassoons laugh and point, the oboes and horns toss in a fast children's tune, and all of this in the first few seconds of the aria. As this brief aria continues it slows down for noble sentiment and speeds up for hilarity. And in spite of Leporello's asymmetrical phrases lengths, it all comes together with a timing as precise and catching as the rhythm of Fats Waller.
This tune reminds me that Mozart's had two priorities: First, though he was interested in the descriptive potential of music, he did not want music to become noise. That Don Giovanni's abominable hobby is revealed to the audience not by Elvira's tempest or the violent fall of a Spanish house but through this entertaining list of Leporello's is indicative of Mozart's interest in the language of music. It is because of this interest that the details in his music are so full of meaning and never seem to be clutter. Second, it was vital that the listener be able to remember the tune. So much of the music from these years was heard only once.
This gentlemanly treatment of his audience may have been more an esthetic of the time than it was a personal conviction of Mozart's. But because Mozart worked so well with music that sounded like music he has become, in our memory, the apex of the common practice period.
It is funny but I cannot help but think that while Mozart and composers who would have given a limb to write as well as he did were writing for an audience that wanted to believe in the refinement and ever-improvement of life there was, somewhere else, some rural district or among the thieves and prostitutes of Salzburg, a group of people who knew the horror and anxiety that composers of the early twentieth century thought was unique to them. And these people listened to noise as music and never used repeat signs.