Friday, August 19, 2016
The Salieri Effect
Don't mess with Mother Nature, and definitely don't mess with Mother Music. Consequences are guaranteed. Peter Shaffer's play (and subsequent movie) Amadeus speaks ominously and forcefully to that issue. I once asked my late friend, Don Campbell, author of The Mozart Effect, whether there might be something afoot in classical music that could be termed The Salieri Effect. What I was implying was that in contradistinction to the healing properties of Mozart's music might there not be its malevolent counterpart, embodied so effectively by F. Murray Abraham's riveting portrayal in Amadeus the movie. Don, not having done hard time in the contemporary music galleys, didn't quite get the implication and merely replied that, no, Salieri's music would unlikely be as effective in a therapeutic setting. At the risk of launching an overly Manichean canard, I would say that Western Classical Music most definitely is playing with, at best, Yin and Yang, and, at worst, God and Lucifer. Bach understood that and ran with it. Stockhausen too, for his part. And then, alas, there was Wagner. Perhaps that is a function of the Austro-German musical ethos having cornered the market on the archetypal polarities, which had implications for the tumultuous upheavals of the last century. But it doesn't have to involve total war; it can and does happen at the kitchen sink level. Mozart in the jungle.