Robert Hartwell, Ed.D., professor of music and media studies at Foothill College, took the Morning Forum of Los Altos on a musical and historical journey May 22 with his presentation on “Mozart and Mythology.”
Hartwell, chairman of the music department at Foothill, teaches classes in music history, music of multicultural America and contemporary American culture. He is committed to welcoming the uninitiated into classical music, co-authoring a three-volume series on the history of Western music.
Before joining the Foothill faculty, Hartwell taught piano privately for 20 years and was recognized as among the Bay Area’s best teachers by the Mercury News. His masterful playing accompanied his presentation on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the 18th-century Austrian composer.
According to Hartwell, “Mozart is one of western civilization’s greatest geniuses.” He quoted Woody Allen: “Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 proves the existence of God.”
Short but impactful life
Hartwell’s presentation delved into Mozart’s early life and dispelled some myths.
Mozart had a complicated relationship with his father, Leopold, who was a difficult man, a fine musician and Mozart’s only teacher, Hartwell said.
“Leopold was thrilled with the birth of his children, prodigies Maria Anna in 1751 and Mozart in 1756. Leopold made it his mission to educate and exploit his children,” he said. “He paraded the youngsters around the courts of Europe, using them to enrich the family by performing for the aristocracy from early ages. The courts loved the children and showered them with money and gifts. By the time Mozart was 10, he had spent half his life on the road.”
Mozart, Hartwell added, was a “miraculous child who went on to become an astonishing adult.” When he was 8 years old, with his father’s help, Mozart wrote his first symphony, K. 16.
“Musical child prodigies don’t become regular adults, because they have very different childhoods spent working, receiving high praise and usually being home-schooled,” he said.
After Mozart’s marriage to Constanze Weber in 1782, he provided a comfortable lifestyle with servants, cooks and a nice apartment. Some years, he had to borrow money because his income was erratic. The couple had six children, only two of whom survived infancy.
Hartwell said Mozart was very ill and could not finish his last work “Requiem,” a Mass for the dead. Mozart had a premonition, which turned out to be true, that he was writing his own Mass. The composer wrote the first third of the work and his friends helped complete the rest. Mozart died in 1791, just shy of his 36th birthday.
It is not known exactly where he is buried, because Emperor Joseph II of Austria – believing in the egalitarian ideas of the Enlightenment – decreed that everyone who died deserved a similar funeral and would be buried in communal graves.
The Morning Forum of Los Altos is a members-only lecture series that meets at Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. The series is open to new members. For more information, visit morningforum.org.