HW: Mozart Laughs

By Johann Nepomuk della Croce – Unknown source, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=449108

The quartet begins.
They must play the exact score.
Who is playing Whom?

This is my version of the famous “Ship of Theseus Paradox,” which I lovingly call “Mozart Laughs,” but one thing at a time.

The “Ship of Theseus Paradox” dates back to Plato and Heraclitus, and simply put, is a debate on whether a ship is still the same ship after all of its rotting timbers and rusting fixtures have been replaced by new parts. Is it the same ship in spirit, or an updated ship that bears the same name as the original ship?

For what it’s worth, I apply the Velveteen Rabbit solution:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

The Ship of Theseus was real to those who loved her and spent a life aboard her while she sailed the seas. If that era spanned generations, then the Ship of Theseus was real forever in both body and spirit during that time. New timber and refitted sails are just details.

“Mozart Laughs” runs along the same lines. My stepfather Richard played with a string quartet, and they labored for hours to recreate Mozart’s music that was composed over two hundred years ago. Thousands and thousands of musicians like Richard work every day to replicate the music created by Mozart. But are they so sure they’re doing the exact same compositions, even though his printed works survive? Have variations and assumptions and unpredicted nuances crept into the music sheets?

Of course that’s all possible, which circles back to the Ship of Theseus Paradox: if a Mozart performance is only, let’s say, 90% of the original composition, is it an authentic Mozart composition? Of course it is, because of the musicians’ love and passion for the composer. The changed ten percent is grist for hair splitters and nerds.

I admit I get a laugh from the last line: “Who is playing Whom?” Mozart died in 1791, yet his ghostly hand stretches across the void as he guides quartets and orchestra to perform his works. His baton waves, and in response, bows are pulled across the strings, reeds are whetted, and drumheads are struck. They labor so hard to repeat his music from two hundred years ago. So yes, who is playing whom? Are we playing his music or is he playing us?

As always, I may be full of crap, so leave a comment. You can scroll down to get email notification when similar gems of “wisdom” are posted here. Take care and love you all!

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