“Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. ‘Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow.”
Chief among the process of coalition-building in the arts is the phenomenon of artistic collaboration, in which a relationship is formed among artists for the purpose of achieving a mutual creative goal/goals. Some collaborations are short-term, measured and specific, while others are more long-term and continuous. Collaborations can take many forms – from two or more artists working together on a given project, to artists studying and learning together (and from each other) for a time, to two artists establishing a mentor/mentee relationship, to one artist adapting elements of another’s work into the creation of a new work (or in many cases incorporating a direct contribution from the other artist into the work).
Collaborations can occur within and across artistic disciplines, and the number of collaborators involved can vary depending on the nature and scope of the project(s) being pursued. The most fruitful collaborations tend to be those that are based on or easily lend themselves to genuine friendships, but of course, we might just as easily envision genuine friendships between artists in which there is no collaborative relationship. All the same, at the heart of these connections is the inevitability that one artist will be influenced by another, or in the case of artists who happen to be contemporaries, perhaps even a mutual influence. Creators are both influenced by other creators and do the influencing for other creators. Some of the most prolific and renown musicians in the world of classical music, for instance, have influenced countless other musicians to varying degrees throughout generations and successive stylistic eras. In almost all cases, this influence directly contributes to an enhancement of an artist’s vision, creative philosophy, stylistic palette and overall growth.
One particularly fruitful and long-lasting collaborative relationship was that between Johann Christian Bach (1735-82) and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). Mozart had readily taken to Bach’s style very early on, and the two developed a close friendship shortly after meeting in London when Mozart was a young boy. Bach was a tremendous influence in Mozart’s early development as a composer, and under Bach’s guidance, Mozart composed his four-hand piano sonata K. 19d. Mozart attended a number of Bach’s musical productions, most notably performances of his operatic works. This exposure would quickly begin to solidify Bach’s influence on Mozart’s style and in addition to the love and respect Mozart had for Bach, and vice-versa. As Adena Portowitz explains in her paper, “The J.C. Bach – Mozart Connection,” Mozart was also particularly moved by Bach’s genuineness towards him, not only with which Bach praised Mozart but also with which he spoke of Mozart to others. As Mozart wrote to his father shortly after attending Bach’s opera Amadis de Gaul in Paris:
“… Mr. Bach from London has been here for the last fortnight…. You can easily
imagine his delight and mine at meeting again; perhaps his delight may not have
been quite as sincere as mine—but one must admit that he is an honorable man
and willing to do justice to others. I love him (as you know) and respect him with
all my heart; and as for him, there is no doubt but that he has praised me warmly,
not only to my face, but to others, also, and in all seriousness—not in the
exaggerated manner which some affect.” 1(Letters, 27 August 1778, adapted from Portowitz)
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Mozart found particular motivation in composing in the very musical forms in which Bach flourished – keyboard sonatas, keyboard concertos, symphonies and operas. Mozart would also incorporate many musical motifs and stylistic elements used by Bach, and used Bach’s early keyboard sonatas as frameworks for the development of some of his keyboard concertos. Bach also had a major influence on some of Mozart’s early symphonies, and at least a few of these symphonies were dedicated to Bach himself. The two also had a mutual affinity for making music accessible to all of the concert-going public, regardless of the level of familiarity with and involvement in the music scene itself (a project that I am personally and passionately involved in). To this end, both composers would frequently inject culturally-relevant motifs and allusions into their works that most in attendance would be likely to identify with.
Mozart’s esteem of Bach persisted throughout Bach’s life, even as the music-loving public had begun to grow weary and to an extent even bored of Bach’s compositional style, which some had taken to deride as too simplistic and repetitive. In a way, though, one could argue that because of their lasting friendship and constant engagement through influence and collaboration, both artists grew and developed remarkable reputations in their own right that would persist well beyond their years – for Mozart, one shaped by prodigious talent and prolificity that has rendered his name synonymous with classical music itself, and for Bach, one that has been shaped simply by being the wellspring of tutelage, encouragement, ideas and support that made some of Mozart’s best work possible.
Please join La Speranza as they perform works by Mozart and J. C. Bach this Friday at the First Evangelical Lutheran Church in Houston.
Marcel T. Wormsley