Mozart and the Keyboard Culture of His Time

Commodification & Kitsch
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In the drawing-room culture of the late-eighteenth century, sentimentality and sensibility loomed large. The cult of sensibility prescribed a code of conduct, particularly with regard to individuals’ reactions to art and culture. Displaying the right sentiment in response to the contemplation of art proved taste, education and class. Emotions became stylized into mannerisms; education was commodified in the possession of art, and art was commodified in kitsch.

In the “emotional playspace” that kitsch represents, we can experience heightened emotions without fear of the consequences. Within kitsch, emotions can be safely indulged—circumscribed and prescribed. Represented by classics in art, emotions become safe.

The kitsch industry was an outgrowth of the Kenner und Liebhaber (dilettante and amateur) market, intimately tied to the drawing room. Bildung (education) became the main indicator of class. Music making, commonly centered around the piano, was the safe and appropriate pastime of ladies in the drawing rooms. It was the forum for the exploration of emotions as well as the display of one’s own appropriate sensitivity.

Mozart spoke to this domestic setting not only through his music, but also through his image. The Mozartian image as a representation has gathered connotations intimately tied to the self-understanding of the bourgeoisie. Bildung and Bürgertum (bourgeoisie), emotion and composure, come together in the image of Mozart. His music is accessible and clear, it is popular, yet its high standard is impossible to deny.

Mozart’s image is manifold. It ranges from the dark, sinister and unconventional connotations of Don Giovanni to hints of seriousness and exclusivity, from an air of indulgence to an awareness of tradition and perfection—the image of the classic. The darkness of the Requiem, the melancholy of the G minor symphony, and the delightful tinkling of Papageno’s music-box arias, as well as the sparkle of the ubiquitous "Kleine Nachtmusik," not to forget the romanticism of his Piano Concerto K. 467: Mozart encompasses all emotions.

continue to Credits

From Sketch to Completed Work
From Print to CD
How did Mozart Compose?
The Mozart Myth: Tales of a Forgery
Mozart's Images
Mozart's Images Imagined
What the Score Doesn't Tell Us
The Piano Lesson
The Cult of Mozart
Commodification & Kitsch
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