Why has there not been another Mozart?

How do you know that there hasn’t been?

It depends on exactly what you mean. Clearly, there can’t actually be another Mozart but there could be another composer who demonstrates similar qualities.

For me, Mozart’s greatest quality is an absolute mastery of the musical language such that at its best, his music sounds so inevitable, so perfectly constructed that it is impossible to imagine it could go in any other direction.

Will there be another composer who is able to write music like that? I’m not sure. One could argue that there already has been. Mendelssohn at his best, perhaps. The biggest obstacle in the way of another composer who is able to achieve this kind of fluency is that musical language is still extremely unsettled. Mozart was alive during a period in which music had a singular grammatical and syntactical structure – there was a ‘correct’ way to write.

By comparison, we live in a chaotic period of stylistic pluralism. It isn’t quite that anything goes, but it is certainly close. The differences between Birtwistle, Turnage, Thom Yorke, Cory Henry, to take but a few, are enormous.

Where Mozart was able to refine an already highly developed style, today we prize individualism. Mozart was able to polish and add tiny facets to the jewel of musical language where we are continually uncovering new stones to add to our ever-increasing collection.

It may well be, though, that this kind of refinement does exist in some areas of music. Maybe the Beatles perfected the pop song just as Mozart perfected the symphony. Maybe Oscar Peterson found a level of sophistication in jazz analogous to that shown in Mozart’s piano sonatas.

Time will tell in those cases. We will all have our opinions, but over time the body of opinion will decide. For my money, there are many composers who have shown incomparable skill in writing music – Olly Knussen certainly takes one of my votes for a voice that will continue to be held in the highest regard in the future – but I’m not sure that anyone can really tell whom, in 150 years, will be revered as Mozart is.

Let me know what you think!

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