Features February 1986
But if the artist fail?
On the failure of musical talent.
It may be taken as a rule that the public, able to judge only from outward signs, knows little about the inner lives of artists. Nowhere is this more true than in the case of the great musicians. Here, in conceiving its heroes, the public mixes a weak perception of biographical reality with a strong dose of bathetic sentimentality. Thus, for the nineteenth century, Beethoven’s storming of the heavens was produced by, and was a triumph over, deafness; Schubert’s flood of melody was so inextricably linked with his having died at an early age as to seem by some happy miracle its inevitable outcome; Chopin’s wistful harmonies and poignant climaxes could only have been produced by a weakened consumptive. Perhaps most striking in this litany of satisfyingly maudlin outcomes was the image of Mozart’s purity mocked—but also made ever more pure—by his failure to earn even a modest living from his...
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