Mozart: Symphony Number 35, in D Major, “Haffner”

When I think back to my high school days, it is with a sense of wonder. For me, it was a time filled with turbulence: as hormones coursed through my body I had to establish an identity, my place in the social, academic, and athletic pecking orders, while assimilating new ideas, and coming of legal age. The Vietnam War still raged on and the threat of the draft hung over the heads of all us young men.Until then, I had played the class clown, a happy-go-lucky, pudgy kid with acne.

In high school, however, I became aware of “culture” embodied in literature, art, and music. My parent saw this as puzzling. “What happened to our happy son?” they said. In all fairness to them, I did change radically, especially as I began to spend more and more time in the company of the Mankowski’s, whom I wrote earlier on this blog.For those of you J.D. Salinger fans, to me the Mankowskis resembled the Glass family in that author’s books Franney and Zooey and Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenter. All five Mankowski children had high SAT scores, excelling in both math and English. But what you noticed most about them was how gosh-darned articulate they were. At the same time, because of the father’s interest in Thurber and S.J. Pearlman, they all had a great sense of humor and could wise crack and lampoon with the best of them. We all became comrades in the struggle against the sports and glamour cliques at school. We also had another bond because of our Eastern European backgrounds—them Polish, me Hungarian. But what I remember most about them is the music.Yesterday I wrote about how some parents push their kids to try to turn them into prodigies. The Mankowskis had much too much taste to do that. They whole family just loved being cultured. But that makes them sound snobby, which they weren’t. Some gourmet once said comparing the French and American palate: “Americans eat to live; the French live to eat.” Some people user their brains to live. The Mankowskis lived to use their brains.

Some families follow sport and athletes religiously. The Mankowskis followed not only classical music, but the careers of the performers as well. They introduced me to such names as Rubenstein, Heifitz, Callas, Toscanini, Von Karajan, Bohm, and Reiner. One of their favorite performers was the Spanish-born cellist, Pablo Casals

A refugee from Spain after Franco seized power and annexed Catalonia, Casals became the World’s greatest cellist (according to The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music). In his later years, he became a noted conductor, spending summers leading the Marlboro Symphony orchestra. I own a number of his recordings both as a conductor and a performer. Some people didn’t like his performances, because he would become so engrossed in the music that he used to moan along with them. Certain audience members found this distracting. One of my LPs included a recording of one of his rehearsals in which his moans almost hit a fervid pitch. Thank god that in the final recording the engineers turned off his microphone.

The first album with Casals conducting that I bought on the suggestion of the Mankowskis was Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony Number 35. If you didn’t know anything about classical music but wanted to learn about it, I can’t think of a better piece to start with. I think it is a “perfect” piece of music. Not too long. Not too short. Two nice, pensive, emotive movements sandwiched between quick, upbeat ones. I particularly love the third movement, the menuetto, which has a beautiful slow melody that would make anyone moan.

Mozart wrote the “Haffner” when he was just 26, and penned another six symphonies before he died. The more I think of his life, the more it astounds me. Nowadays, in our self-absorbed culture, we tend to think children are cute when they act grown-up and—as my British ex-wife, Judy called it—”cheeky.” On the other hand, the news is full of stories about teen gangs, drug use, prostitution, and other scary behaviors. Sitcoms are full of such grotesqueries, and few show children acting in a noble or intelligent way. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they also showed the 99% of kids who are in the middle? Or at least a few who participated in some kind of ennobling activity.  I firmly believe that given the right stimulation, education and support, any child can grow up to accomplish great things.  It’s odd that in developing countries the brainpower of children is wasted because of starvation, disease, neglect, and overpopulation.  In the developed countries, we’re wasting the brainpower of children through lack of education, leadership, and by providing role models that lead to self-destructive and wasteful lives.  What a tragic waste of talent, which, if applied correctly could improve the lives of people the world over and perhaps save us from ourselves.

About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

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