Daniel K.L. Chua (Kings College, London) Mozart, Money, Music

Event Date: 

Friday, May 5, 2006 - 4:00pm

Event Location: 

  • Music 1145

Event Price: 

Free and open to the public

The paper explores the 'mythic' relationship between Mozart and money and how the 'myth' conditions the way we tend to consider his music. Technically, by 'myth' I am referring to the work of Roland Barthes in Mythologies, where he treats ordinary tropes and signs as a form of deeper signification; a myth, be it a picture on the cover of Paris Match or the hair cut of Caesar in Hollywood films, is a point of entry into ideological structures beneath innocent surfaces. We all know the myth of Mozart and money (or his lack of money), we might even know, with the help of historians, that it is genuinely a myth; but the fact that we all know the story indicates that it is a form of tacit knowledge that is never fully analysed.

The question is: what kind of work does this myth actually do? Mozart died at a critical point in the transition of currency from coins to paper money; it was a paradigm shift from the material to the purely imaginary circulation of money that caused heated debates in the nineteenth century on the veracity of monetary value. The Mozart myth concerning money, told in countless children's books and adult scholarship, unwittingly takes up this paradigm shift in order to portray Mozart's music as a form of cultural capital free from the coinage of Mozart's material life in order to transfer his work into the immaterial world of absolute music. The idea of money is not simply used in this paper as a useful analogy; it is an epistemic structure of modern thought, a tacit ideology that conditions the way think. The relationship between Mozart and money is one of the ways in which these abstract ideas are reified. Thus understanding the myth has important ramifications for Mozart studies; it can illuminate the ways in which we have performed, edited, analysed and written about Mozart's works through the 'wrong' currency. It can also suggest how we might return to an earlier coinage in rethinking Mozart for today.

There will be a reception held after the talk.