Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Young Mozart Playing the Organ by Heinrich Lossow

A marked change from yesterday’s picture, don’t you think?  Well … on second thought, perhaps not quite so much.

Let’s look at the picture first, and note what it does right.  Here two monks, one young and beautiful, the other older and somehow fretful, listen to the boy genius Mozart play the organ.  Some kind of musical worship is clearly planned, as can be seen by the music stands at the ready.  The fresco barely visible above the young Mozart’s head and the columns, cornices and elaborate moldings indicate that the church is rather a grand one.

Note how Lossow separates Mozart from the monks.  Not only is he elevated above their heads by the organ chair (which is also on a platform), but also by his elaborate blue coat, stockings and richly dressed hair.  Lossow further frames Mozart by separating him from his surroundings by the pillar on the right and the doorway at the left.  The sense of elevation is important … not only is Mozart literally above the monks, but he is metaphorically closer to heaven.

Lossow does, I think, a commendable job on depicting the church.  Like most churches, its coloration and light change depending on one’s vantage point, and the sense of massive space and monumentality is caught with what is really a minimum of detail.  The columns, archway, bit of fresco are there – but our imaginations fill in the rest.

Where the picture fails, I think, is the poor job Lossow made of foreshortening Mozart, as his overall proportions seem more dwarfish than youthful.  Also, a greater contrast of expression between the younger and older monk would have provided Lossow with the opportunity to make some deeper comment … an opportunity that is somewhat wasted here.

However, I think it is interesting to look at this picture with Lossow’s other work in mind.  Remember that Lossow was a pornographer of some note, and that yesterday’s picture of the rapacious sphinx also had a strong carnal undercurrent.  Simply put, what we see in The Young Mozart Playing the Organ is a forbidden pleasure.  Whether through fear of interrupting the boy genius, or because of burdensome strictures of their religious order against musical indulgence, the monks here are clearly enjoying a pleasure that they should not have.  It is of a piece with Lossow’s seeming preoccupations.

In that light, that is why I think Lossow missed a bet by not underscoring the expressions of the two monks with greater emotional detail.  It was an opportunity to tell a narrative on the effects of either pleasure awakening, or pleasure denied for years.  What is a simple, almost kitschy picture could have had true narrative heft and physiological insight.

More Lossow tomorrow.

1 comment:

lyle said...

What bothers me about this work is the detail in the older monks face. The nose is in light, the face in deep shadow, the cord on the young monk's robe in light - it all seems wrong. If the monks expression had been there, it would have allowed us to correctly 'read' the younger monk's expression as to what is going on here.