Lionel Trilling cooking quality cheese
Italo Calvino love cats humour
John Cage composing Beethoven silence
Richard Serra designing New York Venice


To the annoyance of some I have in past interviews flirted with my dislike of Mozart. I never used to specify this, as I simply enjoyed slagging off Mozart. Only later did I realize that my criticism of Mozart appeared to disqualify music from the Classical period as a whole. But that is not what I meant.

I really feel that Mozart wrote music without balls, although I can easily list pieces that I wouldn’t want to do without. After sneering at Mozart I should immediately have added: Give me Beethoven any time of the day. To me, Beethoven has always been a composer with balls. He composed whatever he liked. He was one of the first free lance composers, thus one of the first real composers. Besides, my birthday happens to be the same day of the year as Beethoven’s.

BeethovenBeethoven was not a sentimentalist — something which bothers me in Mozart and in early romantics like Weber, Mendelssohn, and Schubert. Such sentimentality extends from Mozart via Schubert to Mahler. It is a branch of musical history that does not keep me enthralled. I have always been more interested in that other, non-sentimental division, from C.P.E. Bach to Haydn, Beethoven, and via Bruckner eventually to Sibelius.

By the way, we should not confuse sentimentality with melancholy or nostalgia, which I consider to be more sincere moods. Sentimentality borders on self-pity, and I am quite allergic to that. Self-pity points towards an egocentric worldview. That is of no use to anybody.

If I could meet a composer from the past I would choose Beethoven. Ravel, Stravinsky, and Sibelius were all alive in the 20th century, and the memories of that era are still fresh. But I cannot really picture Beethoven as a human being, nor the details of the society that he lived in. Beethoven is such a big topic that I can scarcely comprehend it.

I deeply love his symphonies — perhaps with the exception of the final movement of the Ninth — as well as his string quartets. There are not that many composers whose works give rise to the thought: “This is exactly as it should be.” Beethoven’s writing is inescapable.

Moreover, if you play Beethoven the way it happens in historically informed performance practice, his work still has the capacity to shock. Beethoven had no interest in being easy on the ears. Sometimes his music is not pleasant at all. He often wanted to hit you on the head with it.

Do I want to do that with my music? I would really like to say “yes”. From time to time I want to give the audience a good smack because these days everything is supposed to be hunky-dory. Still, my work never causes a scandal. In this respect I am apparently not the bad boy I wished I was.