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The Power of a Breath
A Reason To Smile
Breathe deeply. Now exhale. This simple act sustains us. It can also be a source of incredible art.
The human voice in song is one obvious manifestation of the power of breath. But some of our enterprising ancestors also discovered that they could marry the physiology of the respiratory system with the engineering of wood and metal to bring forth ethereal beauty.
Wind instruments are found the world over. And in the hands of the right players, inanimate materials come to life, vibrating with melodious exquisiteness. Like our species, they come in a diversity of shapes, sizes, and colors. They are often at their most powerful when individual tones merge in harmony.
Considering the chaos of our world, we were inspired to showcase the power of human breath at a time it feels so fragile. And we wanted to choose an example for today’s A Reason To Smile that might provide a refuge — at least for a moment — from the ugliness that surrounds us.
We selected Mozart’s Serenade No. 10, known more commonly by its subtitle, Gran Partita (“big wind symphony”), even though that name was bestowed by someone other than Mozart. It is a composition of immense beauty and peace. And it offers a timely example of how different voices can come together in heavenly musical dialogue — an important lesson for a world riven by division.
The piece calls for 13 instruments: 12 winds (two oboes, two clarinets, two basset horns, two bassoons, and four horns) and one string, a double bass. It is an unusual but affecting ensemble. Gran Partita has seven movements in total. Though all are beautiful, the most beloved is probably the third movement, a heart-stopping adagio.
Perhaps some of you might remember it from the 1984 film “Amadeus,” coming at the moment Mozart’s rival, Salieri, recognizes the boorish young composer’s otherworldly genius (we share a clip below). In the film, Salieri (played by F. Murray Abraham) describes the piece as “filled with such longing, such unfulfillable longing. It seemed to me that I was hearing the voice of God.”
Here is that clip:
And for those who wish to listen to all seven movements:
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