Canadian Bands You Should Know: Marjan Mozetich and the greatest song you’ve never heard

The experience of discovering a new song that hits you in all the right places is one of the most satisfying feelings that any art-form can give to us. First you feel the tingles, then your foot starts tapping, and before you know it you’re humming along and being swept into your own little musical world. With these sensations in mind, I would like to introduce all of you to a composition that every Canadian should listen to at least once, a tune that could become your next music-induced tingle. The piece is called Affairs of the Heart and it would be a great idea to plug in some headphones and take a listen as you read on.

CBC Vancouver Orchestra and violinist Juliette Kang performing Marjan Mozetich’s Affairs of the Heart.

The man behind the pulsating beauty that’s now enveloping your aural pathways is Marjan Mozetich, an Italian born composer of Slovenian heritage who began his musical studies in Canada at age nine. Chances are you’ve never heard of him or Affairs of the Heart, but he has been a leading figure in the world of Canadian classical music and beyond since the 1970s. His artistic evolution followed a familiar path for many composers reared in the post-WWII world of classical music; particularly the gradual shift from harsh, modernist sounds to a more emotionally driven, accessible style akin to that of Arvo Pärt or Philip Glass. I had the opportunity to speak to Mozetich over the phone regarding Affairs of the Heart and his career as a composer in Canada. Throughout this conversation he reflected on this transformation and its effect on his music and his relationship with his listeners.

Marjan Mozetich. Courtesy of the Canadian Music Centre. 

Canadian classical music is often condemned to the lecture halls of universities, new music specific concerts, and the first five minutes of a symphony program. Ask a typical Canadian music lover to name three homegrown composers active in the last thirty years and they would likely be hard pressed to fill up the list. Should this be the case? Arguably in some instances the answer is yes. A common symptom of contemporary classical music is that it’s conceived with more focus on concept than content, something that Mozetich understands quite well. He remarks that “People were having a hard time with a lot of contemporary music that was difficult to understand and not very pleasant to listen to… it lacked a common language.” The result, he continues, is that people became “bewildered more and more over this kind of music.” Mozetich’s music does not deserve this condemnation. His oeuvre possesses both substance and accessibility, it is music composed for our hearts rather than solely our brains, a sentiment that he echoes and that forms the core of his musical convictions.

“There’s a certain satisfaction and a pleasure in writing something that connects to people… audiences are quite hungry for that,” says Mozetich, an idea that may on the surface seem obvious but is often lacking in the intentions of many modern compositions. “I think what happened at one point, in terms of this modern music, is that composers were only writing music for other musicians, not the public at large,” Mozetich explains, “there was too much shunning of the general public.” His solution was to begin a reversal of this trend and to start composing music that could inspire and excite in the same way as a pop song—a genre that Mozetich himself takes cues from. “I love all forms of popular music,” he comments. This aesthetic permeates his compositions, however not in the way one would expect. Mozetich muses on the subject, describing how “I just felt that one had to go back a little bit to certain traditions in order to connect to the audience.” The traditions he’s referring to are both those of pop music (a genre that is perhaps most masterful at immediate and stimulating sensations), but also the tradition of great classical works past, ones that still reverberate even today. In particular, Mozetich mentions Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Stravinksy’s Rite of Spring as examples of “iconic, powerful works,” representing a genre that Mozetich feels is still important and doesn’t wish for people to abandon.

The Netherlands Radio Philharmonic Orchestra performing Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

The West-East Divan Orchestra performing Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor.

He cites the size and scope of classical structures as being important factors in choosing the genre as his preferred compositional palette, stating “there’s still a lot that can be expressed this way that is more difficult in pop music forms.” The result of these colliding philosophies is Mozetich’s own uniquely attractive voice in the world of classical composition.

Affairs of the Heart possesses all of the qualities that turn a piece of music into much more than a song you leave on in the background. There’s something in those first pulsating, longing violin notes that immediately transfixes and demands your attention. On the surface it may seem simple, a catchy tune with some nice chords. However, behind all this is a lifetime of intensive musical awareness and training that requires a detailed understanding of structure and expressive possibilities, a combination that Mozetich used to guide the creation of the composition. He describes the process as “an organic kind of thing,” tempered by certain boundaries such as orchestration, musical material, and time. “I’m essentially a lazy guy,” Mozetich declares in what seems to be a half-joking manner, “What I need is restriction, like a commission for a certain group or specific instrumentation.” Affairs came to fruition as a result of a commission by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra for a piece featuring violin soloist and strings. Mozetich explains that from this he then devised the entire work based around those first compelling, pulsing string motives that begin the piece. One of the most striking moments of Affairs arrives around the 21 minute mark of the piece; something that it turns out was not an accident. This moment, which features a sudden wave of intense emotion emerging when the piece seems all but finished, was brought about by the suicide of close friend of Mozetich’s. He was nearing the end of Affairs and reflects that he had “an anger and frustration when I heard this news and couldn’t help but feel how tragic this was.” Even though the piece was nearly complete, this experience compelled to take his intensity of feeling and transmit it directly into Affairs, embodying his ideals of organic and affecting art.

What’s true of this composition, along with Mozeitch’s other works (don’t just limit yourself to Affairs, do you yourself a favour and click here to listen to everything) is that it truly does communicate and affect its listeners. An often told story about Affairs of the Heart is its distinction as being referred to as “driveway music.” Its premiere on CBC Radio lit up the switchboards (back when switchboards were more common than message boards) with people demanding to know what they had just heard. Many of these individuals described sitting in their car after they had already arrived home for the sole reason of not wanting to leave before the song had ended; even the most difficult audience to impress—teenagers—connected with Mozeitch’s music. “I’ve gotten fan-mail from teenagers out of the blue,” says Mozetich, something that he believes is related to his music dealing with “sad things.” He continues that it “kind of [allows] one to be melancholic, but there’s an energy there that almost makes it a positive thing.” At its heart, this may be the reason for the poignancy and power of Mozetich’s music. Like all lasting works from any genre, it seeks to express the deepest held emotions we have as humans and allows us to feel these through its art. Like Beethoven and Stravinsky, Mozetich has harnessed the ability to tap in to this stream of creation and touch those lucky enough to be exposed to his creative gifts. This is reflected not only in his music but also his mentality. “The most satisfying thing is that what I’m doing is connected to audiences that the music is affecting,” Mozetich states (a feeling that you can sense he’s deeply in touch with). When in conversation with him there is absolutely no sense of pretense or elitism. Despite his talents and successes he remains, above all, a genuine human being whose care for those he’s creating art for trumps all other motives—a characteristic that any great artist should strive to embody.

So, now that you have made it this far, you may be running in to your own version of a “driveway music” experience. Affairs of the Heart is likely around eight or nine minutes through and chances are you may need to sit for fifteen more as you finish reading. If this is the case then this is the experience that Mozetich along with other artists of a similar philosophy attempt to give their audiences: the feeling of a connection to something greater than ourselves. Whether this may be a momentary or lasting sensation, it is something that we should all cherish the opportunity for having. As an added bonus, hopefully many of you have discovered a new tune that you can add to the list of songs that always remind you why you love music, I know I sure have.

For more information on Marjan Mozetich and to listen to his music at one of the following links:

To purchase Affairs of the Heart and other music by Marjan Mozetich, visit iTunes or Amazon.
Read the full interview with Marjan Mozetich here.

Nathaniel Schmidt

Contact me for any comments or suggestions.

Twitter: @N88TE

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