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More Bresson Than Mozart

In response to:

Wonderful Chances from the May 25, 2017 issue

To the Editors:

Michael Wood, alluding to Robert Bresson’s practice of letting quotations speak for him [“Wonderful Chances,” NYR, May 25], writes, “When Mozart says of certain works of his that ‘they are brilliant…, but they lack poverty,’ he is close to the heart of Bresson’s aesthetics.”

Mozart, unfortunately, never quite said this. The words come from a description of his most recent piano concertos in a letter of December 28, 1782. In Mozart’s German, they read, “sind sehr Brillantohne in das leere zu fallen…”—literally, “they are very brilliant…without falling into emptiness,” or in Emily Anderson’s standard translation, “without being vapid.” In Henri de Curzon’s French translation of 1888 the last bit became “sans tomber dans la pauvreté.” Bresson, no doubt quoting by memory, transformed this to “mais ils manquent de pauvreté,” thus getting still further from Mozart.

So whatever the quotation tells us about Bresson’s aesthetics, it does not tell us about Mozart’s.

Joshua Rifkin
Cambridge, Massachusetts