Ever heard of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? Oh good! My faith in humanity is restored… Thank God for Amadeus©!
Now, ever heard of Johann Wilhelm Wilms ? Such a shame… But to be honest neither did I before last night!
Wilms was a Dutch-German musician, composer and sought out teacher who lived around end of the 18th and start of the 19th century. He was an wonderful talented and polyvalent artist who has fallen into almost complete oblivion today… Wilms had written a few pieces among which 7 lovely symphonies. I had the opportunity to hear his sixth symphony along with Mozart’s famous requiem during a concert Friday night. (I recommend if you are short on time to simply listen to the Scherzo and Rondo at around 19’25”).
Wilms had made quite a name for himself in his day. However, there was one small issue : he was born a some years before Mozart death and just two years after Beethoven was born, two of the greatest geniuses and revolutionary minds in the history of music.
What do you when you are surrounded by people who constantly surpass you in anything you do?
You’ve all encountered this situation before I’m sure… You spend days-weeks-months on a project or piece and suddenly, you find someone who’s done the exact same work in less than half the time at a far higher level than you do it (like the old musical saying goes :”whatever you play, you’ll always find an 8 year old Chinese kid on YouTube who can play it faster and better than you…”). When you compare yourself to others, you often feel the need to justify yourself, your work to the world.
You feel you have to explain why your work doesn’t live up to that impossible standard set by a few exceptional minds.
In Wilms case, the composer had always said, in regards to composition works, that these were just the fruit of a few precious free hours which remained after his long, exhausting days filled with other professional activities. This is of course a complete valid and understandable statement given his curriculum of activities but it got me thinking : why would he bother explaining this in the first place? It’s as if he were trying to justify why his creations are not a the “level” of the other grand maestros of his time. When in fact, his work was brilliant as well, filled with emotion, strength, power and his own personality!
Living at the time Wilms did and at any time for that matter, comparison is inevitable. Even during the concert, I found myself comparing Wilms symphony to other symphonies I knew from Mozart, Beethoven and wondering why their works had made it into History and Wilms’ didn’t… We tend to compare ourselves to the greats and set incredibly high and unreasonable standards for ourselves. I find myself constantly getting stuck in this paradigm, especially when starting something new, like writing a blog or composing music… “If I don’t get a thousand followers overnight or can’t write like Dickens, it is pointless to even start a blog”, “If I’m not able to write a requiem worthy of Mozart, I might as well quit now…”This way of thinking simply strangles and paralyzes us and our creative juices.
We only focus on the few “greats” who inspired millions, created masterpieces. And we figure those Mozarts out there are the only ones that matter. But we forget about the many other Wilms out there who inspired maybe just a “few” or created something just as meaningful.
In the end, it all comes down to inspiration and creation…
….Regardless of how a work is perceived, if it’s comparatively “better” or “worse” than another. Regardless how many millions or hundreds your work moves… The aim of creation is never to reach that level of genius and incredible mastery. It is about speaking your truth and staying true to yourself.
Recently, I shared one of the very few pieces I had composed when I was a teenager to one of my piano students… She got inspired by it and asked me if she could play it. This past weeks, I’ve received several encouragements regarding the blog as well. And I realized, instead of focusing on comparing myself and discouraging myself, I can focus on inspiring just one small person at a time.
Wilms inspired me as a composer and a person. I loved the fact that he was such a multitalented, generous personality. And I simply wanted to share his work with you!