All  Mozart,  All  the  Time

By Bruce Duffie

January 27 is a special day for musicians and music-lovers... assuming those are two different categories or classifications, but let's table that discussion for another issue, shall we?  On to the topic at hand: Mozart!

Wolfgang, of course.  "Wolfy" to his beloved wife - at least in the famous play and movie about his life.  One of the greatest pillars of musical history who towers over just about everybody else of any era.  Boris Goldovsky, the famous operatic coach and lecturer once said that Mozart was divine, and that he (Goldovsky) hated Wagner - because Wagner made him forget Mozart!  [See my Interview with Boris Goldovsky.]

Who among us doesn't enjoy this music?  His scores appear on concert series and in opera houses around the world every year.  He is known to the devoted afficionado and the casual listener.  Even the Average Joe is aware that Mozart was a great composer and not a painter or scientist... or some kind of wine or cheese.  His music has endured all these years through fire, flood, war, pestilence, and even being subjected to having a rock beat slipped in behind the melody!

Coming back to his works is a joy for most performers.  Their repertoires include selections and even entire sets of his output for their instrument.  When asked about the secret of doing Mozart, singers reply that, "it must be sung cleanly," and, "it refreshes the voice to sing his music."  He was a master of everything involving the communication of musical gesture.  It's difficult to think of any other composer who has so many first-rate items in all categories.

Several cities are always Mozart-crazed.  Salzburg, of course.  Vienna.  Prague.  Places where the lad worked and played, and has been performed ever since.  And it's probably right that we think of this genius as a lad.  He almost made it to 36 before going to (perhaps) a better place.  We don't know what his later maturity would have brought us.  The portraits we see are the images of a young man.  JFK is the same - he was taken at 46 and we didn't get to see him age.  There are no pictures of him as an old man.  Christ, also, is only portrayed as a young man, for he died at about 33.  Very different and diverse characters, and perhaps never before brought together in a single thought.

So what do we do to celebrate this unique musician?  WFMT is doing as it always has - playing his music exclusively.  Symphonies, concerti, opera excerpts, solo instrumental works.  Even a few of the bawdy songs will probably be thrown in.  All Mozart, All the Time - at least for the available hours on Saturday.

This brings up the question of single-composer events.  How many creators can stand up to the rigors of being the only attraction on the bill?  Granted, an operatic performance is generally a single-composer evening, but symphonic or chamber concerts?  The rule of thumb is for a balance of eras and styles.  On a piano recital, that rule should also include the other thumb and the eight remaining fingers!  So what's the plan?  An older work, a romantic novelty, a new item and a big masterpiece.  That's the formula, the convention, the expected, the norm.  And when a performer dares to break those constraints, the reason had better well be a really good one - and it had better deliver!  The public doesn't give those poor devils who pound and saw and blow much leeway in their tolerance.  "Give us what we know and like," they cry, and excellence is expected... or that performer won't be asked to return very often.

Which brings us back to the broken-mold idea of a single composer event, and this month's Mozart bash.  A full symphonic concert of Mozart's works is not particularly uncommon.  The Chicago Symphony has done that several times, as recently as earlier this month.  There are a few other names who can get away with it...  Beethoven, of course.  Schubert, occasionally.  You could think of a  few more, but those would probably be argued by just-as-knowledgeable friends and colleagues.  It's a very tricky and dangerous proposition, a minefield that tempts traversal and leaves the successful participant triumphant... but the plain is littered with many a failed aspirant.

Mozart?  No problem.  No question.  Hardly a nay-sayer in the bunch, and those who dare decry are beaten back by the faithful throng.  Why, our pal Amadeus could even support a full day every month!  Perhaps even...  dare we think of it?...  every WEEK?????  All Mozart, All the Time.

As radio and television become more compartmentalized, we are finding each station doing its own specific thing.  Cable TV offers channels which do only weather, or sports, or news, or comedy, or movies...  even "Fine Arts."  Radio pioneered that route even earlier.  Just a few stations still offer a variety, but most now do just their specialty, be it talk, religion, oldies, elevator-music, or any of several sub-species of rock.  And yes, there are even "Classical Music" beacons, of which fewer and fewer survive each day.  There's a joke in radio circles:  The term "Broadcasting" is a misnomer... it should be called "Narrow-casting!"

There was (still is?) an all-Elvis radio station.  But he's the King, right?  I guess Mozart will have to settle for being 'just' divine.

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CityTalk Magazine, January 26, 2001

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