Mozart’s consummate craftsmanship, his inventiveness and prolific flow of melody have made him a favourite of practising musicians throughout the years. He was a phenomenon, a boy genius, adored by the public and although dying poor (though perhaps not as poor as the ‘buried as a pauper’ myth would suggest) was honoured as a supremely gifted composer in his day and ever since.
I once attended a concert given by the Philharmonia Orchestra of London and conducted by Ricardo Muti. I had gone to hear a Bruckner Symphony, which was preceded by Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto, played in one of their many performances by James Galway and the Spanish harpist Marisa Robles. It’s a delicate and perfectly balanced work and I enjoyed it. The couple sitting next to me were wildly excited and looked to me to join in their loud applause. ’Wasn’t it wonderful’ they said. ‘Very pretty’, I replied. They were horrified at my mild perhaps deflationary comment. I don’t know whether it was me or Bruckner that made them leave their seats, never to return.
So, I declare my heresy as one alone!
Twenty years on I have become more humble in my opinion of Mozart’s music, recognising its perfect structure and prodigality of tunes that sing even when there is no voice to give them utterance. I love his later symphonies and piano concertos, and of those I know my favourite is No. 17 in G Major,K453. The second movement is of ethereal beauty, as near to perfection as anyone can reach.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg in 1756 and was already composing at the age of five. Capitalising on his gifts and those of his daughter Maria Anna, their father Leopold presented his children’s talents in various European courts, including two weeks at Louis XV’s court at Versailles and a royal reception in London from George 111 when Wolfgang was still only eight years old.
These tours were typical of his earlier years and emphasise as we have already seen, the cultural unity of Europe in the eighteenth century. His mature years were marked by constant financial troubles but also a stream of compositions in which he took every known contemporary form of music and gave it new depth and significance, especially in the field of opera. Haydn declared he was the greatest composer he knew.
The circumstances of Mozart’s death and the unseemly way in which one of Vienna’s greatest citizens was hastily buried has been the source of much fascination and Peter Schaffer’s scurrilous play ‘Amadeus’ where murder lurks, is only one of many unproven scenarios. What is in no doubt is the brilliance of Mozart’s legacy to the musical world. Idolised by Tchaikovsky, one critic has said of Mozart : he ‘is music’.