Celebrating Mozart's Birthday
Arts All Around
By Barbara-lyn Morris | October 01, 2006Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born January 27, 1756. Consequently, in 2006, Mozart-mania has characterized musical programs around the world. In celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday, symphony orchestras, opera companies, and chamber music groups are focusing not only on Mozart classics, but also his less familiar gems.
It was one of the latter that I chose to hear at the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival: Oboe Quartet in F Major, K.370 (1781). Program notes explain that the 24-year-old Mozart was in the vibrant city of Munich to get a break from Salzburg, his "hinterlands" hometown, and to compose an opera for the upcoming Munich carnival. As was typical of Mozart, he stopped his assigned task to deal with some serendipitous circumstance, this time to compose for famed oboist Friedrich Ramm, an earlier acquaintance known to have extraordinary technical skills. The result was a score with unusual structure, flashy passages, and challenging high notes.
I cannot begin to imagine that Ramm's playing would have had more lightness or delicacy, much less more success in reaching the high notes, than that of young (26 years) oboist Liang Wang. The Principal Oboist with the Cincinnati Symphony, Wang is close enough to our area for me to imagine him as a guest performer with our own Symphony of the Mountains.
No sojourn in Santa Fe is complete without an evening at The Santa Fe Opera (TSFO). Celebrating 50 years of musicmaking this year in a stunning outdoor setting with incredible sunsets, occasional thunderstorms, and star-filled evenings, TSFO offered Mozart's German opera Die Zauberfl?te (The Magic Flute).
The Magic Flute lured me primarily because it is the only opera I can imagine that my late father would have found appealing, not for the music nor the fairy tale love story but for the Masonic beliefs and rituals permeating the opera. Mozart and the librettist Emanuel Schikaneder were both members of the secret society Order of Freemasons and composed this work in great part "to present an allegorical justification and clarification of the whole movement of Freemasonry, depicted in all its recognizable symbols as a force for good, overcoming those of evil." (Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music by British conductor Jane Glover) They employed the tradition of German folk art, using spoken dialogue instead of recitative or sung dialogue. TSFO offered the dialogue in English with the rest in German. I ached for an evening with my father, who as a 50-plus-year Mason picked up on the Masonic references and plot line more readily than the uninitiated.
Who was Mozart? A child prodigy, he showed signs of unusual affinity for music at age three; played the harp at four; and started composing at five. From the critically acclaimed and immensely popular 1981 movie Amadeus, we know of his passion for puns and practical jokes, his sense of ribald humor, and his childlike behavior throughout his 35 years. Amadeus does a fair job of telling the story of his relationship with his controlling father, Leopold, and his steadily frustrating search for reliable work; however, the stuff of the relationship with rival Antonio Salieri is mostly myth.
Mozart was prolific. He is credited with more than 600 works that include at least 16 full operas, about 40 symphonies of varying length, and some 30 concerti mostly for piano but also for violin. Add at least 25 quartets, 19 masses primarily for the Cathedral of Salzburg, and several pieces for Masonic meetings to the list.
To commemorate Mozart's big 250th, I read Glover's new biography, Mozart's Women (HarperCollins, 2005). Through her easy prose and careful documentation, Glover offers a fresh view of Mozart's life and work by focusing on the women who shaped his life and ignited his imagination. She also writes about the amazing female roles Mozart created, portraying him as being far ahead of his time in presenting the complexity and emotional depth of women. Glover paints a portrait of Mozart with many more dimensions than that of the son of a domineering, demanding father. She gives considerable attention to the other parent, Maria Anna, who traveled with the father-son-daughter trio in the earliest prodigy years. Eventually, mother and daughter were forced to stay at home primarily to save on expenses. However, circumstances were such that at age 21 Mozart toured only with his mother to Munich and Paris, where tragically his 58-yearold mother died. Sadly, she was buried in Paris, so far from home.
Mozart's relationship with his older and very talented sister, also named Maria Anna but called Nannerl, is well documented, primarily from their adolescent correspondence when Mozart was away on tour. Glover gives a full portrayal of that filial love but adds the later impact of Nannerl's married life far away from her family. To complete the story, Glover follows the sister's life for more than 40 years beyond Mozart's death and acknowledges the invaluable resource she was to the first Mozart biographers.
Glover devoted nearly a quarter of her biography to what she calls "Mozart's Other Family," the Weber family of Mannheim. One of the four talented Weber sisters (all singers) was Mozart's first real love, unfortunately unrequited. At age 26, Mozart married another Weber sister, Constanze. With her, he struggled to establish a viable life and family (two sons lived to adulthood) throughout the last chaotic but incredibly productive decade of his short life.
For me the most fascinating part of Glover's biography is the account of the tireless efforts of Mozart's surviving women (wife, sister, sisters-in- law, and female artists who loved the roles he had created for them) and his stepfather to establish his greatness and elevate his reputation.
It is difficult for us to recognize how quickly the novelty of the child prodigy wore thin and how little the prolific adult Mozart was appreciated as an artist in his own time. Destitute, ill, and frustrated as he worked to complete Requiem (Mass for the Dead), Mozart died in Vienna December 5, 1791. Neither Vienna, the music capital of Europe, nor his hometown Salzburg held memorial services. Prague was the only city to offer a mass December 14.