It's been said that there are two kinds of music listeners, those who "get" Mozart and those who don't. This writer would add a third category (which includes himself): those who were indifferent to Mozart's music during their flaming youth, but now can't get enough of it. Listeners in all three categories will find something to appreciate in the New York Philharmonic's three-week celebration of Mozart's 250th birthday, The Magic of Mozart Festival, with three all-Mozart programs in January and February.
Symphonies, concertos, and sacred choral works will beheard, and even this intensive treatment gives only a glimpse of Mozart's vast musical imagination. However, the concluding program offers a rare opportunity to hear Mozart's final symphonic trilogy‹the Symphonies Nos. 39, 40, and 41, the last known as the Jupiter Symphony‹performed in a single evening. "The three symphonies, one after the other," says Philharmonic Music Director Lorin Maazel, "are a statement that probably cannot be equaled by any other composer."
In addition to the festival concerts, Mozart's special place in musical history will be explored in two Insights Series talks (see page 17): the first, the Annual Erich Leinsdorf Lecture, given this year on January 24 by Mozart expert Neal Zaslaw, and the second by Charles Zachary Bornstein, the Leonard Bernstein Scholar-in-Residence at the New York Philharmonic. Also, for neophytes, or anyone who wants to gain greater insight into Mozart and hear a concert, musicologist and wit Peter Schickele will be the host and commentator on February 1, for the second concert in the Philharmonic's new Inside the Music series.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in the small Austrian hill town of Salzburg on January 27, 1756. As a child prodigy, he traveled the world with his family, performing in the capital cities and courts of Europe. Later, at the urging of his father, Leopold, he revisited many of those places as a young adult, hoping to associate with famous musicians and land a prestigious job. In the end, the young composer did something much more modern: he moved, on his own initiative, to the big city (Vienna, in this case), took a few pupils, gave a few concerts, and tried his luck as an independent artist.
It worked. The musical art that Mozart had begun to learn as a little boy and had developed as an ambitious and curious adolescent, now began to pay off. Performances of his concertos, most of them featuring himself as the piano soloist, were among the hottest tickets in Vienna in the mid-1780s. (Pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane will offer Philharmonic audiences a taste of what that was like on the second program of this Philharmonic Festival.) Mozart's operas were hits, the talk of the town from Vienna to Prague to Paris.
Mozart, who was by then a married man with children, spent too much money and was always hard up, but that wasn't for any lack of success or public esteem. He was among Europe's most admired composers when he became ill and died on December 5, 1791, at the age of 35. At that time he was working on the Requiem, which bears the number "K.626" in Ludwig von Köchel's catalogue of the composer's works.
Mozart's astonishing productivity recently caused Lorin Maazel to reflect: "Most people think that they know Mozart, that they know the music of Mozart. But it is a gigantic amount of music. All of us professional musicians are constantly astonished to stumble, as it were, on yet another work of Mozart that we haven't heard and that we realize we should have heard, because almost everything he wrote had that touch of genius."
So it is that, in addition to the familiar works of Mozart's glorious noonday in Vienna, there are some other treasures‹such as the Coronation Mass in C major, K.317, composed for Salzburg in 1779‹that are having their New York Philharmonic debuts during this festival and on other programs throughout this anniversary season.
Philharmonic debuts? In 2005? The Mozart repertoire played by symphony orchestras was limited during the 19th century by the public's tunnel vision, which recognized only a half dozen Mozart "masterpieces." It was not until another century had passed that specialized orchestras, devoted solely to the repertoire of Mozart's time, began to discover his neglected works. The more "general" symphony orchestras, with a plethora of 19th-century works to perform, avoided competing with such Classically sized ensembles, and tended to back away from this music . . . until they discovered it for themselves.
So what's happening this birthday year? Well, the New York Philharmonic will play a lot of Mozart's music, both during this three-week festival and on other programs over the course of the 2005-06 season, because everybody has a right to feel, like Maestro Maazel, "constantly astonished" at the riches in it.
David Wright is a former Program Annotator of the New York Philharmonic.