Tue, Jan 03, 2006 - Page 9 News List

Mozart was mortal after all

By Alice O'Keeffe  /  THE OBSERVER , LONDON

It was Albert Einstein who said that "as an artist, or a musician, Mozart was not a man of this world." Certainly the composer's extraordinary talents have never been in doubt: he could master a minuet and trio on the piano in half an hour when he was just four years old, and he wrote his first opera at the age of 12.

Now, as the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth approaches this month, one filmmaker is setting out to prove that such astounding achievements were a product more of hard graft than genius, as has often been assumed.

"I was intrigued by this term `genius,' because as far as I can see it is completely useless," said Phil Grabsky, director of a new feature-length documentary, In Search of Mozart, which premieres tomorrow at the Barbican Arts Center in the City of London before being screened on Britain's Channel Five television later this month.

"What the characters we sometimes call geniuses have in common is drive and determination, often good parenting, and the fact that they are products of the social conditions of their time," he said. "All of this was true for Mozart. His talent wasn't simply a gift from God, it was the result of tremendously hard work."

The film traces the composer's life and includes interviews with leading scholars and performers, including Magdelena Kozena and Renee Fleming. It is the first of the major commemorations surrounding this year's Mozart anniversary,

Nicholas Kenyon, the author of A Pocket Guide to Mozart, agrees that the composer's reputation as a genius was created only after his death.

"This myth tells us a lot about the difference between the Classical and Romantic ages," he said. "Mozart saw himself as a practical worker. The Romantic composers who succeeded him perpetuated this idea that he composed thoughtlessly, when all the evidence is that he wrote and rewrote his work."

Grabsky's film will reignite the debate over the composer's legacy initiated by Milos Forman's Oscar-winning 1984 feature film Amadeus.

"I think many people have the misleading impression, principally from that very brilliant film, that Mozart was a bawdy, undisciplined philanderer who occasionally had flashes of genius," Grabsky said.

"In fact, he was going to concerts every night, meeting musicians, listening to other people's work, writing and rewriting his own. He was very practical about his work, and entrepreneurial. Of course Amadeus was a creative reworking of Mozart's story. But it had a lasting effect on people," he said.

According to Charles Hazlewood, presenter of the BBC's 2004 series The Genius of Mozart, the movie Amadeus put Mozart back at the top of the musical pantheon alongside Beethoven.

"Before the film was made an awful lot of people saw his music as charming and naive chocolate-box music, whereas in fact it's music with the most extreme depth," he said. "Of course Mozart's achievements were the combination of extraordinary natural gifts and dedication to his craft."

In addition to the academic debate, the anniversary year will be celebrated with a raft of cultural events celebrating the legacy of the great composer. Many will take place in his birth city of Salzburg (renamed "Schmalzburg" by the cynics), where the summer festival will include performances of all 22 of Mozart's operas. The Salzburg Museum will host an exhibition, "Viva Mozart!", and the former Kleines Festspielhaus is being transformed into a new opera house, "Haus fur Mozart."

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