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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Paging Doctor Mozart

Taking the Salzburg Brooklyn.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Will Dr. Mozart please report to the white courtesy harpsichord?
I own a ridiculous amount of Mozart.

People who read this blog may know of my obsessions with Mahler, Wagner, Bruckner and Richard Strauss, the heavyweight champions of the symphonic and German opera canons. But the fact is, I have more Mozart in my CD collection than any other composer.

Part of that might have to do with the easy and cheap availability of boxed sets of the symphonies, piano sonatas, concertos and operas. Or the fact that the Philips Complete Mozart Edition (which I own most of) takes up a long section of shelf on the third bookcase of my CD collection. But the ultimate reason is: musicians, singers and conductors all love to play Mozart.

A Mozart opera (Die Zauberflöte) was the first work put to reel by Herbert von Karajan and the Vienna Philharmonic in an impromptu recording studio in the middle of a burned-out post-war Vienna. This recording launched Karajan and marked the rise of producer Walter Legge as a key figure in music in the second half of the 20th century. Today, the major and minor labels still release new Mozart monthly, sometimes in a bewildering flood of musical ideas that leaves us critical types running to catch up.

Since those early Karajan efforts, most of the major conductors of the 20th century have had a crack at recording at least one Mozart opera, and many of them have released "big four" cycles of the three Da Ponte operas (Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosí fan tutte) plus Die Zauberflöte.  In the course of a given year writing this blog, I might see one of those operas as many as three or four times.

Beyond the great (and lesser) operas, I still spend time exploring the vastness that is Mozart's output from the familiar late concertos to Die Zauberflöte to the lesser-known, but fully formed pieces written before this astonishing musician reached the age of 16. I've even dipped toes into the deep still lakes of Masonic funeral music and joke works like the canon Leck mich im arsch, (K. 231)

His music is not all sweetness and light. It is at times dramatic, angry, and deadly serious. Yet even the most angst-ridden passages of a Mozart work are constructed with an architectural perfection that makes one's jaw drop with wonder. The choice of a clarinet or basset horn for a particular phrase, a combined run of flute and piano, or the hymn-like March of the Priests from Flute: all of these have awesome power to warm the heart and elevate the soul on the blackest of days.

Historically speaking, Mozart stands Janus-like at the transition between the so-called "classical" period and the "romantic" era that followed. He absorbed and transmuted much of the tradition that came before him, with an alchemist's command of melody: that philosopher's stone that transforms base notes into healing balms and medicinal piano cadenzas.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats