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Documentary Review - In Search of Mozart - A Discussion of His Life (2006)

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The film “In Search of Mozart” was made in 2006 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth.  Through interviews with scholars and musicians, and readings of his letters by actors, the viewer obtains an intimate portrayal of a genius recognized for all time for his contributions to music world.  As the narrators tell their story, various orchestras and singers in the background perform a series of Mozart’s works which are noted on the screen simultaneously.  In this review, the pieces that are being played at that time are set in bold type.

                                    

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

                                           Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart - Painting by Croce                                                                                                                         Wikimedia                                        

The Concerto in A for Clarinet

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756, the seventh child of Leopold Mozart and his wife Maria.  Only two of their children survived to adulthood.  Leopold was a violinist composer and a kappelmeister, a functionary job which he despised.  There was no water or bathrooms inside the houses in Salzburg; water had to be brought from the mid-town.

Wolfgang never attended school.  His father taught him everything he knew, especially music.  The boy was exceptional, more so than his older sibling, Marianne.  He was five years old when he started composing.  His ability to play a musical instrument at that time was astounding because a person’s muscles are not fully functional until the age of 10 or 11.

Symphony in E Flat

Leopold and Maria took their children to palaces in eight countries where they performed in concerts.  In Brussels in 1763, the sister of the King of Prussia was in the audience.  Wolfgang was a jolly youngster but a bit of a scamp as well.

The family visited London when Wolfgang was eight years old.  They had to cross the English Channel.  To conform to the country’s dress, the Mozarts had to buy fancy English clothes.  They wanted to wear the clothes of the country they were visiting; it warded off thieves.  The cost of traveling with the family was staggering.  For Wolfgang, the real value of the trips was meeting his peers, one of which was George Handel.

Wolfgang had a Sketchbook in which he wrote down a musical idea as it came to him.  Even at eight years old, his genius was apparent, compared to other composers.  He had a knack for including other bars which took the composition out of the ordinary and made it a gem.  Other composers would only reach that stage when they were 60 or 70 years old.

                                         

Salzburg Street

                                                              Salzburg Street - Wikimedia

Concerto for trumpet in D

When Wolfgang was ten years old, they visited Amsterdam and Switzerland.  They were received by Kings and Queens.  They had an exciting life and were much changed after coming back to the small town of Salzburg.  Leopold and Wolfgang then traveled alone to Italy while Maria and her daughter remained in Salzburg.  They went to churches to hear the Masses; they went to the Opera.  Leopold wanted to find his son a position in Milan or Florence, but no one wanted to hire him because of his young age.  Eventually, three of his operas would be performed in Milan.

In 1773, the family was able to move into a fine new apartment in Salzburg.  It was much bigger than the poor tenement flat to which they were accustomed.  A new ruler had just been elected in Salzburg, and an Archbishop gave Wolfgang a position in the court orchestra.  Music in Salzburg was up-to-date since the Archbishops in the area had all studied in Rome.

                                      

Mozart as a Child
                                

                                                 The Child Mozart painted by Greuze                                                                                                                                  Wikimedia              

Quintet in A for clarinet and strings

Wolfgang was not a good employee.  He wrote very little music for the court.  His music was written for friends or for private concerts.  He was mature at this time, and lived faster than other people.  His music was not staid; it had a sense of energy.  It was very joyful, and yet very deep.  It indicated that he felt happiness very strongly.

Salzburg was stifling and without prospects.  He was an employee of the Archbishop.  All he could do was hope for the best.  Finally, the Archbishop allowed him to leave Salzburg.  His mother went with him.  They were away for two months and reached Mannheim.  It was there that he met Herr Weber’s daughter, Eloise, who was l6.  Wolfgang fell in love with her, but his father Leopold objected to his plans to take her to Italy and make her a prima donna. 

Symphony in A, No. 29

Greatness on the scale that Mozart reached is extremely rare.  He did not have Asperger’s Syndrome.  He was completely normal psychologically, not an isolated prodigy.  He was given to using toilet humor in his letters.  Mozart’s father and mother made such comments to each other.  In normal families, it is a substantial part of the discourse.  It was not symptomatic in Mozart of a depraved person.  It spoke of the closeness of the family.

Leopold encouraged Mozart and his mother to go to Paris where opportunities abounded.  He advised his son to make many calls and to cultivate new acquaintances.  Sadly, it was at this time, in 1778, that his mother died.  Some say that he was writing his Sonata in A Minor for keyboard at the time of her death.  It was the most dramatic piece he had ever written.

                                     

Musical Notes

                                                          Musical Notes - Wikimedia

Sonata in A Minor for keyboard

There began a breakdown in his relationship with his father, who was strident and bold, and insinuated that Mozart had caused his mother’s death.  Mozart asked Leopold not to write him such melancholy letters.  He needed to keep his spirits up.  He had written a concerto for flute for which he had not been paid.  He did not like the attitude of the French.  On his way back from Paris to Salzburg, he stopped off to visit the Weber family.  He had written a concert aria for Eloise.

In 1779, once back in Salzburg, Mozart was accepted by His Serene Highness as the court organist, an employee of the Cathedral, for which he was paid 450 gulden annually.  A short time later, he was commissioned by the Court of Munich to write the music for a new opera about the King of Crete.  He was in the depths of his own rebellion against his father when he wrote it, and the opera reflected that.

Sonata in C for keyboard

In 1781, he was ordered by the Archbishop of Salzburg to go to Vienna, where he was introduced as the Archbishop’s servant and treated badly.  His father had drummed into him that he was a genius and that his gift was from God.  The Archbishop stopped his salary and said he would have nothing more to do with Mozart, who answered “Nor I with you.”  Unfortunately, he made enemies because he was not able to be silent when he should have been silent.

                            

Costanze Mozart

                                                       Costanze Mozart - Wikimedia

Concerto in G for Violin

That year, the Webers came to Vienna and Mozart became involved with Eloise’s younger sister, Costanze.  He decided to stay in Vienna.  It was ironic, and probably not lost on Mozart, that he was asked at that time to write the music for an opera based on a play entitled “Belmont and Costanze” which became the opera “The Abduction from the Harem.”  It was a time of great happiness and joy for Mozart.

In 1782, at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna, Mozart married Costanze, against his father’s wishes.  Like most young couples, they looked for a flat, which was shabby but fine with them.  They partied there with their friends.  Only Costanze’s younger sister, Sophie, was at the wedding.

                              

Kaiser Joseph II

                                                             Kaiser Joseph II - Wikimedia

Piano Concerto in E Flat

Joseph II had come to the throne.  It was an open and tolerant social scene, which proved to be an economic advantage to Mozart.  An emerging middle class was willing to pay for his services.  He set up a series of subscription services where he could sell tickets to his students and to the aristocracy.  He appeared as a soloist.  He was raking it in, constantly giving concerts, and constantly writing music.  Those were the happiest years of Mozart’s life.

Mozart was essentially a performer.  When he was presenting himself to court, he was a performer.  As a creative artist, writing a piece of music, he was being a performer.  He wrote to astound and amaze his audience, and to keep them on the edge of their seats.

                                      

Mozart's Mass in C Minor

                                                 Mozart's Mass in C Minor - Wikimedia

Mass in C Minor

He visited his aristocratic students who paid hefty tuition to him.  He gambled in the afternoon, and played billiards in the evening.  He loved drinking punch and playing billiards.  He had a billiard table in his house.  Costanze was an ideal partner. They played billiards and cards together.  He wrote music for her. She had a decent soprano voice. He wrote the Mass in C minor for her in Vienna and Salzburg.

Mozart composed music that was specifically intended for publishers.  He was an urban man, very much at one with his own society, an urban composer who wrote for gatherings of fashionable people.

Symphony in D, No. 31

In 1784, Karl Thomas was born to Costanze and Mozart.  He would survive to adulthood.  They moved to larger quarters.  Mozart’s yearly income at that time was between 2000 and 6000 florins which is equivalent to 60,000 to 132,000 Euros.  He was very thin and pale with a mass of blond hair, of which he was very proud.  He was fussy about his dress, which consisted of silk and embroidered costumes.  He was an extremely hard worker who wrote an amazing amount of music.  He did not feel interrupted by his friends.  He would compose in the coffee house while he played billiards.

                                                    

Franz Joseph Haydn

                                                       Portrait of Franz Joseph Hayden                                                                                                                   by Thomas Hardy - Wikimedia

Quartet in C for Strings

Mozart regarded Franz Joseph Haydn as the only composer among his peers who was on his own level.  Hayden sent a note to Leopold which said “Your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by reputation.  He has taste, and what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.”

In 1786, Mozart was looking for a librettist for his opera “The Marriage of Figaro.”  He found the man he was looking for:  Lorenzo Da Ponte.  They were the perfect combination.

Quartet in B flat for strings

Mozart knew about the world of social deference when he was in the service of the Archbishop.  This gave the opera an authenticity; it came from his own experience.  Unlike his contemporaries, he could make characters with his music.  He felt that the height of his powers was focused firmly on how beautiful the soprano voice could be.  In such a young man, he was totally aware of the innermost feelings of a woman.  Everything was reflected in the voice, which is a reflection of the soul.  It is an acoustic artefact which can move us to the depths of our soul.

That same year, Costanze had another son, who died.  Mozart’s father, with whom he had not been reconciled, died also.  He was in a somber mood.

Sonata in C minor, No. 14

In 1787, collaborating once again with Lorenzo De Ponte, Mozart composed the opera “Don Giovanni,” a man who had 200 conquests of ladies, and could not resist their temptation.  Mozart acknowledged the human weakness in all of us, to have the capacity to hurt, to betray.

Despite his success in Prague, Mozart returned to Vienna, to secure a well-paid position at the court of Joseph II.  The salary was not good.  Austria was at war with Turkey.  Money was scarce.  Opportunities for artists were limited.  Costanze was ill a lot.  The difference in the income of nobles and of a man in the middle class, like Mozart, was huge.  He also loaned a lot of money, and was not a good manager of money.  He joined the Masons so that he could rely on them for support.  He was able to borrow money from them.

                                                           

Violin

                                                                         Violin                                                                                                                                              Wikimedia

Symphony in G minor, No. 40

In 1789, at Joseph II’s request, Mozart received a commission to write the music for a new opera, “Cosi Fan Tutti,” loosely translated as “Women are like that.”  It was the third and last opera in which he collaborated with Lorenzo Da Ponte.  Mozart’s successful run was cut short by Joseph II’s death, which did not solved his financial matters.

The year 1791 is usually presented as the year of Mozart’s decline in health and creativity.  It did go into a slide after “Don Giovanni.”  It was actually a fabulous year for Mozart.  He was happy, respected, and lucrative.  He held his court position, he loved his wife who was pregnant again.  Costanze gave birth to their sixth child, the second one to survive, Franz Xavier.

The Magic Flute

Mozart received a commission to write “The Magic Flute” in Vienna in 1791.  It was a moneymaking activity.  A stranger approached him and commissioned him to write a Requiem.  He was unaware that the nobleman wanted to pass it off as his own work.  He fell ill that year, and by December he was bedridden.  When Costanze’s sister Sophie came to visit, the Requiem was on his pillow.  His last movement was an attempt to express the drum passages in the Requiem.

Te Deum

Mozart was a pauper when he died.  His two sons, Karl Thomas and Franz Xavier, had lived to adulthood, but both were childless.  Costanze was able to publish Mozart’s works and to write his biography, which gave her financial security.  She  remarried, to a man who was a Danish diplomat.

It was such a thrill to listen to the music of Mozart in this film.  It was full of joy and energy and spirit.  He was a genius, unparalleled at this time.  I feel that I know the man intimately after watching this film.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography
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