10 Aug 2017

Mozart was no one-hit wonder

GUY NOBLE

Mozart used to irritate me. His music seemed too perfect and dainty, like a patisserie full of sugary Viennese pastries.

But then I read some of his letters and discovered that beneath the symmetry and beauty was a raunchy man, more politically-incorrect than Pauline Hanson, wildly clever and much more savoury than I had thought.

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra is performing three different themed concerts of Mozart in 2018 – Dramatic, Seductive and Magnificent Mozart, and I think there should be a fourth – Filthy Mozart. In his letters there are a surprising number of hilarious references to bottoms, farting and other bodily functions. Someone said once that if Mozart was alive today he would probably have a YouTube channel playing sonatas with his armpits. He wasn’t prissy, he was a brilliant fast-talking, quick-witted genius who could write music while playing billiards and abusing the idiot aristocracy behind their backs.

If you find yourself thinking that Mozart is a bit twee, sample some of the moods that he creates in his music. Have a listen to the dramatic opening of the Overture to Don Giovanni. The music tells us that when you treat people with contempt and feel yourself above the law you usually get a one-way ticket to Hell. Try listening to some of the Piano Concerto No.19 (with the amazing Emanuel Ax) which has all the sparkle of being picked up in a limo and driven to a three-hatted restaurant while drinking French champagne. For sheer exuberance have a listen to the overture to The Marriage of Figaro, a musical version of the comedian Jim Carrey: fast, furious and funny, but without the extreme grimacing.

Mozart wasn’t some one-hit wonder like Wheatus, he had hit after hit. He wrote so much stuff in his brief 35 years and most of it is pretty good if not brilliant, and he did it all without computer music software, mostly in his head and writing out every single note by hand.  Imagine what he could have achieved with a laptop and a MIDI keyboard. He wrote his last big three symphonies in six weeks. I couldn’t even WRITE OUT three symphonies in six weeks, let alone compose them as well. In some ways Mozart is sickeningly talented, a real freak of nature, and we haven’t seen anyone quite like him since. And his music sounds amazingly good.

To make your own mind up about Mozart hear American pianist Emanuel Ax perform six of the great Mozart concertos with the SSO in 2018. Book a pre-designed concert package or create your own series.

Guy Noble is a Sydney-based conductor and media personality.

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