Since the film Amadeus portrayed Mozart as the Bad Boy of classical music, his popularity has reached epic heights, and 20 years later, Lincoln Center is still naming a festival after him. The Mozart myth endures: the blessed child turned rebel, dead at 35, under mysterious circumstances. Was he assassinated and by whom? A jealous rival? The man who commissioned the Requiem and wanted to own it? Did Mozart poison himself with mercury to cure syphilis? Was he punished for making fun of the Masonic rituals in The Magic Flute? Besides early romanticism, what is it in his music that makes it so likeable?

Mozart’s music has an esthetic of grace and simplicity – simple, but not plain, a clarity that makes the listener just about guess what the next note is going to be, melodies that are as memorable as jingles. These same elements nowadays would almost guarantee rejection from orchestral committees, who seem to judge music on the basis of its level of complication. Mozart writes well in C major, and is not ashamed of it.

The festival this year has a clever international bent, focusing on where Mozart might have been (and funnily, where he wasn’t, like Russia and Australia), and the highlights include: Bach Cantatas staged by Peter Sellars, performed by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson; a performance of Rameau and Handel by the French early music star, harpsichordist & conductor Emmanuelle Haim; a Handel oratorio choreographed by Baroque aficionado Mark Morris, and several programs on period instruments.

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