Look Honey, Mozartkugeln!
Hmm, they are not blue and round like the Mozartkugeln we had in Salzburg… With early season cherries…
We can only get the Fürst Mozartkugeln in Salzburg. Paul Fürst, the Salzburg confectioner, created Salzburger Mozartkugel in 1890. It’s said he was awarded a gold medal for his product, which had already become famous, at the Paris Exhibition of 1905. These are the Reber Mozart-Kugeln, which have a flat side, like all the other industrially produced Mozartkugeln. Only the Mirabell Mozartkugeln are allowed to be round, like the Fürst Mozartkugeln, because they are made in Grödig, near Salzburg. Even the EC Commissioner had to get involved in the dispute on the Original Austria Mozartkugeln! Only Fürst’s products may be called Original Salzburg Mozartkugeln.
In Salzburg, we visited the Mirabell Palace and Gardens, where some of the scenes in The Sound of Music were filmed. Earlier this year, The Sound of Music celebrated its 50th birthday. It was thanks to this Hollywood movie that Salzburg City, home to so many of the most famous shooting locations, became truly world-famous.
Maria and the children sing ‘Do-Re-Mi’ while dancing around the fountain and using the steps as a musical scale.
Maria’s hat in the Sound of Music was a bit plain…
But check out the cherries on Mary Poppins’ hat!
The Mirabell palace was commissioned in 1606 by Prince Archbishop Wolf Dietrich von Raitenau for his mistress Salome Alt. He called the palace Altenau, and had it built outside the city walls. Altenau Palace was intended to be a fitting residence for Salome and their children and Wolf Dietrich hoped it would go some way to making up for the fact that they were excluded from many social events because he was a cleric and could not marry his beloved Salome, and their children were treated as illegitimate.
The Marble Hall and the Grand Staircase have been left unscathed by the fire that swept through the city in 1818 and destroyed much of the palace. The Marble Hall, once the ceremonial hall of the prince archbishops, is now one of the most beautiful wedding halls in the world. Leopold Mozart, and his children Wolfgang and Nannerl, performed here, although they would have played to accompany festive dinners rather than weddings. The Marble Hall is also an imposing venue for conferences, ceremonies, and atmospheric concerts such as the Salzburg Palace Concerts. We were lucky enough to attend a Mozart and Haydn concert in the Marble Hall. The gilded stucco work and the splendid marble make the hall one of the most beautiful halls in the world.
The masterly staircase by Lukas von Hildebrandt is among the palace’s greatest artistic treasures. Charming cherubs decorate the marble balustrade and the whole staircase has a playful charm. The sculptures in the niches are the work of the famous Georg Raphael Donner and among the finest products of the European baroque.
We went to Salzburg looking for the sound of Mozart. After all, the delicious pistachio marzipan and nougat covered dark chocolates are called Mozartkugeln not The Sound of Music Kugeln!
For Mozart, music just wasn’t difficult. He learned to understand music as he learned to understand speech. Music was part of him and he needed it like we need food. He started playing little pieces on the piano at the age of four, he started to compose at the age of five and shortly after that he became a brilliant organist, an excellent violinist and an able singer. At the age of 12 he composed his first opera and was by then already a fine conductor.
Mozart was obviously such a genius that Papa Leopold (a violinist, composer and music teacher) decided that what the world really needed was to hear Wolfgang along with his pianist / harpsichordist sister Maria Anna (known as Nannerl) play. So waving farewell to their native Salzburg, the Mozart family embarked upon a series of tours to the great cities of Europe. This is great for us, as Leopold started to write long letters to his friends back in Salzburg, boasting of Wolfgang and Nannerl’s triumphs. These letters, and later ones between the family, give us a huge amount of information about Mozart’s life – all of which is today studied, analysed, dissected, held upside-down and read back-to-front by “Mozart scholars” the world over.
Mozart toured, or rather was toured, relentlessly. This must have been hard on him as it would be on any youngster, but it gave him an invaluable insight into all manner of different composers and their musical styles. The combination of his unique talent and what Papa Leopold did to it, produced one of the greatest musical minds ever to have graced the planet.
One of the benefits of this incessant touring is that Mozart touched, at first hand, all manner of musical threads and wove them into his own one-off tapestry. His youthful works show him assimilating, copying and mimicking the music and techniques he came across on tour. Gradually, these became absorbed and he began to produce his own statements, works that could only be “fingerprint” Mozart pieces.
The great artistic heroes often make sacrifices during their pursuit of excellence and in Mozart’s case, his success came with its own set of strings attached.
The concerts were great and the audiences just worshipped him but Mozart was not having a normal childhood and his health suffered from all the travelling. Being away from other children and almost always on his own, save for Nannerl, must have taken its toll on the young boy. He would wake up in the night, crying for Salzburg and the people he knew. He would frequently ask people he had only recently met if they loved him. He appeared to have a number of issues when it came to loving and being loved. These traits of high self-esteem, or even arrogance, coupled with bouts of self-doubt and intense need to be loved are common among many high-achieving artistic performers.
At the age of 25, Mozart finally exchanged the small-minded gossip of Salzburg for the small-minded gossip of Vienna, but at least in Vienna there were lots more people to gossip with. Mozart didn’t take too long to become famous in Vienna, giving masses of concerts, in which he played his own piano music with joyous brilliance and conducted his stunning orchestral works; he also wrote more operas and chamber music and was acknowledged by many as the greatest musician alive.
Although he was earning a lot, at least at one stage, Mozart could never save money. He gave too many parties, bought too many flashy and expensive clothes. He simply lived beyond his means. All the work and the worry about money were taking their toll on Mozart’s health. What he really wanted (and needed) was a major post at the Emperor’s court in Vienna, but he couldn’t get one, partly it seems because of the behind-the-scenes plotting of Salieri who had a finely paid appointment at the court and didn’t want it threatened. Finally though, Mozart’s career took a turn for the better. In 1791, the year of his death, he was commissioned to write two operas. One was the Magic Flute, written for a people’s theatre in Vienna, where the tickets were actually affordable; it was an instant hit. The other was called La Clemenza di Tito, composed for the Czech capital, Prague, where Mozart’s music was adored. He practically wrote the whole opera in 18 days.
Mozart died at the young age of 35, a pretty horrible death. He had a miserable funeral and his body was laid in a common grave outside Vienna, his remains lost to us forever. He deserved better in death, just as he had deserved better in life. Imagine what he might have composed if he had lived another 35 years!
The real miracle about Mozart was that his music became greater and greater as he got older. Someone once asked Mozart how he managed to write such perfect music. “I don’t know any other way to compose” was the answer. But although every note he wrote was beautiful, he could express within that beauty any number of emotions or moods, including tragic or even terrifying ones. His music was everything.
Mozart wrote 27 piano concertos, mostly for his own concerts. One of the reasons for this was that Vienna was piano country. This is what Mozart wrote to his father in 1781, noting that in the salons of Vienna, the piano was king. In all the 25 years of his life prior to the move to Vienna, he had composed a respectable 10 piano concertos, but in the next 10 years, up to his death in 1791, he would compose a further 17.
Mozart’s piano concertos, more than any other type of work he wrote, highlight his development as a composer. They are often said to form the backbone of his output: he wrote his first when he was 17 and continued composing new one right up to the year he died. Generally, his piano concertos were written for him to perform himself and the early ones, while displaying flashes of genius, reveal someone very keen to show off his keyboard skills. By the time we reach the later concertos, Mozart’s musical thinking is on a whole new level.
Listening to them, especially the later ones, you can feel what an amazing player he must have been – and how much he must have enjoyed dazzling people with his brilliance. If he felt that someone was really appreciating him, he’d be happy to play for them for hours. But you also hear how unbearably sad he must have been at times and it’s often that feeling that stays with you the longest. Like Piano Concerto no 23. The three movements are completely different from each other, yet somehow make up one satisfying story. The first movement is so elegant, it’s as if we have been transported to a perfect world; in the third it seems as though we can hear people laughing and dancing. It’s the second movement though, the slow movement, that is the heart of the work; it is so sad that we feel we’re looking into a river with no end to its depths. Its beauty is truly magical. His last public performance was of his Piano Concerto no 27.
In Mozart’s piano concertos there are passages where the hand stumbles, even after patient rehearsal. It is not a matter of their being badly written for the piano, because they aren’t. Indeed the composer himself was a virtuoso performer, who played all these works and adjusted anything which he found awkward. There seems to be something challenging about Mozart which demands constant alertness, even years after learning the music. Performing his music one feels both very happy and very exposed. There is nowhere to hide, because he is one of those rare composers who writes no more than he means to say.
Mozart’s symphonies 39, 40 and 41 were all written in less than two months, which is an outstanding achievement. The last symphony, Jupiter, is a feast of golden brilliance. The music has an imperial feeling to it – just as you would expect the king of the gods to sound. Symphony no 40 has a sadness about it, but despite that feeling of melancholy, it has steadfastly remained the most popular of all his symphonies.
The Requiem is totally glorious and tragic. It is one of the greatest requiems ever written. Mozart didn’t manage to finish this piece. In fact, it was still being rehearsed by his bedside the night before he died. It was as if the great man were writing his own tribute to himself.
Mozart’s pianist / composer son, Franz Xaver Wolfgang, who was only five months old when his father died, was very talented – but the shadow of his great father loomed so large in his life that he never really dared to make the most of his talents; he was always worried about letting down the family name. It’s sad that so many people connected with Mozart suffered from being close to him – perhaps they got burned because they got too close to the sun! We’re luckier; today we can just bask in his glorious rays. And three cities – Salzburg, which he tried to ignore, Vienna, which tried to ignore him and Prague, the one place where he was truly appreciated in his own lifetime – all make a fortune today from the tourists who flock to any historic building associated with Mozart.
On January 27, 2006, the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, all 35 churches of Salzburg rang their bells a little after 8pm (local time) to celebrate the occasion. Major celebrations took place throughout the year. Apparently not all the exhibitions and celebrations were successful and Salzburg made a mess of a few of them. Oh well, the proverbial happens. In another 250 years it will all be forgotten. It might take longer however to forget the ridiculous rivalry between Vienna and Salzburg. In Vienna there were signs proclaiming “Don’t go to Salzburg – Mozart hated Salzburg!” while in Salzburg there were signs proclaiming “Don’t go to Vienna, they killed him!”
You’ll get a double dose of Mozart in Salzburg, the Mozart Birthplace and the Mozart Residence. The house where Mozart was born is also where he composed most of his boy-genius works. Today it’s the most popular Mozart sight in town. You can peruse three floors of rooms with exhibits displaying paintings, letters, personal items, and lots of facsimiles, all attempting to bring life to the Mozart story.
The Mozart Residence, the home where his family moved when he was 17, is less interesting than the house where he was born, but it’s also roomier, less crowded, and holds a piano that Mozart actually owned. It also comes with an informative audioguide and a 30-minute narrated slideshow.
Mozart’s family is buried in a small church graveyard in the old town at St Sebastian’s Church.
Nannerl, his sister, is not buried with the family, as Constanze is. She asked to be buried at St Peter’s, the thought of spending eternity with Constanze (Mozart’s wife) being too much for her.
We know where Mozart’s coffin was last seen, there is a plaque at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna marking the place, but it is presumed buried in a mass grave. For the 2006 celebrations, scientists tried to identify Mozart’s bones using DNA analysis, but were not successful.
While in Salzburg, we went to a performance of the opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, or The Abduction from the Seraglio, as we know it. Mozart completed the opera in 1782 and it premiered on 16 July 1782, at the Burgtheater in Vienna, to enormous acclaim. By then, a hundred years after the Turks ceased to be a clear and present danger to the Austrian Empire, the Turkish motif had become extremely fashionable, and the opera was inspired by a contemporary interest in the perceived “exotic” culture of the Ottoman Empire. The work was soon being performed “throughout German-speaking Europe”, and fully established Mozart’s reputation as a composer.
The music includes some of the composer’s most spectacular and difficult arias. Osmin’s Act III aria “O, wie will ich triumphieren” includes characteristic 18th century coloratura passage work, and twice goes down to a low D, one of the lowest notes demanded of any voice in opera. Perhaps the most famous aria in the opera is the long and elaborate “Martern aller Arten” (“Tortures of all kinds”) for Konstanze, an outstanding challenge for sopranos, as it requires the ability for a natural E. Konstanze sings in a kind of sinfonia concertante with four solo players from the orchestra; the strikingly long orchestral introduction (64 bars), to give the soprano time to recover from the previous aria, without stage action, also poses problems for stage directors.
The virtuosity of these roles is perhaps attributable to the fact that when he took up the task of composing the opera, Mozart already knew the outstanding reputations of the singers for whom he was writing, and he tailored the arias to their strengths, as was the custom in the 18th century. The first Osmin was Ludwig Fisher, a bass noted for his wide range and skill in leaping over large intervals with ease. Similarly, Mozart wrote of the first Konstanze, Caterina Cavalieri, “I have sacrificed Konstanze’s aria a little to the flexible throat of Mlle. Cavalieri”, to give her the opportunity to display her vocal virtuosity.
Fischer could sing from a low D to a high A, and he controlled this extraordinary range with unusual lightness, purity, and precision. It was said of his voice that it displayed “the depth of a cello and the natural height of a tenor.” Cavalieri made her debut in 1775 and was one of the finest singers of her day, especially in German opera. She was renowned for her fioratura abilities. Mozart wrote memorable music for her. Apart the role of Constanze in The Abduction from the Seraglio, she also sang Donna Elvira in the premiére of Don Giovanni in 1788.
The opera is a Singspiel, which is a bit like a mocha, neither one thing nor the other 🙂 a play with music – everyone stops for a song, then carries on. Some characters don’t sing at all. The work is light-hearted and frequently comic with little deep character exploration or the darker feelings found in Mozart’s later operas. The action is carried forward by spoken dialogue and the Salzburg production used narrators which was a novel approach. They also looked absolutely gorgeous and were perfect eye candy 🙂 I didn’t understand a thing they were saying as there were no subtitles, surtitles or any other titles, but the cheekiness came through and the only way I can describe the production and the performance is adorable.
There is a well-known tale about the opera. The Emperor Joseph II commissioned the opera, but when he heard it, he complained to Mozart, “That is too fine for my ears — there are too many notes.” Mozart replied, “There are just as many notes as there should be.”
Mozart produced operas in each of the prevailing styles. The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosi fan tutte are opera buffa. The libretto for all three was written by Lorenzo da Ponte. Opera buffa is more of a cappuccino: frothy, light and with lots of sweetness sprinkled on top. The term was at first used as an informal description of Italian comic operas. It is especially associated with developments in Naples in the first half of the 18th century, from there its popularity spread to Rome and northern Italy. Mozart composed increasingly more complex operas, and the delay of the premiere of Don Giovanni in Prague was also due to the fact that the singers found it more difficult to perform and memorize their roles and preparations took longer.
He also composed opera seria, one example being La clemenza di Tito, the last opera he composed, for Prague, barely three months before his death. Opera seria is like an espresso – a serious, strong opera.
By and large, composers tend to be a rather fickle bunch and never miss an opportunity to stab one another in the back. However, many of the greatest composers through classical music history have been completely united in their praise for Mozart’s music.
One such composer is Haydn. Mozart met Joseph Haydn in Vienna, and the two composers became friends. When Haydn visited Vienna, they sometimes played together in an impromptu string quartet. Mozart’s six string quartets (K. 387, K. 421, K. 428, K. 458, K. 464, and K. 465) date from the period 1782 to 1785, and amount to a carefully considered response to Haydn’s Opus 33 set from 1781. He stood in awe of Mozart, whose sister recorded that in 1781 Haydn told the visiting Leopold: “I tell you before God, and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me by person and repute, he has taste and what is more the greatest skill in composition.”