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Genius of Mozart gloriously revealed by BBC Radio 3

Music / No Comment / January 12, 2011

Today Amadeus FM Radio 3 comes to the end of its 12-day season The Genius of Mozart, during which it has played every note he composed and hosted talks and discussions about the man and his music. Ambitious, scholarly, erudite and eschewing the temptation to patronise its audience, it is an excellent example of the BBC at its best. I have listened to as much of it as possible and enjoyed most of it. About the only things that had me reaching for the ‘off’ switch were some of his early symphonies and sets of minuets, some of which could get a little repetitive.

I find astonishing his ability to spin effortless and interesting melodies, harmonise them in kaleidoscopically different and inventive ways and then orchestrate them with an instinctive ear for instrumental colour and texture. To create in just 30 years a huge catalogue of works in all major musical genres – opera, church masses, symphonies, concertos, works for solo instruments and many different chamber music combinations – with equal ease and similar levels of success puts it beyond objective question that he was a genius. He surely also qualifies as a workaholic, although it is less certain whether this was entirely voluntary; as a freelance musician, his financial circumstances were often precarious. Exhaustion from over-work is thought very likely to have contributed to his premature death.

Perhaps the most interesting, lingering question to me is how his music might have developed had he survived into, say, his  77th year, the age at which Haydn died. He would have  lived through the rise and fall of the Napoleonic Empire; might have been present at premières of of Beethoven’s symphonies; could heard his younger relation Carl Maria von Weber take German opera deep into the forests of Romanticism and perhaps heard of a Frenchman with a highly original approach to orchestration, Hector Berlioz. Alas, we will never know. Yet what remains is a corpus of music to be envied composers in succeeding generations and enjoyed by the rest of us.

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