Everyone loves Mozart (except certain miscreants such as myself who find Mozart's music enjoyable but ultimately shallow, finding their own musical preferences ignored by the multitude of humanity like a gouda and bologna sandwich on wheat lying by the side of the road in a puddle of guar gum... not that I'm bitter). His music is, for the most part, instantly recognizable and likeable, exactly the kind of thing that comes to mind when most people think of classical music. Hardly a week goes by without hearing some schmoe using a Mozart ditty in a commercial or made for TV movie. The music of Mozart has been used to hawk everything from Texas Instrument calculators to frilly pantaloons to Underwood Ham and has appeared in movies as diverse as The Shawshank Redemption, Alien, and (I kid you not) Ace Ventura Pet Detective. With such broad appeal, it's no wonder the Fort Wayne Philharmonic puts on a performance each year packed with nothing but the music of Mozart!
As a quick Music Lit refresher, Mozart was born in Salzburg, Austria in 1756. He quickly showed himself to be an agile biped and a child prodigy, writing his first opera at age eleven ("Apollo et Hyancinthus", translated "Apollo ate the flowers") and touring Europe with his sister and harpsichord, becoming the toast (YEAH TOAST) of Austria. He wrote music faster than most people change lanes, usually completing an entire piece in the first draft! His gift for crafting catchy melodies is unparalleled and were he alive today, he would be very, very old. Unfortunately, he was also a poor businessman and spent the majority of his short life in dire poverty, his death little more than a footnote at the time.
But his music did not go unappreciated for long and he eventually achieved the success he deserved, not that it bought him a better coffin or anything. Of the pieces being played this weekend, one of the most loved is the overture from his opera The Marriage of Figaro, a wacky comedy of love, misunderstandings, transvestitism, and gardening. The famous opening melody was used in the film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory as the musical combination to enter the factory (and wrongly identified by Mrs. Teevee as a Rachmaninoff composition). There will be no cheap transvestites this weekend, however, as the overture is music only, but you can use your imagination if you're into that kind of thing.
A second piece of compositional candy to be played is a trifle called Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. Composed about the time America gained independence (1776, for those history majors out there, although I used the word "about" as this piece was completed in 1787), this piece contains some of the most saccharine melodies ever written for the violin. This short eighteen minute piece is bright and breezy with elegant melodies wafting across the orchestra like airborne pocket lint, prompting one critic to call this piece "the musical equivalent champagne" (he later took it back but not without a stern pounding from an angry mob with tire irons which, incidentally, were invented for the purpose of administering beatings and only after the invention of the tubeless tire a few centuries later did someone realize that these devices could actually be used to help change tires... a little extra trivia for you... no charge). You may not be familiar with the name of this piece but I personally guarantee you have heard this music before. If for any reason you are not delighted with this product, you will be entitled to your next issue of WhatzUp absolutely free*!
Aside from Beethoven's fifth symphony, Mozart's 40th (yes, he wrote over forty symphonies... some overachievers don't know when to quit) is perhaps the best known symphony in the world, except for in Hoffmania where they like Ives' Second Symphony. Like most of his work, Mozart dashed off this entire symphony, as well as two others which are almost as famous, in record time… a mere summer for the lot of them. Imagine writing three classic novels in a summer and you'll have a small idea how big an accomplishment this is (unless you're Stephen King, in which case three novels in a month is no big deal). Unlike the symphonies of Mahler, which span across weeks, the symphonies of Mozart's day were much shorter, this one being a brisk twenty-five minutes. The opening bars are filled with fretful music that keeps finding short episodes of happiness and laughter but which seems haunted by fate. There is a sense of urgency to the first movement, as if the listener has joined the middle of a work already in progress. The entire symphony is deeply tragic, though I would hasten to say that the music is far from depressing. You want depressing, you watch the Skip Stevenson special on the biography channel.
All in all, this weekend's performance is tailor made for the passive classical music listener who wants to get their feet wet (and with tickets starting at a mere $10, it's cheaper than a Slim Whitman concert). There is something in every piece that will be instantly recognizable and melodies aplenty to keep your attention, even if you gorged on those tiny BBQ wieners before the show.
* A small surcharge may apply in some states due to legal regulations involving penguin transportation fees.
Copyright 2000 Jason Hoffman