Requiem for Mozart – part 1

by 5:4

Anyone with an interest in Radio 3 can’t have failed to notice the BBC’s ongoing The Genius of Mozart season, devoting the first dozen days of 2011 to nothing but Mozart’s music, incorporating (they claim) “every note he wrote”. Not the most imaginative idea ever, but Mozart’s hardly a poor choice for a gimmick such as this, and so here’s a peripheral contribution of my own to the Beeb’s celebratory fortnight.

Broadcast over four weeks in late November/early December 1991, Requiem for Mozart was a four-part series commemorating and coinciding with the 200th anniversary of the composer’s death. Subtitled “A Life in Letters and Music”, and compiled by none other than the great Stanley Sadie, the series dramatises the Mozart family correspondence, with letters from Wolfgang (played superbly by Alex Jennings) not surprisingly being featured most prominently. Accompanied by works of Mozart (and, occasionally, others) that fit the ongoing chronology, it’s a surprisingly vivid and successful venture, which makes it all the more strange that, to my knowledge, it has never been broadcast since and doesn’t appear to be included in the Genius of Mozart season. Therefore, i’ll be featuring the broadcasts on 5:4 over the next four nights.

The first part, titled “After God – Papa”, was broadcast on 19 November 1991. It opens with a foreshadowing of the end of the story, before beginning properly with Mozart’s birth and early years. Leopold Mozart’s combination of awe-struck humility and smugness at his son’s talent is palpable, while sister Nannerl’s contributions (beautifully delivered by Eleanor Bron) are a delightful mixture of playful innocence and wide-eyed wonder. Wolfgang’s own words are abounding in the kind of cheek only a prodigy can get away with, and the episode includes the well-known exchange between Mozart and Nannerl regarding his First Symphony (composed during a period when his father was seriously ill) the boy asking his sister to remind him to give the horns “something worthwhile to do”. Heard today, Mozart’s hectic grand tour of Europe—sounding simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting—reveals him to be, in the eyes of his audience, a cross between a pop star and a freak; what emerges most, though, is Mozart’s growing understanding and musical maturity, which by the end of the episode (now in his late teens) is considerable.

Requiem for Mozart – 1. After God – Papa

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