Illuminating Mozart's Eternal Flame

This day commemorates the anniversary of Mozart's death on 5 December, 1791. Although a solemn occasion, it's nonetheless worthy ...

This day commemorates the anniversary of Mozart's death on 5 December, 1791. Although a solemn occasion, it's nonetheless worthy of recognition and celebratory regard for the man and his music. Adorned in black dress, Mozart's body was placed in the study of his home in close proximity to the keyboard where friends and family could give their final adieu.
What a startling image. A young man of 35 years, arguably the world's greatest musical genius, no longer remained. On the brink of promising heights after enduring a plateau of sorts with the fickle Viennese, his prospects once again flourished, but death took him sooner than anyone had anticipated. It's easy for us to say it was nothing short of miraculous that he existed to this mere duration upon examining his medical history, but what a dark deception it must have been for his contemporaries. Imagine. His music embodied beauty, vitality, health. The spirit of humanity and the Age of Enlightenment.

How could this be? HOW could this be?

The Wiener Zeitung reported in December 1791: "The I. & R. court chamber composer Wolfgang Mozart died here during the night of the 4th and 5th of this month. Known from childhood as the possessor of the rarest musical talent in all Europe, he ranked alongside the greatest composers thanks to the happiest development of his outstanding natural gifts and the most persistent application of those gifts; his works, loved and admired by all, bear witness to this and are the measure of the irreplaceable loss that the noble art of music has suffered through his death."

The Rauhensteingasse residence where Mozart died no longer exists. The building was demolished in 1847 and now in its place is the Steffl Department Store. Like Mozart himself, whose exact resting place in St. Marx Cemetery is unknown, this is also an extraordinary loss. A watercolor by J. Wohlmuth gives us a glimpse into this lost heritage. It's where Mozart spent his last days with the Requiem, but also where he had good life experiences including the birth of his son Franz Xaver Wolfgang and the writing of his final piano concerto and clarinet concerto.

I'd like to thank those who joined my candlelight vigil today, an event that I've been hosting annually since 2012. With the exception of 2018, for which I didn't create an event page, the history of the vigil, including posts and interactions for each year, can be seen in the events section of my Facebook page.

I've also written blogs with vigil content produced by an international family of Mozartians I warmly refer to as "The WolfGANG." For instance, "Dear Mozart: Remembrance in Light and Letters" features 24 photos from Mozart admirers in 15 countries. Note: I'm currently restoring these photos to the blog as they were temporarily lost after a storage transition. Other blogs include:

Through the Prism of Film: A Candlelight Vigil in Joy and Remembrance 
The Efficacy of Social Media and the Mozart Anniversary 
Videography of Mozart's Last Days: The Requiem Playlist 

Anna Leticia De Domenico Laso, who has joined me every year since 2012 from her home in São Paulo, Brazil, participated in the vigil again today, sharing an image on the event page. "Listening to your amazing music on the day you left us... You will shine forever, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart!"

As for my own individual experience, I try to do a different activity every year during the vigil. Yesterday, I decided to activate my 7-day ticket for the Berlin Philharmonic's Digital Concert Hall. Enjoying Mozart's music on a platform dedicated to furthering his legacy at the highest artistic level seemed more than appropriate. I'm grateful to the Berlin Philharmonic for creating this on-demand service that elevates the genre's accessibility in our over-saturated entertainment landscape!

I started with "A Mozart Evening with Daniel Harding" and then ventured to "Simon Rattle Conducts Mozart's Magic Flute." Fantastic! I became so enthralled in the music that, unlike years past, I'd forgotten to extinguish my candle at 12:55 am. I was watching the clock. The last time I checked, it was 12:54 am. The next time? It was after 1am! I was initially disappointed, but then I realized that it meant something more. It was symbolic. The flame endured.

While it's important to remember Mozart's light on this somber day, it's equally important to remember our role in illuminating his eternal flame. We have a shared responsibility to ensure that it isn't extinguished. I believe that our understanding of and appreciation for Mozart is far greater when supplemented by the experiences of others. It strengthens our resolve.

The Mozart Verona Portrait and the Question of Cultural Heritage

Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo. Christie's in Paris. November 27, 2019. I believe that cultural heritage is a...

Photo: REUTERS/Christian Hartmann/File Photo. Christie's in Paris. November 27, 2019.

I believe that cultural heritage is a public trust. To me, it's a matter of principle that this universal human heritage should be inclusive, never exclusive. And given Mozart's view on the accessibility of his music, he would agree. Artifacts and artworks, including authenticated portraits of historical figures, should be maintained and exhibited by public history agencies including museums, archives and libraries. But in reality, auction houses are full of collectors vying for new pieces and privatization is on the rise.

From November 23rd to 27th, the 1770 portrait of the 13-year-old Mozart ("The Verona Portrait") was on display for auction at Christie's in Paris (see article, the lot info and take a virtual tour). The expectation was that Lot #217 would sell for over $1 million, and it easily exceeded the pre-sale estimate at EUR 4,031,500 ($4.4 million) after a "long bidding battle between three telephones" (per an article from The Strad).

To be at auction with an undetermined fate isn't ideal for a portrait on the eve of its 250th anniversary (Mozart was painted from life on January 6th and 7th, 1770), but my hope is that the new owner will recognize the anniversary in some way in Verona and then make a loan to the Mozarteum for public exhibition. The sale of this beloved portrait implores me to ask the larger ethical questions facing my work generally as a Music Heritage Preservationist: Who controls our cultural heritage? Who collects what and for whom? And most importantly, how does it effect access, reception and sustainability for audiences, the lifeblood of all arts?

When I watched the film Mozart: Aufzeichnungen einer Jugend (Mozart: A Childhood Chronicle) for the first time, I found the scene with Mozart sitting for this portrait to be one of the most affecting moments in Mozart filmography, perhaps for its connection to one of the only authenticated renderings of Mozart's likeness that has survived to us. Read my article and watch the excerpt.

This photo of my visit to Mozarts Geburtshaus in Salzburg, the residence where Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, captures a demeanor I rarely display outwardly on camera: the seriousness of my devotion and feelings of guardianship. I couldn't smile. I was overwhelmed with emotion upon entering the apartment to the sound of Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus. Although I had visited before, this was a new exhibit and experience. The power of an historic place is evergreen and ever-changing. I owe a sizable debt to the photographer, my twin sister Sheryl, for without the passion and friendship we share, I wouldn't have allowed myself to be so vulnerable!

The exhibit was a mixed-media interpretation. Central to this particular section was a 19th Century painting of Mozart at the keyboard. Adjacent to the artwork was a gilded inscription indicating the supposed location of the infant prodigy's cradle alongside a reproduction of Mozart's 1770 portrait. Within the context of the subject at hand, this photo becomes a statement in juxtaposition and irony.

The question of cultural heritage (ownership and ethics) is one that's constantly being studied and examined by academicians and practitioners, but it isn't discussed nearly enough in the public sphere where the potential for its impact is greatest. The Mozart portrait at auction presents an opportunity to create awareness and discussion about this subject. My primary concern is for the compromise of history and heritage on the most fundamental, grassroots level where audiences incubate and develop, for they will ultimately determine the past's present and future.


Mozart on Strike: Culture in Support of Climate Action

Today, November 29th, is the first Friday for "Fridays For Future," an initiative created by Museums For Future , a global move...

Today, November 29th, is the first Friday for "Fridays For Future," an initiative created by Museums For Future, a global movement of museum workers, cultural heritage professionals and others who support climate action. Learn more!

My attention was brought to this initiative when I noticed that my colleagues at the Mozarthaus (Mozart's only surviving apartment in Vienna) shared their support with a "Mozart On Strike" statement featuring a photo of the museum's silhouette of the composer.

Climate change is already affecting historical places and preservation practice. And not only in regards to cultural resource management in coastal areas, but anywhere and everywhere as our weather increases in its severity worldwide. We must address the issue as a global family across all sectors, including our own.

After all, the nature of preservation is activism. Whether your opposition is a developer who cares more about a parking lot than a 75-year-old recording studio, a politician who doesn't believe allocating funds for arts education and history and heritage is necessary, a city council who refuses to invest in a local museum because they don't understand the economic benefits of destination tourism for their own community, the irreversible erosion of time or the catastrophic damage of climate change, activism is a necessary vehicle for preservation success and a responsibility we must embrace.


Fandom Culture and Historic Places: Exhibiting at the Mozarthaus

Social science is an important part of my work. Fandom studies, reception analysis and social psychological research are essential for un...

Social science is an important part of my work. Fandom studies, reception analysis and social psychological research are essential for understanding audiences of historical genres. Validating and acknowledging their role in preservation helps facilitate a lasting personal and social connection to the genre(s) and artist subject(s).

This includes creating opportunities for audiences to celebrate and express their passion publicly. I've done this for Mozart anniversaries utilizing social media (See: "The Efficacy of Social Media and the Mozart Anniversary") and also through exhibition at one of the extant historical places associated with Mozart's life: Mozarthaus Vienna.

To mark Mozart's 259th birthday on January 27, 2015, I realized a new celebratory idea through a collection of sentiments from fans around the world to create and present Mozart's first global birthday greeting at the Mozarthaus. Now a museum with a full schedule of concerts and lectures, it was the largest and most opulent apartment ever occupied by Mozart and it is the only one surviving today. He wrote Le nozze di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) here among many other works during what are considered to be some of his happiest and most prolific years (1784-1787).

Submissions utilized various media, representing 15 countries and gifted individuals from children to professionals! I'm so grateful for the partnership and support of Nina Noehring at the Mozarthaus and my colleague Brigitte Pfisterer who helped make the initiative a success. I decided to repeat the activity again the following year in 2016 in honor of Le Nozze di Figaro's 230th anniversary (See: "Figaro Provides Pictorial Narrative on Mozart Reception"). I hope that I'll be able to create a similar opportunity in the near future, perhaps in Salzburg at Mozart's birthplace or residence through a partnership with the Mozarteum.

Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Uruguay, UK, USA. These are the countries represented in my 2015 project. "The Mozartian Collective" (aka "The WolfGANG") demonstrates the power of community as a vehicle for preservation as well as the universality of music which is a light in our complex world. A quote from Dr. Max Bendiner comes to mind: "Music may achieve the highest of all missions: she may be a bond between nations, races, and states, who are strangers to one another in many ways; she may unite what is disunited, and bring peace to what is hostile."

Preservation isn't just about advocacy and preserving artifacts and buildings. It's about people. Without audiences, the past has no present or future, no potential, no sustainable path forward. It has no character or depth. That's what makes my approach to preservation unique from conventional preservation professionals who focus primarily on tangibles. Experiential design is key. Experiences reinforce and strengthen audience connectivity to the history and with each other. Shared experiences establish community, invaluable insight into human interest and a foundation of support from which the past can truly flourish.