Campaign 2020: Zurück zu Mozart!

Happy Birthday, Mozart! Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag, Mozart! The Maestro's January 27th birthday is a gift to all Moz...

Happy Birthday, Mozart! Herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag, Mozart! The Maestro's January 27th birthday is a gift to all Mozartians at the start of a new year. And there's no better time to find inspiration for the present than taking a page from the past, the Mozart bicentenary edition (1956) of The Opera Annual, to be exact!

My friend Del Tamborini from Vancouver surprised me with this rare and exciting gift, a worthy addition to my library! With 1955-56 being its second year of publication, The Opera Annual was edited by Harold Rosenthal, an English opera critic, writer, lecturer and broadcaster who worked to eradicate the elitist image of the art form.

The first chapter, "The Modern Cult of Mozart," was written by Yorkshire musicologist Edward Dent. He's known for his critical studies of Mozart's operas and re-introducing these stage works to audiences in Great Britain through English translations to create greater accessibility. He translated The Magic Flute for its first-ever English performance at Cambridge in 1911 where he was also a stage manager and contributed program notes. In short, he's my kind of Mozartian!

Being involved in projects that combine fieldwork, scholarship and performance are the ideal for anyone identifying as a scholar-practitioner. One of my favorite experiences was assisting the stage manager and writing program notes for a performance of The Beggar's Opera, an opera arranged by Dent, during my apprenticeship at the Castleton Festival conducted by the late Lorin Maazel.

It's not often that I encounter Mozart specialists concerned with audience reception and retention, so it was one of the great delights of this publication to be in good company with Rosenthal and Dent. In "The Modern Cult of Mozart," Dent describes a division within the Mozart community manifesting itself in the institutions of Glyndebourne and Sadler's Wells. Dent disagreed with the Grove Dictionary's "assertion that Glyndebourne is not a luxury for the rich only."

I'm sure this statement was somewhat radical during a time when "the cult" was still comfortable with its affluent exclusivity, yet wanted to be perceived as accessible. It's essentially the same class division that influenced opera during Mozart's lifetime: the patron-artist model, aristocracy vs. an emerging middle class (bourgeoisie).

The history of opera's elitist stigma remains today in public consciousness amidst the heightened classism of our own time. My M.A. thesis, At the Nexus of the Aristocratic Concert Society & the Classical Genre, examined the historical and prevailing influences of the genre’s founding patronage on audiences. The intention of my thesis was to blend scholarly research with practical application to address the disconnect between the esoteric nature of academia and the one-dimensional and short-sighted consumer model of music industry marketing.

The void produced by this disconnect presents us with the vital question of Mozart's perceived relevance upon which everything depends: namely, support for music education and curricula, concert and opera programming and other initiatives impacting audience development. There's a necessity for Mozart to transcend the inherited barriers of language, mythology and stigma to reach the public and achieve relevance.

The results of a November 2019 Primephonic survey finding three-quarters of young people without any knowledge of Mozart is evidence that this isn't happening on a broader, perhaps generational, scale. I'm concerned about the trend. We need more research to better understand what's happening, so that we can work together to find solutions. Only an alliance of fans, musicians, industry professionals, educators and other stakeholders can collectively do the work necessary to place Mozart on a path to secure sustainable audiences.

See: "Hats and Ideas: The Mozartian Collective and the Power of Preservation."

Just as The Opera Manual held a mirror to Mozart opera on the 200th anniversary of his birth, addressing triumphs and failings, so do we need to evaluate our current efforts. We face many challenges: competition from a burgeoning entertainment landscape, a lack of funding, the graying of a core demographic.

With chapters surveying the current state of Mozart opera throughout the world in 1956 and the preceding decades, the words Zurück zu Mozart! (Back to Mozart!) spoke to me from The Opera Manual as an appropriate communication for our own time.

In 2012, I began creating an annual event page on Facebook so that Mozart's worldwide fan community (aka "The WolfGANG") would have a place to gather and share on this special occasion. I'm asking Mozartians to join me today in the spirit of Zurück zu Mozart! to help create awareness of Mozart's importance in our saturated social media landscape. How? By sharing the portraits below and inviting others to join our celebration on the birthday event page!

The idea is to use the momentum from this celebration as a starting point from which to build throughout the year and I have some ideas that I'm excited to share with you. Let Mozart's birthday be the beginning of our call to action, our Zurück zu Mozart! campaign. And as we gladly set to work, let's happily observe the signs that our birthday boy is already doing well in 2020. As Marketing Manager for the film's original North American theatrical release, it's especially rewarding for me that there's enough demand for an encore of In Search of Mozart in cinemas to have screenings in select theaters around the world on Mozart's birthday!

Thank you for joining me on this special day, a day on which we set our sights ever higher for the Maestro.


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.