Monday, November 22, 2021

Performer as Re-creator

 Federico Colli made his rescheduled Vancouver recital debut under the auspices of The Vancouver Chopin Society yesterday. It was an astounding musical experience, a stunning display of much more than pianism and virtuosity – although they were there, in spades - but musical sensitivity, original thinking, and an acute awareness of the infinite palate of colours afforded by the piano.


Colli began his recital with a group of seven Scarlatti sonatas, playing them as a group without interruption. The young artist has been much praised for his interpretations of Scarlatti, and reason was immediately apparent. Right from the first note, he sets an almost religious atmosphere with his unbelievably beautiful sound and his wonderfully leggieroplaying. I do not think I remember hearing such pianissimos – it was otherworldly – he drew the enthralled audience into his magical sound world. 


For the next work on the programme – Mozart’s Sonata in B-flat major, K. 333 – I found myself almost more fascinated by Colli’s ideas than the composer’s design.  Although the composer is very sparing in dynamic and articulation markings throughout the score (the composer was a little bit more specific with dynamics in the third movement), Colli’s interpretation nevertheless gave us some very new and fresh insights different from what we often hear. From first note to last, it was not a performance of great drama and contrast, but rather like a meditation on the score. Like a master curator, Colli illuminated this great work with new insights and invited us to behold this masterpiece in an entirely new light.


After intermission, the pianist gave us the Canadian premiere of Maria Gringber’s arrangement of Schubert’s chamber music masterwork, the Fantasy in F minor, originally written for piano, four hands, written in the incredible fertile annus mirabilis of the composer’s last year. What is remarkable about this arrangement is that none of the details in the original musical texture is lost in the transcription, which means that the arrangement requires a performer of transcendental pianism, of which Colli is one. Under his hands, it really did at times sound like there were not one but two artists playing this work. 


The final work of the afternoon’s concert, Busoni’s reworking of Bach’s monumental Chaconne in D minor, from the second partita for solo violin. In our age of obsessiveness with performance practice, this work could seem like something from a different age, which I suppose it is. That said, Colli’s playing of it compelled us to listen to it as a great piano work from the romantic age of pianism, not as a mere transcription. In this performance, he once again demonstrated his superhuman command of every facet of piano playing, as well as an uncanny awareness of and sensitivity to the infinite dynamics and colours he commanded from the Steinway.


As an encore, the mood lightened considerably as Colli took a delightful romp through Turkish pianist Fazil Say’s arrangement of Mozart’s Rondo alla Turca, bringing the audience to its feet one final time before the young artist had to rush to the airport to continue on the next leg of his musical journey.


Bravo Federico, and kudos to The Vancouver Chopin Society for arranging this major debut, I think we can safely say, one of today’s outstanding musical “stars”. Come back soon!





Saturday, November 20, 2021

Adieu, Mr. Bond

Be warned of spoiler alert here. Read no further if you have not seen the latest James Bond film…

I was seven years old when my mother took me to my first James Bond film. It was You Only Live Twice, and it was terrific. Of course, as a boy, you only notice the cars, the guns (many of them), and the high adventure. I of course missed all of the double entendre, and I don’t think I even noticed that there were beautiful women in the film. 

That was the start of a once every two-year ritual, which has been about the frequency that a new Bond film would appear. Naturally, even with the formulaic plot, some Bond films are better than others. There are a few of the movies from the franchise I can no longer watch without cringing. But by-and-large, watching a Bond film has always been something of a mindless entertainment, escapism at its best.

Ever since Daniel Craig took over the role of Bond, there has been a new depth to the storybook character, a new angst. Casino Royale, the first of Craig’s Bond films, which happens to also be Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, deals with his first outing as a “double-O”, and his betrayal by a woman he loved. Quantum of Solace, probably one of Fleming’s most heartfelt and interesting short stories, was a dud. Skyfall was brilliant and touching – for more than one reason one of the most Catholic of all the Bond films - and Spectre was not bad. Unlike the older films, there had been, through the five films with Craig in the title role, a thread in the development of the character. 

With No Time to Die, Craig’s last outing as the debonair British spy, we come not only to the end of the current story line, but the end of an era. Don’t worry, there is still plenty of spectacular locations, action, fast cars (not one but two Aston Martins), guns, and beautiful women. But there is more to this particular Bond film that any of the others.

In this film, Bond is reunited with Madeleine Swann, his love interest from Spectre. As it turned out, he fathered a child with her, as we find out at the end of the film (“She has your eyes,” Swann says.) Faced with an impossible, no-win scenario after the final battle, Bond sacrifices himself for his family, and saves the world one last time. Cliché, you say? Perhaps, but Craig’s masterful performance this time around makes this powerful ending a moving cinematic experience.

Even without knowing this ending of the story, I did feel that there is an elegiac quality to the film throughout. This is also conveyed in Craig’s brilliant acting in the role. He has really brought a depth to this formerly rather two-dimensional character. There is, in his acting, a sadness to the character, something like Lohengrin or The Flying Dutchman, doomed to be forever denied happiness, especially when it is just within reach. There is also something very Judeo-Christian about Bond’s final sacrifice. We mustn’t forget that Ian Fleming was acquainted with the work and the philosophy of British Catholic mystic, philosopher and writer, Caryll Houselander, whose one-time fiancé Sidney Reilly (“Ace of Spies”) was the inspiration for Fleming’s Bond character. 

There are many references to former Bond films, probably only noticeable to long-time fans. The obvious ones are of course the character Blofeld and the criminal organization Spectre. More oblique references include quotes from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – “We have all the time in the world” – Bond’s exit line in the film immediately after his just-married wife was assassinated, was referenced in the opening and at the end of the current film. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was the only other Bond film where the hardened spy actually falls in love with a woman. At the end of the film, when Madeleine says to him that they need more time, Bond responds, “You have all the time in the world,” foreshadowing his own demise. The title song from the older Bond film, “We have all the time in the world”, sung by Louis Armstrong in his unique and inimitable style, is used as the music for the final credits. A nice touch, I thought.

With the current political climate, it is difficult to tell whether there will be another reboot of the Bond story. For me, I wouldn’t watch another Bond film unless the character remains British, and male. Surely, it would be difficult for anyone to top this performance by Craig. With Bond’s death in No Time to Die, I realized with great sadness that a part of my childhood is gone forever, when one could count on one’s hero to be invincible, always returning to slay the powerful dragon, or the evil communists.

And so, Bond is dead. Long live James Bond.






Thursday, November 18, 2021

Resumption of Concert Life

It was with a tremendous feeling of excitement as I attended the first concerts in Vancouver since the pandemic. Even the smaller audiences and socially distanced seating could not detract from the experience of feeling the music as it was being made, without the aid of audio-visual equipment or computer screens.


I headed to Christ Church Cathedral to attend the Vancouver Cantata Singers’ concert entitled Silence and Music: Moving Stories and Remembrance, their post-COVID version of their annual Remembrance Day concert. Music Director Paula Kremer returned to lead this outstanding choir in a programme highlighting the emotions of loss and remembrance. 


From the opening In Memoriam by Ruth Watson Henderson, the singing of this choir never fails to move one’s senses. Anton Bruckner’s Ave Maria was equally affecting, as was Vaughan Williams’ Silence and Music, with the composer’s unique blend of dissonance. Observing this season of remembrance, the choir performed two perennial favourites – Dave Rosborough’s arrangement of In Flander’s Fields and William Henry Monk’s Abide with Me, as arranged by Leighton, Worthington, Kremer and Rosborough. Soloists Emily Cheung and Sarah McGrath shone in Eriks Esenvalds’ O Salutaris hostia. As always, the acoustics of Christ Church Cathedral lends itself well to the sound of this choir.


Certainly, an auspicious beginning to the year’s concert season.


Then it was off to the Orpheum Theatre for a piano recital by Behzod Abduraimov, under the auspices of the Vancouver Recital Society. Things got off to a very promising start with two contrasting Scarlatti sonatas, B minor (K. 27) and D major (K. 96), highlighting Abduraimov’s beautiful sound and touch. The D major sonata was particularly effectively realized, evoking almost the sights and sounds of the changing of the guards at the royal palace in Madrid. I wasn’t sure if the repeats for each section was really needed, as the repetition did not really bring new ideas to what had already been so wonderfully played the first time around. 


Abduraimov launched into Schumann’s Kreisleriana (Op. 16) with a whirlwind of a tempo, but I was uncertain if that really added to the tension called for with composer’s instruction of Äuberst bewegt. Moreover, the opening tempo made it almost impossible to really observe Schumann’s Etwas bewegter in the Intermezzo II. For me, it was in the more intimate sections of the work, for instance, movement 2, 4, and 6. Paradoxically, the pianist’s facility at the piano took away some of the contrast and tension of the stormier sections of the work. It was a reading of Schumann’s luminous score that underscores the artist’s pianism and beauty of sound rather than the kaleidoscopic colours as well as the shifting between light and shadow that make this music so moving, or taking us into the composer’s inner world.


Abduraimov’s rendition of Mussorgski’s Bilder einer Ausstellung (Pictures at an Exhibition) was spectacular, stunning and superhuman, harking back to the interpretations of Horowitz and Richter. This young man is born to play this work. Although it is now difficult to erase from one’s mind the sounds of Ravel’s masterful orchestration, but the young artist somehow made the score almost more colourful than it would have been possible with an entire orchestra. Even with the number of outstanding pianists today, Abduraimov’s virtuosity is nothing less than astounding. In Bydlo, he achieved an incredible buildup and excitement, that the climax was simply overwhelming. But it was more than virtuoso playing, but his ability to bring out the unique character of each “picture” that made his performance so memorable. I would, however, have loved to ask the artist why he skipped the Promenade immediately before Limoges. His playing of Catabombae and Con mortuis in lingua mortua was positively spooky. The sound he got out of the beautiful Steinway (courtesy of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra) toward the end of Das Bogatyr-Tor filled the cavernous space of the Orpheum, no small achievement indeed. This was certainly a performance of Pictures at an Exhibition that would be difficult to top. 


The afternoon of Sunday, November 14th brought us a very different kind of recital – guitarist Milos and mandolinist Avi Avital gave a joint recital on the stage of the Vancouver Playhouse. The unlikely combination of the two instruments made for a very effective and sometimes moving performance. I found that Avital’s mandolin playing had greater projection and musicality than Milos’. The pieces by Bach and Philip Glass worked particularly well for the two instruments. Giovanni Sollima’s rhapsodic Prelude for Mandolin Solo sounded soulful and moving under Avital’s hands. Indeed, it was a masterful performance of this relatively new work. I did, however, find Milos’ playing of Albeniz’s justly famous Asturiassomewhat dry and lacking in passion and projection. The real highlight of the afternoon was the premiere of Mathias Duplessy’s three-movement Sonata for Guitar and Mandolin, giving equal prominence to both instruments. The slow middle movement was particularly engaging. A very enjoyable reprieve from the rainy Vancouver afternoon.


Although I did have my share of concert at the just-concluded Chopin Competition in Warsaw, it is certainly a good feeling to be able to attend live musical performances in one’s hometown. This weekend’s (sold out) Vancouver debut recital by pianist Federico Colli, presented by The Vancouver Chopin Society, promises to be equally memorable. Looks like the concert season is off to a very healthy start in Vancouver.




Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Dispatch from Warsaw, October 20, 2021

A very mixed evening of very different approaches to the Chopin concerti.

Aimi Kobayashi played the first concerto with great dignity and majesty. Unfortunately, her tempo was a bit too stately, thereby robbing the music of its impetus at times. Overall, it was a performance of great polish, if a little lacking in emotion.

Polish pianist Jakub Kuszlik played the same concerto with poetry and a beautiful sound. Occasionally, his phrasing lapsed into dullness after episodes of great beauty. 

Hyuk Lee played the concerto in F minor with great beauty of sound. He is a poetic musician; I only wish that he would allow the music to breathe a bit more, so that the phrasing would not be quite as measured. 

A great ovation greeted Canadian Bruce Liu after he gave a pianistically brilliant performance of the concerto in E minor. 

As we wait for the decision of the jury, I have to confess that this has been one of the most musically intense and emotional week of my concert-going life. For me, the musician that moved me the most with the poetry and ardour of his playing, the maturity of his conception, and his collaborative approach in his concerto performance, has to be Kyohei Sorita. 

If I were backed against a wall, I would give the 1st prize to Sorita, 2nd to Leonora Armellini and 3rd to Bruce Liu. No doubt the distinguished jury would turn out to have a completely different view.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Dispatch from Warsaw, October 19, 2021

Canadian J. J. Jun Li But played a songful and ardent first concerto tonight. Unfortunately, he was playing all by himself, leaving the orchestra to follow, which they did magnificently, no easy task at all. In the third movement, he was rushing so much that the whole thing became an athletic contest, which was unfortunate, as he has some very good ideas for this movement. At this point, he is still very much a child relishing in his own pianistic abilities.

Alexander Gadjiev chose to play the F minor concerto, but his performance suffered from square phrasing and a lack of breathing room for the music. Right at the piano entrance of the first movement, he missed the rhetorical nature of the music. The return of the second theme in the recapitulation was done quite beautifully. The second movement fared much better, the sound was very good, and there was considerably more poetry. It was too bad that at the beautiful bassoon solo, he was somewhat detached from the melodic line. The third movement was lively, but the dance element of the music was missing.

The highlight of the evening was Martin Garcia Garcia's performance of the F minor concerto. There was lyricism, flexibility in phrasing, and considerable poetry. He listened to the orchestra, and there was a variety of sounds in his tone production tonight, although the loud passages sounded sometimes strident. In the slow movement, he succeeded in drawing us into Chopin's emotional world. The many runs in the right hand were ravishing, and the duet with the bassoonist was enchanting indeed. Garcia Garcia succeeded in highlighting the dance element of the third movement, the passagework was really breathtaking, and the sound of the solo piano was very much alive and rhythmically alert with the col legno string accompaniment. It was a brilliant and original performance of this somewhat underplayed (at least for the Chopin Competition) concerto.

The very talented Eva Gevorgyan played a pianistically perfect first concerto tonight. It was, however, a performance akin to someone highlighting a very beautiful work of art, rather than an intensely emotional experience. 

We have four more artists performing tomorrow evening, and then the jury members will be left with the very difficult decision of deciding who the best man, or woman, would be.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Dispatch from Warsaw, October 18, 2021

Four performances of Chopin's 1st piano concerto tonight, all very different.

Kamil Pacholec gave a straight forward performance of the concerto, with some moments of beauty. I find that he revels in the more overtly virtuoso passages of the concerto, rather than the lyrical ones.

I'm afraid Hao Rao's extroverted brand of showmanship (musically, not physically) was not my cup of tea. Brilliant as it sometimes was, it was, for me, short of poetry and subtlety. He seems to have two sounds- very loud and not very loud. Once in a while he used the una corda to get a softer sound, but it didn't work very well. There were some inexplicable things musically. At m. 573 of the 1st movement, when Chopin marked a tempo, Hao took a considerably slower tempo, I suppose to highlight the composer's dolce con expressione marking, but it hampered the musical flow considerably. At m. 103 of the Romance, I felt that he overdid the rallentando, once again halting the impetus of the music. Let me apologize here to his many fans, of which there seemed to have been many in the audience tonight.

The poet of the piano tonight was Kyohei Sorita, playing with an infinite variety of sounds within each phrase. In much of the passagework, he was playing chamber music with the orchestra, blending his sound within the orchestral texture. His turn of phrase at m. 601 of the 1st movement was absolutely moving. It was an absolutely ravishing, poetic, emotionally overwhelming performance of this great work. Whether or not he wins of the top prizes, there is no doubt in my mind that this is a great artist, a generous soul, and one of the most sensitive musicians in this competition.

Leonora Armellini's performance of the concerto also had much to offer. Her playing was not short on poetry, but I did find some of her phrasing a bit angular and brittle. For me, the highlight of her performance was the third movement, which was brilliantly done. 

A great deal of credit has to be given to the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra under Andrey Boreyko, who were sensitive and supportive collaborators in all four performances. Tonight's performance highlighted for me once again the absolute beauty and sensitivity of Chopin's orchestration. The writing for woodwinds is especially beautiful. 

This concerto marathon continues tomorrow and Wednesday, after which we would find out the long awaited results of what has proven to be a very interesting few weeks.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Dispatch from Warsaw, October 17, 2021

To commemorate the 172nd anniversary of the death of Chopin, there was a special performance of Mozart's Requiem, K. 626, tonight at the Basilica of Holy Cross in Warsaw, where Chopin's heart is reposed. The outstanding quartet of soprano Simona Saturova, alto Sara Mingardo, tenor Maximilian Schmitt and bass Jan Martinik, the Collegium Vocals 1704 and Collegium 1704, under the direction of Vaclav Luks, gave an emotionally charged performance of this towering work.

It seems pointless to discuss the merits - of which there are many - or problems in tonight's performance, suffice it to say sitting in that great basilica, hearing this heaven storming music, Mozart's prayer for the dead, was at times almost too much to bear.

As we slowly emerge from this global pandemic, I could not help but think that this was a Mass for all those who perished as a victim of this man-made global disaster. Every member of the audience was there as a part of the human family, hearing music that asks for eternal rest for those who died.

Beginning tomorrow, the 18th International Chopin Competition enters the final phase. Nine pianists will perform the composer's 1st piano concerto, and 3 brave souls will give their heart and soul in the 2nd piano concerto.

Who will be the new crown prince or princess of the music world? We will soon find out.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Dispatch from Warsaw - October 16, 2021

Every pianist in this morning session had something unique to offer. Competition veterans Nikolay Khozyaninov and Su Yeon Kim both delivered memorable performances.

For me, the revelation today was Aimi Kobayashi, who played the Op. 30 Mazurkas pitch perfectly, with impeccable rhythm in the C minor mazurka (No. 1), capturing the quirkiness of the rhythm and having a real sense of movement in the B minor mazurka (No. 2), bringing a multitude of colours and a strong rhythmic sense to the mazurka in D-flat major (No. 3), and beautifully handling the tricky triplet rhythmic figures in the mazurka in C-sharp minor (No. 4), bringing to this elusive work a beguiling wistfulness.

Instead of one of the sonatas, Kobayashi elected to play the complete set of Preludes (Op. 28), giving us a ravishing performance from beginning to end. In the C major prelude (No. 1), she does not overplay the agitato aspect of the music, but making it just quietly surging. She brought to the A minor prelude (No. 2) a very subtle sense of menace. Her playing of the G major prelude (No. 3) was exhilarating, joyous and breathtaking. The build up to the shattering climax in the E minor prelude (No. 4) was deftly handled. The prelude in D major (No. 5) was played as a single breath, and she infused the prelude in B minor (No. 6) with a effective sense of movement. The famous A major prelude (No. 7) was, simply, irresistibly charming. In the F-sharp minor prelude (No. 8) she does not overplay the storminess of the music, but brought to it a quiet sense of unrest. The E major prelude (No. 9) was played with great dignity and a rock solid tempo. She played the C-sharp minor prelude (No. 10) with breathtaking lightness and she brought out the euphonious beauty of the prelude in B major (No. 11). This was effectively contrasted with the wildness she brought to the prelude in G-sharp minor (No. 12). 

In the F-sharp major prelude (No. 13), the music floats above the beautifully played accompaniment figures in the left hand. There was real substance in the sound of the prelude in E-flat minor (No. 14), but the music never sounded heavy. In the justly famous D-flat major prelude (No. 15), she displayed a truly gorgeous singing tone, and beautifully transitioned into the relentless, almost compulsive funeral march. Kobayashi gave us a terrifically wild roller-coaster ride in the prelude in the B-flat minor prelude. In the prelude in A-flat major (No. 17) she beautifully shaped the arch-like melody in the beginning, and she highlighted the rhetorical nature of the prelude in F minor (No. 18). In the E-flat major prelude (No. 19) the music really took off as a bird in flight, and she infused the work with a beautiful lightness. She played the prelude in C minor (No. 20) with utter seriousness and solemnity, with some absolutely gorgeous voicing. She brought a truly beautiful cantabile to the prelude in B-flat major (No. 21), and contrasted it with the storminess of the G minor prelude (No. 22). The prelude in F major (No. 23) - always conjuring for me a picture of a sailboat on a calm sea - was light, breezy, and her pianissimos were beautiful. She certainly conjured up a veritable storm with her big bold sound in the D minor prelude (No. 24), but the sound was always round and rich, never percussive.

It is truly amazing that after repeated hearings of these so-familiar works, a great artist can still come along and move one to tears. For as long as our world exists, there will be great artists who can move us beyond the realm of everyday existence. On top of her pianistic attributes, Aimi Kobayashi's playing touches us in the deepest recess of our hearts. 

As a postscript, Canadian pianist Bruce Liu apparently received a standing ovation from the audience tonight. As we now await the results of the pianists who move into the final concerto round, let me just say once again what a privilege it has been to be witness to this episode of music history. I am certain that the concerto performances will again bring many emotional highs.

Friday, October 15, 2021

Dispatch from Warsaw - October 15, 2021

Even with missed flight, security check, jet lag and continuous mask-wearing, I was wide awake as I sat in Warsaw's Philharmonic Hall to await the beginning of this evening's session of the 3rd round of the 18th International Chopin Competition.

Italy/Slovenia's Alexander Gadjiev started the evening off with the Polonaise-Fantasie (Op. 61), in a performance that is filled with many beautiful episodes, but somehow lacking a coherence, an organic whole. The young artist has a gorgeous sound, perhaps in time he will penetrate more greatly the inner sorrow and heartbreak so inherent in this great work.

The Mazurkas (Op. 56) were elegant rather than soulful. In the C major (No. 2) Mazurka, I wished that there could have been more feeling of earthiness in the music.

The Sonata in B-flat minor (Op. 35) seemed to have been the favourite this evening. Gadjiev played up the urgency of the opening theme, but I wish that the repeat of the exposition could have more varied ideas. The scherzo was pianistically impressive with some interesting ideas in voicing. For me, this was his most moving playing this evening. I missed the dark sound that is so important in the opening of the famous funeral march, but he did play the middle section with a beautiful liquid sound. The finale was pianistically impeccable, but for me it could have even more of the feeling of the "cold wind blowing across the cemetery". 

American pianist Avery Gagliano created a completely different impression with her thoroughly moving Chopin playing. She has a smaller sound than Gadjiev, but that did not matter in the least. In the opening of the Sonata in B-flat minor (Op. 35), she conveyed much more of a sense of urgency, even crisis, a feeling of palpitation. She had some beautiful ideas in the left hand accompaniment figures in this first movement, and she gave the lyrical second theme a quiet dignity. I appreciated the ruggedness she brought to the opening of the scherzo. Her B section did not have quite as beautiful a sound as Gadjiev, but it was somehow more moving. She took me much more into the inner world of this music. In the funeral march, she again penetrated into the composer's creative soul. The middle section of the funeral march was played rhythmically strict, but she conveyed a quiet, hushed beauty that demanded our attention. It was intensely moving. In the finale, she did achieve the feeling of the chill wind sweeping the cemetery, and her little surges of sound added to the cries of anguish. 

To my ears, Gagliano's playing of the same Op. 56 set of Mazurkas were rhythmically, musically and stylistically superior to Gadjiev's. In the first mazurka she captured the quirky rhythmic quality of the opening as well as the intricate counterpoint. I did smell the smell of the Polish earth with her playing of the second mazurka, and she played the third mazurka with a quiet sense of melancholy, as well as with magical transitions from one musical idea to the next.

It is incredible that Gagliano managed to bring something new and fresh to the much played Scherzo in B-flat minor, Op. 31. Most importantly, she brought to this work many shades of sound and drew from an infinite palate of tone colours. 

Martin Garcia Garcia (Spain) is a young man with strong musical instincts and interesting ideas. He opened his recital with the Prelude in A-flat major (Op. 28, No. 17) with strangely stiff phrasing, failing to convey the arch-like quality of the melody. I appreciated the lightness he brought to the Prelude in E-flat major (Op. 28, No. 19). In the Prelude in F major (Op. 28, No. 23), I would have worried less about the details, about trying to bring out every musical nuance, but trying to convey more the flow of the music. 

In the only performance of the Sonata in B minor (Op. 58), he played the opening of the 1st movement in an arresting manner. The second theme, which was beautifully played, sounded to me far too loud on the Fazioli, his instrument of choice. For me, the transition of musical ideas could be infused with greater meaning. He played the scherzo absolutely beautifully, with a breathtaking lightness and a whirlwind-like quality. The Largo was again beautifully played; personally I yearn for greater penetration into the emotional core of the music, but he did handled the transition of musical ideas very nicely indeed. Somehow the brief pause between the 3rd and 4th movement broke the spell of the gorgeous slow movement, but he did immediately capture the molto perpetuo, relentless quality of the movement. It was impressive, even glittering playing indeed, in much of the passagework. 

In the first two of the Op. 50 mazurkas, there was almost a waltz-like quality which isn't (to me) quite right for playing of mazurkas, and the C-sharp minor mazurka (No. 3) lacked the wistful feeling in the beginning. In the Prelude in C-sharp minor (Op. 45), he missed the Faure-like harmonic transition that gives this piece such a special beauty. However, his playing of the Waltz in F major (Op. 34, No. 3) with absolute charm and panache, relishing every turn of phrase with the same eagerness of a kid waiting his turn at cops and robbers.

Russia's Eva Gevorgyan is very obviously a big talent. She opened her recital with the Fantasy in F minor (Op. 49) with an interpretation of utter seriousness, which is of course one possible and very valid interpretation, but for me there could have been more of a sense of storytelling to this piece, a feeling of a tragedy unfolding.

Kudos to her for having the courage in playing the earlier set of Mazurkas (Op. 17), opening with a stylistically sound interpretation of the first mazurka. In the second and third mazurkas, I had a bit of trouble with the accents she applied to the music, but she did play the A minor (No. 4) mazurka with the perfect sense of wistfulness, of quiet sadness, looking very much inwardly into the music.

Her aggressive, take-no-prisoner approach to the opening of the Sonata in B-flat minor (Op. 35) was actually very effective, and it contrasted quiet nicely with the beautifully played lyrical second theme, although I found that the first statement of this theme could be played in a more straight forward manner. It was, on the whole, a performance that demanded our attention. I did again wish for more different dimensions in her sound. The scherzo was played with quite a bit of tempi changes, which for me hampered some of the natural flow of the music. Gevorgyan's playing of the funeral march, especially in the middle section, was in many way more beautiful than Gagliano's. Emotionally, I did still find Gagliano's interpretation more moving. Even her brilliant playing of the finale was more glittering than frightening. That said, Gevorgyan's pianism was truly impressive, and in time, the sky could be the limit for this very gifted young artist.

As I sat in that hall, I was suddenly overcome with feeling, thinking of the great pianists who had played in that hallowed hall. What a privilege it is to be present and be witness to music history in the making.

Until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Zubin Mehta's Recorded Legacy in the City of the Angels

Founded as early as 1919, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has had a series of very distinguished music directors – Georg Lennart Schnéevoigt, Artur Rodzinski, Otto Klemperer, Alfred Wallenstein and Eduard van Beinum. Bruno Walter, a distinguished Los Angeles resident, had also conducted the orchestra regularly. 


Nevertheless, the orchestra never really established a profile as one of America’s major orchestras. At the time, the talk was always about the “Big 5” orchestras of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago. 


Then Zubin Mehta arrived in Los Angeles.


Originally invited as a last-minute substitute for guest conductors Fritz Reiner and Igor Markevitch, Mehta established an immediate rapport with the orchestra and a connection with the audience. The circumstances surrounding his appointment as music director is well known and does not need another retelling. Suffice it to say that in 1962, Mehta was appointed music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, a marriage that would last until 1978. 


On top of Mehta’s many innovations in the city, the most long-lasting legacy of Mehta’s tenure in Los Angeles has to be the many outstanding recordings he made with the orchestra with Decca records. Now Decca has reissued all these fine recordings in a generous 38-CD box – Zubin Mehta/Los Angeles Philharmonic – Complete Decca Recordings.


Having heard all the recordings in this sumptuous box, the first thing one could say is the absolutely beautiful recorded sound, capturing every nuance of the orchestra’s playing. The Decca team of engineers decided early on that the Dorothy Chandler pavilion, while being a fine hall for live performances, was completely unfit as a recording venue. After much scouting, they decided that seemingly unremarkable Royce Hall, on the campus of the University of California, Los Angeles, would suit their purpose more than adequately. I cannot say this more emphatically – the orchestra sounds spectacular in these recordings. 


The first recordings of Mehta and the Los Angeles Philharmonic appeared in 1967. It was the first time an American orchestra would be recording for a European recording company. This presented some problems for the orchestra management at the time, as the recording company would only pay the orchestral players according to European and not American (unionized) scale. The management had to look for financing for these recordings in order to make up the difference. 


Mehta made the wise decision not to push the orchestra to record until he felt it was ready, and that explains the lag time between his taken over the music directorship in 1962 and the first batch of recordings in 1967. By 1967, the Los Angeles Philharmonic had already become a very fine orchestra, as can be attested in these first recordings. By the time Mehta left, judging from recordings of the late 1970’s, the orchestra had become the world class orchestra it is today. 


Listening to these recordings, I was struck by the imaginative and musical conducting of both very familiar repertoire as well as more unknown works of the orchestral literature. There is also a palpable love and passion in the music making in every recording. What is more, I felt that every member of the orchestra was really putting his or her heart and soul into these performances. None of these recordings came off as “routine” studio sessions. 


There are some recordings that were and are welcomed additions to the catalogue. There are deeply committed performances of Liszt Symphonic Poems – Hunnenschlacht (S105), Orpheus (S98) and Mazeppa(S100), a convincing recording of Stravinsky’s 8 Instrumental Miniatures for 15 players, an absolutely gorgeous reading of Charles Ives Symphony No. 1, with some outstanding playing from the orchestra principals, a wonderful recording of the same composer’s relatively more popular Symphony No. 2 that stands up to the fine recordings by Bernstein and Tilson Thomas, exciting performances of William Kraft’s Concerto for Four Percussion Soloists and Orchestra and Contextures: Riots – Decade ’60, masterful and convincing readings of Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, Op. 9 and the thorny Orchestral Variations, Op. 31, thrilling performances of Edgard Varèse’s ArcanaIntegrales and Ionisation, a performance of Carl Nielsen’s Symphony No. 4 (“The Inextinguishable”) that brings out the rugged beauty of the music, and a beautiful reading of John Williams Suites from the films, Star Wars and Close Encounter of the Third Kind that I find superior to the composer’s own recording. None of these works are, even today, hugely represented in the recording catalogue. 


Some of Mehta’s Los Angeles recordings have become acknowledged classics of the phonograph. I had not been a great fan of Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, but Mehta’s recording of the work made a convert out of me. He minimizes the bombast of the music, and infused the work with not only a sense of grandeur, but a quiet dignity, bringing out the inner beauty of the music that performances sometimes lack. 


Listening to the orchestra’s 1967 recording of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, I was struck by how Mehta highlights the contrast between the dramatic sections like Gnomus with the more lighthearted ones like the Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks. In a movement like Gnomus or Bydlo, there is a weightiness of sound that bring out all the drama of the music. Mehta’s pacing and sense of timing in The Great Gate of Kiev is also impeccable; he holds the orchestra back from the explosion of sound until the very end of the work. 


Mehta’s recording of Gustav Holst’s The Planets suite, an iconic recording not only for music lovers but audiophiles as well, was certainly exciting and beautifully played. But what caught my ears was the lack of bombast (excitement, certainly) and a great beauty of sound throughout the performance. Again, in the final Neptune movement, Mehta draws us into the mystical and magical sound world created Holst created. The same observations apply to his recording of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, Op. 35, and kudos to the London engineers for capturing the sound of the orchestra so vividly and beautifully. 


There are only two concerto recordings – a magisterial performance of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto with Alicia de Larrocha from 1979, apparently Mehta’s final recording with the orchestra, and an absolutely delightful disc titled Concertos in Contrast, featuring four principal players from the orchestra. Other than Haydn’s very familiar Trumpet Concerto in E-flat major, Hob. VIIe/1, the other works certain warrant outstanding performances such as these – Vivaldi’s Flute Concerto in A minor, RV445, Weber’s Concertino for Clarinet and Orchestra in E-flat, Op. 26, Wieniawski’s Polonaise No. 1 in D major, Op. 4 and his Scherzo-Tarantelle, Op. 16. Throughout his tenure in Los Angeles, Mehta had been responsible for hiring most of the musicians as the older players retired, probably the most long-lasting aspect of his legacy. These 1974 performances by the players from the orchestra certainly gives us a hint of the extremely high level of playing by the orchestra. 


A 1973 disc – Virtuoso Overtures – gives us, among other things, an absolutely gorgeous and darkly brooding performance of Weber’s Der Freischütz Overture, with perfect intonation and ensemble by the horns at the beginning, as well as an echt Viennese reading of Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture. Even the recording, Hits at the Hollywood Bowl, no doubt a project they did for the recording company, receives committed and beautiful performances. 


In one instance, we hear two recordings, from different time periods, of the same work – Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor (Op. 36). The earlier recording was one of the orchestra’s first discs for Decca, done in 1967. The second was part of a complete cycle of the composer’s symphonies – a great addition to the catalogue of Tchaikovsky recordings, unfortunately neglected by critics - taped in 1977. As much as the 1967 performance was a fine one, we hear in the 1977 recording what an absolutely great ensemble the Los Angeles Philharmonic had become.


The magnificent recordings of Bruckner’s 4th and 8th symphonies, Mahler’s 3rd and 5th symphonies, Strauss’ Sinfonia domestica (Op. 53), Eine Alpensinfonie (Op. 64), and the tone poems, show Mehta’s affinity for painting large canvases, an absolute grasp of the overriding structure of the works from first note to last. In a record of Mahler Lieder with the incredible Marilyn Horne, I was almost more captivated and fascinated by Mehta’s design of the orchestral writing than even Horne’s unbelievably rich voice. In these recordings especially, we can hear the successful results of Mehta’s efforts to elicit a central European sound from the orchestra. Even in the biggest climaxes and the most dramatic passages, there was never any coarseness in the sound.


Since Mehta’s departure from Southern California, the orchestra has had some highly distinguished music directors, from the dignified Giulini to one of today’s hottest conductor, Gustavo Dudamel, every one of them putting his individual stamp on the orchestra’s sound. The ensemble had moved from its fine home at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to today’s architecturally stunning Walt Disney Concert Hall, where I had the good fortune to attend a concert by Mehta with the orchestra last year. Hearing the orchestra today, I feel that Mehta must be given major credit for creating the world class orchestra we have today. 


Zubin Mehta/Los Angeles Philharmonic – Complete Decca Recordings is a testament of the work of one of today’s most honest and dedicated musicians, working with musicians that were sympathetic to his music making, and well served by knowledgeable and musical recording engineers. It has been a richly rewarding musical experience listening to these fine performances once again.




Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Sergei Babayan's Rachmaninoff Recital

For a while, Sergei Babayan was the best-kept secret in the music world. Everyone knew him as a great teacher, mentoring an entire generation of distinguished pianists. Thankfully for music lovers, Mr. Babayan has recently been much more active on the concert stage. A few years ago, in a recital in Vancouver, I was moved and stunned by his beautifully idiomatic Chopin and his incredible pianism in Bach’s Goldberg Variations.  With his new recording contract with the Deutsche Grammophon label, I am certain that his name will soon become a household word in the music world, as he deserves to be.


In this latest album of the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, Babayan has chosen a wonderfully diverse recital of the composer’s solo miniature works. In the opening Prelude in A-flat major (Op. 23, No. 8) and G-sharp minor (Op. 32, No. 12), as well as the composer’s own transcription of Lilacs (Op. 21, No. 5), the pianist plays like a master painter, drawing from his incredibly wide sound palette, and his magical pedaling, painting for us a multitude of sound colours. In hearing these pieces, one “sees” splashes of colours in front of our eyes, and hears a sort of “liquid sound”. In his playing of Lilacs, Babayan acts as both singer and pianist in a perfect blend of vocal and pianistic colours. Indeed, throughout this entire album, the word “colour” keeps returning to my mind. 


We then hear a different side of the composer, when Babayan’s plunges into the Prelude in F minor (Op. 32, No. 6), where he not only towers over the not insignificant technical demands of the work, but underscores the forward-looking harmonies that the composer is not often given credit for.


In three Études-Tableau, Babayan draws upon the darker harmonic colours in the composer’s music. In the Étude-Tableau in C minor (Op. 33, No. 3), he underscores the contrast between the drama of the opening and the lyricism of the middle section. His playing of the Étude-Tableau of the same key (Op. 39, No. 1) is, in a word, sweeping. Babayan has an incredible sense of the horizontal aspect of the music, no matter how dramatic the playing is, or how big the sound, the playing never becomes heavy. In the Étude-Tableau in A minor (Op. 39, No. 2), he highlights the composer’s unique melodic inventiveness, as well as the gently swaying melodic figures of the accompaniment, and gives us a performance of intense lyricism. 


The towering Prelude in B minor (Op. 32, No. 10), for me the climax of this recital, is given a very memorable performance indeed. From the pale colours of the opening, Babayan masterfully builds the music to its shattering climax before the tension abates once again. His ability to bring out the lyricism of Rachmaninoff’s music is also evident in the Volodos transcription of the composer’s Melody (Op. 21, No. 9), where he manages to keep the melody afloat amidst the pianistic figurations swirling around it. With an uncanny sense of programming, Babayan gives us the brief Morceau de fantaisie in G minor, serving as a perfect palate cleanser before the balance of the recital. In the justly famous Prelude in D major (Op. 23, No. 4), the pianist brings out the incredible sensuality of the music, and stunningly plays off the beautiful melody with the almost as beautiful counter melody, or descant, the two floating around each other in an ocean of sound. 


The final part of the recital is a contrast between the lyrical and the dramatic. In the Étude-Tableau in E-flat minor (Op. 39, No. 5), Babayan highlights the composer’s penchant for bell-like sounds. The Volodos transcription of the Andante from the composer’s Sonata for Cello and Piano (Op. 19) received an interpretation from Babayan that made me forget the cello. He ends this Rachmaninoff recital with masterful playing of two contrasting works, the Moment musical in E-flat minor (Op. 16, No. 2) and the triumphant Moment musical in C major (Op. 16, No. 6). 


In Babayan’s own words that he shares with us in the programme notes, he writes, “Only a composer of the highest gifts can have a craftsmanship of the level where music sounds like an improvisation, born spontaneously.” I believe he might as well have been describing his own playing in this album, because only a pianist with the highest gifts can make the music sounding so spontaneous, like an improvisation. So closely does Babayan identify with Rachmaninoff’s music, I feel that he almost takes on the identity of the creator.


Mr. Babayan’s first album on Deutsche Grammophon was one dedicated to the two-piano music of Prokofiev, where he shares the recording studio with Martha Argerich. As much as I admire and love the art of Argerich, I am grateful that we get to hear Babayan on his own, in music that he so obviously loves. I hope that this incredible album will acquaint many more people to the art of this master pianist and artist.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Chopin Preludes with Charles Richard-Hamelin

The 2015 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw introduced to the world some truly unique artists, who are now all forging their own unique paths in music. Seong Jin Cho, the gold medalist, has been branching out to music by composers other than Chopin, as well as active in collaboration with other musicians. Prizewinner Eric Lu went on to win first prize at the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition, impressing judges and audience members with the depth and maturity of his interpretation. Charles Richard-Hamelin, silver medalist from the competition, has been continuing his exploration of the music of Chopin and committing to them on disc, in addition to maintaining a busy performing career. The fruits of this young artist’s artistic growth are evident in this latest recording of Chopin’s Preludes, Op. 28 as well as the Andante spianato et Grande polonaise brillante, Op. 22 (Analekta).


From the Prelude in C major, it seems evident that Hamelin chooses to let the music speak for itself. There is great naturalness in his approach, and he does not “stretch” or pull the music too much in this brief work. He aptly conveys the relentless sense of gloom in the Prelude in A minor, one of Chopin’s darkest works, as well as faithfully observing the composer’s slentando indication. His playing of the chords in the final bars evokes a calmness and religiosity, as well as giving a much needed resolution. Hamelin plays the G major prelude with elfin lightness, highlighting the quicksilver quality of this music. The contrast with the Prelude in E minor that follows is startling. He achieves the buildup of musical tension through the composer’s subtle harmonic changes, and he quite deliberately avoids a cataclysmic climax at m. 17, as the composer indicates only a forte here. In the Prelude in D major, Hamelin’s subtle rubato gives the feeling that the work is made up of one long-breath phrase. He achieves a beautiful cello sound in the left hand in his playing of the Prelude in B minor, giving us a true legato by his magical pedaling. 


In the miniature gem that is the Prelude in A major, Hamelin really takes time to bring out the beauty of each phrase, but managing to give the work an overall arc in its structure. He highlights the dark colours and undercurrent, as well as the swirling harmonic change in the Prelude in F-sharp minor. In the Prelude in E major, he chooses not to bring out the relentless, almost obsessive quality, in this music, but rather its nobility, achieving it with a richness of sound in his playing, as well as by not overdoing the dotted and double-dotted rhythmic figures that recurs over and over again. He plays the Prelude in C-sharp minor with a breathless quality, as well as highlighting the playful, glittering quality of the right hand melody. The beautiful Prelude in B major – my own sentimental favourite – is played with a euphoniousness of the melodic line and an acute awareness of its shape.  Hamelin certainly brings out the absolute wildness of the music in the Prelude in G-sharp minor.


The pianist plays the Prelude in F-sharp major with a real sense of buoyancy in the right hand chords and with great beauty in the left hand accompaniment figures. The transition into the Piu lento D-sharp minor section is magical. He plays the Prelude in E-flat minor with greater clarity than many other pianists, highlighting not so much the dark swirling harmonies (which are there, but just not the focus), but taking us through the contours of the melodic line. In the Prelude in D-flat major, I feel that he is highlighting the obsessive quality, with the repeated notes in the left hand, that pervade the entire work. He achieves effective contrast between the tranquility in the opening section and the funereal middle section. Hamelin’s playing of the Prelude in B-flat minor takes my breath away. He underscores the surging quality of the music, and conveys the feeling of a wild chase with the music. His performance of the Prelude in A-flat major gives me the feeling of a complete happiness and contentment. I find his playing of the repeated A-flat pedal notes very beautiful indeed, so beautifully evoking the sounds of distant bells. In the Prelude in F minor, Hamelin plays out the rhetorical nature of the right hand melody as well as the feeling of a brief but violent outburst in this music.


In the Prelude in E-flat major, Hamelin effective pedaling highlights the subtle beauty of the harmonic changes. He underscores the sense of broadness Prelude in C minor, and I find the final pianissimo phrase particularly affecting and beautiful. His playing of the Prelude in B-flat major invites us to hear the harmonic changes in the left hand, providing a cushion of sound to the “Chopinesque” right hand melody. The pianist conjures up a little storm in the Prelude in G minor, playing up the composer’s Molto agitato indication to the hilt. The Prelude in F major is played with a beguiling smoothness that evokes the tranquility of the surface of a lake on a beautiful morning.  If the G minor prelude evokes a little storm, the Prelude in D minor is a veritable hurricane – pianist Fou Ts’ong refers to this piece as “Genghis Khan”. Hamelin certainly plays out the utter storm-tossed wildness and abandon of the music, and maintains the almost unbearable tension until the three sonorous low D’s that end the piece, and the set. 


In his performance, Hamelin manages to convey the unique character of each prelude, but also a sort of organic unity that ties the pieces together as a set.


The artist is utterly convincing in the Andante spianato et Grande polonaise, Op. 22. In the opening andante, one of Chopin’s most lovely melodies (and that’s saying a lot), he spins out the long and smooth legato line like an opera singer. This opening andante serves as a perfect foil to the brilliance of the Grande polonaise. For me, this is one of the composer’s trickiest compositions to play. On top of the considerable technical demands, the even greater challenge is to play the theme, which returns many times, in a way that captures the listener every time. Hamelin succeeds in all counts here, with his uncanny ear and musical instincts bringing out each recurrence of the theme with different colours and inflections. On top of all this, he delivers a performance of this work that is beguilingly stylish.


Charles Richard-Hamelin’s latest recording drives home a belief that I have, that every generation will have great Chopin interpreters that will bring fresh and new ideas to the composer’s creations. Like all timeless music, the music of Chopin will continue to beguile, challenge, inspire, and, ultimately, move both musicians and listeners with its otherworldly beauty and a startling originality, no matter how many times we have heard or play these same works. Even in the very crowded catalogue of great Chopin recordings, there is, or should be, room for this one addition. I am certain that this would make a very welcomed addition to your Chopin discography.





Thursday, April 15, 2021

A New Discovery

I just finished watching and listening to the online Canadian premiere of Juliusz Zarębski’s Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 34.


Juliusz who? You might well be asking this very reasonable question.


Well, he was a composer and pianist with a pretty impressive CV. Juliusz Zarębski was born on February 28th, 1854 in what would be today’s Ukraine. He studied piano and composition at the Vienna Conservatory from 1870 to 1872, and then at the St. Petersburg Conservatory, obtaining the title of free artist in 1873. More significantly perhaps were his years of private study with Franz Liszt, from 1874 to 1877, becoming one of the master’s favourite pupils. In 1880, Zarębski was appointed professor of piano at the Brussels Conservatory – he received a letter of congratulations from Liszt on his appointment. The promise of a brilliant career and happy family life ended when he contracted tuberculosis and died just a few years later at age 31.


Like his compatriot Chopin, Zarębski’s musical compositions focus mostly on the piano. At the end of his short life, in 1885, he composed this masterful Piano Quintet in G minor. Liszt thought highly of his music, and worked actively to promote it. The G minor piano quintet does betray the influence of other composers, but the end result is a highly original late-romantic masterwork of chamber music, music of great yearning and tension. Unlike compositions of many 19th century piano virtuosi, this quintet is very much a genuine chamber music work for equals, and not a closet piano concerto with string accompaniment.


The Chopin Society of Atlanta and The Vancouver Chopin Society have put together a stellar ensemble of participants for this performance – the distinguished Silesian String Quartet and pianist Wojciech Świtała, an artist very much known for his playing of Chopin. The production team filmed the performance beautifully indeed, with varying camera angles that highlight the excitement of the playing as well as the interplay between musicians. The picture resolution is high, almost as sharp as that of a BluRay disc. The recorded sound captured very naturally the balance of the instruments, as well as the piano sound.


The performance is a deeply committed one. The musicians had obviously thought about the score thoroughly. The playing reveals the participants’ deep feelings for and understanding of the score. Świtała brilliantly rose to the many pianistic challenges – not the least of which is the fiercely difficult third movement - but managed at the same time to integrate his playing into the fabric of musical texture. 


The presenters have done the music world a great service in presenting this performance. I hope that this performance of Zarębski’s piano quintet will not only attract music lovers to the composer’s creations, but also musicians in taking up this work as well as the composer’s other scores.





Saturday, April 3, 2021

Jan Swafford's "Mozart - The Reign of Love"

When contemplating the enormity of Mozart’s creative genius, it is tempting to think it to be the job of theologians, tantamount to asking why God created the world, and why in seven days. Yet, as any good biographer of the composer would tell us, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was very much human, a musical genius who, just like the rest of us, did his best to navigate through the challenges of the world around him. 


Jan Swafford’s Mozart – The Reign of Love (Harper Collins Publishers, 2020) – is a highly readable (a musicological page-turner, actually) and insightful biography of the composer. I had previously admired Swafford’s Beethoven biography, but I enjoyed reading this present volume even more, perhaps because of the author’s obvious passion for the music. In his analysis of the many masterpieces of Mozart, there is a sense of wonderment that one senses between the lines. In fact, as I was reading, I could sense the author’s passion, his brimming with enthusiasm, as he shares his many discoveries about Mozart and his music. Also different from the Beethoven volume is that the author seamlessly weaves the copious musical analysis - not surprising, considering Mozart’s output - of the music into the narrative flow. 


Mozart was very much a child of his times. Unlike Beethoven, there is no evidence to show any rebelliousness against the ruling class, nor did he share Beethoven’s gift for the “business” of music in terms of “marketing” his creations. Musically, Mozart was not a revolutionary, and he had no sense of his works immortality. With some notable exceptions, many works were written to fulfill a need, or to meet his often not inconsiderable expenses. 


Realizing his two children’s musical talent, Leopold was quick to give them a thorough musical education, and even more quick to exploit his children’s musical gifts. Indeed, the proceeds from the many concert tours with Wolfgang and Nannerl – both the cash they pocketed as well as the proceeds from sale of the many gifts they were given – would provide comfortably for Leopold to his old age. Leopold took care of every detail of the tours, told the children what and how much to play, and took care of the money. That said, in spite of his successfully nurturing of young Wolfgang, Leopold would become, in time, an obstacle for his son to have to deal with, simply because he was incapable of understanding what his son had become, and what he had become to his son. Perhaps this is a recurring theme in the parent-child relationship. The greater the child’s talents, the larger the distance between the child and the parent; given Mozart’s towering genius, one can only imagine the chasm of misunderstanding that would come to separate father and son.


Contrary to popular myth, Mozart did not immediately start writing timeless masterpieces from the get-go. Rather, his early efforts in composition shows him to be a brilliant mimic, but one with an incredibly steep learning curve, absorbing and internalizing the style and technique of older composers, making them his own, and create something that is entirely unique to him. Toward the end of his life, everything he touched turned into gold, and almost everything he wrote by then became, in the words of Swafford, “historic”.


According to the author, the first piece that gives us a hint of Mozart really finding his own compositional voice would be the “fetching and gently puckish” Andante of the Cassation, K. 63. The development, Swafford says, “was not in opposition to convention…but largely within convention.” Mozart composed in pretty much every major musical genre we know of today, and the author deftly incorporated many of these compositions into the various chapters of the composer’s life.


In his lifetime, Mozart would witness the piano quickly overshadowing the harpsichord as the predominant keyboard instrument, and he would create a body of works that still challenges today’s pianists. As a keyboard player, contemporary observations seem to show that Mozart was more a harpsichordist than a pianist. When the young Beethoven heard Mozart play, he was heard to remark that the older man had “no legato” – interesting especially considering how Mozart would emphasize a singing style of playing, saying that the music should flow like oil – suggesting perhaps that by Beethoven’s standards, “Mozart still had the fastidious style of a harpsichordist.” 


In 1777, Mozart met the piano maker Stein, tried his instruments, and was impressed with them. Swafford states that probably, “he understood at this point that the harpsichord was on its way out and the piano was the clavier of the future.” The author adds that the meeting with Stein would probably have been the moment when Mozart began the transition from harpsichordist to pianist. Later that year, Mozart performed his Concerto in F major, K. 242 (for three pianos) on three new Stein pianos, modestly taking the considerably easier third piano part.


Once settled in Vienna, Mozart started presenting his own series of concerts, presenting himself not only as composer but featuring himself as piano soloist. The result was of course the series of magnificent piano concerti he would compose in the last decade of his life. According to Swafford, starting with the Piano Concerto in E-flat, K. 449, arguably the first of his mature concerti, his piano concerti would become “more substantial, bigger in sound with a full wind section, the orchestra no longer a simple and obedient accompanist to the soloist.” Moreover, the author adds, the concerti were becoming more symphonic, and richer in material, where, “(t)hemes are multiplying in the first-movement exposition, longer and more searching developments becoming the norm…Before long in his concertos, the soloist will be adding substantial new ideas to the dialogue, the conversation of orchestra and soloist getting more elaborate and varied.”


Perhaps the pinnacle of Mozart’s concerto compositions would arguably be the Piano Concerto in D minor, K. 466. As Swafford eloquently states, the “D minor is an advance over the splendid concertos of the previous year. Here begin the works that set the genre on the path it would pursue for the next hundred years and beyond.” Moreover, the D minor concerto and the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 467 that followed it, would be “models and inspirations for a subsequent social and artistic era that prized the shadowed and demonic and called itself Romantic.”


Swafford conjectures that the C minor concerto may have been premiered at a concert at the Burgtheater on April 7th, 1786. After this concert, there would be a winding down of his busy public performing schedule, which suited him, as he was busier as ever as a composer.


On January 5th of 1791, Mozart premiered his Piano Concerto No. 27 in B-flat, K. 595. As this would prove to be his last creation for the genre, it is easy to conjecture whether the composer knew it to be his valedictory work, but there is no hint of him saying farewell. On the contrary, Mozart was entering into, if he had lived, probably the most prosperous period of his professional life, as well as the advent “toward a new chapter in his art.”


Mozart started as a symphonist at around 1764 with a Symphony No. 1 in E-flat, K. 16. His first four-movement (this was the prevailing form in Vienna) symphony was the Symphony in F, K. 43. Throughout his life, he would fluctuate between the three-movement and four-movement forms of the symphony. Between December 1771 and the end of 1774, Mozart was to write seventeen symphonies, heard in house concerts around Salzburg, where he regularly played. These symphonies would be written in a more “Viennese-oriented style”, meaning they would be more four-movement works. The tone of these symphonies would be “weightier, and with less of the frothy atmosphere of Italian opera buffa.” There is an interesting discussing on Mozart’s Symphony No. 25 in G minor, K. 183, his first in this key, about whether the work was “inflected by Sturm und Drang”, or if it was a reflection of some personal tragedy at the time – Swafford feels that the answer would be no to both speculations, because even though “there was likely a whiff of Sturm und Drang in the zeitgeist…it was not fully developed, and there is no real record of his contact with it.” Neither is there any evidence of any sad events in Mozart’s life at the time of composition. As the author points out further, “Mozart did not require tragic feelings at the moment to write a tragic work.” The composer already made a musical sketch in G minor when he was eight years old, and so this key “has already invaded his sensibility, taking him to places in his personal and creative consciousness that were acquainted with obsession, tragedy, sorrow, wrath.” 


In October 1777, Mozart arrived in Mannheim with his mother. The city was known for its justly famous orchestra – consisting of twenty violins, four violas and four celli, two basses, flutes, oboes, bassoons and horns (two each), and clarinets, an instrument that is just becoming a regular part of the wind section. The Mannheim orchestral style – with such novel features as the “Mannheim crescendo”, “Mannheim rocket” thematic figure, and the two-note “Mannheim sigh” – would all figure prominently in the symphonic works of Mozart. The author feels that his Symphony in D major, 297/300a – came to be known as the Paris symphony – would be his first Mannheim style symphony, premiered by Paris’ enormous Concert Spirituel orchestra, with twenty-one violins, five violas and five basses, eight celli, the wind section included clarinets, four bassoons, as well as a pair of trumpets and horns. Another symphony that calls for a full wind compliment of pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns and trumpets is the Haffner Symphony (K. 485), which was premiered in the first of a triumphant series of concerts Mozart would present in Vienna for the next few years, on March 23rd, 1783. 


With the Symphony No. 38 in D major, K. 504, the so-called Prague symphony because of its premiere in that city, Mozart was really experimenting with form. The first movement begins with a long introduction, something the composer rarely does. There is elaborate counterpoint in the development section, and Swafford points out that Mozart’s sketches show him experimenting with thematic combinations. He adds that by now Mozart’s recapitulations “are less likely to be literal; this one keeps working over the material as if it were an extension of the development section.” In the final movement, the first theme returns at the end of the exposition, and it was extensively worked over in the development. The final surprise comes at the end, when the recapitulation starts with the second theme before returning to a varied first theme.


In 1789, Emperor Joseph declared war on Turkey, a war that would lead to a severe downturn of the Austrian economy and a decimation of concert activities in Vienna. Yet through it all, Mozart continues to compose. In the summer of 1788, he produced the three symphonies that would crown his career as a symphonist – the Symphony No. 39, in E-flat, K. 543, Symphony No. 40 in G minor, K. 550, and Symphony No. 41 in C, K. 551. Such is the perfection of these three works, so stark is the contrast between their respective moods, that a previous writer compares them with the joyful (E-flat), sorrowful (G minor) and glorious (C major) mysteries of the rosary. Although these last three symphonies were not commissioned, and there was no record of them being performed in the composer’s lifetime, Swafford argues that Mozart did not compose them for posterity, but with an eye for upcoming performing opportunities. He adds that for the composer, these works do not mark an endpoint, but rather a new beginning, and “(w)ith what he had achieved, it would have appeared to him that there was plenty of time for more symphonies. Plenty of time.”


In 1768, the emperor casually asked Leopold in the course of their conversation, without really meaning it, if Mozart would write an opera. The result of La finta semplice, and in the compositional process Mozart learned not only the art of writing an opera, but also the politics of getting it produced. The opera was never publicly performed, but given a private performance in Vienna. During the long period of (mostly Leopold) trying to get the opera produced, Mozart had in the meantime composed another opera – Bastien und Bastienne, which was given a read-through at a private home, with either small orchestra or just piano. More significantly, perhaps, is the fact that Mozart saw an opera by Johann Adolph Hasse, with libretto by Metastasio, while visiting Cremona. The opera was La clemenza de Tito, a story that would follow him to the end of his life. According to the author, it is in Lucio Silla that Mozart came into his own as an opera composer, as the “melodies are sure-handed, the orchestral sound rich and varied…There is an indefatigable – call it wholly Mozartian – rhythmic energy in the accompaniments.” In spite of some birth pains, the opera would turn out to be a hit, ran for a total of twenty-six performances to full houses, and with the prima donna’s arias regularly encored – encores for popular arias were standard practice.


In Munich in 1780, Mozart received the commission for Idomeneo. According to the author, Mozart preferred composer opera seria, and had, by that time, “learned to work more freely around seria’s rigmaroles of form and character and story.” He adds the insightful comment that, “Mozart never felt constricted by convention but instead worked comfortably within it, stretching and bending it as needed. He took what the world offered him, digested it, and gave it back in his voice.” This is a statement that can probably be applied to every compositional genre Mozart laid his hands on. Swafford further comments that artists in Mozart’s time would, in their creations, tried to “express some universal essence pertaining to humanity or nature of God.” In contrast to artists of the 19th century who would write “from inside out”, Mozart would write “from outside in”.  Part of what was outside was emotional and expressive, but would also comprise forms, rules, conventions, genres, and expressive devices. Mozart, probably more than any composer of his time, was able to interiorize the rules and conventions, meld them with his personality, and create something of beauty. For Mozart, what we now called the sonata form was a given, even if “within it one had a great deal of flexibility.” As mentioned before, for Mozart, and also Haydn, the highest praise for a work was that it was natural, meaning that the creation “reached something universal, came off as if it had written itself.”


In November of 1780, Mozart traveled to Munich to finish work on Idomeneo. At the time, the opera libretto was taken more seriously, and held to be on a higher artistic plane, than the music. Mozart “would be the composer who changed this dynamic.” The correspondence between Mozart and Leopold would provide the only record of how the compositional process was progressing. Although the opera was only moderately successfully received, Swafford states that, “Mozart would call this time with Idomeneo the happiest period of his life. He would never again enjoy such relatively unobstructed control over a production, at the height of his powers, surrounded by admirers and with no significant enemies, with audiences eager to hear what he would give them.” Mozart’s comments on the rehearsal would show that the theatrical aspects of an opera production, as well as the singers’ acting abilities, were paramount to him. And in the character of Ilia, “the idea of a heroine who serves as mediator and savior was entirely to Mozart’s tastes.” His later operatic masterpieces would give us many such strong, wise women. In terms of instrumentation, Idomeneo would produce the richest orchestral writing among his operas, with some beautiful writings for the winds – including two clarinets – as well as the first time trombones were used in opera. Trombones were not used in the premiere, only because the overseer of the production balked at the cost of hiring extra musicians for a few bars of music. Swafford concludes that this opera would herald a leitmotif that would mark Mozart both as a dramatist and as a man – the triumph of love.


On June 8th, 1781, Mozart would make his final break with his native Salzburg, and the hated Archbishop Colloredo. In June of that same year, Mozart arrived in Vienna to begin the final decade of his life. In this move he received no help from his father, who kept all the funds from their early tours until the end. He arrived in Vienna during the reign of Joseph II, the self-declared Volkskaiser, who set out to promote “a free and enlightened state by dictatorial means with no element of democracy”. One of Joseph’s many reforms that would eventually touched Mozart’s life was his new regulation for funerals and burials. In order to move cemeteries out of the city, the emperor “decreed radical procedures for common burials: after memorial ceremonies in town, bodies were to be sewn in a sack, hauled out to the countryside, and tossed into a common grave.” The idea behind putting the body in a sack was to speed up the decomposition process.


In terms of music, Joseph wanted German singspiel as well as Italian comic opera, and thereby turning Mozart into the supreme composer of opera buffa. In addition, the emperor’s simplification of the use of music in church meant that Mozart turned his attention more toward instrumental music, most notably his last glorious series of piano concerti.


Mozart’s reputation preceded him, and it did not take long before he gained a foothold in Vienna, as a teacher, composer and performer. He had a talented student, Josepha Barbara Auernhammer, who became a noted interpreter of his works, to the extent that Mozart allowed her edit and supervise some of his publications in Vienna. Together they performed Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos, K. 365 as well as his spirited Sonata in D major for Two Pianos, K. 448. Mozart was commissioned to write an opera, which resulted in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, creating a sensation at its premiere on July 16th, 1782, and firmly establishing him as a composer in Vienna. Unfortunately, Mozart was never able to write another opera that became nearly as popular in his lifetime. 


In addition to his discussion of the opera, Swafford presents us with interesting insights into the relatively minor character of the palace servant Osmin, which on the surface appears to be an exotic buffoon, not to mention a racial stereotype - especially in today’s hypersensitive eyes concerning such matters – cruel, lustful and stupid. The author proposes, however, that there is more than what meets the eye. Swafford states that Mozart took up the convention (the ostensibly stereotypical figure), “tugged and twisted it for his own purposes and for the gratification of his performers. If he made use of conventions, he was not interested in clichés. Osmin ended as one of his great creations for the stage, a more dynamic and idiosyncratic character than any other in the cast.” Likewise, Mozart humanizes the figure of pasha Selim, who puts aside his feelings and want for revenge, putting Selim in the company of “the forgiving kings of Mozart’s opera serias, the clemency of Idomeneo and Titus.”


In 1786, at the heights of his creative powers, Mozart would begin work on Le nozze di FIgaro, his miraculous divine comedy. He was anxious about working on Beaumarchais’ controversial play. The fact that Joseph approved the play had to do with his reforms, which partly aimed at reducing the power of the aristocracy, and thereby enhancing the emperor’s power, and so an opera about the excesses of the aristocracy would perfectly suit the emperor’s programme. That said, Mozart and Lorenzo da Ponte had to streamline the convoluted plot, take away the truly inflammatory parts, simplifying the characters, making them archetypes. As Swafford says, “(t)he depth of these figures would have to come from the music.” - which it does, and so much more. 


For me, as it seems to be for the author as well, the most sublime moment of the opera comes with those few measures of music sung by the Countess in the final act, when she expresses her forgiveness for the Count. The music elevates that simple line into a Christ-like forgiveness of sins. The author writes, “This is what Mozart brings, beyond Da Ponte’s understated finish: forgiveness is sacred. All join in the hymn that rises to a majestic peroration.” He adds that at the end of the opera, what remains is love, “a love of hearts and minds and bodies.” I agree wholeheartedly with Swafford that, “Figaro is as close to perfect as Mozart ever came, which is to say as close as opera ever came.”


The opera enjoyed only a modest success in Vienna, but within two years of the premiere, the opera would be performed throughout Europe, enjoying in particular a wild success in Prague.


The original scenario of Don Giovanni called for an opera within an opera, where a traveling opera company decided to present this “marvelous bit of filth” as one way to alleviate its financial troubles. Although an opera buffa, the character of Don Juan, in Mozart’s hands, would turn out to be “a figure fascinating but hardly funny.” From the first moments, with the searing chords in D minor, Mozart’s demonic key, we would hear some of his most foreboding music, and this introduction would “foreshadow the music and drama at end of the opera”. With the title character of Don Giovanni, the author suggests that Mozart does not make musical judgments or prophecies for the character. In composing, he was acting the text, “giving himself to the reality of the moment, evoking the emotion at hand”, just as an actor would in a drama. Both the text and the music show the character to be both rapist and murderer, and one who corrupts all around him. The ending of the opera, Swafford writes, “has an insistent moral logic: God has to stop Don Giovanni because nobody else can. He is the primal and ungovernable power of sexuality embodied. He precipitates a crisis in the moral order, and only God can restore the balance.” In seeing the opera, he continues, the audience becomes complicit in the crimes. We are seeing an evil person getting away with his wrongdoings, and part of us wanted him to get away with it. In Don Giovanni, Swafford concludes, “we have seen the demon and he is us.”


There seems to be no record of when Mozart started working on Cosi fan tutte. Swafford states that Da Ponte seemed to have originally written the libretto for Salieri, who rejected it. One could argue that this remains one of Mozart’s most misunderstood operas. He suggests that perhaps the story is Da Ponte’s own views on love, which is something both “secular and provisional…ruled by inconstancy of humans in general and of women in particular, everybody helpless in the grip of desire.” The author does not feel that Mozart would be “on the same page” as Da Ponte, in the sense of taking such a jaundiced view of love. In the music, he writes, “he would usually portray the emotion at hand, expressing the truth of the moment and not necessarily what was in the hearts of the characters, who in the case of the men much of the time, are lying.” He goes on to argue that maybe this is why “Cosi is most unsettling when it is most beautiful.” And there is much in this opera that is ravishing to the ear. Essentially the opera “is acting about acting, putting masks on masks…and acting is a form of lying we sanction and love because it can move us profoundly.” It is difficult not to think that there is some degree of misogyny at play here, but the men are also portrayed as foolish. Perhaps we are not meant to take the story of the opera as our philosophy, just as a piece of theatre with very splendid music. The sheer improbability and ridiculousness of the whole scenario seem to suggest that we are not meant to take it seriously.


With the death of Joseph, the crown got passed to Emperor Leopold II, who decreed three lavish coronations in spite of the still recovering economy. The Prague impresario Domenico Guardasoni offered opera commission of La Clemenza di Tito – part of Leopold coronation festivities - to Mozart, again after Salieri had turned Guardasoni down. At this time, Mozart had already started work on Die Zauberflöte, and had received the commission for the Requiem. The heavy workload of this year would ultimately prove to be detrimental to his health. By the evening of Tito’s premiere, the composer was already exhausted and ill. The premiere performance was a failure, because of inadequate rehearsals, but the opera would eventually find an audience in Prague, even though it would remain one of Mozart’s less frequently performed mature operas.


Mozart’s friendship with Emanuel Schikaneder dates from his Salzburg days, when the actor, director, playwright, and impresario, arrived in town with his troupe. Schikaneder was befriended by the Mozart family, a friendship that would last until Mozart’s last days. 


In the spring of 1791, Mozart would sit down with Schikaneder and talked, planned and sketched out the scenarios for Die Zauberflöte. By Mozart’s standards, the pace of composition would have been positively leisurely. Schikaneder was aiming for entertainment value, and had no ambitions toward depth for this work, but with Mozart writing the music, the results would turn out to be quite otherwise. Both men did set out to write an allegory of Freemasonry. Swafford feels that any pontifications about women would have come from Schikaneder and not Mozart, as he has amply demonstrated in his operas that, “was not interested in submissive women.” The idea of an allegory was also to get around the increasingly ubiquitous censors that had permeated every aspect of Austrian life. He also conjectures that the name and temperament of Sarastro may have been inspired by Shakespeare’s Prospero in The Tempest.


Right at the beginning of the first act, Mozart turns our expectation upside down. Tamino, the prince, the hero, collapses in the face of danger, and had to be saved by women.  When in Act II, one of the brothers wonders if Tamino would survive the ordeal of the tests, as he is merely a prince. To that Sarastro replies, “No, he is more than that. He is a man.” This statement, argues Swafford, is not to say that a man is superior to a woman, but that to be such a man, a hero, is much more consequential than to be a prince. Further on in the drama, Mozart adds another element Masonry had not yet embraced, Pamina would be initiated into the Brotherhood as well. 


When, later on, Tamino states that he is ready to go alone into the ordeals, Pamina appears, and it is now understood that she must go with him, “not behind him but leading him.” Here, Mozart “makes the guide toward the light a woman. She is woman as an image of the power of wisdom and of love.” The love we witness in Die Zauberflöte “is a different and more exalted matter than the love of Figaro and Susanna, which is sensual and playful, or love in Cosi, which is manifestly sexual.” In this opera, love between man and woman is elevated, it is “transcendent, joined to the order of society and of the cosmos.”


Although Mozart also started early as a composer of string quartets, the early quartets were pretty much centered on the first violin, with the cello playing a simple bass line, and the second violin and viola playing “fillers”. The same can be said of his early piano-centric violin sonatas, as well as piano trios. One notable piece of chamber music that deserves to be mentioned is the Quintet in E-flat for Piano and Winds, K. 452, a work that demonstrates not only Mozart’s love for the colours of wind instruments, but showing once again how Mozart would look past the convention of writing a light divertimento when wind instruments are involved, but coming out with a highly substantial “concerto for five instruments in a concerto-like three movements.” The young Beethoven was no doubt inspired by, and would model his own quintet for the same combination of instruments on, this work of Mozart’s.


More than any composer in the 18th century, Haydn was the one who turned the string quartet into a “dialogue of four equal participants, and the supreme demonstration both of a composer’s craft and his creative soul.” The author considers the first of the set of “Haydn” quartets (No. 18) as the first of his truly important quartets. No doubt Mozart was influenced by his knowledge of the older composer’s quartets. With the oft-repeated story of how Mozart composed as if dictating from God, Swafford points out that these Haydn quartets “cost him many months of desultory and frustrating labor, some of the manuscripts showing sketching and revising and false starts far beyond what was usual for him. In these quartets, one notices the “steady presence of counterpoint in the discourse” as well as “a new weightiness of tone.” In 1790, Mozart finished the first three of the six Prussian quartets, an endeavour that took much time and energy. The result of his labour would be, perhaps for the first time, works “with the cello in a featured role beyond anything done in a quartet by Haydn or probably anybody else.”


With the sensational success of Die Zauberflöte, and the increasing popularity of La Clemenza di Tito, Mozart would have been entering the most successful professional period of his life. Constanze Mozart had begun to take over the finances of the family, and turning out to be good at it. Mozart was paying off the debts he incurred the last few years, and his letters from this period were invariably cheerful in tone. Even the earlier rivalry with Salieri had turned into a mutual respect, even friendship. In his later years, Salieri reportedly always spoke of Mozart in the most respectful manner.


Here is probably a good opportunity to delve briefly into two sacred works from Mozart’s last year. On June 17th he completed the brief but astounding Ave verum corpus, a setting of the old Eucharistic chant, once sung at churches at the elevation of the Host. In this brief three-minute work, Mozart achieved a sense of perfection, “an ideal object impeccable to the last note.” Swafford’s eloquent words regarding this work deserves our attention:

“He had reached a place inside himself where his inspiration assembled technique and tradition into a sense of revelation…As to the beauty of the work, there are no adequate words. The radiance of the music is joined to a singular prayerful introspection…If there is a comparison, it is to the transcendent refinement of Palestrina, in its crystalline transparency and its subtle expression of cuius latus perforatum (whose pierced side)…a sacred music that goes straight to the heart of common humanity.”


Perhaps Ave verum corpus is the kind of music Mozart would have written more of had he been Kapellmeister of St. Stephen’s Cathedral. 


Mozart probably started working earnestly on the much written about Requiem after the premiere of Die Zauberflöte. As in Ave verum corpus, there is a kind of beautiful restraint in its restricted orchestral forces, orchestration – which mostly doubles the choir – and with each of the relatively short movements developing a small range of musical ideas. With the Requiem, the overriding affect is one of resignation, peace and acceptance. As he had once written to his father that death is man’s best and truest friend. Swafford concludes that, “He had learned that from the Masons: only when you know death can you truly live.” It was in the midst of putting down thoughts for the Domine Jesu and the Hostias that Mozart probably realized that he was dying. According to his sister-in-law Sophie, “the last sound he made was trying to sing the timpani part from the Requiem.” Sophie said that she could still hear that sound in her head even decades later. 


We end this appreciation of Jan Swafford’s splendid biography with a few words about Mozart’s letters. It is perhaps in his voluminous correspondence that Mozart truly reveals himself as a man, and in reading all these letters we can probably get quite a good picture of the man. In a letter to his wife, written during one of the children’s many tours, Leopold Mozart asked her to carefully preserve all his letters – was he already thinking of Wolfgang’s place in music history? According to Swafford, Mozart would adopt very different tones in his letters to different individuals. His early letters to his sister was full of verbal high jinx and horseplay, full of veiled and not-so-veiled references to sex and scatology. Later on, as their relationship cooled, the tone would become much more sober, even business-like. 


Mozart early letters to his father would touch on musical and practical matters, like a 1777 letter when Mozart addressed the subject of tempo rubato in his music. Then there were the series of letters from Vienna singing the virtues of the Weber sisters, first Aloysia, and then Constanze, who would become his wife. His letters to his wife would always be filled with love and devotion, although he does betray his jealousy when they have been separated for long, as in some of the letters in his last years when Constanze had to spend long periods of time at Baden because of her health. Then there are the pleading letters to friends during times of financial crisis, asking for loans. His friend Michael Puchberg would be a frequent recipient of such letters. Finally, there are letters to his musical friends and colleagues, with much clever word play and verbal jousting.


In spite of the oceans of ink that have been spilled over the subject of Mozart, a man so complex as he can always welcome another volume that shed new insights on him a man and a musician. Anyone reading this splendid volume would indeed be rewarded by many such insights into not only Mozart’s musical creations, but also the socio-historical background against which they were written. I find his comments on Mozart’s many operas particularly perceptive. Indeed, I find myself, sometimes excited, other times moved by his passion for the subject, and for his eloquent insights into the composer’s many musical creations, highlighting the genius behind the music’s logic. 


Finally, it is difficult for me to contemplate Mozart without invoking God. To think that music of such overwhelming beauty and perfection could have been written by a man who is merely a product of genetics, would be wholly inadequate indeed.