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Where we're at ... and Mackerras remembered

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Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny | 22:04 UK Time, Saturday, 8 January 2011

Picture of Sara Mohr-Pietsch with the lights down low in Studio 80A

Sara Mohr-Pietsch with the lights down low in Studio 80A

Radio Three programmes normally come from a tiny studio deep inside Broadcasting House.  So far inside, in fact, that there’s no daylight. It’s on the third floor, and was once a consecrated space, complete with altar, used for the Daily Service.

For The Genius of Mozart we’ve relocated to the top of the building,  a much larger studio on the 8th floor,  that enables us to accommodate live music at any point in the day.  You might have caught Leon McCawley playing sonatas on Classical Collection and Afternoon on Three,  the Heath Quartet on Breakfast,  fortepianist Richard Egarr and baritone Sir Thomas Allen on In Tune.   It’s a lovely space, originally the BBC’s Military Band Studio.  During the recent refurbishment of Broadcasting House,  two faux ocular windows were opened up, so now light streams in,  the sun setting just before In Tune takes to the air.   

I’ve had the lights bright when I’ve been in the studio presenting Performance on 3,  but my colleague Sara Mohr-Pietsch prefers something more intimate during  Play Mozart for Me.  On the first night, we spent some minutes experimenting with the fancy light switches.  In the end Sara went for almost complete darkness,  a single energy saving light bulb in an Anglepoise providing enough illumination for her to see her notes.  It certainly creates atmosphere in the studio. 

I’ve been thinking much about Charles Mackerras and his  Mozartian legacy this weekend -  we celebrated his enormous contribution towards Mozart research and performance in a programme this morning.  He was 16 when he first started writing Mozart pastiches,  a process which convinced him that a) he wasn’t going to be a composer,  and that b) Mozart had an extraordinary ability to turn out works on demand.  ‘There are sometimes occasional signs that Mozart was writing extremely quickly,'  he told Gramophone Magazine in 2005.  ‘But even Mozart writing at top speed has something completely special about him.’

In the early 1960s Sir Charles went to Donaueschingen,  then best known for its radical new music festival,  but also home to a rich collection of Mozart opera scores used for early performances.  There he became fascinated with Mozart’s ability to re-write and reshape arias for individual singers, often making major changes at the eleventh hour.  He also studied Mozart’s use of appoggiaturas and ornamentation,  which influenced his seminal Sadler’s Wells production of The Marriage of Figaro in 1965,  performances that were mocked by some,  and hailed as seminal by others.  Mozart’s operas went on to play a major role in his career;  Cosi Fan Tutte at Glyndebourne last June turned out to be his final work - he died just a few weeks later.

As I said on air, it was great presenting the tribute from the studio where Mackerras regularly joined Sean Rafferty and I on In Tune.  He was always jovial,  with plenty to say about the works he was performing, offering fascinating details of musicology clearly explained in his no-nonsense Australian brogue.  Just hearing his voice again brought a smile to my lips.

Picture of the Heath Quartet relax before performing live on In Tune

The Heath Quartet relax before performing live on In Tune


Picture of Cliff Eisen


The distinguished scholar and writer Cliff Eisen (left) has been a key part of the Genius of Mozart.  There’s probably no one else in the world who knows as much about the composer.  He’s been chief consultant,  ensuring not a note is missed.  I’ve never met him,  but am looking forward very much to Wednesday evening, the final night,  when he’ll take listeners' calls on any Mozart matter.  Before that, hear him on Sunday at 6pm in a concert-documentary that recreates a charity benefit Mozart gave in Vienna in March 1783.  And Cliff has recorded a series of podcast features tracing the history of Mozart through objects associated with him,  including a deck of cards hand painted by Leopold,  an air gun,  and Wolfgang’s watch.  They provide fascinating insights and are well worth downloading,  for free, from the website. 


  • Comment number 1.

    "As I said on air, it was great presenting the tribute from the studio where Mackerras regularly joined Sean Rafferty and I on In Tune." Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

    It is almost unbelievable that it was 45 years ago that Mackerras conducted "Figaro" at Sadlers Wells. I was at a couple of the performances and very interested by an article by CM (I think in "Opera" magazine) talking about style in Mozart (and also the order of the third act). Now I probably come into the category of opera-goers of whom Beecham said "They adore music: they don't understand it, but they love the noise it makes" so perhaps the following comments should be read guardedly. I had previously read many music critics who were at pains to point out the need for (and historical relevance of) appogiatura, though I don't think I really got the point until those Figaro performances. It was a bit like hearing for the first time a performance of a classical symphony with repeats: after that, omitting them just sounds wrong. The order of Act 3 also made sense: I had often thought that the Count's aria sounded as if it should have been an "exit" aria: in going back to the original order of Act 3, it became one: also, the whole act made more dramatic sense.


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