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A Mozart bombe, and a one-handed trumpet

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Petroc Trelawny Petroc Trelawny | 18:26 UK Time, Friday, 7 January 2011

Picture of the Mozart Bombe


We have passed the halfway mark in The Genius of Mozart.  There are no signs of any reduction in the energy of my colleagues here at Broadcasting House,  but I thought a little cake might help boost all our sugar levels.  This is a Mozart Bombe,  a speciality of Café Schwartzenberg in Vienna.  We had a slice there on Sunday before returning to London.  From a distance,  it didn’t look promising;  the green food colouring somehow triggered my brain to think of oleaginous sickly sweetness. In fact it was delicious, pistachio flavoured, light and delicate.  Worthy of the Vienna Torte Association Gold medal. 

A great evening last night at Kings Place,  with the Aurora Orchestra.  Hall One was completely full for what is the first of five appearances the orchestra makes as part of the venue's year-long Mozart Unwrapped Festival.  In the interval half the audience joined us in Hall Two for a discussion on Genius.  Mathematician Marcus du Sautoy revealed he is no chess grandmaster, and single-handed made the case for Arsenal footballer Cesc Fabregas to be acclaimed a genius.  Writer Peggy Reynolds reminded us that the word's current usage was settled around the time of Mozart.  ‘It was the romantics at the end of the 18the century that set up the idea of the solitary,  tortured individual, suffering for their art’. 

Not that Mozart was that tortured.  Simon Keefe,  co-editor of the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Mozart explained that he was certainly able to switch off his brain from time to time.  He loved being a host,  holding court, encouraging dancing after dinner, telling those long,  scatological jokes of which he was so fond, all as a way of switching off his prodigious brain.  Simon reckons we can distil Mozart’s genius down to one factor,  his ability to balance perfectly his twin roles as composer and performer.   He knew instinctively the different things required when writing for a favourite singer,  or creating a piano concerto for himself.   The true sign of his genius comes,  says Simon,  from his ability to effortlessly negotiate between the two skills. 

We also got on to the idea of whether geniuses are born or nurtured. Born definitely, argued Peggy,   but nurtured too countered Marcus.  He may have had terrific genes,  rich DNA,  but said Simon,  ‘in Mozart nature and nurture flow together brilliantly’.   And we must credit Leopold,  who often gets a bad press,  for releasing his son's talent.  ‘Here we’ve got one of Europe’s leading musicians,  who takes his son around the continent,  introducing him to all the great figures of the day.  In 1777 Mozart writes to his father telling him he could imitate any style of composition heard in the great cities of Europe.   Mozart was able to exploit his genius in part because of his father’s brilliant skill as a networker.  Remember,  Simon added,  Leopold got his son playing for George III just five days after arriving, almost unknown,  in London. 

It was a stimulating discussion,  that travelled from Catalan footballers to the slicing up of brains,  to TS Eliot and the Indian mathematician and autodidact Srinivasa Ramanujan.  If you missed it,  listen again here, and catch the Aurora Orchestra’s exciting concert as well.


Picture of the broadcast debate on genius

Broadcasting the debate on genius


Picture of BBC Philharmonic player Jamie Prophet with the 'posthorn' trumpet


I heard my colleague  Catherine Bott at lunchtime today introducing the last of the BBC Philharmonic Mozart lunchtime concerts from Manchester,  each featuring a piano concerto (today K482 played by Shai Wosner). That reminded me I hadn’t posted this photo – the orchestra's brilliant principal trumpet (and Cornishman) Jamie Prophet (right), with the posthorn he played in Mozart’s German Dances K605.  It was specially made for the occasion by a craftsman in Swindon,  and hired in for the occasion,   though BBC Phil chief producer Mike George loves it so much he’s thinking of buying it to add to his personal brass collection.   As you can see, it’s tiny, designed to be played with one hand,  while the musician held on to the reigns of his horse with the other.  But it makes a great sound. 



  • Comment number 1.

    This whole season proves that you can have too much of a good thing. I have attempted to listen to some of it to recapture an early delight in Mozart that long ago declined into indifference (with the exception of the da Ponte operas)but it has only served to highlight how for me Mozarts music wears you down. Just too many notes!

  • Comment number 2.

    Only half way?! All that effort and money spent on advertising for new listeners only to confirm their prejudices by showing them how boring radio 3 programming can be in the wrong hands.

  • Comment number 3.

    Oh, dear! Having listened most mornings since the start of this Mozart party, I am inclined to join the 'too much of a good thing' school. What has ruined the whole enterprise for me are the oft repeated announcements. On and on they go and some of them in that dreadful dramatic voice more suited to cheap satellite tv channels. It is an obsession, there is no other word for it, that has got the BBC in it's evil grip across the board. Try an evening with BBC4! Can anyone explain the necessity for these 'commercials'? What is the thinking behind the concept? I use the word 'thinking' advisedly!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    I coud not agree more with these latter comments. I switch on Radio 3 each day hoping the WAM wham is all over but it continues, endlessly it seems. Are we really only just half way! Can't we stop it right now? I, too, used to listen to Mozart quite regularly but this past week or so has killed any chance of me selecting any of his music to listen to for quite some time.
    I'm tuning out of radio 3 until its over. When we return to a more varied programming might i suggest Anthony Braxton for composer of the week.

  • Comment number 5.

    Please please please make it stop it's hell just hell. I'm even listening to Classic FM - that's how bad it's got. No more Mozart. It's driving me mad. Someone make the nasty man stop.
    I'm a real Radio 3 fan and listen to it daily. But not at the moment. I even like Mozart. Not now.
    Give us a break. it must be driving the presenters mental.

  • Comment number 6.

    I loved "A Bach Christmas" but the Mozart is, sadly, starting to drag on.
    Shaffer's Amadeus (Drama on 3 with Simon Callow and Paul Scofield) was a real treat.

  • Comment number 7.

    I've heard the 25th symphony- twice, with every possible repeat observed both times, the "Paris" symphony- twice. I've only been able to find one of the four horn concerti- in the middle of the night! I hate to complain about missing Mozart! -(would Mozart have wanted every note he wrote played all day and all night?)- but I'd have liked to hear a horn concerto or two rather than repeats of already well-known symphonies.

  • Comment number 8.

    The 'jingle' factor is a right turnoff - marketing gone mad (and given R3's trial by trail over the last year or so that is saying something)- however the fest is definitely several days too long - a more subdued 'fest' using some of the excellent talks would IMO have been a considerable improvement - the re is however one excellent outcome 'Breakfast' has lost most of its texts interupting the bleeding chunks toorn from the works of 'lesser' composers.

  • Comment number 9.

    I really can't agree with the recents comments that the ongoing Mozart-fest has been too much! Admittedly I can't/don't listen all day but for me this is the first one-composer-fest that I've enjoyed every time I've tuned in. I do agree though about the terrible jingles although they are as nothing compared with the mindless "Mozart top 10" promotion that preceded this excellent event. By the way, have we heard Florence Foster Jenkins "performing" the Queeen of the night aria?

  • Comment number 10.

    Thanks for the discoveries I've made during The Genius of Mozart. I think the most vivid was the CD 'Labyrinth' by Ikue Mori, which I haven't taken off my shelf for some time. I've also enjoyed Mary Halvorson and Joe McPhee on WFMU online and CDs including one by Christina Kubisch, the Ornette Coleman Trio Live At The Golden Circle and Uri Caine's klezmer-inclined take on Mahler. I discovered another source of a classical music stream too (WQXR New York). Silence has been a greater feature of the last week than is sometimes the case. Oh, and occasionally I've caught something on Radio 3 which has jumped out on me. However as well as much too much Mozart, there have been too many people talking about Mozart as if the sun shone out of his bottom. I believe Mozart was no respecter of persons and would have had something pithy to say on the subject. Meantime I guess it's good to remember that it's possible to get by without Radio 3, in case the government or the BBC decide it's too much, but really I'd like my friend Radio 3 back the way it usually is, with choices and new music occasionally during the week.

  • Comment number 11.

    The continuous Mozart over twelve days is just a silly idea. Mozart is great and so is Radio 3. However, one of the joys of Radio 3 is turning on and discovering new composers and new pieces. Now if I turn on I know that all I will hear is Mozart and that's just too much. It was bad enough having a weekend of (some very indifferent) Tchaikovsky not long ago.

    Please don't do this again!

  • Comment number 12.

    I shall be throwing a party for myself and my radio at precisely 1am on the early morning of Thursday the 13th.

  • Comment number 13.

    Thursday the 13th cannot come soon enough. I've had to revert to ClassicFM and my CD collection for the past few days. These days upon end of a single composer might be OK for a few who think only Mozart(or the particular composer)is worth listening to. However, I suspect that the vast majority of listeners just want a cross section of classical music from ancient to modern.

  • Comment number 14.

    Day 9 of the BBC Mozart extravaganza... What can I say, except thank goodness for Beethoven.

  • Comment number 15.

    This Mozart celebration has been, for me, a turn-off, literally. The Bach at Christmas a coule of years ago was wonderful. The Beethoven went on too long. The Mozart is awful. I think the slogan "every note he wrote" reveals the superficiality of this project. It is more about running the marathon than any worthwhile aesthetic or educational purposes. It is not about indulging the listeners, but a self-absorbed self-indulgence by the broadcasters. I have temporarily chaqnged my Home Page from Radio 3. Waiting for next Thursday as an oasis in the desert.

  • Comment number 16.

    Whoever gave the clearance for 12 days of Mozart should be sacked or at least have pay docked in proportion to the several million listeners that Radio 3 must have lost. I like Mozart, he’s one of the greats & I even once spent a Mozart-full weekend in Salzburg, but much of the problem with this “festival” has been the verbose, trite, luvvie programming that's gone along with the music. Ceaseless Mozart & the drivel has driven me to Clasic FM & then to my CD collection (actually maybe not such a bad thing after all). Radio 3 owes many of its regular listeners an apology & an assurance that this will never happen again with any this or any other one composer for more than a weekend. Roll on the 13th day!

  • Comment number 17.

    Radio 3 stands for culture and music - that is what I expect for my licence fee. It is clear that most listeners, including myself, expect a variety of music. Without variety there is only boredom. It doesn't matter who the composer is - 12 days of monotonous monofest music is a sure way to bore the listeners.
    I have not been bored to death by Radio 3 - I have found another radio station to listen to - one that plays a variety of classical music from many composers.

  • Comment number 18.

    I agree, too much and too long - I have not bothered to listen to any of it. Even if Mozart were a rarity on R3 (some hope) it would still be unjustified.
    The fact that you are still advertising it on R4 mid way through day 11 seems to indicate that it has not been much of a success.

  • Comment number 19.

    As with others above I have been forced to move over to CfM. Thank goodness there's only one more day!

    Please, BBC, do NOT do this again!!

  • Comment number 20.

    Congratulations to the BBC for undertaking the Herculean task of organising The Genius of Mozart and ensuring that every one of the 626-odd compositions gets included.

    I disagree with most of the commenters here!

    Gordon Gemmill wrote that one of the joys of Radio 3 is turning on and discovering new pieces. I agree, but this has been even more true of these 12 days than is usual for me: it's just that the "discoveries" for me are symphonies, concertos and chamber works by Mozart that I never knew, and I don't mean deservedly obscure juvenilia, I mean high-quality mature works.

    I think that a project like this, playing many works, including obscure ones, by a great composer, is an excellent idea. However, I think that broadcasting the featured composer's works 24 hours a day is not the best way to programme them, but my reason isn't to provide an escape. On the contrary, it's to enable the listener who wants to listen to the featured composer's works to be away from the radio and not miss any of them! I have enjoyed listening to all these hours of Mozart, and regret that many masterpieces might have escaped me because they were only on in the middle of the night while I was asleep!

  • Comment number 21.

    What a relief to be able to listen to Radio 3 again after the “Radio 3 plays every note of Mozart” season has come to an end!

    I like Mozart, however I like (and in some cases love) other composers’ music as well, and to have the wonderfully varied selection normally associated with Radio 3 taken away for TWO WEEKS was intolerable.

    Listening to the music of wide range of composers is refreshing and fascinating; I don’t always like what I hear, but its broadens my musical appreciation and sometimes shows me new directions to explore.

    When fed a constant diet of a single composer, one starts to see just how formulaic their oeuvre is – yes even Mozart! I know I can switch off or listen to Classic FM – no I’d rather switch off – but surely Radio 3 is about a catholic listening experience, not an alternative to buying a boxed set of Mozart (or any other composer) CDs.

    Please Radio 3, no more crazy stunts.


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