A Mozart bombe, and a one-handed trumpet
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.
Broadcasting the debate on genius
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.
- Follow this link to hear the Aurora Orchestra's concert at Kings Place
- Follow this link to hear the BBC Philharmonic's lunchtime concert, including the German dances
- Find details of Radio 3's The Genius of Mozart