Wednesday 25 January 2006

In Search of Mozart

I had not planned to watch or listen to any of the plethora of programmes which have been engendered by the Mozart Centenary. Mozart is a composer that I admire, but I love only a small handful of his works. Over-exposure to his piano concertos as a student seems to have had a disastrous effect on my view of the composer.

But three weeks ago, we happened to catch the first episode of Channel 5's programme In search of Mozart. Broadcast at the slightly odd time of 7.15pm on a Tuesday, it was just at the right time for us to watch whilst eating our tea!

All too often, Classical music on television tends to talk down to its audience. Programme makers seems to be so frightened of alienating their target audience that they make programmes which seem alarmingly simplistic to anyone with a little knowledge of classical music.This offering was remarkably free from this failing. We were so taken with the first episode that we made sure that we watched the suceeding two. Cramming Mozart's life into three 45 minute episodes it quite tricky but Channel 5 made a very good stab at it.

It helped that they eschewed dramatic reconstructions. Instead we were given extracts of Mozart's letters (and those of his father) read by actors with useful images on the screen (portraits, footage of the places referred to etc.) These were intercut with selections from the music he was composing at the time, some apparently in specially filmed studio performances; plus various historians and musicians talking about Mozart and about the music. All this was imaginatively intercut into a seamless collage that managed to allow artists like Imogen Cooper to talk about the piano music in a way which related to Mozart's life at the time.

From a historical point of view, the latest information that we have about Mozart was included. Episode one did not shy from the scatalogical issues, but made the point that it was common to families other than the Mozarts. In the discussions about his final years, the programme made some very useful points about Mozart's income. He died in the midst of a cash-flow crisis brought on partly by the war that the Austrians were conducting at the time; he was by no means a pauper.

This was a satisfy set of programmes and I do hope that their success emboldens Channel 5 to go on to make more such programmes.

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