Mozart Travelogue at Lichfield Festival


by Christopher Morley
There's nothing new about musical superstars making world tours. 250 years ago Mozart was the hot property traversing Europe (in those days the extent of the musical "world"), and a fascinating programme to be presented at the forthcoming Lichfield Festival by the Mozartists (July 9) takes us on a Mozart travelogue.
Ian Page, music director of the Mozartists, tells me how he compiled this enthralling itinerary.
"Initially I compiled a list of modern day countries where Mozart had composed, and I came up with seven – the UK, Holland, Italy, Paris, Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. I discounted anything that he wrote in Salzburg, his birthplace, but we've included a work that he composed in Vienna, which became his home for the final decade of his life.
"The next task was to provide a sequence that had variety, in terms of both orchestration and atmosphere or speed, and eventually I arrived at a programme that includes two symphonies, two concertos and three arias.
"With one exception (we finish with a vivacious symphony that he wrote in Italy at the age of 14) the order of works will be chronological, so that there's an opportunity to see how his style and 'voice' changed as he grew up and developed, and there's also a general sense of the programme travelling from north to south, from London and The Hague to Rome, via Paris, Munich, Vienna and Prague."
Did Ian detect any difference in styles between the compositions Mozart produced for various venues, and for the performers he was encountering?
"That's a very interesting question! The two symphonies, which both date from his childhood, certainly reflect the music he was hearing in England and Italy. When he visited London as an eight-year-old he heard a lot of music by a wide range of composers and nationalities, and the two composers that he modelled his first symphonies on were actually both Germans who had emigrated to England – Johann Christian Bach and Karl Friedrich Abel. Similarly the music he wrote in Italy has its own particular accent and colour, characterised by tremendous energy and sunshine. It's probably not surprising that the music Mozart heard in both England and Italy exerted a strong influence, not only because he spent fifteen months in each country but also because this during his most formative years as a child."
I tell Ian I sense a book coming out of this research. His reply is intriguing.
"I do always try to write all the programme notes for our concerts and recordings myself, as I enjoy it and feel that it helps me to build a connection with our audiences. I'm not sure I'd ever find the time for a book – it's hard enough trying to keep the website up to date! – but if I did I'd like it to be a kind of coffee-table book that incorporated the opportunity to actually hear the music being written about.
"I've always felt that books specifically about music are compromised by not being able to demonstrate aurally the pieces or excerpts being discussed; when I came to choose my initial degree at university I actually chose English over music, because I felt that for me personally the most natural way to explore and react to literature was to write about it, whereas for music the best way was to perform it."
Soloists in the concert include soprano Louise Alder, Katy Bircher and Oliver Wass in the deliciously Parisian Flute and Harp Concerto, and Gavin Edwards in the Horn Concerto no.4. Ian tells me about the difficulties in performing on authentic "period" instruments.
"The 18th-century instruments are so much harder to play than their modern counterparts, and it takes a certain kind of mind-set, inquisitiveness and dedication to strive to conquer these instruments and bring the music to life with them. This is particularly true of the horn, and the valveless horn for which Mozart wrote requires all sorts of skill and expertise to overcome the challenges that the composer set.
Later this year Ian brings the Mozartists to Birmingham for a performance of Mozart's opera Cosi fan Tutte, and his enthusiasm is irrepressible.
"We're very excited to be bringing Così fan tutte to Birmingham Town Hall on 8 November. It's one of the greatest operas ever written, and the opportunity to hear it in concert performance gives us, and of course the audience, an amazing opportunity to explore the drama and the story-telling directly through the music.
"I recently read an article where someone was claiming that Mozart was the greatest stage director ever to have lived, because he tells us everything through his music, and I've found with concert performances that we've previously given of Don Giovanni and The Marriage of Figaro that the absence of a complex and often misleading staging enables the audience to connect more completely with these masterpieces, rather like reading the book instead of watching the film!"
Another composer who travelled across Europe (incidentally amassing far more of a fortune than Mozart) was Handel, whose peregrinations took him from Germany to Italy and on to England, where he settled. But he also pitched up in Dublin for the premiere of his oratorio Messiah in 1741
Lichfield audiences get the chance to hear Handel's Messiah in a come-and-sing performance in the Cathedral on July 8 (7.15pm), with a star quartet of soloists under the baton of Patrick Craig.
*The Mozartists Mozart Travelogue is at Lichfield Cathedral on July 9 (7.30pm).
*The "Come and Sing" Messiah is at Lichfield Cathedral on July 8 (7.15pm).
All Lichfield details on 01543 306150;

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