You are here:   Anniversary > The Mozart Delusion
The Mozart Delusion
January/February 2013

Enough anniversaries already: Mozart, aged seven, painted in 1763

It dawned on me with great relief the other day that, unless I’m still writing strong in my nineties, I will never have to observe or partake of another Mozart anniversary so long as I live. Yippee!

I say that not to disparage anniversaries or, indeed, Mozart. Both have a recognised stall in the marketplace and neither is likely ever to be dislodged. However, each has the power to distort mass taste. Put together, they can—and do—wreak untold harm on the world’s cultural values.

The Nazis understood this all too well when, in 1941, they launched a jamboree in the 150th year after Mozart’s death and his nameless burial in Vienna. “A nation that forgets its great sons does not deserve to own them,” cried Joseph Goebbels, claiming that Mozart’s music embodied the supreme German quality of relentless clarity (and we all remember the consequences of relentless clarity).

The 1941 fest was, as Erik Levi points out in his book Mozart and the Nazis (Yale, 2010), organised and financed by the Reich with a view to establishing Mozart’s Aryan supremacy and their own cultural legitimacy. In the lands under German occupation, Mozart was the imposed sound of music, odious and ineluctable.

The next significant date, the 1956 bicentenary of his birth, saw the rehabilitation of the composer’s native Salzburg as the Bethlehem of an immaculate godchild, free of political contention. This was, to a degree, the Mozart that had been promulgated by war- time Allied media as a counterweight to Nazi propaganda. It was also the Mozart borne into exile by his greatest experts and interpreters, from Alfred Einstein to Bruno Walter, men who preached that every note of Mozart was an ineffable, celestial perfection: from Moses to Mozart, there was none like Mozart.

View Full Article
March 30th, 2013
3:03 PM
How odd to decry the 'popularisation' of Mozart, whilst praising the tedious Schoenberg, who owes his career and fame entirely to having a chum in the BBC.

March 16th, 2013
12:03 AM
When I was 18 I told te very musical mother of a friend of mine, somewhat shamefacedly, that I didn't much like Mpzart. She smiled knowingly and told to wait as I would come to like him. I am now nearly 60 and glad to say she was right - and I didn't even have to try very hard.

March 7th, 2013
10:03 AM
A foolish article. First of all, there’s the quite gratuitous linking of Mozart with Nazism, solely on the grounds that the Nazis had tried to promote Mozart. How embarrassingly puerile. And then the equally gratuitous & foolish linkage with Lebrecht’s great bogeyman, Karajan – presumably on the grounds that anyone with the slightest connection with Karajan, no matter how tenuous, must be dodgy in some way. (Karajan isn’t particularly renowned for his Mozart.) Once again, how embarrassingly puerile. Then, all those instances of Mozart being commercialised: name me any major composer who hasn’t been commercialised! Then, the complete works of Mozart have been released on CD. So have the complete works of Bach, of Beethoven, of Verdi, even of Mahler… what exactly is Mr Lebrecht’s point? “Mozart for Babies”, we may agree, is silly; but this silliness does not detract from Mozart’s achievement any more than the silliness of “Mahler: The Peoples’ Edition” detracts from Mahler’s. The main question raised by this article is how such hard-of-thinking childishness can pass for serious commentary.

February 26th, 2013
9:02 PM
Mr. Lebrecht is far from saving Mozart, since Mozart doesn't need to be saved. If anything, he is doing the opposite. Also, his poor analysis clearly shows his inability to grasp all that is Mozart-beyond mere music. Too bad Mr. Lebrecht has authority to write nonsense.

January 7th, 2013
1:01 AM
I understand the author's point, but calling Mozart "conformist to a fault, a conservative composer" is going too far. First of all, Mozart was only 35 years old when he died. Take a listen to his last 3 symphonies and tell me that he wasn't going to continue to develop as a composer. Listen to the last movement of his last symphony, the 41st and you'll hear a section in the development and recapitulation that has harmonies that vault straight into the 20th Century. Haydn never composed a section of music like that. I do share the author's view that all the Mozart Effect stuff is nonsense. But, Mozart is supremely great because he expresses everything about being human: joy, sorrow, silliness.

January 6th, 2013
11:01 PM
Since someone mentioned Milos Foreman's Amadeus--I suspect that (along with the play it is based on, though I've only seen the film and not the stage version) is a major contributor, as well, to contemporary adulation of Mozart. In Amadeus, Mozart is portrayed as a composer without peer, one who is "touched by God" and whose manuscripts contain no errors or erasures, as though he were simply taking dictation from the Almighty; and poor Antonio Salieri, regarded by his peers as fine composer in his own right, is reduced to a jealous mediocrity. The film also portrays Mozart as something of an avant-garde musical rebel who refuses to cater to popular tastes (the whole "too many notes" bit), whereas Salieri is shown as a hack who "likes to give 'em a good bang". Of course, opera was a popular art form, and even works commissioned by the Court were generally expected to make money, so the notion that Mozart was somehow the Frank Zappa of his day is ridiculous. That said, he was a damn fine composer, and withdrawal of excess adulation should not turn into condemnation.

January 2nd, 2013
7:01 PM
In my opinion, however much adulation is showered upon Mozart, he deserves even more.Just listen and be transfixed. Do you feel the need to claim your superiority by putting down Mozart? You just wind up looking like a fool. His music and his listeners laugh at you. Haydn was right, no one, not even Beethoven or Bach was better than him.

January 2nd, 2013
5:01 PM
Did the author have a stomach ache when he wrote this? Hope he feels better soon!

January 1st, 2013
4:01 PM
I was ignorant of the Nazi appropriation of Mozart in 1941. It immediately dawned on me to ask why do the Jews not take issue with the playing of Mozart in Israel to the same extent they do with Wagner? Both men did their composing and were dead long before Hitler with his nasty schemes gorged the world with the idea of supremacy and the blood of hundreds of millions of innocent people.

January 1st, 2013
2:01 PM
Arsenal 4 (Podolski, Mozart, Wallcott, Debussy), Chelsea 1 (Mahler). Best wishes.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.