The finest roadshow biography of Mozart continues
Mike Birman | Brooklyn, New York USA | 04/04/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This, the fourth volume of a 6 volume series, presents hours 7 and 8 of a 13 hour biography of Mozart that concentrates on his peripatetic lifestyle. Numerous musical excerpts from every Mozartean genre are featured and contemporaneously composed piano concertos are appended to the end of each episode, 14 concertos in all. I first saw these programs, superbly narrated by Andre Previn who also helped script them, on a local cable channel here in New York owned by the City University of New York. These may have been broadcast on PBS but I am unaware of any particulars. The series was filmed to coincide with and commemorate the 200th "anniversary" of Mozart's death; something I hardly felt celebratory about but it packed the Mozart bin at the record store so I can live with it. The entire series is superb, one of my favorite television experiences.
It is 1782. Mozart is travelling in the retinue of his ecclesiastical employer, Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. Following a bitter argument over his position at court that resulted in a famous kick to the composer's backside, Mozart is fired from his job. Too proud to beg for his job back as his father had done in the past, Mozart now found himself abandoned, friendless and utterly destitute. All that he possessed was the greatest musical talent the world has ever seen. His father Leopold is bitterly disappointed by this turn of events. While Mozart is nursing his wounds in Vienna, who should appear but the Webers: the family with the beautiful and talented daughters. They had come to Vienna to live following the death of father Fridolin. Mozart moves in with them and eventually falls in love with daughter Constanze, the second of the daughters with whom Mozart had become enamored. They are soon married. Episode 7 ends with a performance of the piano concerto No.17 in G Major KV 453 performed by youthful pianist Dezso Ranki and the European Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate. Filmed in the Austrian Imperial Palace in Schonbrunn, it is a lyrical and introspective performance that is world class in nearly every aspect. Particularly fine, illuminating Mozart's deepening genius in orchestration, are the woodwinds. They sound otherworldly in their ethereal beauty.
Episode 8 covers the years 1783-1785, the happiest and most fecund years of Mozart's short life. Mozart is now a composer for hire, earning 2,000-4,000 gulden annually. This is several times what Haydn made per year as Kapellmeister for the Esterhazy family, more than 15 times what the ordinary orchestral player usually earned annually, more than 100 times the salary of a domestic in Vienna. Mozart was well-off and lived like it. He composed piano concertos for the various academies or concerts common throughout Vienna, wrote operas, chamber music, taught students and partied. It was his most successful period. It was also the time in which Haydn made his famous declaration to Mozart's father Leopold that Wolfgang was the greatest composer he'd ever known. This may have helped to alleviate some of Leopold's anxiety over his son's lifestyle. At the end of this episode, Ivan Klansky plays the piano concerto No.20 in d minor KV 466 with the Prague Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jiri Belohlavek. The performance was filmed in the Waldstein Palace in Prague. It is a fine, brooding performance marred somewhat by Klansky's unusual (slightly bizarre) facial expressions which are a distraction. I watched his fingers and forgot about it quickly.
It is important to point out that the piano concertos that appear at the end of each program appear to be the same as the ones already offered on DVD as the "Mozart - Great Piano Concertos" series available from Euroarts. They are reviewed here at Amazon, as well. So if you own any of those you will be duplicating them here. That's a pity because the history segment narrated by Mr. Previn is fascinating
The film is in color and is shot fullscreen 4:3. The region code is NTSC World excluding Asia. Menu language is English. No subtitles. The sound, although the packaging states DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1, is in Dolby Digital stereo 2.0 only. This is a factual error that should be fixed. In any event, the stereo soundtract is clear and well-focused. The digitally remastered video is clear with no video artifacts except a little ghosting during rapid movement. There are no bonuses.
This continues to be the finest biography of Mozart (or any composer for that matter) I've ever seen and I strongly recommend the entire series. Ultimately, what Mozart achieved was breathtaking. We wish that fate had been a little kinder to this gentle man from Salzburg who managed to create such incomprehensible beauty and who asked so little in return.