Mozart Mania

By Henkin, Stephen | The World and I, October 1998 | Go to article overview

Mozart Mania

Henkin, Stephen, The World and I

The legacy of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is being played to the hilt by the good citizens of Salzburg, Austria, the hometown of one of the Greatest composers of all time.

The "miracle which God let be born in Salzburg," according to Mozart's father, Leopold, entered the world on January 27, 1756. However, when the legendary composer died suddenly in 1791, memorial gatherings were held in his honor in Vienna, Prague, Kassel, and Berlin but curiously not in his hometown, although his friends, patrons, fellow musicians, and assorted admirers there had once numbered in the hundreds. In fact, not even a cross marked his final resting spot in a pauper's grave.

Since that time, the good citizens of Salzburg have seemingly worked overtime to undo such oversights. So much so that today you cannot go anywhere in "Wozart's City" without being reminded of his former presence there. From striking cathedrals where the master once played to musical performances of the composer's works ranging from authentic to commercially contrived, to the pretentious kitsch of its booming tourist industry, today's Salzburg is awash in Mozart memories, memorabilia, and mobs of meandering visitors.

In many ways, Salzburg seems more like a theme park than a historic city, which it gloriously is, of course. You've got your magic castle a la Disney (the impressive Hohensalzburg Fortress overlooking the old town), while at the center of things you've got Mozart instead of Mickey. And then there are the crowds--the 6.5 million annual visitors, many of whom are drawn to retrace the footsteps of "Salzburg's Favorite Son."

The city even has its own Disney-style shopping arcade. Located disrespectfully (yet conveniently) across the street from Mozart's Geburtshaus (birth house) at Getreidegasse 9 is gaudy Mozartland, which houses a world-class collection of kitsch. With everything from Mozart golf balls, teacups, and liquor to chocolates, bath towels, and roller skates adorned with 3-D pictures of the master under its roof, serious damage is done to the well-educated glimpse into Mozart's life and work provided at the excellent exhibit in the nearby Mozart House.

Complaints by irate residents about the "Disneyfication" and "Americanization" imposed by the prospering commercial establishment have not put a dent in the daily flow of some two thousand visitors to Mozartland, which perhaps reached a new low by selling dolls resembling Mozart's dog--he never had one--to unsuspecting tourists. The competition between Geburtshaus and Mozartland has grown fierce. Entries to the composer's venerated home have plummeted, with Mozart aficionados preferring to cross the street to snap up souvenirs. While the Mozart Foundation that runs Geburtshaus is planning to beef up sales in anticipation of the 260th anniversary of Mozart's birth in 2006, Mozartland's industrious owner is planning to open three more stores in Salzburg and Vienna and to create an animated film about--who else?--Mozart.

Intentionally or not, Mozart's image has become so commercialized throughout Salzburg that it's hard to tell where the serious pockets of Mozartdom begin and the frivolous ones end. Adding to the confusion are the four thousand yearly cultural events, the majority of which center on the composer's work and life. Salzburg is especially popular with classical music lovers from Austria, Germany, America, Italy, and Japan. Many see it in guided foot tours composed of a dozen or more visitors. Invariably whisked along by guides, the numerous groups often find themselves gridlocked in the narrow streets.

Japanese visitors in particular have taken on a double interest in Mozart's hometown. Besides having an affinity for classical music, they are attracted to the notion of getting married in historic sites associated with the famed composer. One prominent location for tying the knot is Marmorsaal (Marble Hall) in Salzburg's impressive Mirabell Palace, which today functions as a venue for concerts, just as it did some two hundred years ago when father Leopold, Wolfgang, and his beloved sister, Nannerl, performed for the prince archbishop and his specially invited guests. …

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