Magazine article The Spectator

Single Vision

Magazine article The Spectator

Single Vision

Article excerpt

There's been much grumbling in the shires about Radio 3's 12-day Mozart marathon.

Why burden us with so much baroque?

Where do you go if you can't abide all those notes? But actually there's something wonderfully cleansing about knowing that what you're going to hear at any time of day or night on the music station is bound to have a K number attached to it. It's like going on a diet after too many mince pies and brandy butter.

Hearing nothing but Mozart is certainly a test of the composer's mettle, but as the Bach and Beethoven seasons have already proved it's truly astonishing how much can be gained from listening to just one musical voice, a single harmonic vision, for a few days. The mind stops racing ahead, or flitting constantly from one thing to another at random, perplexed by too much choice.

A degree of calm becomes possible, of clear and coherent thought. Radio 3 has become an aural refreshment zone, perfect for the New Year, when we are all in need of a quick and easy cure for the palate jaded by too much variety, too many options, too little time for reflection.

Being Radio 3, of course, it's not just been a question of the musical selection.

Every programme, every presenter, has also given us insights into how Mozart developed and refined his genius, so that we haven't just heard the music but have been given as well clues as to why it still has such power to move us. Sarah Walker's guest performers on Classical Collection talked about what Mozart means to them. Roy Goodman, for instance, former director of the Hanover Band, one of the first orchestras to go back to period instruments, told us about the difficulty of recreating the tempi that Mozart envisioned for his compositions. Our tastes, and aural receptivity, have changed so much since the late 18th century that at first what the Hanover Band was doing was not at all popular.

But Goodman's determination to give performances that are as close as possible to the original requirements of the music have led us to understand Mozart as a radical, an innovator who gave us a totally new sound world. Mozart's love of the viola's particular timbre led him to ask for the instrument to be tuned a semitone higher so that it could be heard above and through the rest of the orchestra. We should think of him as the Clapton or Hendrix of the 1770s, shockingly behaved but shockingly creative. …

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