Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Mozart's Ghosts: Haunting the Halls of Musical Culture: Books

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Mozart's Ghosts: Haunting the Halls of Musical Culture: Books

Article excerpt

Mozart's Ghosts: Haunting the Halls of Musical Culture. By Mark Everist. Oxford University Press, 320pp, Pounds 30.00. ISBN 9780195389173. Published 1 August 2013

At the heart of this book lies the not unreasonable claim that our "modern reverence" for Mozart's music is founded on its earlier reception, that reception being a more complicated matter than an artist composing and the audience or critic straightforwardly receiving. As Mark Everist notes, it is far easier to track stagings of Mozart's operas at major European houses than performances of even his large-scale instrumental music, especially before the mid 20th century. Publishing records, however, including arrangements, are more amenable to study, likewise literary and other dramatic treatments.

The footnotes and bibliography render abundantly clear the thoroughness of Everist's research. His field may verge on the infinite, and coverage cannot yet be selective, but the cases presented are tellingly indicative of more than themselves. We look at the treatment of Mozart in Gaston Leroux's novel Le Fantome de l'Opera and in silent film treatments thereof. Gounod's Faust remains the central "opera" of the Opera, yet Mozart's phantom persists, not least in the guise of references to his Requiem, celebrated as an unfinished, final work - always a draw to a Romantically, indeed sensationally, inclined audience. We consider Offenbach's fascinating adaptation of Mozart's Der Schauspieldirektor as L'Impresario to legitimise his theatre as a place of serious musical endeavour.

Nineteenth-century keyboard arrangements of Don Giovanni - severely criticised at the time and thereafter - made both by familiar figures and composers none of us is likely ever to have heard of, transform Mozart into a purveyor, or at least a facilitator, of popular dance tunes. (He wrote a considerable amount of "real" dance music for Vienna, an exquisite Cinderella of his output that, since the death in 1991 of Austrian violinist and conductor Willi Boskovsky, awaits the return of Prince Charming. That, however, is another story.)

Everist is, in proper postmodernist style, scrupulous not to judge; I could not help wishing for some aesthetic judgement to be brought to pass on the striking observation that, in this genre of dance music, "almost any melody of Mozart could be reworked in almost any meter, style, or dance genre". At what point does Mozart himself fall silent, or at least find himself more or less drowned out, or am I merely succumbing to antediluvian prejudices concerning the "musical work"? …

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