Unhappy birthday? It's his 250th anniversary, but Mozart is too 'chocolate-boxy' for Radio 3

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The Independent Culture

Fans of Mozart, however, will not be so lucky. The station has rejected the idea of playing his entire works in one go, to mark the 250th anniversary of his birth, fearing the effect would be "too chocolate-boxy".

In the run-up to Christmas, the radio station broadcast the entire works of Johann Sebastian Bach over 10 days, attracting an "overwhelming" response. In the past year, Radio 3 has also applied this "immersion" method to Ludwig Van Beethoven and Anton Webern. But despite the popularity of these ventures, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will not be given the same treatment, even though on 27 January 2006 he will celebrate his quarter millennium. Instead the station will devote programmes to the composer throughout the year.

Roger Wright, controller of Radio 3, said the station had talked a lot about playing Mozart's oeuvre back to back, but had decided against it: "Our view is that Mozart end to end, the overall effect would be detrimental to the music. The music could wrongly be seen as slightly more chocolate-boxy than it really is."

Anthony Lewis-Crosby, the managing director of the London Mozart Players, the UK's oldest chamber orchestra, said: "There's nothing chocolate-boxy about Mozart. It's all wonderful music."

He added: "The year is going to be full of Mozart. There will be total immersion in another way, because it will be all over the country and we can celebrate Mozart from 1 January to the end of the year and everybody will have a Mozart experience."

Gennaro Castaldo, head of press at HMV, said that playing the complete works of Mozart would seem "a more natural fit, because there's been more raised awareness among the public of Mozart and his work that the BBC could have optimised". He added: "You're not going to have the 250th anniversary of Mozart every year - if you can't do it then, when can you do it?"

James Jolly, editor of classical music magazine The Gramophone, said: "You could say it's a bit perverse that within a month of Mozart's anniversary you've got [10 days of programming devoted to] a composer who in anniversary terms there's nothing really going on."

But he added: "One of the attractions of Bach for programmers is that, as well as the festive quality to his music, it's of a manageable length. Apart from the "Passions", you don't really have anything over 25 minutes. The problem with Mozart for this sort of thing is that you've got all the operas."

However, the novelist and critic Philip Hensher agreed with Mr Wright's decision not to play Mozart's catalogue in its entirety.

"I think that we have got a bit impatient with Mozart's perfection. A few years ago when we had the last Mozart anniversary we were happy to admire his work, but in the past five years we have started admiring struggle in music more, and we want to engage. Something like Mozart could be seen to be a bit chocolate-boxy. The controller of Radio 3 is right. For example, I think that his opera The Magic Flute is crap. He wrote a lot of music and half of it is of no interest at all."

Defending the decision to devote 10 days of the schedule to Bach, Mr Wright said: "We've been completely overwhelmed by the positive response. He's just such an iconic, great figure, there seemed something right about Bach at Christmas."

In the week leading up to the "Bach Christmas", there were 2.5 million hits on the BBC's Bach website and Radio 3 has received thousands of emails, 98 per cent of which are full of glowing praise for the project.

"The responses that have genuinely stopped me and many of my colleagues in our tracks are the ones for whom this experience has unlocked something intensely personal," said Mr Wright. "Whether it's about loss, or bereavement, or loneliness, it's above all about the meaning of life. It's really quite profound."

In an email to Radio 3, one listener wrote: "This series alone justifies the licence fee!" Another said: "I took a week off work just to listen to all the Bach music."

Some of the messages were particularly poignant.

"I am undergoing intensive chemotherapy for an aggressive cancer at this Christmas period. Radio 3 could not have given me a better Christmas present," said one email correspondent.

From 16 to 25 December, Radio 3 broadcast all of Bach's surviving work, with specially recorded performances from Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Yo-Yo Ma, Angela Hewitt, Philippe Herreweghe and Ton Koopman.