Mozart mania: Austrians cash in on Amadeus

2006 marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of one of the world's great composers and his home town is determined to make the most of it. Ruth Elkins reports from a Salzburg engulfed by a tide of chocolate, cake and kitsch souvenirs
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The Independent Online

A British woman is making fast work of Salzburg's Mirabell chocolate shop. A brief respite from the snowstorm outside has turned into a full-blown shopping spree. "Oh look, darling!" she exclaims to her tired-looking husband, grabbing yet another box of gold-wrapped, chocolate nougat Mozart Balls, these ones violin-shaped. "Aren't they lovely souvenirs? We really are in Mozart Land, aren't we?"

Salzburg has always claimed to be the true Mozart city, cashing in on the four million tourists who flock there each year in search of traces of its prodigal son. But this year will be different: 2006 is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The year-long birthday bash Austria is planning will be, they say, the biggest ever, with Amadeus featuring in virtually every major Austrian event. The forecasted profits from Mozart Year, combined with Austria taking over the EU presidency in 2006, are expected to run to €50m (£35m). The tourism chiefs are licking their lips. And the kitsch has reached its zenith.

You can drink Mozart milkshakes; eat "Mozartwurst" (the recipe for the pork, beef and pistachio sausage, says the butcher who created it, came to him in a dream); stuff yourself with Mozart cake; and then stock up on Mozart beer and wine. The Mozart knickers and Mozart golf balls are only surpassed by the Mozart bra, which triumphantly plays "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" when it is unfastened. Symposiums and events range from "Meet Amadeus" and "Mozart Deluxe" to "Mozart Waits for You" while Mozart ski holidays include a ticket to the opera in the price.

More cynical visitors can bag seats for the "I Hate Mozart" opera and, if next year's Mozart Mania gets to be too much, you can always buy a Mozart knife.

The organisers of the 2006 "Mozart Year" are struggling to convince the world that it isn't in for Mozart overkill. "For us, celebrating Mozart's 250th birthday is all about celebrating his music and fine art," says Inge Brodil, who is co-ordinating the year's events in Salzburg. "It is a marvellous opportunity to hear some of Mozart's less-performed works." Ms Brodil, 48, a former set designer, clutches nervously at her neck. "Of course, we can't ignore the tatty souvenirs," she says. "But there's nothing we can really do about the kitsch. It's simply the free market." Mozart has been dead too long to profit from royalties each time a CD is sold or a concerto played on the radio: there is a Europe-wide 70-year, post-death limit on that and, in any case, Mozart's descendants died out not long after Wolfgang himself.

Both Mozart's sons, Carl Thomas and Franz Xaver, left the world unmarried and childless. The lucrative Mozart trademark is, to put it politely, an entrepreneurial free-for-all.

Unsurprisingly, the kitsch is nothing new. The Salzburgerland province has been cashing in on Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart, as he was christened, since the 1840s. "Mozart festival programmes, Mozart biographies, Mozart concerts, Mozart busts, Mozart models, and Mozart pipes were abundantly displayed in the shops," reported the Salzburg journalist Ludwig Mielichhofer in 1842. "The inns offered Mozart rooms, Mozart bread and Mozart wine - everything was given the Mozart name, which was heard daily, countless times, and everywhere. It was the password of the day."

Some of the most sought-after 19th-century Mozart knickknacks included "Mozart Cake" made by the Hladik Company, which quickly set up premises near the house at Getreidegasse No 9 where Mozart was born and "Mozart Cream", which was regarded as the best shoe polish in the whole of Salzburg.

One in three jobs in Salzburg is, directly or indirectly, dependent on tourism - on Mozart's legacy as the greatest musical genius the world has ever seen. Salzburg airport is named after him; St Gilgen, where Mozart's mother, Anna Maria, was born, brands itself "The Mozart Village on the Lake". The best-known ski area in the province is called "Amadé Sports World". But despite, or perhaps because of, the extent to which the cash registers ring when the holiday-makers roll up, Salzburg's relationship to Mozart remains love-hate. The taxi drivers grumble loudly about the doddering Japanese tourists who come in their thousands and the coaches which block the roads throughout the summer months. And "the locals," sniffs one guidebook, "always try to avoid the Getreidegasse whenever they can."

Nevertheless, Salzburg has dedicated seven years and €7m to preparing for 2006: for the first time, the acclaimed Salzburger Festspiele will stage all 22 of Mozart's operas during its six-week run in the summer and throughout the year, 260 Mozart concerts and 55 masses will be held. More than 500 projects, exhibitions and events will be hosted across the country: even the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, is turning up for the official birthday party marking the actual 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth on 27 January, attending a conference on European identity entitled "The Sound of Europe".

But will it all be too much? "Mozart's music will be as good this year as it was last year and as good as it will be in 2007," said Dr James Kennaway, a British-born musicologist. "But by the end of 2006, we can safely say that most people are going to be a little sick of him."

Karl Harb, the arts and music editor at Salzburg's newspaper, Salzburger Nachrichten, disagrees. "Yes, there is a lot of Mozart on offer," he said. "But the individual must steer their Mozart consumption themselves. Only they can decide what events to attend. You don't have to go to all the concerts, do you?"

You can if you want to, though. The Salzburger Festspiele is offering special Mozart Year subscriptions, if you fancy spending 60 days in July and August pottering around the narrow streets of Salzburg and watching all 22 of Wolfgang's operatic works. It costs €4,995 per person for the best seats in the house. Even single tickets don't come particularly cheap. Although standing room tickets retail at €25, a ticket in the stalls for The Marriage of Figaro starring opera world darling soprano Anna Netrebko will set you back €600.

Many fear that after the huge spurt of investment for 2006, funding and interest will dry up. "Millions of euros of public money have been invested in everything to do with this Mozart Year," says Mr Harb. "Many in the classical music scene are worried about where their money is going to come from in 2007 and, frankly, whether there will be any interest in Mozart after such a sustained focus on him this year." But there are always shock tactics to keep the crowds from getting bored. Bob Wilson, an American artist, has revamped the yellow-fronted, six-storey townhouse where Mozart was born in 1756, a nod to the maxim that every generation must discover Mozart anew and an attempt to keep the stream of tourists steady. The Texan-born avant-garde designer, whose previous works include Death, Destruction and Detroit, claimed he "couldn't discover Mozart anew". But he did the makeover anyway. One critic said that the result was the equivalent of going on a "gaga ghost train" ride.

In the room where Mozart was born, a pale wooden doll lies in a cot. The bewigged Wolfgang stares up at a neon blue halo hanging from the ceiling, an attempt to simultaneously symbolise the birth and the death of the great man. In another room, 19th-century prints hang upside down and a white, papier mâché model of Salzburg has been attached to the ceiling. Another room is covered in small blue geese and in another, a life-sized mechanical model of Mozart's pushy father, Leopold, shoots the family dog, Pimperl - a scene which did not actually happen in real life.

It is all a touch bemusing for the visitors. "They still need time to get their heads round it," sighed Dr Tekle Hanna Feissa, an Ethiopian-born musicologist and guide at the Mozartsgeburtshaus museum. Dr Feissa spends much of his day trying to explain the meaning of Wilson's post-modern oeuvre and stop animal rights campaigners breaking Leopold's arm. "You try to tell them it's not real, that Leopold didn't really shoot the dog, but they don't care," he says, shaking his head. Wilson has not helped matters particularly. When asked why he decided to put small blue geese on the ceiling of the room where Anna Maria Mozart almost died, he replied: "I don't know. You tell me!"

In Vienna, €30m has been invested in the festivities and the opera house revamped. "You will get the feeling that a continual and very lively dialogue [on Mozart] is taking place, not a clichéd jubilee year," promised Peter Marboe, who is co-ordinating events in the Austrian capital.

Plenty of left-field Mozart celebrations are being held, many of which have already started in earnest. At last month's You're Also Mozart, Think About It performance project in Vienna, the audience was treated to the contemporary artist Caroline Heinecke, dressed in brown and gold, depicting how a chocolate Mozartkugel - the most popular of Mozart souvenirs with sales of 90 million a year - is digested.

The point, she said, was to ask the pertinent question: would Mozart have been able to digest the frenzied marketing of his name? Mozart spent much of his 35 years trying to escape the provincial backwaters of Salzburg. He was, in effect, thrown out by the Prince Archbishop Hieronymus in 1777 and the fear remains: would the musical genius be pleased at all the attention? "I absolutely think so," says Ms Brodil. "We're talking about a man who travelled Europe exhaustively to get people to hear his music. I think he'd be thrilled."

And the lucrative kitsch? "Put it this way," says Dr Kennaway, "if this was going on for Beethoven's 250th birthday, he'd be turning in his grave. But Mozart was more down to earth." Mozart was a freelancer, his work entirely driven by money. Experts who have studied the music paper that Mozart used say Wolfgang often started works, but would not finish them until he received a commission. Earning today's equivalent of £26,000 a year, with Constanze, his high-maintenance wife to keep and, it is suspected, a gambling habit, Mozart would probably have been only too pleased to get a look-in on massive profits from the souvenirs bearing his name. He wrote begging letters to friends and left debts when he died of rheumatic fever on 5 December 1791. He was buried in a pauper's grave.