Miles Kington: Mozart: the music's OK, but who needs the talk?

It's the year of Mozart. So let's get all this anniversary talk over with, with one all-purpose discussion
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The Independent Online

It's the big Mozart year this year. Lots of Mozart music. Lots of talk about Mozart... Well, the music's all right, but why do we need all the talk? Why don't we get it all out of the way now, with one all-purpose discussion...?

Chairman: ... So was Mozart a genius or a charlatan? Let's turn to a Famous British Composer of whom nobody has heard, and ask him.

FBC: You know, I think the answer is somewhere in the middle. You see...

Chairman: Thank you. Of course, lots of people have come to the story of Mozart through the play Amadeus, where we were told that Salieri was trying to murder Mozart, but that wasn't true, was it, Mr Expert?

Expert: No. You see...

Chairman: So time, perhaps, for a more unusual view of Mozart. I gather, Ms Feminist, that you have a rather different take?

Feminist: I most certainly do! What you have to remember is that Mozart was party to one of the most callous acts of injustice of all time. Both Wolfgang and his elder sister Anna (nicknamed Nannerl ) were infant prodigies. They were both paraded in public as young geniuses. But Anna was pushed into the back seat by father Leopold, while Wolfgang was given all the limelight. Do we hear again about the equally gifted Anna? We do not! It is little Wolfgang who gets all the glory and the fame. We hear a lot about Wolfgang's sad death at the age of 36, but nothing at all about Nannerl's even sadder death in 1829, an old, embittered lady of 78. Boycott these celebrations, I say! Wait till 2029 and pay tribute to the forgotten sister!

Chairman: Thank you. Mozart was, of course, a freemason. Do you have anything to say about the effect on his music, Mr Top Freemason?

Freemason: No. It is all secret.

Chairman: But one thing that is certainly not secret about Mozart is that he ended up poor. Was this because he had a bad business sense? Or was it because a mysterious stranger commissioned him to write his own requiem and hounded him to his grave? Norman Lebrecht...

Lebrecht: No, it certainly was not. That is a load of hooey. As usual, it was the short-sighted music industry who were to blame. Time and time again, the managers of the classical musical world have been the architects of their own downfall. With reference merely to the English National Opera...

Chairman: Perhaps we could keep just to the story about Mozart.

Lebrecht: But in Mozart's day the music business was as near to collapse and corruption as it is now! Mozart never got any royalties from his successful operas. His music was never promoted as it should have been by the bloated, self-satisfied business of his time. Oh, woe to the classical music industry of 1792! Woe, I say!

Chairman: Thank you. Now for a business update.

Our Business Correspondent: I have been looking into the affairs of W A Mozart of Salzburg and I find a distressing lack of investment and foresight, especially when we compare him to an exact contemporary, Mr Muzio Clementi. Mr Clementi also played the piano and composed, but shrewdly made a lot of money out of publishing and piano manufacture. Mr Mozart, improvident, disorganised, died at age 36, a pauper. Mr Clementi died in 1832 at his grand country house near Evesham, aged eighty, very well off, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Who can doubt which was the greater composer, by any standards, except, perhaps, musical?

Chairman: Thank you. And now for sports news. Gary?

Gary: Jim, John. Good morning. One of the best remembered musical sporting events of all time took place on Dec 24 1781, when the Emperor Josef II arranged a heavyweight piano contest between Mozart and Clementi. Eyewitnesses agreed Mozart was the more stylish performer, but Clementi the harder hitter. At the time the event was declared a tie, but Mozart said later it was a fix, and that he had easily won. A bit of a whinger, our Wolfgang? Perhaps. Now back to the studio.

Chairman: And that just about wraps it up. A last word from Mr Freemason?

Freemason: No comment.

Chairman: Thank you. And goodbye.