In Search of MozartReviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 07/17/07 22:09:07
(Worth A Look)
One of the most fascinating things about Wolfgang Mozart is that many of the myths surround him are quite true, or pretty darn close. Yes, he really did write his first composition at age five, and yes, he had 28 symphonies penned by the age of 18, and yes, he died when he was only 35, although that was more likely the result of rheumatic fever than a more scandalous poisoning.Made partly in response to “Amadeus” (both the play and the film) and partly to celebrate the 250th anniversary (in 2006) of the composer’s birth, “In Search of Mozart” is a stunningly thorough recount of Mozart’s life and work. Filmmaker Phil Grabsky combines expert testimony from historians and musicians with gorgeous performance pieces and footage taken across Europe, following Mozart’s own travels over the years.
Although it never reaches above the status of a really good documentary you’d catch on PBS or the History Channel, the film’s still a terrific beginner’s course on the composer, as the film explains all the key events of his life while simultaneously studying several of his most important and best known works. Several musicians (who also perform those works in lovely asides) share their joy of Mozart and his compositions, many of them explaining how his music contains so much raw emotion that it’s easy to become enraptured. We learn why his music succeeds and what makes it continue to stand out centuries later.
Even those with the slightest knowledge of Mozart’s life story will recognize many of the details brought to life here: his status as a prodigy, his reputation as a vulgarian, his later work for Emperor Joseph II. But Grabsky digs deeper, presenting facts that even classical buffs might not have known. Mozart’s prodigy status, for example, was exceptional not only for the complexity of his writings, but for his sheer physicality - children, whose tendons and bones have not yet fully developed, do not have the ability to play intricate piano pieces, yet somehow Mozart could.
Grabsky then spends a few minutes on the concept of Mozart the boor. If you’ve seen “Amadeus,” then you’ve seen the caricature of the composer as a childish nutcase with a fascination for the obscene. Not so, says the film, which uses family correspondence to suggest a love for base humor was common in his family (several letters end with a jocular invitation to “shit in your bed and make it burst”), but not really an obsession. Grabsky concludes that legend of a dirty-minded Mozart came from a few letters written when the composer was young enough for such a thing to be commonplace (what kid doesn’t love a good poop and fart joke?), but it was far from an obsession.
We get differing opinions on Mozart’s sanity, or lack thereof, and Grabsky lets both play out without drawing conclusions. One musician argues that Mozart had to be crazy to find such wild passion in his music. Meanwhile, an historian says that while Mozart had an unnatural gift for music, he never showed any signs of the mental illnesses that often accompany such giftedness; it does not appear that he was autistic, nor did he suffer from Asperger syndrome. Could he have been sane and a genius simultaneously?Once the film moves forward in Mozart’s life, we get more on his music. Because of this, the movie stretches to an overlong 129 minutes, growing repetitive in its praise of the composer’s output. Yet Grabsky also keeps a focus on Mozart’s personal story, and that endlessly fascinates - even at the height of his success, he remained as flawed as the rest of us. And that view of his simple humanity helps us to connect to one of history’s greatest artistic geniuses.
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