Happy Mozart Week, everyone! I like to celebrate composer birthdays, and my two favorites happened to be born in the same week: Mozart on January 27 and Schubert on January 31. My half birthday falls right in between on the 29th, so this gives me many reasons to celebrate. Not to mention the week is kicked off with Burns Night on the 25th, which for me just means an excuse to drink scotch and try to read Robert Burns until I get a bit of a brogue on while still having no idea what any of the words actually mean.
This year Mozart will turn 265, and a long lost piece of his, never before heard in public, will be performed in Salzburg. Luckily it’s a solo piano piece, so social distancing shouldn’t be too big an issue. You can listen to it here at 9 AM PST on January 27, but it will be available to watch until January 29.
I could try to tell you why Mozart is my favorite composer, but it wouldn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s hard to put your taste into words. Let’s just say that for me a marvelous obsession with this music was kicked off with a vision followed by a dream the day after my 14th birthday. I don’t yet have the courage to talk about it in public, though it may become a scene in a future novel. Let’s just say I was in love with him. Weird? Yes, but it saved me from the horrible world of teen dating. Don’t worry, I eventually recovered and had some normal romantic relationships. Honestly, I probably should have stayed in love with Mozart.
I think everyone should have a marvelous obsession. Obsessions come easily to me because I have obsessive compulsive disorder. OCD is often ridiculed as being about obsessive cleanliness and order, but really one of the main ways it is experienced is as “bad thoughts,” often of a religious, moral, or blasphemous nature, which is why it is sometimes called "scrupulosity." You can read more about the history of that here. I bring this up because, not only was that my main form of OCD, but OCD can also be harnessed in good ways. I suffered from it mainly during my childhood, but around the time I became obsessed with Mozart the symptoms mostly disappeared.
It was fantastic having this endless font of inspiration. I drew scenes from Mozart’s life and operas while listening to my latest find from the library, even writing and illustrating a children’s book called The Mirage of Figaro in high school. I saved money to buy complete box sets of his work bit by bit. It blows my mind that almost all of it is available on YouTube or Spotify now for free. You kids will never know the frustration of searching for an obscure piece of music followed by the joy of finding it, even if you had to shell out actual money for it.
While I taught myself to sing via Phantom of the Opera, like most young aspiring sopranos in the 1990s, it was this introduction to Mozart that really helped my voice grow. I could only barely read music at the time, so I learned all of Mozart’s soprano arias by ear with the help of a libretto from the library. Of course this meant I couldn’t tell the difference between what was written and what might be ornamentation or one singer’s unique interpretation, but I managed to learn them all (aside from La Clemenza di Tito) by age 17. The first aria I crammed into my brain and voice was Vedrai Carino from Don Giovanni. I didn’t have a high F yet for Queen of the Night, but I still learned her arias just in case I grew one. Eventually I did, and lost it after a few years, but I had fun with it while I could.
That said, I recorded myself singing several Mozart arias on cassette tape which I entitled “A Noble Attempt for a Seventeen Year Old,” and it’s really not great listening. I next attempted a similar feat in my 20s, which was much better, but there have only been random videos of me singing Mozart since then. Here is a video of me singing an aria from his one act opera "The Impresario," which I translated and staged with Operadisiac back in 2011. I think I’ll record an all Mozart concert for you guys soon with electronic backing tracks, and with a focus on his early works. Maybe three concerts of early, middle, and late Mozart! You see, the guy still gets my brain turning.
When I want to strengthen my voice in a hurry, especially if my high notes are feeling more difficult than they used to, I turn back to Mozart. When I want to focus on the technique of elegant line and expressive coloratura, I turn to Mozart. It is my hope that I will feature some of my more in depth Mozart stories and insights via this blog. For now I will leave you with just a few things.
Ten years ago I wrote this article about Catarina Cavalieri, one of the more famous sopranos in Mozart’s circle, also rumored to be Salieri’s mistress. I was attempting to write a historical fiction novel about her, but I think only certain scenes ended up being interesting, and I can just put those up on this blog.
Here you can watch the shadow puppet production I created for Mozart’s opera “The Goose of Cairo,” posted in six parts. I sing in it too:
Goose Part One
Goose Part Two
Goose Part Three
Goose Part Four
Goose Part Five
Goose Part Six
I could never overestimate the influence Mozart had on my emerging artistic interests and talents, an influence unmatched until Schubert showed up, and he literally showed up. More on that in a few days. Until then, celebrate Wolfgang’s natal date with some of his favorite foods: liver dumplings and flat English beer...though cake and champagne sounds better to me.