The Trivial-Profound Duality of Mozart
Peter Ustinov is host for 2-hour special. TELEVISION: PREVIEW
LOS ANGELES — THE MOZART MYSTIQUE WITH PETER USTINOV PBS, tomorrow, 9-11 p.m. (check local listings). AT the opening of this special - offered in anticipation of the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death next year - host Peter Ustinov describes the paradoxical duality of the composer's birthplace, Salzburg.
Divided by the Salzach River, its cliffs rise majestic and tranquil in sunlight. Under autumnal clouds, however, the setting seems to change into a collection of hostile, sinister crags. In that, says Ustinov, the city reflects the life and music of history's most precocious composer.
``Mozart was a genius both ingenuous and sophisticated, both trivial and profound - not by turns ... but at one and the same time,'' he tells viewers. ``He was as wayward a person as his work was disciplined.''
Ustinov uses this 120-minute foray to successfully illuminate the trivial-profound, ingenuous-sophisticated nature of its subject. Who else could lay it on with words like ``peregrinations,'' ``mere polity,'' ``superannuated'' and keep your hands off the TV dial?
Ustinov has a kind of avuncular self-awareness that allows you to enjoy his beneficent pomposity as much as he does. He can begin one sentence as a raving twit and finish it off with a scowl of unquestionable authority, all in character.
It's a good thing, because it is Ustinov who chronicles the major events in Mozart's life, hamming up anecdotes and stories, reading letters as if spontaneously transfigured into their writers - Mozart's father Leopold, his sister, mother, lover, fianc'ee.
Ustinov takes us to Mozart's birthplace, to Salzburg's Mirabell Palace, to Schwetzingen Castle near Mannheim, West Germany, and to Vienna, where the composer worked for most of his adult life. Enroute, Ustinov examines the links between famous Mozart compositions and milestones in his life, the writing of ``Idomeneo,'' for instance, after the death of his mother.
It is a complex life, beginning with Mozart's being ``primped like a toy poodle'' for royalty by his ambitious father. After years of free-lancing, the young musician became chamber composer for Emperor Franz Joseph II, replacing the towering German figure, Gluck. Despite the astounding achievement of 625 works - all written by age 35 - Mozart fell into hopeless debt and became seriously ill. He ended life broke, out of social favor. He was buried in a pauper's grave.
There is some public consciousness-raising woven into the show, notably about the ``wretched distortions'' perpetrated on Mozart's legacy by the Peter Schaffer play and movie ``Amadeus,'' and before that in the works of Pushkin. ``The malicious rumors suggesting that Salieri had murdered Mozart, of course, is a fairy tale...,'' Ustinov tells us.
Israela Margalit is credited with the script, and a grand - if hyperbolic - one it is. ``There have been many great composers of opera, both tragic and comic, but perhaps none have expressed universality better than Mozart,'' says Ustinov, ``...by means of an uncanny power of observation and a deep instinctive insight into the tragi-comic nature of the human being.''
Mozart is portrayed as one who mastered every musical form upon his first attempt, so impatient with reworking material that he would sooner compose another entire work. His last three symphonies were written in a single month, ``The Marriage of Figaro'' in three weeks. In comparison, the works of Beethoven don't ``sound of obedient mind,'' says Ustinov.
Happily, this special is very much alive with the omnipresent sounds of Mozart's music. Major European opera companies, orchestras, and soloists are featured - including the Vienna Philharmonic under Sir Georg Solti and the Royal Opera House Choir and Orchestra of Covent Garden. Program selections include selections from ``Marriage of Figaro,'' Symphony No. 40, ``Eine Kleine Nachtmusik'' and Mozaart's haunting Requiem.