Debunking Mozart as Myth, Legend, and Demigod

REVISIONIST Mozart is the name of the game in this Mozart bicentennial year, according to the expert who shaped the 19-month Mozart festival at Lincoln Center. Neal Zaslaw, Mozart scholar and musicological advisor to the Lincoln Center Bicentennial, points out that even Mozart's output has been radically revised. ``It depends on how you count, like war statistics. Our number is 835 total works. In the Kochel listings [Austrian musicographer Ludwig Kochel catalogued Mozart's works in the 1860s] the last work, `The Requiem,' is K. 626. So you have to ask what is a work? One which is four hours of music, like `The Marriage of Figaro,' or another which may be a mi nuet that lasts three minutes? The Kochel catalogue has over the years acquired many works [which have been inserted] these are not apprentice works or inferior works. This is first-rate music.''

Dr. Zaslaw, who is professor of Music at Cornell University, says he spent three years moonlighting on Mozart for Lincoln Center before his current year's leave of absence for the project.

``What's really happening is we're getting a retrospective of Mozart [at Lincoln Center]. That's well understood in the art history world. Nobody blinks at a retrospective of Rembrandt or Picasso.''

Zaslaw trumpets about popular views of Mozart springing from ``Amadeus'' the play and film.

```Amadeus' is a brilliant play and film, a brilliant fiction, not an historical documentary. People seem to want to think that CNN has gone to Vienna and covered Mozart. On the biographical front, we're getting a less romantic, more realistic picture of what his life conditions were like.

``On the musical side, there are two things: text of piece and rendering of piece. The Germans and Austrians have just completed a monumental new edition of all Mozart's works [published by the Internationale Stiftung Mozarteum Salzburg and Barenreiter.]. The music you put on the stand, lots of scores which were being played from corrupt and inaccurate music, now have a much superior text. That's important.''

Zaslaw cites a lost march which has turned up for an opera, a piano concerto in which several measures had accidently been dropped. ``There are thousands of little details where the louds and the softs and the smooths and bumpies go.''

Among the other Mozart revisionisms: ``The romantic idea that he died in poverty. Now we have a pretty good ideas about finances. He had a solid upper-middle class income, and probably wasn't much more in debt that some of us who overuse our credit cards....''

In light of this bicentennial, was Mozart's timeless genius appreciated in his lifetime? ``They weren't interested in timeless genius. They were only interested in having good new music.''

AND will all these celebrations wear out Mozart's welcome?

``No one can ever do permanent damage to this kind of music. The next performance generation comes along, takes a fresh look, and it's good as new. In 1991 there will be some fantastic performances and some less good, but the music holds. Music isn't a horse race.''

Zaslaw says if he were to take ``a little bit of Mozart to a desert island, it would include the three Mozart operas with librettos by Lorenzo Da Ponte: ``Figaro,'' ``Don Giovanni'' and ``Cosi fan Tutte.'' That's how Mozart changed the world.''

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