SALZBURG, AUSTRIA — The sweet harmony of a dueling violin and viola echo within the marble walls of the 17th-century Mirabell Palace in Salzburg, Austria, as two musicians bow their instruments.
An exuberant finale leads to a burst of applause in this gold-studded baroque concert hall, as an enraptured audience keeps clapping and clapping - not wanting to let go of the passion brought on by the music of this town's favorite son.
"He's a genius," exclaims viola player Thomas Riebl, when asked how this duet by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has touched him. "It represents a likeness and connection with heaven."
The spirited concert is a preview of what will be taking place through the rest of this year to celebrate the anniversary of Mozart's birth. Salzburg and Vienna have organized grand concerts, festivals, and galas that would have no doubt made the maestro proud.
"Mozart was filled with music like no other person," says Salzburg tour guide Horst Reischenbock. "Even during his day, people [said] that such genius would appear on this earth [only] every 1,000 years."
Events in Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace, kicked off in late January with the Mozart Week winter music festival. The annual one-week event was extended to 14 days this year to mark the composer's Jan. 27 birthday.
Highlights included opera performances, orchestral concerts, chamber music, and solo recitals in the city's three main concert halls. But there's much more in store for visitors who couldn't be there for the kickoff of the year-long celebration.
During the summer, musicians and performers will take on the challenge of staging all the composer's 22 operas during the Salzburg Festival - all within a period of less than six weeks. The festival runs from July 24 to Aug. 31 and will feature such dramatic operas as "The Magic Flute," "Don Giovanni," and "The Marriage of Figaro."
From now through November, special concerts will take place on weekends. All of Mozart's masses - most of them written in Salzburg - will be performed in the city's cathedral and churches.
Valuable archival material and the score of Mozart's first work are on display year-round at the "Viva! MOZART" exhibition at the city's history museum, the Carolino Augusteum, in the Residenz Neubau.
On any day, however, visitors can retrace the footsteps of a young Mozart who lived in Salzburg from his birth in 1756 until he permenently moved to Vienna in 1781.
On the pedestrian-packed Getreidegasse, the home in which he was born (see page 16) features original portraits of the maestro, his parents, and his sister, Nannerl. It also includes the unfinished 1789 portrait of the composer that was said to best capture his likeness.
Also on display in this house, with its original 18th-century creaky wooden floors, are several musical instruments that the composer played. These include the violin he had as a child (it dates back to 1746), his concert violin from 1780, and his soft-sounding clavichord, donated by his wife. (See page 16.)
"Mozart composed parts of 'The Magic Flute,' the 'Requiem Mass,' and the 'Freemason Cantata' on this clavichord at night as the family slept," says Mr. Reischenbock.
On the walls are original prints of different cities that were brought back by father Leopold Mozart after the family's grueling 3-1/2-year tour through Western Europe.
"Leopold wanted to show Wolfgang the world, and at the same time, present him to the world after he realized the young Mozart's outstanding talent and genius," explains Reischenbock.
When the Mozart family needed a larger home, they moved across the Salzach River. Now known as Mozart's Residence in the city's New Town, this museum showcases a 1780 family portrait, authentic family letters and diaries, and an original family piano. An audio-guided tour plays selected excerpts of Mozart's music while explaining the exhibits.
Reminders of Mozart may also be found at Salzburg's old churches. He first performed his "Mass in C Major" at the splendid baroque Abbey Church of St. Peter.
"Mozart played the organ, [and] directed the choir and orchestra at the same time, and his wife, Constanze, sang the first soprano part," says Reischenbock.
Mozart was baptized in the imposing Salzburg Cathedral (Dom St. Rupert), where the same baptismal font remains today. He worked as an organist in the cathedral for the last year and a half he spent in Salzburg, composing festive masses and vespers.
Mozart spent the last 10 years of his life in Vienna. To mark the anniversary of his birth, the city offers a large exhibition at the Hofburg Palace's Albertina Museum, opera and orchestral performances of his works, and a host of other musical programs.
The official celebration kicked off with the grand reopening of the "Mozarthaus Vienna" in January.
"It's not just his original apartment, but on the floors above is an exhibition on Mozart's time in Vienna, including social, historical and cultural background," explains Vienna tour guide Rainer Lefevre about the importance of the site. "His years here were the most successful and happiest of his life.
"He had a room that was used for chamber music," Lefevre continues. "Joseph Haydn was here and performed one of the string quartets with him. At age 17, Beethoven came here to be lectured by Mozart and became his student. From a musical point of view, this house is an outstanding place in Vienna."
Vienna's Schönbrunn Palace was two more claims to Mozart fame - beyond his playing there as a 6-year-old. On the same visit, he met a young Marie Antoinette.
Later, in the palace's Orangerie, a 30-year-old Mozart competed in a music contest under the critical eye of Emperor Joseph II and lost to rival and court Kapellmeister (church master) Antonio Salieri.
Today, Mozart's works are performed regularly in the Orangerie by the Schönbrunn Palace Orchestra. "To play or conduct Mozart's music is really a special experience," says orchestra conductor Dian Tchobanov. "You could not add or take away another note. It's very natural and perfect."
"Mozart would be pleased that nowadays they still play his music on every corner," says Lefevre. "I think he would be very pleased to hear how much his music is appreciated, not just in Vienna, but all over the world."
"The music of Mozart is difficult to describe," he adds. "But if I believed in God, I would say his music comes from God."