About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Other Mozarts

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Friday was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's birthday. He's 256 now. In conjunction with his birthday two bloggers, one at Operavore and one at Thoughts on a Train, wrote about two members of the family, Wolfgang's sister, familiarly known as Nannerl, and his mother, Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, who are mostly in the background when we think about Wolfgang's life and work.

According to most sources on Mozart, Nannerl, his older sister, was possibly as talented as he. Certainly she was a gifted performer, touring all over Europe with her brother and father when the two were children. However, as they got older, Wolfgang continued to soar as a musical genius, while Nannerl fades from view. What happened? Fred Plotkin, author of the blog post Nannerl Mozart: Born Too Soon, quotes from the Grove Dictionary of Music that "from 1769 onwards she was no longer permitted to show her artistic talent on travels with her brother, as she had reached a marriageable age.” So Nannerl married and disappeared from view.

Now, however, there is a new movie, Mozart's Sister, and at least five novels about Nannerl, three of which are titled Mozart's Sister. All are fiction based on some facts. The most recent is Mozart's Last Aria, in which Nannerl tried to solve the mystery of Mozart's death after not having seen him for many years.

Maria Anna (Nannerl) Mozart
We know from the family letters that Nannerl did compose music, though none was performed under her name and all of it is now lost. Though close to her brother in childhood, once he married Constanze, the siblings became distant. Both Nannerl and Leopold, their father, disapproved of Constanze. Nannerl also married and had three children. Later in life she taught music in or near Salzburg, and became friendly with Constanze and Constanze's second husband.

The Mozart's mother, Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, is an even more shadowy person. She accompanied the family on the early tours, but stayed at home with Nannerl when Leopold decided to take only Wolfgang. She went with Wolfgang on a trip to Paris and became sick and died there. Now she, too, has a novel about her life. Dick Strawser's blog post, A Novel about Mozart's Mother, recommends the novel, Stitches in the Air by Liane Ellison Norman, and discusses the little that is known about Mozart's mother. Her father was a musician, and the family was quite poor, in part because her father died when she was four. She married Leopold Mozart and had seven children, only two of whom survived. There are a few clues in letters from Leopold and Wolfgang that she had some musical education and perhaps even composed music.
Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, mother of Wolfgang and Nannerl

There is another shadowy Mozart who I have become interested in recently. Franz Xaver Mozart was the youngest son of Wolfgang and Constanze and another musician. Only two of the children born to Constanze survived infancy. Karl Thomas was the elder of the two children. Both boys were talented musically and studied music. Karl eventually gave up music as a profession and went into government service in Milan. Franz Xaver played both violin and piano, like his father. He began writing music when he was quite young, like his father, and gave a recital of his compositions when he was 13 years old.  In addition to using his given name, he also went by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (sohn). Quite a few of his compositions survive, including a trio for flute and two horns, 6 Piccoli Pezzi, which my daughter performed while studying in Vienna last year. I was interested in the  unusual instrumentation and in learning a piece by the son of Mozart. So, with the help of friends I was able to get a copy of the music. We hope to perform it later this year. 

Franz Xaver Mozart
It must have been terribly difficult to work as a performer and composer in the shadow of his father. Franz Xaver is said to have been introverted and self-deprecating, the opposite of his famous father. Yet he made the choice to work in music, composing and playing piano and violin. There don't seem to be any novels about Franz Xaver yet, though he does appear in some of the novels about Nannerl.

Such an interesting family. We are endlessly fascinated with the genius -- popping up in the midst of generations of competent musicians. I recommend the two blog posts -- they are very interesting.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Schubertiade 2012!

It's time for the Schubertiade again! Pianoforte Chicago will present this year's celebration on Saturday, January 28 in the Fine Arts Building, 410 South Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It starts at 3:00, with performances running simultaneously in three or four performance spaces, and concludes at 9:00 with a Schubert sing-along.

This year I will be playing horn quartets with three friends, Nancy Orbison, Melody Velleuer, and Jennifer Souder. The organizers of the Schuberitade allow transcriptions and arrangements of Schubert, and so we will be performing "Holy, Holy, Holy," originally a choral piece, arranged for horns by Nancy Orbison; Marche Militaire, a piano solo; and Five Quartets arranged by Verne Reynolds. This last piece came from a set of six quartets, for which we chose five. Unfortunately, the publisher didn't include any information about where these pieces came from. I had guessed that they were originally choral pieces, in part because they are in four parts with somewhat distinct ranges. In addition, Schubert wrote a lot of choral music. I contacted Peter Kurau, horn professor at the Eastman School of Music and a former student of Verne Reynolds, to see if he had any information. His guess is that these were string quartets, though he passed the query along to one of the librarians at Eastman's Sibley Library, where the Verne Reynolds archive is kept. We haven't heard anything back yet. However, in this arrangement the pieces sound like they were always meant for four horns.

We played this program last Saturday at Art Wauk in Waukegan, Illinois. This was a fairly casual performance for people on a gallery walk, though it was a pretty cold night for strolling from gallery to gallery. The string quartet that played right before us stayed to hear our performance, so Nancy asked them if they recognized the Reynolds arrangement as a string quartet. None of them did.

We'll be presenting our program at 3:30 in Curtis Hall, on the 10th floor of the Fine Arts Building. My friend, tenor Henry Pleas, will be singing quartets with Salon at 5:00 in Studio 801, and my clarinetist friend, Howard Green, will be playing an arrangement of the "Arpeggione" Sonata with pianist Bill Crowle at 7:00 in Curtis Hall. The arpeggione is a mostly extinct instrument sometimes described as a bowed guitar or something similar to a bass viola da gamba. The sonata has been arranged for modern instruments, such as cello and, of course, clarinet. There are many other interesting performances on the schedule as well, including a cello version of the "Arppeggione."

If you decide to attend the horn quartet performance, please say hello afterwards. And if you know anything about the mysterious horn quartets arranged by Verne Reynolds, be sure to let me know!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sherlock Holmes

I have been a Sherlock Holmes fan since I was a kid and I discovered the stories. I loved the logic that was always a surprise and always led to solving the case. I wondered about the mysterious Mr. Holmes.

I still like the stories, which I have read again and again. I enjoy the Basil Rathbone movies, and I especially liked the series on PBS with Jeremy Brett as Holmes. I thought Brett captured the Holmes that Conan Doyle had created, and the opening theme was Saint-Saens' evocative Danse Macabre.

Holmes has appeared in many novels written by authors other than Conan Doyle. I am a fan of the series of historical novels by Carole Nelson Douglas that star Irene Adler, the only woman to ever outwit Sherlock Holmes. Irene and her husband elude pursuers, who believe they have died in a train crash. Irene then goes on to investigate and solve mysteries, with her friend Nell Huxleigh acting as her Dr. Watson. I also like a new series for kids, Sherlock Holmes and the Baker Street Irregulars, in which the boys of the Baker Street Irregulars take a leading role. I also like the TV series House, which based the title character on Holmes.

I did not rush out to see the new movie series starring Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes. It sounded like this Sherlock Holmes was a major deviation from the traditional versions, in particular being much more action-oriented. I still have not seen the first movie, but I was lured into seeing the second movie, A Game of Shadows, by a blog post on NPR's site titled Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure in Good Music. The author, Anastasia Tsioulcas, writes that classical music has a major and important role in the film, in particular the Schubert song "The Trout," and Mozart's opera Don Giovanni. And so I went to the movie with my son, already a fan, and my husband. As a movie, it started pretty slow, but turned into an entertaining action-packed tale. There are many references to the original Conan Doyle story. This Sherlock Holmes has very little in common with Arthur Conan Doyle's creation, however, Robert Downey, Jr. portrays an interesting character, more goofy and physical than the original. I was hoping for a bigger role for the music, but it is important to the plot and the score is very nice. 

Would I go to the next Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movie? Maybe. In any case, long live Sherlock Holmes, in all his incarnations!