In Search of Mozart – A New Film

Written by: Colin Anderson

“In Search of Mozart” is a new film by Phil Grabsky … it is the film for the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth (on 27 January 2006) and is narrated by Juliet Stevenson and features, amongst others, Renée Fleming, Magdalena Kožená, Lang Lang, Janine Jansen, Sir Charles Mackerras and Sir Roger Norrington. Phil Grabsky introduces the film that has its world premiere screening on 4 January 2006 in London’s Barbican Hall…

Phil Grabsky is In Search of Mozart. His film has the official approval of Salzburg, where Mozart was born on January 27, 1756. Mozart 250! “Is there such a thing as genius and where does it come from? That’s what interests me about Mozart. Many biographical films take either too much for granted or show no confidence in the intelligence of the viewer. Mozart said he wrote his music for those appreciating pretty tunes and also for the connoisseur. My film reflects this: something for the person who only knows Mozart’s name and something to please the expert.”

Phil believes in factual accuracy. “Amadeus is a brilliant film, but it’s full of errors and myths. I came away from that, and the BBC film, still wondering who Mozart’s influences were and about the historical context. Television thinks we should make films the audience want; we should surprise people and get them interested in new things.” Phil’s film asks questions. “Who was Mozart? Why did he write what he did? I love nitty-gritty details: how he wrote, how he got his music performed. Mozart is not as portrayed in Amadeus; for him it was about determination, hard work and inspiration.” Is Phil also questioning received opinion? “Yes. I de-sensationalise Mozart. I didn’t find any evidence that he was a serial philander; I did a hundred interviews with the consensus being that he was too busy to sleep around and had a loving relationship with his wife. And Salieri didn’t poison him and he didn’t die a pauper! Characters in Mozart’s life were far more influential than is commonly assumed. His father wanted to expose him to great musicians and teach him languages; a great lesson in the importance of parenting.”

In Search of Mozart reveals the composer’s life through his music, performed by a stellar list of musicians, and is also “told through letters, contemporary accounts, interviews and Mozart’s own words.” Maybe, though, debunking the fiction of Mozart’s existence could lessen his appeal outside of the music itself? “Quite the opposite! It makes him much more interesting in that he was an ordinary mortal who through chance and experiences has ended up being played every second of every day around the world; anyone creative can learn from Mozart. He had an extraordinary life, and if the manner of your death sometimes affects how you are remembered – think of Nelson – the great thing about Mozart is the variety of his output. Sublime music.” Phil acknowledges that as great composers go, “Mozart is not out there alone and that history has drawn him out.”

The two-hour film premieres in the Barbican Hall on January 4, is also on DVD, and Channel 5 shows a 20-minute-shorter version in instalments from January 10. Given volume levels in cinemas have increased detrimentally, might Phil’s film be too loud? “Hopefully not. It should be comfortable. I despise the fact that commercials on telly are racked up in volume. Part of this film is a reaction to the society in which we’re living: everything has to be fast, loud and simple. This film, like Mozart’s music, can be measured and thoughtful. It’s a fantastic story and beautiful music. I hope when people see the film they will want to go to a concert and the opera.”

  • In Search of Mozart – Premiere screening on 4 January 2006, Barbican Hall
  • Barbican
  • In Search of Mozart
  • The above article was published in “What’s On in London” on 22 December 2005 and is reproduced here with permission

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