Wednesday, 5 January 2011

On the fifth day of Mozart.

The start of the year has been a very controversial one for that most British of institutions. BBC Radio Three. It has devoted all the airtime for the first 12 days of the year to just one composer. Wolfgang Amadé Mozart.

It isn’t the first time that Mozart has caused controversy during his lifetime he was a very controversial character, the 1984 Hollywood film ‘Amadeus’ fraught with inaccuracy. Not least the spelling of the composers name. He never referred to himself as Amadeus most commonly using Amadé although his baptismal name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. However it is the shear amount of backlash that Radio Three has been receiving in the press that is most startling.

The station isn’t merely playing the composers work in Köchel order (Köchel comes from the name of Ludwig von Köchel who first categorised Mozart’s works). Something that can be done by anyone with 10 gb of space on an i-pod and a copy of Phillips ‘The complete Mozart’ from I-Tunes. Alex Ross wrote about his experience of listening to Mozart in order like this in a piece for ‘The New Yorker’ in 2006 entitled ‘The Storm of Style’ Which was later collected in ‘The best American Magazine Writing: 2007’. In this he points out one fact that must have played on the minds of the programmers of Radio Three. With out the historical context there are an awful lot of rather samey waltzes.

Now this is where the BBC have done well each piece is given some background and some non music but still Mozart shows give the listener a better understanding of the composer as a man. Plus all this fuss has generated a lot of press and a lot of feed back for the station that it wouldn’t normally get. One letter to the ‘Independent’ newspaper bemoaned the fact that one presenter always talks about his backpack, while others and praised the way that until now Radio Three has avoided the dumbing down which they perceive in it’s sister station Radio Four. It has perhaps given the programmers at Radio Three a lot more food for thought than any survey on the website.

Of course there are some drawbacks to this experiment the first being that not everyone likes Mozart. Some people find him too fluffy while others have rather predictably bemoaned the fact that the time wasn’t given to a British composer. It is also worth remembering that Radio Three isn’t just for classical music. When running it’s normal programming it also features Jazz and World music as well as readings and new composers. All of these have fallen by the wayside, although I guess Louis Armstrong could appear with his version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ however this perhaps wouldn’t fit the bill, as Mozart didn’t in fact write the tune he wrote a series of variations on it. In fact the old French folk tune, ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman’, wasn’t married with an English poem ‘The Star’ by Jane Taylor till nearly twenty years after Mozart’s death.

Of course it still remains to be seen how this experiment will affect the ratings. However the sheer boldness of the move is refreshing in the current climate of safety first programming.

Maybe for 2012 ‘The Twelve Days of Wagner’?

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