Thoroughly Modern Mozart

This show first aired on September 30, 2021.

Who else could be said to make you smarter, just listening to the sound of his music? Only Mozart, that we know. For 300-and-some years now, he has set the standard for whatever lies beyond perfection. “Too beautiful for our ears,” said the Emperor of the Enlightenment, Joseph the Second, “and far too many notes, my dear Mozart.” Too many melodic ideas, some cerebral, but mostly straight-to-the-heart. He could be more German than Handel and Bach, more singable than Italian opera. The catch with Mozart in a big new life story is that the Mozart Myths are mostly wrong: he didn’t live poor, and he wasn’t buried in a pauper’s grave. He loved gambling at billiards and told his wife his supreme gift was dancing! This was no suffering genius, but a happy man, all in all.

Mozart, with Robert Levin and Jan Swafford.

We’re speaking of Mozart, man and music, with the modern biographer of the little man from eighteenth-century Austria, and with a master performer of his keyboard inventions. Brace yourself for these Mozart professionals: you could feel you’re listening to old basketball stars talking Michael Jordan leaps and Larry Bird threes. In the Mozart case, it was said—it is still said—there was literally nothing in music he couldn’t do better than anybody else: string quartets like the best conversations, cinemascopic piano concertos, farcical operas with psychological depth, and then he could hold his audience all night improvising at the keyboard. Impossible, as they say, but it happened and we’re summoning the magic at a living-room piano in Boston. Jan Swafford has documented the story in 700 pages titled Mozart: The Reign of Love. And Robert Levin, who has recorded a vast swath of the keyboard music with Mozartian felicity, seems to have it all at his fingertips. Our conversation begins around the child prodigy and what Mozart’s father and teacher called “the Miracle of Salzburg,” January 24, 1764.

Guest List
Jan Swafford
Author of Mozart: The Reign of Love.
Robert Levin
Pianist and conductor.

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