Dearest Wolfi…

Dearest Wolfi,

Today, 27 January, I thought I’d write to you personally to wish you the very happiest of happy birthdays.

Sometimes I wonder if you know how much joy you have given us? Or the amount of money that has been made out of chocolates with your pictures imprinted on the foil? Or the crimes against musicality that have been committed in the name of your father, dear crusty old Leopold, and his Treatise on playing the violin? Or about the notion that listening to your music somehow makes babies clever (honest, guv, it’s been said. Mozart for Babies…) Perhaps you’re up there on the Composers’ Cloud with your friend Joseph Haydn, having a jolly good chuckle about it all. You and he must have been quite a double-act when you got going.

Down here, we’re all still wondering how you did it. What made you able to express the subtlest, deepest and truest strain of humanity through such apparently simple, effortless melodies? Of course, we all know how much work it takes to produce something that sounds ‘simple and effortless’, but there’s also the notion that, as you said, you were ‘your own copyist’ – you heard the music in your head and just wrote it down…your scores are astonishingly free of the sort of crossings-out that Beethoven and even Schubert used. Yet if Bach tells us about God, Beethoven about the universe and Schubert about the soul, you tell us about humanity. That’s the mystery: how? If we knew the answer, if it was no longer mysterious, wouldn’t we be less wonderstruck by it all?

I’m so glad you had a good librettist in da Ponte: there’ve been few, if any, operas since then that have explored the cutting edge of sexually-charged relationships so effectively. The two of you were a dream team and I only wish you had had longer to work together. I’d love to know if it was true about Casanova having some input into Don Giovanni. I read recently that Goethe would have chosen you as his ideal composer for an opera on his Faust; I hope that up on the Writers’ Cloud he’s not too disappointed that he got Schumann, Gounod and Schnittke instead.

It drives me absolutely nuts that you had to die young. I wonder what you would have done had you lived another few decades? The teenaged Chopin would have sought you out and played to you when you were a grand old man – you might have been his real-life mentor, instead of just from beyond the grave. Maybe Mendelssohn too; you’d have liked him. You never lived to hear Haydn’s The Creation – you really missed something there, though I hope he’s shown you the score by now. But what would you have made of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? Sometimes I wonder if you’d just have got the giggles listening to it: all that portentous stuff. I can’t think of one portentous note in your music, not even in the Requiem or the Commendatore’s entrance.

Schubert, perhaps, would have been your musical soulmate. Everyone rattles on about Beethoven’s influence on him, but when I listen to him I hear yours far more strongly. Take the Schubert late C minor Sonata, D958. And your C minor Piano Concerto, K491. Look at the first movements. There are so many similarities I sometimes wonder whether he had your score in front of him and was cribbing the ideas. We’re so hung up on criticising poor Franzi, the ‘Little Mushroom’ as his friends called him, for not writing things the way Beethoven did that we sometimes blind ourselves to what he really was doing, and why.

Pardon…? – oh, right. I agree, it’s your birthday, not Schubert’s. Wolfi, there’s only one way to celebrate your birthday and that’s to listen to your music. Did you know that one of your very greatest interpreters today comes from Japan? OK, she grew up and trained in Vienna… yes, times have changed and a Japanese woman is arguably the finest Mozart pianist in the world. This couldn’t have happened in the mid-18th century, and that means there is something to be said for the 21st after all! Here she is: Mitsuko Uchida, with the slow movement of your Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, performed at the Festival that has made your birthplace of Salzburg a Mecca (if not always a spectacularly loved one) to music-lovers everywhere.

Wolfi, thank you. We love you. When you blow out your candles today, please make a good wish for the music world of our strange new century.

Lots of love,

Jess x

Underrated: Abroad

The ravenous longing for the infinite possibilities of “otherwhere”

The king of cakes

"Yuletide revels were designed to see you through the dark days — and how dark they seem today"