Mozart and modern music-making

Martin CullingfordMon 24th October 2016

A celebration of a timeless genius, and new ways of listening

Every so often a musical milestone occurs, and it seems only appropriate to stop in our tracks and pay tribute to an extraordinary creative achievement. I refer to the music of Mozart, who died 225 years ago this year, but those words could equally apply to Decca and DG’s monumental new Mozart box-set, released to mark the anniversary. I accept that 225 is not the neatest of anniversary dates, but the excuse to reappraise what Mozart’s music means to the world today has been seized by this project with such commitment that it more than justifies us taking the time to do likewise.

I’ve written about anniversaries before. I believe the focus on an otherwise arbitrary date is well justified so long as the project concerned encourages us to think differently about the composer, or provides much-needed advocacy for their music (I still think one of the most imaginatively thought-through composer anniversaries of recent times was Benjamin Britten’s in 2013, a centenary which incidentally also saw a superb box-set from the same Decca team).

Mozart, self-evidently, doesn’t require any advocacy, but almost because of that sheer ubiquity and renown – everyone thinks they know his music (though I’d challenge you to recognise every rarity in this vast collection) – the time is always ripe for reappraisal. When Philips – part of the same Universal Classics family as Decca and DG – marked the 200th anniversary of Mozart’s death with a similar (though smaller) set, there was only one period-instrument performance within it. A quarter of a century on, and that’s changed substantially. How Mozart is performed continues to evolve, reflecting the ever-evolving world in which his music is heard.

I’ve also written before about how digital trends, the ascendency of streaming in particular, have conversely led to a renewed appreciation of the power of physical, including vinyl and box-sets. They don’t all have to be as grand as the Mozart 225 box either. A series of newly remastered reissues of classic opera performances – Victoria de Los Angeles in Carmen, Otto Klemperer conducting Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, to name just two – have just arrived from Warner Classics. Beautifully-presented, solid little books with a full libretto – and which I’ve found online selling for around £20.

Meanwhile, online streaming continues to make recordings as accessible as possible to all. We’ve long championed such services, but this month we’ve a special focus on the concert halls and opera houses transmitting their performances live to your living room, in many cases for free. It’s a significant development in how organisations think of their audiences, and I suspect the reverse is true too: just as collectors once became familiar with an orchestra’s sound and ethos through recordings, they can now build bonds more easily than ever before through watching them online. The launch of orchestra own labels blurred the lines between ensembles and labels; live-event streaming is doing likewise between organisations and broadcasters. Box-sets big and small, the streaming of recordings and performances – the musical world is as creatively forward-thinking as ever, and we are the fortunate beneficiaries.

Martin Cullingford

Martin Cullingford is the Editor and Publisher of Gramophone.

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