Mozart's Less-Than-Warm Relationship with Salzburg Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's 250th birthday is being celebrated in a major way Friday in Salzburg, Austria, the composer's birthplace. The city has made an industry of the commercialization of Mozart, and the celebration of his music — even though Mozart couldn't wait to leave it.
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Mozart's Less-Than-Warm Relationship with Salzburg

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Mozart's Less-Than-Warm Relationship with Salzburg

Mozart's Less-Than-Warm Relationship with Salzburg

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Today is the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. There are celebrations going on around the world. Salzburg, Austria where Mozart was born is in the middle of a massive two week series of concert street fairs and other events that add up to possibly the biggest birthday party ever thrown for a composer. Of course, Mozart spent much of his youth trying to leave Salzburg, the place from where NPR's Fred Child reports.

FRED CHILD: I hate Salzburg. Not me. Mozart wrote that in a letter. Over the course of several years Mozart repeated that sentiment in letters to family and friends. He was quite insistent about it. He wrote, you have to admit. In Salzburg there isn't a penny's worth of stimulation. It's as if the audience consisted of nothing but tables and chairs. Salzburg is no place for my talent. There's nothing going on there musically. I don't want to have anything to do with Salzburg anymore.

(Soundbite of Symphony No. 29)

CHILD: Mozart wrote this Symphony No. 29 in Salzburg when he 18-years-old. In his teens and early 20s Mozart worked for the Archbishop in Salzburg as a servant, a musical servant writing only for the pleasure of the Archbishop. To make music and have an income that was the only option for Mozart or almost any other musician of the time. Hannes Eichmann lives in Salzburg. He's worked here as a music producer and host for Austrian radio for 23 years. I met Eichmann at a café where Mozart used to eat.

HANNES EICHMANN: Salzburg was a provincial town and it cannot compete with an imperial metropolis, as is Vienna, with theatre, with entertainment, and possibilities for outside entertainment were quite a bit bigger in Vienna. Mozart was an aristocratic Archbishop's servant. If there were concerts, they were for the Archbishop's evening entertainment.

CHILD: And Mozart knew he was bigger and better than simply writing for the Archbishop's living room. Even when he was 15, Mozart aspired beyond Salzburg. He traveled all over Germany, Austria, France, and Italy trying to find a better job or a city with more engaging, not to mention lucrative, musical opportunities. From one of those trips he wrote home to his father with, yes, more complaints about Salzburg. Even the café, this same café where I met Eichmann, wasn't good enough for Mozart's tastes. Mozart wrote that the owner was the patron saint of soupy and burnt coffee, rancid lemonade and almond milk without almonds.


CHILD: When Mozart was 25, he'd had enough. He left Salzburg after one final falling out with the Archbishop. He moved to the imperial capital of Vienna, 185 miles east. Vienna had more sophisticated audiences, better musicians and the possibility of lots more money to be made from piano lessons from nobility who wanted the latest, greatest music for important social events, from the emperor who could and did commission Mozart to write operas and even in the most novel of ways, as a freelance composer.


CHILD: Mozart wrote this piano concerto to make money as an entrepreneur, something that would have been impossible back home in small-town Salzburg. When he played this movement in Vienna for 120 paying customers the applause was so raucous, he had to play it again before the audience would let him do anything else. In Vienna it was in opera that Mozart's fame grew beyond the salons of royalty and where his music began to be heard by a somewhat broader paying public.


CHILD: But even these late successes in life were not enough to provide him with a steady income he'd always sought. He died at the young age of 35, having written more than 600 pieces of music. Mozart's wife, Constanze, was left with two sons, no income, and almost no tangible assets, except all the music her husband had written.


CHILD: Constanze began selling Wolfgang's manuscripts and nurturing his legacy. She moved to his hometown, Salzburg. She printed cards that read I wish to greet with great pleasure all Mozart admirers, and tell them that if they ever come to Salzburg, to give me the satisfaction of visiting me. She outlived Wolfgang by 50 years and by the time she died, she had laid the foundation for what would become the Mozart industry in Salzburg. A hundred years after his death the apartment where he was born became a museum.

A conservatory and music foundation were dedicated to him, and both took his name, the Mozarteum. And now, a quarter millennium after his birth, his hometown has gone so far in reversing its neglect of Mozart, some might say it's exploiting his memory. If you're in town this week for Mozart's music, it's no trick to find Mozart mugs, lighters, beer, ashtrays, golf balls, even Mozart perfume. The Austrian National Tourist Office now values the Mozart brand at $6.6 billion.

STEPHAN PAULY: There are the festivals, there is high culture, there is tourism, there is business.

CHILD: Dr. Stephan Pauly is Artistic Director of the Mozart Week in Salzburg. I asked him what Mozart might make of all this.

PAULY: He would ask to get money for the rights.

CHILD: So how is it Mozart has gone from being a composer who died in relative poverty to a global brand? Pianist Mitsuko Uchida:

MITSUKO UCHIDA: Whenever I played Mozart something happens to me, to the music and to the public. It is the emotional world of his, but it is so pure that it becomes the emotional world of every living human who ever loved.

CHILD: Which would mean you don't need to come to Salzburg to find Mozart and Salzburg resident Hannes Eichmann of Austrian radio agrees.

EICHMANN: I don't think of Mozart at all here in Salzburg. I think of Mozart when I hear his music and I think that's the important thing. That's something which doesn't age and I think that's one of the wonderful miracles about Wolfgang Amadeus.

CHILD: For NPR News in Salzburg, Austria, I'm Fred Child.


MONTAGNE: And for complete NPR coverage of Mozart's 250th birthday, go to This is Morning Edition from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


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