Mu­si­cal Destinatio­ns

Freya Parr treats her­self to a fes­ti­val in Augs­burg

BBC Music Magazine - - Contents -

Say the name Mozart, and Wolf­gang will nearly al­ways be the first per­son we think of. But in the Bavar­ian city of Augs­burg – just an hour out­side of Mu­nich – there’s an­other Mozart tak­ing cen­tre stage this year. Wolf­gang’s fa­ther Leopold was born and raised here, leav­ing at the age of 17 to study in Salzburg. Augs­burg is Ger­many’s third-old­est city, once home to some of the great­est artists and mu­si­cians of its day, but Leopold re­mains its big­gest ex­port. The city cel­e­brates its cul­tural her­itage with the an­nual Ger­man Mozart Fes­ti­val, with the lat­est in­stal­ment ex­tended from its usual two-week run to a year-long cel­e­bra­tion of Leopold’s 300th an­niver­sary.

Augs­burg may sound fa­mil­iar to those with an in­ter­est in his­tory. The Peace of Augs­burg ended con­flict be­tween Protes­tants and Catholics in 1555 and guar­an­teed peo­ple of both faiths the right to prac­tise here. ‘It be­came a lib­eral city quite early in its his­tory, which was rare for the south,’ the Ger­man Mozart Fes­ti­val’s artis­tic direc­tor Simon Pickel tells me. ‘It’s now known as the city of peace.’ A boom in the bank­ing and metal busi­nesses helped bring wealth to the area, which, com­bined with Augs­burg’s lib­eral at­ti­tudes, cre­ated a rich cul­tural scene. This nur­tured the tal­ents of artists and mu­si­cians – not least a young Leopold Mozart.

Re­stricted to the borders of his­tory, Leopold is of­ten re­mem­bered only as the tyran­ni­cal fa­ther who pushed his gifted son to achieve mu­si­cal great­ness. The his­tory books may not have been kind to Leopold, but his birth city of Augs­burg is keen to re­assess his story. ‘When you watch films like Amadeus, Leopold is of­ten por­trayed as a car­i­ca­ture and a vil­lain, which wasn’t

wholly true,’ says Pickel. ‘Read­ing the let­ters be­tween them, it’s clear they [fa­ther and son] re­ally loved each other.’

Leopold’s pro­found in­flu­ence on Wolf­gang is un­de­ni­able. He was a mar­ket­ing man, sac­ri­fic­ing his own ca­reer as a court mu­si­cian and com­poser to give Wolf­gang a plat­form for suc­cess. He con­tin­u­ally wrote let­ters home while they were on the road; these were shared around the com­mu­nity and acted as a pub­lic news­let­ter, ad­ver­tis­ing Wolf­gang’s mu­si­cal ven­tures. Many are now dis­played as part of a spe­cial an­niver­sary ex­hi­bi­tion at Augs­burg’s tex­tile mu­seum, a build­ing pre­vi­ously used as a spin­ning mill and the fo­cal point for the city’s once-thriv­ing tex­tile in­dus­try. The let­ters are dis­played along­side garments worn at the time, jew­ellery be­lieved to have been owned and worn by the Mozart fam­ily and an orig­i­nal copy of Leopold’s text­book, A Trea­tise on the Fun­da­men­tal Prin­ci­ples of Vi­o­lin Play­ing. Pub­lished in 1756, it re­mains an in­flu­en­tial book on per­for­mance prac­tice, hav­ing been republishe­d in var­i­ous lan­guages and mul­ti­ple edi­tions.

Al­though the an­niver­sary year in Augs­burg is a great op­por­tu­nity to hear Leopold’s rarely per­formed or recorded choral and cham­ber works, his mu­sic is by no means at the cen­tre of ev­ery con­cert. In fact, Pickel ad­mits that com­po­si­tion may not have been Leopold’s strong­est as­set. ‘Leopold com­posed for the day, sim­ply for en­ter­tain­ment,’ he says. ‘It was of­ten just writ­ten and thrown away. When you have an­niver­saries of lesser-known com­posers, you al­ways fo­cus on the mu­sic, and it’s then for­got­ten. We wanted to shine a light on Leopold’s other achieve­ments.’

That’s why you’ll see works such as Schu­bert’s Death and the Maiden on the pro­gramme. ‘All cham­ber mu­sic links back to Leopold’s in­flu­ence,’ adds Pickel, who is de­ter­mined to present Leopold as more than just a com­poser and over­bear­ing fa­ther, em­pha­sis­ing his role as a great com­mu­ni­ca­tor who shaped mu­sic for years to come through his teach­ing .

But mu­sic is, of course, at the heart of the cel­e­bra­tions this year. One of the con­certs I at­tend is vi­olin­ist Is­abelle Faust’s solo Bach recital in the majestic Augs­burg Golden Hall. It’s a sim­ple town hall build­ing: his­toric and invit­ing, but none­the­less mod­est. In­side, how­ever, is an im­pres­sive stage, com­plete with Ro­coco fres­cos and an elab­o­rate gold ceil­ing.

The con­certs in Leopold’s an­niver­sary year make the most of the city’s un­usual venues, from the mag­nif­i­cent Baroque Schae­zler­palais to the some­what unimag­i­na­tively named ‘Small Golden Hall’, part of the Je­suit col­lege where Leopold was ed­u­cated from the age of five, which is a per­fect space for in­ti­mate cham­ber con­certs.

The an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions will draw to an end in Novem­ber with a fi­nale con­cert on Leopold’s birth­day: Chris­tian Tet­zlaff will join the Augs­burg Phil­har­monic Orches­tra to per­form a pro­gramme of Leopold Mozart, along­side the pre­miere of a spe­cially com­mis­sioned work by Moritz Eggert and mu­sic by vi­olin­ist and com­poser Joseph Joachim. ‘Leopold has never had the spot­light,’ says Pickel. ‘So this year is a chance to bring him out of the shad­ows.’ Per­haps he’s right. It’s time to re­assess the role of Leopold, and a trip to Augs­burg seems like a good place to start.

Fur­ther in­for­ma­tion:

De­tails of Augs­burg’s Ger­man Mozart Fes­ti­val can be found at mozart­stadt.de

‘Leopold is por­trayed as a car­i­ca­ture and a vil­lain – which isn’t wholly true’

City of peace: Augs­burg has a rich cul­tural scene

Room with a view: Is­abelle Faust in the Golden Hall; (right) Leopold Mozart

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