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Celebrating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the free-thinker

  • March 16, 2023

Celebrating Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the free thinker

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The Würzburg Mozart Festival’s artistic director, Evelyn Meining, wanted to focus the 2022 edition on innovative and boundary-pushing elements. This inspired the festival motto: “All in one: The freethinker Mozart,” featured in this episode of DW Festival Concert.

Mozart’s music was both fascinating and provocative. It’s well known, for instance, that he took many liberties when composing his music. But he transgressed boundaries outside of his compositions, as well.

It was said he lacked respect for authority and that this made it hard for him to find a position as a court musician. So it may well have been against his own desires that he became one of the first composers of his generation to work independently of a court. A free spirit, who blazed his own musical trail and defied social conventions.

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Birds of a feather

The same holds true for much of the music of 20th century composer Igor Stravinsky. He was groundbreaking and he also drew on musical tradition, such as in the “Concerto in D,” also know as the “Basel Concerto.” In this piece for string orchestra, Stravinsky used typical Baroque rhythms and dance forms.

In this episode, we’ll listen to Andrew Manze conducting the Bamberg Symphony performing Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D, at the opening concert of the 2022 Würzburg Mozart Festival on May 21.

Stravinsky wrote his Concerto in D in 1946 on commission from the conductor and patron Paul Sacher, who wanted a piece to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Basel Chamber Orchestra. Sacher, a Swiss millionaire, commissioned around 250 pieces from contemporary composers over the course of his lifetime. In the 1980s, in a spectacular move, he acquired Stravinsky’s entire estate.

When Sacher came to Stravinsky with the commission request, the composer answered that he would only accept if the piece were no longer than 10 to12 minutes. To him, this was a matter of artistic freedom, as he himself said:  “My freedom thus consists in my moving about within the narrow frame that I have assigned myself for each one of my undertakings.”

Mozart: the eternal mystery

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There was no stopping Mozart

In contrast to Stravinsky, other composers want as few restrictions as possible while composing. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one example. 

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 often sounds relatively easy to play, but it’s actually quite complex and profound. It’s said that Mozart’s father worried a great deal about whether his son’s music would be well received by the average concertgoer.

Würzburg festival director Evelyn Meining tells us more: “Mozart’s father, Leopold, reprimanded him over this piano concerto. He said he shouldn’t compose such complicated pieces that flaunted his musical sophistication. “

Nowadays, Mozart’s composition style is hardly ever described as too complicated or difficult, even though it was often labeled so in its time. Instead, these terms are applied to today’s contemporary classical music.

It’s this idea that conductor Andrew Manze wanted to emphasize in the Bamberg Symphony’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which featured Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho as soloist.

From Mozart to Haydn

Next, we move on to a piece by German composer Isabel Mundry, whose work “Traces des Moments,” or “traces of moments” featured in the concert. She wrote the quintet for clarinet, accordion, violin, viola and cello in 2000.

For conductor Andrew Manze, it was important that the concert program also include the freethinking composer Joseph Haydn, who was an important role model for Mozart. The conductor particularly wanted to perform Hadyn’s Symphony No. 91 in E-flat major. Haydn wrote the piece in France, but it does not belong to his well-known series called the Paris Symphonies and is therefore frequently overlooked.

Mozart’s contemporary: Joseph Bologne

We’re going to now turn to the music of a Mozart contemporary: Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Born in 1732 in Guadeloupe to a Frenchman and an enslaved Senegalese woman, Bologne is sometimes referred to as the “Black Mozart” – a controversial label that critics argue diminish his musical and life achievements.

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He came to France as a child, where he played violin from an early age and went on to make a name for himself as a conductor. He later joined the Free Masons and led Le Concert Olympique, the largest and most preeminent French orchestra of the era, which performed in the Palais Royal in Paris.

It was around this time that Bologne became acquainted with Joseph Haydn and asked him to compose for his orchestra. In 1784, Bologne premiered Haydn’s symphonies 82 through 87, which are known as the Paris Symphonies. Bologne was also considered as the potential director of France’s Royal Academy of Music, but racism ultimately prevented his appointment.

A woman with short hair wearing glasses and smiling.
Cristina Burack hosts DW Festival Concert Image: Privat

Joseph Bologne wrote a handful of operas, over one hundred piano pieces, sonatas, string quartets, symphonies and violin concertos. He wasn’t just musically talented. He was also a famous fencer, a good swimmer and an ice skater who was the talk of Paris society. During the French Revolution, he served as the colonel in the St Georges legion, which at the time, was the only regiment for people of color in all of Europe. In short, he was a pretty incredible and impressive person.

His Violin Concerto No. 9 in G major has a beautifully lyrical, slow movement. It’s performed by Jonian Ilias Kadesha, who really shines on the piece. Kadesha lives in Berlin, but he was born in Athens to Albanian parents. His father was the concertmaster of the Athens Symphony Orchestra.

And that’s all for this edition of DW Festival Concert with Cristina Burack. Many thanks to producer Gaby Reucher and sound engineer Thomas Schmidt. If you have any feedback, shoot us an email at

This article was originally written in German.

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