The WQXR Archives celebrates Month of Mozart with highlights from Lloyd Moss's WQXR show This is My Music.
"If the human race were to become extinct tomorrow . . . the one thing that it can be said to have produced that was really beyond human is Don Giovanni." So said writer Gore Vidal in 1984 on This is My Music.
The show invited the famous and notable to discuss their favorite musical selections of all time, and, not surprisingly, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart made the cut on numerous occasions — in fact, the man from Salzburg was probably the best-represented composer during the show's history. This was despite the historically tortuous relationship WQXR had with Mozart, as amusingly told by journalist Clifton Daniel in 1985.
Let us count the ways. Mozart's music touched Lloyd Moss's guests as varied ways as could be expected from such a brilliantly versatile composer (and Moss himself can hardly hide his appreciation). From Chico Marx's daughter Maxine shedding young tears when hearing Schnabel play Mozart in Los Angeles to actress Ellen Burstyn's dog singing along to the clarinet quintet K.581 (!), the praise pours forth from journalists, writers, and executives.
"Oh! Glory!" bursts philosopher Leo Rosten before the needle is dropped (yes, those were the analog days, folks!) on the String Quintet in E flat, K.614. Writer Robert MacNeil calmly states: "Mozart to me is as near to the definition of human genius as you can get — after Shakespeare" (not sure how we feel about that — who's the other guy anyway?).
And former Met Opera director Bruce Crawford expounds on how hearing early Mozart reminds him of "what true genius is" and is a lesson in humility. There are other paths to the composer's music, from lifelong fans like novelist Judith Rossner (“Mozart seems to have stuck in spite of my rebellion”) to late converts such as actor George Rose, who "once I got to know [the Sinfonia Concertante K.364/320d], I began to play it and play it and play it" (I guess we can forgive him).
There are other treats for Mozart fans in the show. Listen to a Toscanini tirade during a rehearsal of the Haffner Symphony recorded by audio documentarian Tony Schwartz, and a complete interview with playwright Peter Shaffer shortly after his play Amadeus opened to rave reviews on Broadway.
Here are other Mozart fans that appeared on This is My Music (click on each name to access the episode):
- Actress (and lyric soprano) Glenn Close, who speaks about using the Horn concerto to get into the character of her breakthrough role, Jenny Fields
- Musician Benny Goodman, speaking about his recording of the clarinet quintet K.581
- Astronomer-authors Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, almost apologizing for the fact that only one Mozart piece is in the Voyager spaceship (can you guess which one?)
- Writer Francine du Plessix Gray, on the parallels between Don Giovanni and the Paris dating scene (!)
- Playwright Terrence McNally, who calls Don Giovanni "the perfect opera”
- Actress Uta Hagen ("I LOVE the music!")
- Baseball commissioner Bowie Kuhn, who says "Everything Mozart did was nice" (—waitaminit, "nice"??!)
- Novelist Father Andrew Greeley, about an interplanetary performance of the Posthorn serenade
- Soviet exiles Lev Kopelev and Raisa Orlova
- Travel writer Lawrence Durrell
Yes, when it comes to loving Amadeus, there are many variations on a brilliant theme.