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Month of Mozart

Mozart Mash-Ups: Reimagining the Composer

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Despite efforts to present Mozart's music as an all-purpose soothing agent – there to ward off street crime or pacify frazzled urbanites – his music needn't be confused with easy listening. This Saturday, WQXR will present a variety of wild and inventive reworkings of his music. Here are a few examples to get you primed.

About a decade ago, the French violinist Gilles Apap began playing the cadenza passage from Mozart's Violin Concerto No. 3 with a global twist. Instead of spinning out the usual virtuoso variations on the work's themes, he incorporates bluegrass fiddling, New Orleans jazz, a bit of gipsy swing and Indian raga sounds. One performance landed on YouTube, where it has received nearly 1.5 million views.

Apap's approach has been controversial but Mozart himself had a cosmopolitan outlook and he could even lay claim to being a pioneer of world music, with his references to Turkish, Austrian folk and other traditions.

In the mid-1990s, the Turkish pianist Fazil Say took Mozart’s famous Rondo Alla Turca – from the Piano Sonata in A, written in response to the Ottoman Empire snapping at the borders of Western Europe – and used his formidable technique to jazz up the master's music. Here's one of several versions on YouTube:

Others to have riffed on the Rondo All Turca include the Swingle Singers and the pianist Arcadi Volodos:

Improvisation was fairly routine in Mozart's day but the tradition fell out of practice among classical musicians in the 20th century. But a few have sought to pick it up again. Recently, the young, Brooklyn-based composer Timo Andres re-worked Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 26 "Coronation" – a piece whose left-hand part Mozart left unfinished, likely because he had it all in his head. Andres uses a playfully eclectic, postmodern style, adding oddball riffs and dissonant flourishes.

As Andres told WNYC’s Soundcheck, "[The 'Coronation'] is an odd man out in the piano concertos. Not a lot of people play it. When you do hear it, it’s been completed by an editor of some sort in Mozart’s general style. I’ve always found it a little bit dull as a result.”

Andres’s version subverts Mozart’s original and plays along along with it in some unexpected way. He recorded the concerto earlier this year and performed the cadenza on Soundcheck:

Finally, around the same time that Say and Apap were adding their multicultural infusions to Mozart, an unusual recording by the Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra called "Mozart in Egypt" played on the evidence that the composer had a love of Egypt. It features a variety of Arabic instruments along with the traditional orchestra. Listen to the full album below and tell us in the comments box: what's the most unusual version of Mozart you've ever heard?