When Mozart Was Taboo on WQXR

Monday, November 04, 2013

There was a time at WQXR when the suggestion of a month-long Mozart festival would have been fighting words.

After the New York Times bought WQXR in 1944, station management became aware that Times publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger had an aversion to one particular composer: Mozart.

Sulzberger loathed Mozart. Any music he didn't like he would attribute to Mozart. The newspaperman had an apartment of his own in the New York Times building, and he was in the habit of turning on WQXR each morning while he bathed and shaved. Former Times music critic Howard Taubman recalled in his 1994 memoir:

“Repeatedly [Sulzberger] found fault with the people at WQXR and their choice of morning music. Several of them came to me and brought a listing of all the music that had been on the station for a number of mornings. 'Would you please analyze it and give us your estimate.' They made no secret about the fact that Mr. Sulzberger had complained about 'too much Mozart.'

I complied with a memorandum suggesting that the programming was rather good, and my only criticism was that there was not enough Mozart. They evidently sent my memorandum to Mr. Sulzberger, who clearly remembered months later when I was in his office for a kind of informal investiture upon my appointment as chief music critic in succession to the late Olin Downes. With a tolerant, friendly smile Mr. Sulzberger asked, 'Do you still like Mozart?' My answer was, 'More than ever.' Mr. Sulzberger shrugged as if to say this would be forgiven and forgotten."

Sulzberger’s disdain of Mozart prompted several poetic exchanges between him and WQXR management. Among them this birthday rhyme of September 12, 1957, from general manager Elliot Sanger:

On this your natal holiday

The music which 'XR will play

Is for your constant pleasure,

No sound to spoil your leisure.

Mozart is banished from the air,

Also sopranos lacking flair

Will be silent to celebrate

The date.

Happy Birthday

                   Elliott & Eleanor [Sanger]

 

Courtesy of the New York Public Radio Archives

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Comments [27]

Charles Nydorf from Upper West Side

I like to hear a lot by one composer!

Nov. 09 2013 11:50 AM
Nina from Sunnyside

There will always be philistines who have no access to the sublimity of Mozart's music because of its apparently childlike innocence.

Nov. 07 2013 01:46 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

David,
Lately, what I have been doing when WQXR gets repetitious or plays too much Mozart (which has been often even before the Month of Mozart), is go to either classic99.com or wwfm.org. Even though both of those stations of course play some Mozart, they aren't so obsessed with him that they overplay his music. Classic99.com plays a good variety of classical and sacred classical music, and wwfm.org features a different noontime concert every weekday, so if you are suffering from Mozart overload, you can try one of these stations.

Nov. 07 2013 10:59 AM
David Wynne from NY

Everytime Mozart comes on the air, and this is all too often, I react one of three ways: I turn on the mute, switch to Q2, or suffer through WYNC's endless lackluster dribbling. I CAN'T stand him. He's the most polished sacred cow in existence, does not go deep enough and lacks gravitas in almost all of his works. However, he does fit perfectly for the formica pallette of the pretentious American taste. A month of any composer is an unhealthy balance. If you must (and WHY MUST YOU?) shove it down our ears, do it with a smaller window as you did with Bach. This obsession with Mozart only goes to show that WQXR's classical category is petrified and obsessed with being 'user friendly' for the soft belly of this pandering culture. Give us other brilliant composers that have more relevance to the world we live in today instead of his endless wedding cake dressing with all that sugar coating that just elucidates how many ways he can dress up a simple theme with endless variations. More fire! Fewer wigs!

Nov. 07 2013 10:36 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

S ULZBERGER may have had his idiosyncrasies, but everyone at times nmakes comments that ultimately ring out nonsensical. It is wrong to devote blitzkrieg blanketing of the radio on any one composer, especially when so many contemporary composers lack airtime at the time their creative juices are stirring and require outreach to others. It would be different if there were many radio stations broadcasting classical music, but that eventuality appears remote in our mores at this juncture in history when so much demands immediate attention. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor, opera composer [ "Shakespeare"and "The Political Shakespeare], and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute. My singing may be heard at the RECORDED SELECTIONS venue on my website www.WagnerOpera.com in 37 out of the 100 selections that I have sang in four three-hour-long solo concerts in the main hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, of CARNEGIE HALL. On last Sunday October 27th at 5 PM, at the NEWLIFE EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel I sang my fourth concert in New York of the series "The 300 Greatest Love Songs of Broadway Musicals, Movies, and The Grammys." The 300 Love Songs on ten DVDs recorded live on the VALHALLA RECORDS label will be obtainable commercially on February 14th, 2014, Saint Valentine's Day.

Nov. 06 2013 09:03 AM
Cliff Flanders from New York

Never knew that about Arthur Sulzberger. I kinda agree. Mozart was a master, no doubt of that, but frankly, I prefer almost any of his contemporaries - Beethoven, Handel, Telemann. I understand that one of my cultural heroes, Stephen Sondheim, also finds Mozart dull.

Nov. 05 2013 08:27 PM
Larry Miller

Well I'm now in Charlotte but the problems persist. They did on WNCN (with the great Max Cole announcing) when that was on the air (or is it still?). Here, WDAV seems to have this programming concept: MOZART, VIVALDI, others, MOZART, VIVALDI, others. If Dvorak, yup, either the New World or fourth Slavonic Dance. The symphony this week is playing Beethoven, guess what, the safe 6th, and a Mozart piano concerto, guess what, the safe and pretty Elvira Madigan one #21. Seems to be little courage in classical radio and frankly in classical symphonies which, I think, would prefer the safety of playing Henry Mancini and string arrangements of Beatles tunes and screw classical music altogether. —To me, Mozart's message is, Smile, it'll all work out. Beethoven's message is, Deal with it.

Nov. 05 2013 04:00 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

LES, I agree with you that WQXR has many positive attributes, one of which is this website that allows us to freely express our views to the station and each other. Another plus is the wonderful live broadcasts that WQXR presents. There are probably few, if any, other places where you can tune into such live broadcasts.
It is because I value WQXR that I keep bringing up my complaint about some aspects of their programming. I was hoping that, since they had become a public radio station, they would have a more flexible schedule and would play more of a variety and also longer pieces, but so far, the daily programming has been somewhat disappointing.
The idea of focusing on a particular composer's music is good, but since Mozart is played so much here already, how about focusing on someone else? For example, even though WQXR plays Dvorak frequently, they limit it to several works of his that they always play, and ignore his earlier symphonies and his choral works. Why don't they help us broaden our listening experience and play some of these lesser known pieces?
And of course, I would be thrilled if they would find it in their hearts to play some Bruckner (and not just an excerpt) every so often! How about it, WQXR - please?

Nov. 05 2013 10:53 AM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

People are going to complain if they don't hear what they want to hear, when they want it. That was obvious recently with the opera lovers complaints that there wasn't enough opera, as if the Operavore continuous opera stream didn't exist. Hey! What if they had a continuous stream of piano music? What a concept!

As for changes since going "public," from my view there has been a regular variation in what has been emphasized. Originally I was very pleased since far more classical guitar was played than I ever heard on the Times station. Now there seems to be a greater presentation of opera. Wagner up the vahzoo, as I've put it. They might as well play Whitney Houston's "Body Guard" song.

Occasionally I'll hear a singing horn piece along the lines of Copland's "Quiet City" and wish there'd be more like that. In contrast when I hear the ad blip for some Joyce DiDonato event I get an overwhelming thought that someone should shoot that warbling bird and put it out of its misery.

Lincoln once said something on the lines of "you can't please all of the people, all of the time."

Nov. 05 2013 10:23 AM
LES from WDC


Bernie and Carol, that makes at least three of us. I concur with your comments regarding the playlists. But still not as bad as my local classical station which plays Bach, Hayden, Vilvadi and Mozart ad nauseum, with the New World Symphony rotated in every other day. On the plus side, WQXR shows flashes of brilliance now and then, has fantastic hosts, wonderful programming and an excellent web site.

Nov. 05 2013 08:04 AM
Bernie from UWS

Carol - you're right, I was hoping for bigger things with the shift to public radio. My guess is they're too afraid of losing their old audience that was bred on more lightweight fare at 96.3 FM. Did the old QXR play Bruckner or Mahler? It was probably rare. One hopes they read our concerns but I'm doubtful anything will change.

And to Joe - I don't doubt that Mozart does rock. But there are more interesting ways to do a festival.

Nov. 05 2013 05:59 AM

Mozart isn't all fiddly diddly; he had a serious romantic streak but it's not always apparent, so I'm not thrilled at the idea of a whole Mozart month. Speaking of f/d I love the more romantic composers but can tolerate almost anything except string quartets longer than five minutes. No problem though; when the strings start grating on my poor ears I simply hit "Pause" and return later.

Nov. 05 2013 12:02 AM
Joe from Chicago

What a bunch of snobs. Mozart rocks! Play more!

Nov. 04 2013 11:14 PM
RALPH from NJ 08701

More Beethoven symphonies i.e. #9 twice/week-1/daytime & 1/levening or overnite program starting at 12. Greatest symphony ever written.

Nov. 04 2013 09:57 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Bernie, I think you are correct. Keep everything short - nothing over 20 minutes or so (after all it may strain the listeners' attention spans!), and keep it light - nothing that would challenge the listeners too much.
You would think that with all their talk about being a non-commercial station they would act like one instead of binding themselves to a schedule that seems to require their playlists to be set up in hour-long blocks so that they can't play anything that will go over the allotted time frame.
So, do you think that if we keep voicing our opinions on this they will eventually do something about it, or will they just dismiss us as a couple of complainers?

Nov. 04 2013 08:03 PM
cathy from CA

WQXR is one of the best stations I've found and I listen 24/7 jumping around between several favorites online. I personally can do without so much Mozart, and when I want to hear Bruckner or something special there's always YouTube, but for the most part WQXR has great music and hosts.

Nov. 04 2013 07:52 PM
Bernie from WQXR

@Carol - WQXR won't play Bruckner just like they won't play Mahler for 2 reasons: 1) it's too long and doesn't fit with the shorter-is-better aesthetic that they seem to go for. 2) It's not light and peppy. They prefer to play 19th century opera overtures, frothy light classics, Baroque bonbons and early 20th-century English composers. And don't get me started on music of our own time. Why not a little Philip Glass or Osvaldo Golijov or John Adams once in a while? They're major composers that every big orchestra plays. Let's see some more programming with vision WQXR!

Nov. 04 2013 07:25 PM
Charles Fischbein from Front Royal, Va.

Mr. Rosenberg, If Wagner can be played in Israel, I suggest you spend some time and listen to his masterpieces. One cannot say they have an affinity for Classical Music and Opera while leaving out Wagner. He might have been a jerk in regard to his ethnic rants but he left the world some of the most dynamic music ever written. I know this is off the Mozart topic but i felt I must respond to your comment,.
There is one fact that many Wagner haters forget. Although he did have anti Semitic tendencies many feel he is also responsible for the stance Hitler took throughout Europe. Wagner had no role in Hitlers insanity and was long in the ground by the time Hitler came to power.
As someone who has lost family during the Holocaust I am sensitive to the issues that surround Wagner, however when it comes to art I try to look beyond the political posturing of the artist and focus on the art.
You have every right to your feelings and they are totally understandable but try to focus simply on the music that Wagner composed and the monumental scope of his work will become evident to even the unskilled ear. God Speed, Charles Fischbein

Nov. 04 2013 06:46 PM
Lilly Knuth from Garden City So

Poor judgment on his part. I may not like every composition played but I know there are others listening who would enjoy it. No one can be pleased all the time but without WQXR we certainly would miss our classical music.

Nov. 04 2013 06:35 PM
Bobby Rosenberg from Highland Park, NJ

Sulzberger obviously had his opinions of Mozart. However, I'm sure he would have enjoyed what articles to print! I realize who he was, but censorship is what I call it! If I owned WQXR, I wouldn't have banned playing Wagner & Lizt, although they were ANTI-SEMETIC. When played I turn off the radio &/or step out of the room!! 8-)

Nov. 04 2013 05:54 PM

I agree that a month's tribute is excessive and when we had a full day of Beethoven, I almost began to dislike him. Too much of anything is never good. As far as more opera, fans are welcome at Operavore. Likewise the modernists can delve into Q2. I am always happiest when there are no operas and not too much in the modern vein. I confess that I have little tolerance for music which doesn't go anywhere.

Nov. 04 2013 04:29 PM
Carol Luparella from Elmwood Park, NJ

Although I don't have the same level of dislike for Mozart that Mr. Sulzberger had, I would appreciate a Mozart-free day every once in a while. How about a once-a-month "Mozart-Free Monday"?
And speaking of a ban on composers - while WQXR doesn't have an outright ban on Bruckner, it seems that his music is almost completely ignored, being relegated to the overnight hours and only very rarely heard at any other time. As a supposedly commercial-free station, I'm sure WQXR can manage to find the time to occasionally play Bruckner during the day.

Nov. 04 2013 04:14 PM
John G Bateson from Pittsburgh PA

Well,Mr. Salzberger must have been on of those who thought of Mozart as a musical light weight: sort of the kind of music you would have wanted for afternoon tea. I wonder how he would react to a month of Bach, who's music was regarded as the product of a "sublime sewing machine," so said Colette. Both views are wrong. It seems that one of the more popular YouTube videos is the commendatore scene from Don Giovanni. It's been said that Bach wrote no dramas because he never wrote an opera. Yet what are the St. Matthew and St. John passions but grand dramas without a stage. As for Mozart's view of J.S. Bach's music? Well, when he first heard it he demanded to see the parts so he could learn from the music. End

Nov. 04 2013 03:50 PM
Joan Quiambao from Clermont, Florida

I know I am not alone with my affinity for Mozart. He is among my favorite composers, and set the stage for composers who came after him. I think it is a wonderful idea to salute this musical genius for the month of November. There are many people who have come to love classical music because of Mozart's works.

Nov. 04 2013 03:13 PM
ardath_bey

I don't loath Mozart but he's overrated. I find much of his music symmetric and tedious, the stuff that I do like could barely fit one hour, let alone one month. WQXR please drop this month-long masturbation over one composer only and be a real classical station like Sirius with more diversity, more opera less classical music for dummies and less talk.

Nov. 04 2013 01:29 PM

A month-long festival to any composer can be too much unless done well. I love many composers but I doubt I listen to a month-long programming of any of them. On the other hand, I can't imagine banning any composer from the airwaves. WQXR even plays music by Messiaen (rarely). Imagine that!

Nov. 04 2013 10:25 AM
Ed Lubin from Sunny, FL

Not too much pettiness in high places, is there?

Nov. 04 2013 09:32 AM

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About Month of Mozart

Mozart is arguably the most admired and most adapted composer in the history of Western music. He has the most recordings (nearly 10,000 in print and has been referenced endlessly in popular culture. His life has been filtered through many theories of genius and creativity – some plausible, others outlandish. Unlike many composers, Mozart has never gone out of fashion, in part because his music has come to stand for so many aspects of classical music. Throughout November, WQXR celebrates Mozart's work through concert broadcasts, multimedia projects, marathons and other features.

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