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
Elliott & Eleanor [Sanger]
Courtesy of the New York Public Radio Archives