23 September, 2017

"Choice is the privilege of power....."

“Choice is the privilege of power – and moderation is its obligation. Donald Trump understands neither”. So wrote journalist Simon Jenkins in the Guardian (Sept 21st 2017). Jenkins was writing about the latest crazed outburst from the American president threatening to “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.” From where I sit Jenkins is exactly right in his commentary on Trump and his offensive shambles of an administration. I fear that I can add little useful to the debate on Trump’s mindset or motives; Trump is what he is and it seems we are stuck with him. There are, however, a few thoughts on Trump's use of the phrase “no choice” that have been running through my mind and, in any case, since this is the most powerful man in the world it maybe behoves all of us to look closely at what he says - no matter how crazed or concerning  - for it impacts upon all of us whether we like it or not. Trump is undoubtedly "unfit for purpose" as President of the USA and it is for precisely that reason that everything that he utters must be picked apart, dissected, analysed and, if necessary, shown up for what it is. Not to do this is not only dangerous for mankind but demeaning democracy in the same way that Trump is, each and every day, demeaning his position, his nation and the whole notion of democracy across the world.

Many years ago when my daughter was about 10 years old I went one day to get a couple of new tyres fitted on the family car and she asked if she could come with me. As we stood in the tyre fitting bay watching the guys take off the old tyres and replace them with new Kate (she was at that time a bit of a tom-boy) turned to me and said “That looks a great job, I’d like to be a tyre fitter when I grow up”. Ever the teacher (and, I suppose, keen to show my parental wisdom) my reply went something along the lines of “Well,  that’s great, but if you pass all your exams on your way through school you will be able to choose if you want to be a tyre fitter. Pass the exams and you can choose whatever job you want. If you don’t pass your exams you’ll have no choice, you may have to take any job that you can get”.  At the time I can remember feeling a little proud of what I saw as a bit of positive parenting and a few months ago I was quite pleased to hear from Kate that she still remembered that conversation; I suspect that she will be repeating it to her own teenage girls in the not too distant future! Of course, and on reflection,  my words were not very prophetic – today with the economic uncertainties of the world even passing all one’s exams and more guarantees nothing; we don’t always get the choices that we want in life.

We hear the word “choice” frequently from government ministers and politicians of all persuasions but especially those of the Tory party and other right wing groups. It seems in the modern world to be the ultimate justification for  any action: “Privatisation of the railway network will bring greater competition and choice” we read years ago; “Turning schools into self governing academies will allow parents greater choice” has been hammered home in recent years. It’s been the same story with our energy – competition was introduced to give consumers greater “choice” and thus make it easier and cheaper for the man in the street. Or, “Deregulating financial institutions such as banks will ensure that people have greater choice in their financial dealings” we were told by Margaret Thatcher’s administration. Well, we all know where that got us – the financial crash of 2007/2008 from which we are still suffering and leading to many in our 2017 UK society still being crushed from the fall-out from that misguided and immoral policy. The results of that ill conceived policy of financial deregulation has been years of austerity, government cut backs on welfare, health and education, and a struggling economy. It  has thrown thousands or even millions into the poverty trap. No, “choice” sounds a worthy cause and a good battle cry but it is not quite all that it seems.

This obsession with “choice” as a necessarily good thing is based largely upon libertarian philosophical beliefs – the right of the individual to make his or her own choices unencumbered by what are seen as the dictats of the state. It is the philosophy that allowed Margaret Thatcher to famously comment: “You will always spend the pound in your pocket better than the state will.” It was the same philosophy and same line of thought that encouraged Thatcher’s awful Chancellor of the Exchequer (perhaps partner in crime would be a better title) Nigel Lawson to argue: “High taxes rob people of the opportunity to make the moral choice to assist them.” This last quote is, in my view, one of the most outrageous and unforgivable ever uttered by an English politician of any persuasion. In Lawson’s view, governments should  discourage high taxes in order that those with money can keep more of it and thus decide if they should act morally and exercise their moral choice of whether or not to offer those less fortunate than themselves benevolent support. Charles Dickens would have recognised this philosophy well as would many of Dickens’ characters who were at the sharp end of the wealthy proffering (or not!) benevolent support via the workhouse. Could there be a more facile and at the same time outrageous justification for low taxes – that it gives those with money the opportunity to decide whether or not they should act morally?

 “Choice”  is one of those words that have a positive ring about it – everybody should be in favour of choice.......shouldn’t they? To say that one is not in favour of choice is, in today’s world, like admitting you are only half human; it increasingly justifies all action and belief in today’s pluralistic, consumerist and market driven society.  But we should beware. Even Thatcher admitted very late in life that giving people the choice on how they spent their money hadn’t quite worked out how she had hoped or planned: saying that “we hoped allowing people to keep more of their earnings would allow wealth to trickle down to those less fortunate but it didn’t, they simply kept the money”. Well, bang goes Nigel Lawson’s warped reasoning.

Choice, as I suggested to my daughter as we stood in the tyre fitting bay, and as Simon Jenkins in his Guardian article argues is very much related to power. If I have the right qualifications then I am in a powerful position to exercise various choices in relation to the job I might desire; if I am, like Donald Trump the leader of a powerful nation I have more weight to throw round to back up my choices. On the other hand if I have no qualifications or am at the bottom of society’s heap then my choices are severely limited. I am fortunate, I have savings and money in my pocket, a house of some value and these things give me enormous power to choose – what shall I eat tonight, where shall I eat, should I buy this item or that one, where shall I choose to go on my holiday.....and so the list goes on. But if I did not have the power that money and security gives me few of these choices would  be available to me; instead, we read more and more today of an increasing number of people in contemporary Britain are having to make very different and much harder choices such as shall I heat my house or buy food, shall I pay the rent or buy a new pair of shoes for my child? 

Jenkins is also correct in the second half of his comment – if people in power have the benefit of being able to make choices then it is incumbent upon them to use that power wisely – or as Jenkins says with “moderation”. When powerful people who make choices that impact upon the rest of us do not act or choose wisely or with moderation then we have the situation that we have today in many western societies – not least our own - great inequality. The powerful are imposing their will upon the weak, and a consequent rise in extremism is the usual outcome. At its most glaring and worrying we have the rise of despots and tyrants - Nazi Germany was a case in point; Hitler did not use his power with “moderation”. As I look at the USA today and at our own UK society I see two societies almost at that tipping point as their leaders – most obviously Donald Trump, but we in the UK are not far behind - consistently make inappropriate and immoderate policy choices.

Choice is, in real terms, relative to the position in which one finds oneself. To take the simplistic view that choice is by definition a good thing is to ignore that fact – it only becomes universally desirable when everyone has the same opportunity in their choices; in the hugely unequal societies of the UK and the USA or between the vastly wealthy western societies and poorer third world societies it is a meaningless quality. That we in the west desire to be able to choose a vast range of foodstuffs from around the world, or to be able to buy clothes cheaply on our High Street, or to be able to buy items from Amazon and other on-line retailers at ridiculously cheap prices means that millions in far off countries or in great internet warehouses labour on zero hours contracts or in sweat shops for little remuneration which in turn gives them little choice in their lives.  In this morning’s Guardian (September 22nd  2017) journalist Anne Perkins writes when discussing the budget airline Ryanair: “We moan about stagnant pay and then go online to buy cheap flights to the sun subsidised by other people’s stagnant pay. We are eagerly complicit in conduct we deplore. We sustain a system that only works to our benefit in the immediate present. We have sold our soul, or at least other people’s secure jobs and decent wages, for serial holidays abroad........This is the monstrous offspring in the marriage between deregulation and consumerism....... It has become a perfect reflection of our greedy refusal to look an implausibly cheap horse in the mouth, let alone examine its back teeth. It is a parable of our times”. She is not wrong. My desire to be able to choose any of the things that we take for granted in today’s society often means that I am actively discouraging the choice that others, either in my own society or further afield, have. 

American poet Archibald MacLeish famously said that “Freedom is the right to choose” – well yes, maybe it is. Certainly that belief might figure highly in the mindset of many Americans whose belief in “freedom” (whatever it means) is part of their very being – they treat it with almost evangelical reverence. It is the American dream, it is at the core of their constitution, it is the belief that drives the philosophy of the libertarian and the extreme right.

But it is not the whole story; it is also the philosophy that underpins the hateful doctrine of Ayn Rand.When I read that freedom and choice go together I am reminded of poet John Milton’s cautionary comment  "None can love freedom heartily but good men. The rest love not freedom but licence". So, when Trump tells us that America will have no choice but to “totally destroy North Korea” I am of the view that just as Tony Blair and George W Bush did almost two decades ago what he is really saying is that “I am big and powerful and so I can refute other options or choices and have the licence to do as I please”. It is the exact philosophy espoused by Ayn Rand in her dystopian novel Atlas Shrugged – a book beloved of many right wing politicians, believers and, worryingly, many like Sajid Javid, a senior minister in our own Tory Government who, it is said, keeps a copy of the book in his office desk.  Blair and Bush chose that same path giving them licence to carry out their campaign against Sadam Hussein’s Iraq.  It ultimately reduced much of the middle east and further afield to both rubble and a powder keg  from  we are still suffering, and will continue to suffer,  as terrorist seek to destroy our society and streets.

When Donald Trump tells us that he has “no choice but to totally destroy North Korea” he illustrates precisely why he is unfit to hold the position that he does. Read any basic text on government or politics and one of the first lessons that will be taught is that government in a democracy is all about making choices. Trump, it would seem, does not understand this – either because he is intellectually incapable of understanding the logical and linguistic stupidity of his statement or because he has no grasp of the nature of government. I suspect it is a combination of both of these failings. There is, of course, a third option in the case of Donald Trump – namely that he is very aware of the seeds that he is sowing when he makes pronouncements like this – and that is a truly horrifying prospect. If it is the case, and it may well be, then he is indeed a very dangerous man. For the sake of argument, therefore, I will restrict my verdict to his ineptitude and simple fitness for office – that third option is too worrying to contemplate.

In any decisions about government or political policy those responsible have to make choices and thence decisions – which policy should they adopt, which approach will make it work, how best can we deal with its implications........and a thousand more such questions of choice. There are, for a government, always choices – indeed, that is what any government of any persuasion is for – to make choices on behalf of the electorate. One of my favourite comments on this was put forward by the Labour politician Tony Benn – in fact it was the prime reason for him coming into politics. Benn said: If we can find the money to kill people in war then we can find the money to help people in peace.”  Quite – as Benn implies, it is the role of governments to choose what to spend money on and what to promote as policy; there are always choices. The secret of good government is making the right choices and using the power given by the electorate with, as Simon Jenkins says, “moderation”. I might not like the choices that my government makes – for example the choices that Margaret Thatcher made on my behalf – but it is against those criteria that people then vote at the next election – namely, did the government make the choices that I approved of? So, for Trump to tell the world that there is “no choice” is simply and manifestly not the case; in short he has chosen this route out of the many on offer. Equally, when a government tells the electorate that there are no choices and that a particular course of action must be followed come what may then the electorate is being denied the basic premise of democracy – namely choice.

In doing this Trump, and others who claim “there is no other choice” as a motive for a particular course of action, by doing so gain a clever advantage. It is a kind of get out clause which justifies their action by claiming that it absolves them of all responsibility for its results. If I claim that there is no other  possible course of action than that which I propose  then I am saying “I have no control over this, I am forced into carrying out this action” – I am simply a victim of circumstance. It is the defence made by many throughout history – serial killers who allegedly “heard voices” telling them to carry out their awful deeds, dictators and rogue military leaders who claimed that the atrocities committed in their name were the result of the situation in which they found themselves. Nazi war criminals claimed this defence when put on trial in Nuremburg at the end of the Second World War. It is a powerful get out card and one that we should beware of – especially when the person claiming it as a motive for their action is armed with the most powerful weapons known to mankind.
All nuance removed - if you are not with us then you are against us.

But Trump’s stance has another, and even more worrying, dimension. When someone justifies their actions by saying “there is no other choice”, that there is no alternative to the course of action that they are proposing, then something else kicks in. It is something that we have seen most glaringly in our own Brexit debacle – namely that all nuance and difference of opinion is lost. There are now no shades of grey we are told by those proposing and supporting the action. It is the only thing to be done and if you are not supportive of it then you are, by definition, against it; this is the language and mindset of the tyrant or the mob. If one doesn’t support this, the only option, then one is unpatriotic, a trouble maker, weak, in need of re-education; it is the theme of dystopian novels like 1984 or The Handmaids Tale. It is what we increasingly see screaming from the headlines of our Brexit supporting  tabloid press  in the UK – most notably the Daily Mail . It is the doctrine that sweeps dictators and extreme regimes to power. All discussion and debate become irrelevant, for there can be no debate – it gives a pretext to the mob or those in power to incarcerate dissenters without trial or hang them  from lamp-posts or to put them on trains bound for concentration camps.  Truth and facts becomes confused and hard to distinguish as propaganda and fake news become the only currency. It is, in short, what we increasingly see on the other side of the Atlantic in Trump’s USA.

We should be very afraid; the most powerful man on earth claims to have “no choice” in what he might do and at the same time appears unable to comprehend the logic and the implications of what he is saying. We live in very dangerous times.

04 September, 2017

Walking With Giants (3) Papa Haydn

The Esterházy Palace
The bus drew to a stop and the driver stood, turned and looked down the bus at us and, with a smile, pointed and called out to us Schloss  Esterházy, Schloss  Esterházy!" For just over an hour we had journeyed  through the lovely Austrian countryside, passing through picturesque villages  and watching lightning flash across the horizon as a thunderstorm crashed above and torrential rain fell from the sky – then, as the storm cleared and the sun came out, we at last passed the sign “Eisenstadt” on the edge of the town. Unsure where we should leave the bus we looked anxiously for some guidance. We need not have worried, the driver had remembered our enquiry an hour before as we had climbed onto his bus: “Is this the bus to the Esterházy Palace at Eisenstadt?” Pat had asked in halting German?  We grabbed our bags and thanking the driver, who was still smiling and pointing across the road at a large entrance gate, we got off his bus, and stood in the now brilliant mid morning sunshine, our destination reached.
Coffee & a small slice of Sachertorte to keep us going!

Early that morning we had navigated the Viennese underground and found our way to the Sud Tyrol Bus Bahnhof to take the local bus from Vienna to visit this place. In a way, to visit Eisenstadt  was the principal object of our musical pilgrimage down the Danube taking in the musical towns – Salzburg, Vienna and the rest  (see previous two blogs). Our holiday had been planned around taking the opportunity of going to places that are linked with composers and music that we love and this was our last day before returning to the UK. I had spent much time prior to our trip researching how we could get to Eisenstadt and what there was to see when we got there. Fortunately it all came in useful; the marvels of Google and the internet serving us well and with the help of that friendly bus driver we had arrived at our destination. Little did we know as we stood by the bus stop that we had come to such a wonderful place - this was a place and a day trip that would always stay with us, a real highlight of not only this holiday but of all holidays.

For those not of a musical inclination Eisenstadt may be an unknown. Indeed it is not as famous as Mozart’s Salzburg or the Strauss family’s Vienna, it doesn’t have the name of JS Bach or Beethoven associated with it; nor is it a great city with a world famous concert hall or opera house home to one of the great orchestras of the world (although, as I will explain later, its concert hall is indeed renowned in musical circles). No, Eisenstadt is a quieter, less well known venue; a country town, a retiring place with perhaps a more gentle history – but what a history! This small town, deep in the Austrian countryside, is in truth one of the great musical venues of the world, forever associated with one of the “fathers” of western music and more than that: the town’s musical history also made it a key player in the history and the great and good of European history. This was the home of Joseph Haydn a composer who is very special to us both and this place was the main reason for our whole holiday and our trip that day.
Papa Haydn

For most of his working life Joseph Haydn worked here at Eisenstadt; a product of his age and the high culture of 18th century Europe, he rubbed shoulders with the great musical, political, social and royal names of that time. Immersed in music from an early age Haydn composed  and built up a repertoire and reputation that few have matched both in his time and since as he worked both within and for the aristocratic “establishment” of the Hapsburg Empire and witnessed the great events and people of the late 18th and early 19th century.

He was an innovative musical ground breaker taking the symphony, the sonata and the string quartet to new heights; he created the basis of much of what we musically accept and enjoy today and it is doubtful that his young contemporary Mozart or the great Beethoven or indeed any of the other wonderful musical names who followed him would have achieved their successes quite so readily had it not been for Haydn. He spent most of his working life concentrating on the music of the palace and the concert hall – opera, symphony, chamber music - and then in the last part of his life produced some of his (and the world’s) greatest religious masterpieces: the Creation, the Nelson Mass, the Seasons  and the Te Deum – all of which are now part of the staple diet of choirs great and small throughout the world. He spent the majority of his life at the magnificent but remote Esterházy Palace at Eisenstadt  – but later in his life found huge recognition, fame and fortune on his visits to other European capitals but especially to his beloved London where he became a much loved and musically respected visitor in the late 18th century.
All the other composers owe much of their fame to Haydn

The music of Haydn has always been amongst our favourites but of all his works it is the great choral music that Pat and I love: especially the Creation, the Te Deum, the Seasons and, my own favourite, the Nelson Mass. These are works to not only to enjoy musically but to be moved by: their grandness, their mighty choruses, their sheer musicality, and their wonderful celebration of mankind and of heaven and earth are among the pinnacles of western music's achievement. Haydn’s choral music enriches the very soul – not only making us feel better but it makes us dream of better things. I once remember listening to a radio programme and as the introduction to playing the Credo from the Nelson Mass  the radio presenter said “Quick, go outside, switch on your car radio at maximum volume and with the car doors open, let the whole street hear this and I guarantee that everyone will come out smiling”. Well, I didn’t take his advice, I wasn’t quite as sure as he that my neighbours would so appreciative,  but I knew what he meant – the music of Haydn is music to make you feel better and to uplift you on the greyest of days.  Our love of Haydn’s music was the reason for our bus trip, but there was more. Because his music is such a staple of choral music we knew the stories associated with it and with Eisenstadt and Esterházy; we had heard them so many times – indeed I have written of them so often when writing the Ruddington & District Choral Society’s programme notes – so we wanted to see these places that we had heard and read so much of but never actually visited.
In the Haydn Haus

And so, we crossed the road, the bus disappearing into the town centre and walked through the entrance gate to be confronted by one of the most glorious buildings that I have seen: Schloss Esterházy. An exquisite gem of a place – not a mighty palace such as Versailles or the Schönbrunn – but absolutely beautiful, standing on a slight rise with the brilliant blue sky behind it. This was the home of the Princes of  Esterházy – a family of what we might today call “power brokers”, “wheelers and dealers”, “prime movers” in the mighty Austrian Hapsburg Empire of the 18th century. The  Esterházy family knew everyone who was anyone in the aristocratic, political and high society life of Europe at that time and it was working for this family that Haydn spent the majority of his life.

With Papa Haydn at the Haydn Haus
Haydn was humbly born in the tiny Austrian town of Rohrau, where his father made carts. His mother was a cook. When he was 8, the young Joseph went to Vienna to sing in the choir at St. Stephen's Cathedral (see previous blog). His younger brother Michael joined him and a tale tells that the young Joseph’s voice began to break. The Kapellmeister, Herr Reutter, gave Joseph’s part in the ‘Salve Regina’ to brother Michael, who sang it so beautifully that he reportedly received twenty-four ducats in gold from the Empress Maria Theresa. Reutter, anxious to retain the musically gifted Joseph suggested that Joseph’s voice might be preserved, and even improved by sending him to the court chapel, which contained at least a dozen castrati. Haydn’s father, however, having heard of the proposal rushed to Vienna to save his son!

After the young Haydn left the choir, he supported himself by teaching and playing violin, while studying counterpoint and harmony and in 1761 as his skills and talents became more widely praised he was named Kapellmeister at the palace of the Esterházy family in Eisenstadt. Away from Vienna and to a degree isolated from other composers and musical trends in the relatively remote town he was, as he put it, "forced to become original."
Prince Nikolaus Esterházy - 
one of Haydn's employers. What a great service
his family did for the cause of music!
It was his job to write music for the Esterházy princes, and to conduct their orchestra. He composed a vast number symphonies, operas, religious works, string quartets, and other kinds of other music for performance at the Esterházy court. While he rose in the family's esteem, his popularity outside the palace walls also increased, and he eventually wrote as much music for publication as for the family. Several important works of this period were commissions from abroad which, later in life,  encouraged Haydn to travel. He was a good businessman and music publishing made him and his music famous all over Europe. After he retired from working for the Esterházy family, Haydn made two very successful trips to England, where audiences treated him like a superstar flocking to his concerts, and it was during his time in England that he generated some of his best-known and most loved work, including the Surprise, Military, Drumroll and London symphonies. In the final years of his life his old employers, the Esterházy family invited him back and he stayed there until his death.

In his own life time and still today Haydn is often referred to as “Papa” Haydn. This originated as a term of affection bestowed on him by the musicians at the Esterházy court where he was seen as a father figure, somebody who willingly gave advice and who was highly respected as a musician. His benevolent authority and willingness to intercede on behalf of any players who might find themselves in trouble became well known and thus the practice of calling Haydn "Papa" became increasingly popular. As time passed  this term of affection spread beyond  Esterházy to Vienna and  then to wider Europe as his role in the development of classical music became obvious. Consequently and increasingly, therefore, fellow composers, musicians and the music loving public referred to him as the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet"  - “Papa” Haydn. 
We gasped as the guide opened the doors and we saw this: the Great Hall
With all this in mind we walked up the grassy slope to the front of the Esterhazy, checked the opening times and then decided that a morning coffee and a slice of the famous Austrian Sachertorte would be a good way of celebrating our arrival! Sitting in the morning sun, enjoying our coffee and cake, the Eszterházy just a few yards away across the lawn, it seemed quite unbelievable that we were sitting where Papa Haydn might well have sat or walked – and certainly seen what we were seeing; this beautiful palace that was so much part of his life and so much a part of the history and development of western music is still today vey much as he knew it.
The Great Hall ready for a concert - what must Nelson have thought as he sat here

One could listen to nearly every one of Haydn’s works and be overwhelmed by his sheer musicality and composing skills; and whilst each one has its place in the history and development of western music there is more. Because of the position that Haydn enjoyed in working at Eszterházy his works have greater resonance and significance – they reflect the feelings, the personalities and the great events of his age. Haydn was writing for the Esterhazy court, a place although removed from Vienna still of great European importance where the great and the good, the “movers and the shakers” of the continent were regular guests. Haydn’s music was written for these people and the events that shaped the Europe of his time – and indeed still resonates in our world today - and of all his works his Missa in Angustiis, my own favourite, written just as the 19th century was dawning, illustrates well Haydn’s place in the music and the history of Europe.
Part of the wonderful ceiling 

In early 1798 Napoleon, in the wake of the French Revolution, assembled a substantial invasion force and sailed east into the Mediterranean. The news soon reached British naval intelligence but by the time that Nelson, in command of the British fleet, located the force off Egypt, Napoleon had captured Malta and most of Egypt. Nelson, catching the French fleet at anchor in Aboukir Bay, immediately attacked and annihilated it, and his victory, popularly known as the Battle of the Nile, reverberated around Europe and beyond. Nelson, following his dramatic victory sailed his fleet into the harbor at Naples and was immediately and ecstatically heralded as the 'saviour of Europe'. Napoleon, in a desperate situation, dodging British frigates, returned alone with just his general staff to France to plan his next move.

It was at this stage that, so far as Nelson - and ultimately Haydn - was concerned, fate appeared in the form of Lady Hamilton. Sir William and Lady Hamilton were well regarded in Naples; Sir William a diplomat -  'our man in Naples' - and she a woman regarded as one of the beauties of the age. Nelson fell for her and a ménage-a-trois was soon established. The Admiralty in London, upon learning of this, ordered Nelson to return forthwith to England but Nelson was unwilling to comply with alacrity – he was, after all, the toast of Europe and enjoying the adulation of both the continent and Lady Hamilton; he was, and he knew it, “untouchable” so he dragged his heels. At last, after several months sojourn enjoying the sun of Italy and the undoubted charms of Lady Hamilton the great Admiral reluctantly arranged to travel back to London overland on a slow  and circuitous route with the Hamiltons. The route included Vienna, and from there Nelson and his companions visited Prince Esterházy at Eisenstadt in 1800 where, records tell, he was greeted as a hero and spent several weeks enjoying Hapsburg and Esterházy hospitality.
The Small Hall - you can get married here today!

Amongst his other court duties Haydn was required to produce a new Mass each year for the name-day of the Princess Esterházy and in the summer of 1798, he had composed a Mass for the Princess  which he catalogued as Missa in Angustiis ('Mass for Times of Distress' – as they undoubtedly were in Europe as Napoleon threatened before Nelson’s great victory).  It is Haydn's largest Mass, and one of his most well-known and best loved choral works – many regard it as his greatest work. He could not have known of the Battle of the Nile until weeks after the Mass was finished, so the work was certainly not written to celebrate Nelson’s victory. 
However, Missa in Angustiis was performed for the name day of the Princess Esterházy and to honour Nelson on the great man’s arrival at Eisenstadt, and to celebrate his service to Europe. Nelson was, apparently, both moved and overjoyed and he and  Haydn became friends;  some accounts suggest that Nelson gave Haydn a gold watch which the Admiral had capture at the Battle of the Nile, and in return received from the composer the pen that Haydn had used to compose a cantata in honour and praise of Lady Hamilton.

The conquering hero: Admiral Nelson
Eventually and reluctantly, the Admiral and his entourage had to depart and make their way back to London. Nelson, however, did not suffer the ire of the Admiralty for his wayward behaviour with Lady Hamilton; the liaison was soon forgotten by Nelson’s masters because within months of his arrival home he was once again at sea confronting Napoleon at the Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805). This was, of course, when Nelson perished but his death and his great victory guaranteed him immortality and the grateful hero worship of the nation and the whole of Europe; it was also at that point that Haydn’s Missa in Angustiis quickly gained a new and increasingly popular title in recognition of the great man who had again saved the continent from Napoleon's designs. It was a name that it still keeps today: the Nelson Mass.

At the time that the Nelson Mass was written Haydn was in his sixty sixth year and at the height of his fame, the most celebrated musician of the late eighteenth century and the first of the great triumvirate – Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven . It is not insignificant that the Nelson Mass was written in the same year as his popular choral work, The Creation – both  are works  reflecting Haydn’s joyous idyllic celebration of an ordered enlightened universe, an ideal vision that contrasting with the turbulence of the Napoleonic wars and both reflecting Haydn’s perfect attunement to the spirit of the age.
A contemporary bust of Haydn

So, we paid our few Euros to take a guided tour of the Palace; what a bargain! Of all the places that we have visited and all the entry fees that we have paid out over the years this was, for me, one of (if not the) most worthwhile. It was an absolute joy. The Palace is a gem, beautifully maintained, it is large enough to be impressive but small enough to take in and feel lived in. With the help of the excellent guide we toured the rooms and it was easy to imagine Haydn walking there and knowing well the spaces in which we walked. The intimate family rooms, the servants’ (and musicians’) quarters the art treasures, the narrow passage ways and hidden stairs so that servants and ladies in waiting could enter their master’s and lady’s chambers unobtrusively all seemed so lived in and fresh – one could almost touch the past. This place was no dusty antiquity but a living breathing home, where, it seemed to me, Haydn, his musicians, the servants and the great Esterházy princes and princesses had just stepped outside for a few moments!  As I gazed at the art work on the walls depicting Emperors and Empresses , Princes and Princesses and as I moved from one room to another I fully expected Horatio Nelson or his Lady Hamilton or Papa Haydn to suddenly confront me as they made their way to dinner or to the Chapel or to their own apartments. The whole place was living history.  But there was one room which for me (and I think every other member of the small group that comprised our tour) which was very special and when the guide opened the door for us to enter there was an audible gasp from us all.
The Lady Di of her day? - Emma Hamilton,
Nelson's mistress and muse

The Great Hall which in Haydn’s day was used for the great gatherings – splendid dinners, balls and concerts - was where Joseph Haydn would have conducted his newly written works. It was here where Nelson and his entourage sat with the other dignitaries as they listened to Haydn's string quartets or the Creation or, most importantly, the Missa in Angustiis: the Nelson Mass. Compared with many of the world’s great concert halls this is a small place, but what a place; a riot of glorious colour and high baroque design, a place to overwhelm and to impress! Even today and despite its relative smallness it is acknowledged as one of the great concert halls of the world and acoustically one of the finest and as we stood there listening to the guide it was easy to picture Haydn walking in to take his place at the front of his orchestra and choir and of hearing one of his symphonies, or string quartets filling the room. As I stood there I wondered what Nelson must have thought as he sat there and the first notes of the Nelson Mass struck up and the soaring voices of the choir and then the soprano began the glorious and uplifting Kyrie Eleison . Did he look up to the wonderful ceiling above his head or to the richly decorated walls of the room? If he did – and he must have done – then seeing the glorious room in which he sat, surrounded by the great and powerful of Europe, Lady Hamilton by his side, he the centre of the world’s adulation and Haydn’s wonderful and uplifting music in his ear, it all must have confirmed to him his own invincibility; in modern terms he must have thought “ I've made it! It doesn’t get better than this!”
Original scores

The tour over too soon, we left the Palace and made our way down the side street to find Haydn’s House. It sits in the shadow of the Palace just a few hundred yards away and like the Esterházy is quite magical. We wandered its floors, almost feeling the presence of the great man who had lived here for so many years. We looked at his belongings and the musical heritage that he had left. We gazed at a contemporary mask  of Nelson’s face and felt very close to Papa Haydn as our eyes took in his original scores for the Nelson Mass, the Creation and the Seasons.  We put on headphones and listened to sections of the Nelson Mass, his string quartets, and extracts from his symphonies; in short we were once again entranced by this man and this little town and all that it contained and which, has over the years, has become so much part of our own lives.

Eisenstadt is small but it is, as the town’s signpost told us, the capital of the state of Burgenland – the least populous of Austria’s states. Although designated a city, Eisenstadt has only some 14000 inhabitants - only about twice the number of people who live in my own small village on the outskirts of Nottingham. It lies on the edge of the country close to the Hungarian border, indeed the Esterházy family were Hungarian nobles by descent. As we wandered down the pedestrianised main street with the Palace standing at one end we took in the lovely buildings and atmosphere of this delightful and gentle place. We enjoyed a very pleasant lunch sitting in the sun and later in the afternoon an ice cream as we watched the world go by. Half way down the main street stands the Rathaus – the town hall; can there be a more beautiful town hall in the whole of the world – I seriously doubt it. And just off the main street lies the church – newly renovated but exquisite with some of the most glorious stained glass we have ever seen.  Again, like everything else we had seen that day a real jewel, worth a visit in itself; we both agreed, Eisenstadt is worth another, longer visit in the near future.
Eisenstadt Rathaus - beats most other town halls I've seen!

And as we sat enjoying our ice cream, our musical pilgrimage was almost at an end. On the following  day we would fly back to Heathrow and I thought, as I had often done  that day, how strange it seems that this small and easily missable place should become such an important spot in the history of music and Europe. At the time of Haydn, Nelson, Mozart, the Empress  Maria Theresa, Napoleon, the Esterházy princes  and all the other grand, powerful and great figures from history, this small place was one of the centres of European – indeed world - politics, life, culture and power. It was a place  where in the Esterházy’s quiet drawing rooms and salons, over its dinner tables, in its bedrooms and in its wonderful concert hall not only the wonderful music of Haydn would have been enjoyed but great decisions taken, alliances made, and the European order decided by those “movers and shakers” of the 18th and 19th century world.
Down the delightful main street of Eisenstadt

And as I thought on this I reflected that in Haydn and Nelson’s day when travel was so much more difficult how amazing was it at how these people travelled the vast distances that they did without our modern means of transport and communication to get to places like Eisenstadt. I wonder what Nelson and Lady Hamilton and the rest of their entourage thought and felt after their long journey across Europe from Naples  as their carriages at rolled up to the gates of Palace. I marvelled at how it must all have been planned, the stops along the way, the unmade roads, the changes of the horses and all the other “stuff” that we today never have to think about.  I wondered, too, how Joseph Haydn made his journey to far off London where he became something of a superstar for a few years and then returned to this little place for the remaining years of his life. Tomorrow, I reflected, we would fly back to London in about two hours, for him it was  a journey of many weeks if not months  Today we complain if our bus is a minute or two late, or if we are stuck in a traffic jam for any period of time; Pat and I had travelled for an hour or so on our short journey from Vienna – in Haydn’s day that would have been a significant and probably uncomfortable journey of several hours – and yet in those far off days, Haydn and his peers could undertake these great trials and difficulties but then return home and write and perform such glorious music.

Today, the Princes and Princesses Esterházy are no more resident at the palace - the modern world has changed them and their lifestyle. The descendants of those  Esterházy aristocrats, like their patrons the Hapsburgs, now live in world capitals - New York, London, Paris, Berlin and the rest - but the historical,  cultural and political impact of  those far off years at their magnificent Eisenstadt home is still huge. They were people who shaped not only their own world but helped in no small way to make the world that we know and inhabit today.  When Nelson visited and  enjoyed  Esterházy hospitality and Haydn's music he was the toast of Europe having stopped Napoleon's advance. At that same time Mare Antoinette, daughter of the recently deceased Hapsburg Empress Marie Theresa, had been executed in the French Revolution from whence Napoleon's power grew - no wonder Europe was afraid and grateful to Nelson; revolution and  fear threatened to overcome the continent. Against this backdrop the  Esterházy court provided not only a cultural bolt hole for these powerful men and women but a  place where alliances could be forged, policies discussed and plans made. It helped in ensuring the stability of Europe both at the time and for future generations. The music of Joseph Haydn was integral to this - it provided an atmosphere which reminded these powerful people  who they were and what they were about.  Haydn, ever a man of his times, ever with his finger on the pulse not only wrote great music to entertain and to enjoy but great and inspiring  music for great events, to strengthen resolve and to celebrate the great, the good, and the hopes and fears of the age  - the "Nelson Mass", the "Missa in Angustiis" -  a "Mass for Times of Distress " - was such a work. This wonderful work, and others by Haydn, provided some form of higher framework, a kind of moral compass to inspire, reflect and celebrate great decisions and great actions and it is still doing that today - inspiring and opening the eyes of those who sing it, play it or listen to it to see something better and more worthy.

For a brief, and glittering, few years this little provincial town in Austria and this family of largely well meaning nobles together with this gentle and humble maestro provided a cultural oasis but in doing so they unknowingly gave huge amounts of pleasure and inspiration not only to their own age but to coming generations. And perhaps more importantly played a  pivotal role not only in shaping their world but in  making our world what it is today; I found that not only wonderful but awesome and humbling. We had, indeed, been treading in the footprints of giants.

28 August, 2017

Walking with Giants (2): "Music to make you believe in God"

Amongst my classical CD collection there are a number of works which are performed by different orchestras, conductors or soloists. For example, I have three versions of Bach’s Goldberg Variation – two played by the great Bach pianist Glenn Gould (one in 1955 and one in 1983) and one by Angela Hewitt, several versions of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony played by different orchestras under the direction of different conductors, and several versions of Handel’s Messiah. This duplication of discs is not an error, it is intentional – these (and others) are very great works all of which have been interpreted differently by different artist and at different times. One such work is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s mighty Requiem. I have four different copies of the Requiem, each one special and “right” in its own way but there is one that I instinctively turn to when I want to listen to the work rather than just have it as background music. I thought about this recently as we continued our musical “pilgrimage” along the Danube and stood in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna – one of the great cathedrals of the world.
St Stephen's Cathedral

From the outside St Stephen’s is magnificent – imposing, wonderful architecture, soaring spire, wonderfully and beautifully decorated roof – truly, a majestic and superlative building; a mighty place of worship  steeped in centuries of Christianity and history. It is a place that has witnessed a thousand years of  great events, royal weddings and funerals: the history of Austria and much of middle Europe is writ large in the fabric of this great building. Step inside and one is overwhelmed by an awareness of this great past but two weeks ago as I stood in the nave of this great place I felt something else; something more personal and searching, something to make one feel introspective, vulnerable and uncertain of one's place in the great scheme of things. Inside this magnificent church the glories of the outside structure become a vast brooding space, almost intimidating; soaring columns, a heavy sense not only of royal and political power and of history but also of godly power; it is a cloying atmosphere that seems to press down and remind one of the smallness of mankind in the mighty sweep of heaven and earth. This is a place to remind us mere mortals of the power of an omnipotent God; not a place, I thought, to sing modern “happy clappy” hymns, nor a place to reflect upon its architectural beauty, or upon the compassion of a benevolent God. It is a serious place, yes, a place of great majesty but at the same time a place to instil fear in the hearts of those who would stray from the path of righteousness. Standing there I got the feeling that it must be like this to stand condemned in the Old Bailey Courtroom and face the bewigged judge and the whole fearful panoply of the mighty legal profession as some terrible sentence is passed. It is a place to reflect upon and be forcefully reminded of one’s relationship with our maker and indeed, our ultimate judge.

And as I stood there, the music of Mozart’s mighty Requiem rang through my brain – it was the only music befitting of this place - and not just any version of the Requiem, but that made by Sir Georg Solti, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna State Opera Choir. This is the version to which I turn when I want to listen to the Requiem and is one of the definitive recordings of the work.  Significantly, it was recorded in 1991 in St Stephen’s on the two hundredth anniversary of Mozart’s death. Solti’s rendering of the work is, like the Cathedral, imposing, intimidating, dramatic and seems to peer into the very soul of the listener exposing every fault line and mortal weakness of our inner selves. And as the Cathedral does, the Requiem forcibly reminds one of the smallness of mankind in the face of an omnipotent God - and, terrifyingly, of the eternity that awaits us all when the gossamer thread upon which we all hang finally snaps.
Inside the vast commanding space

But the Requiem  and St Stephen’s is more tangibly connected with Mozart. If you walk out of the Cathedral and take a few steps down the narrow street that runs along the side of the church then within a matter of seconds you will come to Mozart’s home – where he lived and composed for much of his life. Mozart was married to Constanze in the Cathedral and upon his death his funeral service took place there; powerful are the links between the Cathedral, the musician and his final great work, the Requiem.

Of all the stories about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart the tale of the Requiem  is without doubt the most mysterious and arresting – and for me explains Solti’s powerful rendering of this supreme work in the Cathedral. Separating the myth, the mystery and the facts of the Requiem’s story has fascinated Mozart fans and musicologists since the composer’s death in 1791 at the age of 36. Any study of Mozart and his life is filled with superlatives and quite unimaginable tales – the story of the Requiem was the final twist in the story of this wonderful composer’s life.

Mozart composed over 600 works in his short life, virtually all of them acknowledged as pinnacles of musical achievement and his influence upon Western music is both immeasurable and profound; Beethoven composed his own early works in the shadow of Mozart, and Joseph Haydn, upon hearing of Mozart’s death  wrote  "posterity will not see such a talent again"  But for me, perhaps Sir Georg Solti’s comment expresses best what music lovers think of Mozart and his music when he said: “Mozart makes you believe in God – it cannot be by chance that such a phenomena arrives in the world and then passes after thirty six years, leaving behind such an unbounded number of unparalleled masterpieces.”

In simple terms Mozart was a musical genius, he did things that no-one else could do and from the earliest age. Johann Sebastian Bach once said that he (Bach)  “...was obliged to be industrious. Whoever is equally industrious will succeed equally well. There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself. As a good Lutheran Bach knew all about the Christian work ethic but he was doing himself a disservice when he suggests that it took only hard work to produce such glorious music as his. Mozart, too, worked prodigiously hard  – indeed it might be argued that he died of hard work – but in the end Mozart’s creative talent and musical genius are without a doubt the deciding factors in the mighty works that he produced.
Mozart in his home town of Salzburg

Mozart showed prodigious ability from early childhood. He composed from the age of five and by the time he was eight he was touring European courts with his father, Leopold and elder sister (Maria Anna). Mozart himself was baptised in his home town, Salzburg the day after his birth. Only a few days prior to our visit to St Stephen’s Cathedral Pat and I had stood in Salzburg gazing up at the house where Mozart was born and then later that same day in the mid day heat we had taken photographs of the statue that is erected to this son of Salzburg in the main square of the town. That night we had sat in the glorious baroque Mirabelle Palace listening to the Amadeus Concert playing Mozart – truly an evening that will stay with us for the rest of our lives – mostly because of the music but also because we were listening to music that had been penned by this musical giant two centuries before in the place where he lived – it was a powerful connection.

The end of a wonderful Mozart evening in the glorious Mirabelle Palace
Mozart’s early baptism was with good cause - he was not expected to live – and he remained sickly for most of his life. At 17, he was engaged as a court musician in Salzburg. Here he had many artistic successes but he grew restless and travelled in search of a better position. He was anxious to compose opera and there was little opportunity for this in Salzburg. He visited Paris but was forced to return home and resume his Salzburg employment when his mother died and, while visiting Vienna in 1781, he was finally dismissed from his Salzburg post. He chose to stay in Vienna, where at last he found fame as his operas began to be recognised - but this gave him little long term financial security.

In 1782, in St Stephen’s, he married Constanze and they spent much of their remaining years in the house near the Cathedral. They had six children but only two survived infancy. Despite their popular success and the fact that he gained steady employment with the Emperor Joseph II, storm clouds were gathering. Mozart’s debts were rising and money was tight and he had a family to feed. He worked incessantly, frequently travelling to far off places to conduct an opera, meet a possible client or seek extra work and in a sense this paid off. These years were a time of great productivity: concertos that are pinnacles of the genre, symphonies that set the pattern for symphonic composition from that day to this, operas that still fill theatres and their sublime arias bring tears to the eyes of the audience, great church music that has become integral to the Christian tradition – the list was and is endless and it all poured, seemingly effortlessly, from the pen of this brilliant young man. Other great composers tend to achieve their fame because of their great talent in single or limited areas: Bach, for example is the king of choral/religious music, Beethoven the master of the symphony, Puccini and Verdi are famed for their opera - and so on. Mozart, however, achieves perfection and world recognition on virtually every musical front - he could slip (as he did in the final weeks of his life) from composing one of the world's greatest operas - The Magic Flute - and in a trice turn out the Requiem; his like had not been seen before and has not been seen since.

Mozart and Constanze married here

But Mozart's skill and brilliance was not effortless – the work load and his sickly constitution took their toll. On September 6th 1791 while in Prague he fell ill. Despite continuing composing and conducting the premier of The Magic Flute he quickly deteriorated. He returned to Vienna and on November 20th, whilst composing the Requiem, he became bed ridden suffering from swelling, pain and vomiting.

The circumstances surrounding the composition of Mozart’s Requiem are remarkable, fascinating and dramatic; it is, in short, the stuff of legends. Composed on his death bed, it is a work that many regard as the finest piece of music ever written – that is an arguable claim, but it cannot be disputed that the Requiem is without doubt one of the greatest of musical works. Even today, no matter how many times I have heard it, it still has the capacity to make the hairs on my neck stand out and my heart race when the opening bars are played. I know that I am not alone in that. It is also one of the greatest paradoxes of music that this work, one of (if not the) greatest of Mozart's works is the one of which he actually composed the smallest percentage!

The story of the Requiem began a few weeks before Mozart’s death when he was approached by a gentleman – some say masked - acting on behalf of an anonymous patron who wished to commission from him a Requiem Mass. This patron was Count Franz von Walsegg-Stuppach, whose wife had died earlier that year. The Count, who was a keen amateur musician, wished to be regarded as a major composer and saw an opportunity to pass off the Requiem as his own.  He therefore conducted all business transactions with Mozart in secrecy to preserve his anonymity and sent an agent to act on his behalf. The Count’s offer was substantial, and Mozart, ever financially troubled, accepted 250 florins (half of what he got for an opera). There were to be no rehearsals or conducting of performances involved – it was a secret work. A substantial deposit was paid but before he could begin work on the Requiem, Mozart had to complete several other commissions, including The Magic Flute, and also had to travel to Prague to produce a season of Figaro. So he entered the Autumn of 1791 with a heavy workload and declining health.

Mozart set to work on the Requiem in October 1791, but had completed only a fraction of the work before taking to his bed in mid-November. He was terminally ill. Legend has it, too, that the secrecy surrounding the work perhaps played on Mozart’s ailing mind – he began to fear that this was not just any Requiem, it was to be his own Requiem. At the time of his death, only the opening Aeternam  was fully finished. Of the Kyrie and the Offertory, he had completed only the vocal parts, a bass line and occasional fragments of instrumental sketches. The remaining movements—Sanctus, Benedictus, Osanna, Agnus Dei, and Lux Aeterna – were only lightly sketched out. We know that in the last few days of his life, as Mozart faced death one of his students, Franz Süssmayr, assisted the composer in scribing Mozart’s ideas – he was by now too ill to hold a pen. We also know that local Viennese singers were brought to Mozart’s bedside to sing parts that he had sketched out in order that he could hear them before finally putting the notes on the manuscript. He died aged 35 on December 5th 1791, survived by his wife and two sons – the Requiem only sketched out and partially complete.
Mozart's house - in the shadow of St Stephen's

Desperate for funds, Mozart's wife, Constanze, was anxious to have the work completed and took it upon herself to find someone to complete the Requiem so that she could sell it as Mozart's. Eventually Constanze approached Franz Süssmayr who had been the composer’s closest musical confidante.  He undoubtedly knew what Mozart’s intentions were in respect of the complete Requiem. He had not been Constanze’s first choice – that had been  Joseph von Eybler but Eybler was unable to make satisfactory progress. When she eventually turned to Süssmayr, it was because there was a deadline to meet in order that she received the final payment; and only Süssmayr with his greater knowledge could meet that deadline!

Whatever the reason, thanks to his efforts, the Requiem was completed by February 1792 and  the final score dispatched to Count Walsegg complete with a counterfeited signature of Mozart. Shortly afterwards Constanze was paid the full amount owed. The Count presented the music as his own at a memorial service to his wife in 1793 and a little over a year later it was played - attributed to Mozart - in Vienna, at a concert about which Walsegg knew nothing.  
One of the rooms in the house

Süssmayr's work has often been harshly criticized - the Requiem is full of errors in harmony, and his musical ideas were no match for Mozart's. However, despite its detractors, the Süssmayer completion of the Requiem has remained the standard version. Despite any shortfalls the Requiem scholars are united that it remains purely Mozartean and one of, if not the greatest setting of the Requiem text in history.

In the years following, the Requiem gained its place in musical history and folklore and began to develop  a life of its own. In 1809 it was performed at the memorial service for Joseph Haydn and, adding to the many myths about the piece, in 1833 Joseph von Eybler suffered a stroke while conducting the Requiem. He never conducted again. In December 1840 it was performed at the reburial of Napoleon and in 1849 at Chopin's funeral. And so it continued to establish itself as one of the very great Masses and choral works. In modern times the Requiem was performed in 1964 as the Memorial Mass for President Kennedy. In 1994 Zubin Mehta conducted Sarajevo Philharmonic in the ruins of Sarajevo to mark the end of the Siege of Sarajevo and the ending of the Bosnian/Serb conflict. In 1999 Claudio Abbado conducted the Requiem with the Berlin Philharmonic in Salzburg on the 10th anniversary of the death of Herbert von Karajan and, in churches and concert halls throughout Austria (and many other places), it is common for the Requiem to be performed each December to commemorate Mozart’s untimely death on December 5th.
Some of the original score of the Requiem. The bottom five staves are in the hand of Mozart himself. The top half is the work of Süssmayr. When the whole Requiem was finished Süssmayr made a copy all in his own hand, imitating Mozart's so that it would look a unified piece of work. Mozart's signature was the forged by Constanze. The rest is history so to speak!

Whatever its history, whatever its strange convoluted tale and mythology, whatever the involvement of Süssmayr, it cannot be denied that the work stands at the very epicentre of western music. It is filled with exquisite and achingly beautiful sections but at the same time its raw power, majesty, drama  and mystery can make both performer and listener sit back in awe and wonder. It is not only much loved and popular but is one of the world’s defining musical works and one which has not only has stood the test of time but becomes more loved, more wondered at and more performed as each year passes.

As I stood in the tourist crowds in St Stephen’s Cathedral the mighty music of the Requiem rang in my brain and a few minutes later, when Pat and I spent a wonderful hour in Mozart’s house in the shadow of St Stephen’s, we listened through headphones to it’s great and powerful message.  And as we walked through the rooms looking at the artefacts of his life in the place where Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, had given the world some of its very greatest music, other works by this young but blighted genius flooded through the building: the magically haunting Queen of the Night’s Aria from The Magic Flute, the achingly beautiful Dove Sono  from The Marriage of Figaro,  Soave sia il Vento from Cosi fan Tutti and many others. We stopped at one stage – mesmerised by the wonders of modern technology. In front of us were an array of small screens, each showing an extract from one of the great Mozart operas. At first we were a little confused but then realised that each screen related to one of the world’s great opera houses: La Scala, Covent Garden, La Fenici, the Vienna Staatoper, the New York Met, the Bolshoi.....and others – and through the sound system came the singing, synched to the screens. So one could see different productions of the same opera, the same aria as performed at each of these great musical palaces all at the same time. Press the button and immediately a different opera and aria came up on all of the screens! What would Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart have thought of that? – in the end his quest for fame has succeeded. This creative musical genius would, I am sure, have loved it. As I watched the flickering screens - Mozart's great music coming from every part of the world I wondered what he would have thought of it and of my CD of Solti conducting the Requiem; a little silver disc that I can slip in my pocket (or even now put on a tiny memory stick) enabling me if I wish to carry around with me so much of his great music. As I sit writing this blog at the side of me Mozart is playing – my complete Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Haydn,..............and many, many more great classical works – several days non-stop of the greatest music to pour from the minds of the greatest composers - all stored on a memory chip smaller than the nail on my finger. Yes, Mozart would, I think, have been in awe to think that his scribblings, his genius and his hard work over those few short years have become such a worldwide phenomena. Fame indeed - at last.
A contemporary likeness (so we are told) - and a sight one sees 
replicated throughout Salzburg & Vienna.

And yet, the ultimate irony is that when this supreme musician died his body was, as was the custom of the time in Vienna for those not of aristocratic pedigree, not buried in some magnificent tomb with due honour and recognition but simply put in an unmarked common grave. Like his Requiem and like that mighty St Stephen's Cathedral Mozart’s end forcibly reminds us of the smallness, the insignificance and the transience of mankind in the great scheme of things - and of the eternity that awaits us all when the gossamer thread upon which we all hang finally snaps
As we stood in St Stephen's brooding and awe inspiring vastness and the mighty and haunting music of the Requiem filled my mind I knew that we were almost touching the past as we trod in the footsteps of musical giants.