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In Search of Mozart, the Documentary Film by Phil Grabsky
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In Search of Mozart, the Documentary Film by Phil Grabsky

- Backstage with the Filmmakers: Classical and Cultural Connections

In Search of Mozart
Seventh Art Productions
A Film by Phil Grabsky
Narrated by Juliet Stevenson
Director/Producer: Phil Grabsky
Editor: Phil Reynolds

Currently at the Movie Theaters
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Publicity: Marjorie Sweeney

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
August 19, 2007

Rarely have I been so riveted to a musical documentary as I was, while watching In Search of Mozart. This new film, in English and German, with DVD subtitles in six languages, was written, directed, and produced by Phil Grabsky. In an interview with Grabsky, part of the DVD, he talks about his desire to learn more about Mozartís life through research, to see how true Peter Shafferís play and Milos Formanís film of the play Amadeus were and to what extent Mozartís legend was perpetuated in accuracy or embellishment. He also spoke about the element of luck, as it drives the momentum of our lives from episode to episode. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was ďluckyĒ, Grabsky says, to have been born to parents who nurtured and fostered his extraordinary and early talents.

Grabsky has created a mesmerizing mosaic of Mozartís music, performed by opera and instrumental artists and orchestras, plus footage of Salzburg, Vienna, and Paris. He pans across authentic biographical and portrait paintings that depict Mozart and his family at every stage of his life. Grabsky opens in the year of Mozartís death, 1791, with a Clarinet Concerto and snowy scenery, the same scenery that ends the film, more than two hours later. He then skips back to Mozartís early childhood and his piano lessons as a child ďprodigyĒ. Grabsky gives the viewer generous passages from Mozartís works, chronologically, as they match Mozartís life events, with the inherent joys and tragedies. Mozartís fine motor coordination is mentioned, unusual for a child less than eight years old.

Grabsky also analyzes Sonatas and Concertos, and how particular notes establish Mozartís mood and maturity. Mozartís Symphony No. 1, composed at eight, is woven into modern travel scenes in Austria. His youthful opera, La Finta Semplice, is excerpted, as is his Symphony No. 10 at age 14 in 1770. At this point in time, Mozart is traveling back and forth to Italy, and the Conductor, Roger Norrington, says in a filmed interview that this work is ďremarkableÖat that age.Ē In fact, Grabsky interviews Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Leif Ove Andsnes, Janine Jansen, and Lang Lang, to name but a few renowned artists seen in this film. Performance excerpts include those of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Nederlands Kamerorkest, Aimard and Andsnes on piano, and diva, Renťe Fleming.

Grabsky brings us to the 1770ís, with Mozartís position in the Salzburg Court Orchestra, where he composed and performed little, preferring France and private commissions. Mozartís life is not ornamented with perfection, and the one unnecessary element of this film refers to Mozartís and his familyís bawdy language, in an over-familiar way. As this film is otherwise so appropriate for schools and performance venues, these passages should have been much more euphemistic. Grabsky loses the edge for educational distribution on the widest possible scale with the inclusion of such quotes. However, the film as a whole is first class and quite sophisticated, with each musical performance and related interview so timely and tightly structured to Mozartís life and emotion.

Grabsky inserts portions of Symphony No. 29, written when Mozart was 18, followed later by Mozart taking off for commissioned travel with his mother, when he is 21. His relationship with Constanze Weber, the cousin of Carl Maria Von Weber, the composer, is a golden thread in Grabskyís film. Mozart met Constanze in 1777 in Manheim, and they eventually fell in love and had six children, four of whom died in infancy. Two sons survived Mozart, as did Constanze. Mozartís letters to his wife, who was almost always pregnant in their brief, nine-year marriage, were brimming with passion and lust.

Mozartís Symphony No. 31, written at age 22, was beautifully excerpted, just as Grabsky unfolds the death of Mozartís mother and Mozartís eloquent letter written at the time of this tragedy. He then wrote a Piano Sonata to sooth his soul. Mozartís Mass in C, of 1779, with lovely choral passages, plus Vespers in C, are juxtaposed against interior shots of a cathedral in Salzburg. By 1783, Constanze was already pregnant (they married in 1782), and Mozart wrote about sharing her labor pains. This child, Raimund, lived only two months. Mozart wrote another Piano Sonata to deal with his grief. A year later, the Mozarts had a new son, Karl, as well as an active billiard table and much entertaining with punch. Another excerpt, of Mozartís Quartet in C for Strings, is poignantly performed, as is his Concerto in D Minor.

Le Nozze de Figaro is soon analyzed in depth by opera artists, such as Renťe Fleming, with passages performed. And then, another tragedy, the death of more Mozart babies as well as that of Mozartís father, Leopold, in 1787. Grabsky leads us with hope to Mozartís opera commission for Don Giovanni and then leads us with sadness to Mozartís financial woes, in the midst of travels to Dresden and Berlin, in 1789. Another opera, Cosi Fan Tutte, is introduced in 1790, but, by 1791, Mozart has become ill, with rheumatic fever, following his completion of the Piano Concerto in B-flat and 5 Contredanses. Constanze was yet again pregnant, and Mozart had visited his son, Karl, at boarding school. A dark-cloaked figure commissioned Mozart to compose a Requiem, but this nobleman was actually looking to steal the copyright. Mozart died of the fever, with his sheet music lying on his pillow. In his last breath, Mozart tried to silently express to his new assistant how to write the drum passages of this symbolic Requiem.

I highly recommend Phil Grabsky's In Search of Mozart for its artistic, historical, and aesthetic impact. The DVD film is for sale outside of North America on and can be seen in theatres, see local listings. Starting Christmas 2007, the DVD film will be for sale in the US. Until then, check local movie theatre listings.

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