Saturday, January 28, 2006

PBS to Mozart: You're Dead

Yesterday, January 27th, was the 250th birthday of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The event has evoked its own backlash, such as a recent Arts op-piece that dismissed the composer's works as high-brow muzak, beloved for its bland, empty amiability, shriveling into dust in the shadow of true innovaters such as Haydn and Beethoven. Such an attack says more about the shallowness of the writer than of his subject.

If you've lived such a blinkered life that Eine Kleine Nachtmusik or a "music to make your baby smarter" CD means Mozart to you, you might be forgiven your ignorance, but to anyone who's ever been grabbed by the throat by those first, nervously unsettling string figures at the beginning of the great G minor symphony and never let go, Mozart's music is a full run journey that encompasses both the warmest sunshine of spiritial grace and the coldest recesses of our darkest soul. His worldview is hedonistic and humanistic, breaking through the brittle veneer of traditional morality to exult in life as lived - our darkest terrors, our insatiable lusts and venialities, our innumerable vulgarities, and, in the end, our most forgiving, generous and selfless aspirations to the divine.

To which PBS replies, "What DVD's does he sell?"

Last night, in Salzburg, the frigid evening was broken by the sound of the church bells ringing in unison throughout the entire city at the moment when Mozart was born, 250 years before. The event came at the intermission point of a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Riccaro Muti, and with soloists including Thomas Hampson, Cecilia Bartoli and Mitsuko Uchida. The magical evening was broadcast to televisions worldwide, except in the U.S., where it was not picked up by PBS or local outlets such as Chicago's WTTW, where programming is increasingly seen as the filler between pledge breaks. When will some broadcaster have the prescence of mind to create a pay-cable network that will finally allow PBS and its afilliates to devote their full attention to the geriatric rock stars, financial planners and self-help gurus that have become their truest love, and find a new home for the type of cultural programming that was such a key part of their original mission?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I loved the sardonic wit in this post. On my local NPR affiliate in central PA, Mozart's birthday was celebrated with "Mozart-inspired" pieces by rather obscure composers from around the world. I found this odd, to the say the least. My understanding is that only Bach rivals Mozart in sheer volume of production. Yet this NPR affiliate apparently felt it was insufficient to merely fill the day with Mozart. Well, no, that wouldn't be 'creative programming.' Ironically, on the day of commemoration to one of the greatest, the music on NPR sunk at times to its relative lowest with relative no-names.

Sometimes in these times, the perceived need for novelty, or a need to push the envelope, trumps common sense and leads to bad outcomes.