Remembering Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the free-thinker

The artistic director of the Würzburg Mozart Festival, Evelyn Meining, wanted the 2022 edition to focus on innovative and boundary-pushing elements. This inspired the festival’s motto: “All in One: The Freethinker Mozart,” featured in this episode of DW Festival Concert.

A painting by Mozart when he was six years old.  (akg-images/picture alliance)
A painting by Mozart when he was six years old. (akg-images/picture alliance)

Mozart’s music was both charming and evocative. It is well known, for example, that he took many liberties when composing his music. But he also crossed boundaries beyond his compositions.

It was said that he lacked respect for authority and this made it difficult for him to find a place as a court musician. So it may have been against his own will that he became the first composer of his generation to work independently of the court. A free spirit, who blazed his own musical trail and defied social conventions.

Birds of a feather

The same is true for much of the music of 20th-century composer Igor Stravinsky. He was ground-breaking and drew on musical traditions such as the “Concerto in D” also known as the “Basel Concerto”. In this piece for string orchestra, Stravinsky used typical Baroque rhythms and dance forms.

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In this episode, we will hear Andrew Manze conduct the Bamberg Symphony performing Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto in D at the opening concert of the 2022 Würzburg Mozart Festival on May 21st.

Stravinsky wrote his Concerto in D in 1946 on commission from conductor and patron Paul Sacher, who wanted a piece to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his Basel Chamber Orchestra. Sacher, a Swiss millionaire, commissioned approximately 250 pieces from contemporary composers during his lifetime. In the 1980s, in a brilliant move, he acquired Stravinsky’s entire estate.

When Sacher approached Stravinsky with a request for a commission, the composer replied that he would only accept it if the piece was no longer than 10 to 12 minutes. For him, it was a matter of artistic freedom, as he himself said: “My freedom is therefore to move within the narrow frame that I set for myself for each of my undertakings.”

There was no stopping Mozart

Unlike Stravinsky, other composers wanted as few restrictions as possible when composing. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was an example.

Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 often sounds relatively easy to play, but it is actually very complex and profound. It is said that Mozart’s father was very concerned about whether his son’s music would be well received by the average concert goer.

Würzburg festival director Evelyn Meining tells us more: “Mozart’s father, Leopold, reprimanded him for this piano concerto. He said he shouldn’t compose such complex pieces that show off his musical sophistication.”

Nowadays, Mozart’s compositional style is not described as very complex or difficult, although it was often labeled so in its time. Rather, these terms apply to contemporary classical music today.

This is the idea that conductor Andrew Manze wanted to emphasize in the Bamberg Symphony’s performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23, which featured Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho as soloist.

From Mozart to Haydn

Next, we go to a piece by the German composer Isabelle Mundry, whose work “Traces des Moments,” or “Traces of Moments,” featured in the concert. He wrote a quintet for clarinet, accordion, violin, viola and cello in 2000.

For conductor Andrew Manze, it was important that the concert program also included the freethinking composer Joseph Haydn, who was an important role model for Mozart. The conductor specifically wanted to perform Haydn’s Symphony No. 91 in E-flat major. Haydn wrote this piece in France, but it is not related to his famous series of Paris symphonies and is therefore often overlooked.

Contemporary of Mozart: Joseph Boulogne

We are now moving on to the music of Mozart’s contemporary: Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-Georges. Born in Guadeloupe in 1732 to a Frenchman and an enslaved Senegalese woman, Boulogne is sometimes referred to as the “Black Mozart”—a controversial label that critics argue belittles his musical and life achievements.

He came to France as a child, where he played the violin from an early age and went on to make a name for himself as a conductor. He later joined the Free Masons and led Le Concert Olympique, the largest and most famous French orchestra of the era, to perform at the Palais Royal in Paris.

It was around this time that Boulogne became acquainted with Joseph Haydn and asked him to compose for his orchestra. In 1784, Boulogne premiered Haydn’s symphonies 82 through 87, known as the Paris Symphony. Boulogne was also considered as a possible director of France’s Royal Academy of Music, but racism ultimately prevented his appointment.

Joseph Boulogne wrote a handful of operas, over a hundred piano pieces, sonatas, string quartets, symphonies and violin concertos. He was not only talented in music. He was also a famous fencer, a good swimmer and an ice skater who was the talk of Paris society. During the French Revolution, he served as a colonel in the Army of St. Georges, which at the time was the only regiment for colored people in all of Europe. In short, he was a very incredible and influential person.

His Violin Concerto No. 9 in G Major has a beautifully lyrical, slow movement. It is performed by the Jonian Elias Kadesha, who really shines in the piece. Kadesha lives in Berlin, but he was born in Athens to Albanian parents. His father was the concertmaster of the Athens Symphony Orchestra.

And that’s it for this edition of the DW Festival Concert with Christina Burak. Many thanks to producer Gaby Reucher and sound engineer Thomas Schmidt. If you have any feedback, email us at

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