DVD Review: "In Search of Mozart"

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Phil Grabsky’s documentary covered 25,000 miles across Europe to retrace the life and career of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The good news is that the real Mozart was eons removed from the crass buffoon portrayed by Tom Hulce in the Oscar-winning film version of “Amadeus.” The great news is that the real Mozart was a truly fascinating individual, who lead a complex life and brought a rich spectrum of emotions to his diverse work.

Who was Mozart? Grabsky discovers an uncommon child prodigy who was exhaustively exploited by his father – to the point that the youngster was literally dragged to the various courts of Western Europe for musical presentations. It was an extremely expensive tour that was not always financially successfully – narrator Juliet Stevenson playfully notes that payment in gold snuff boxes in lieu of cash happened with more than a little frequency.

As an adult, Mozart kept his father at arm’s length while carving out a lucrative career as an impresario, teacher and composer for royal and ecumenical patrons. The film details the challenges of maintaining a musical profession in the 18th century – ironically, the most prestigious commissions were the least financially feasible. In his latter years, Mozart found himself declining into debt (a point that will resonate with many of today’s recession victims), but he was never a pauper in either a monetary or intellectual sense.

Indeed, letters written by Mozart find the composer to be a loving and caring husband and father, as well as a delightfully unpretentious young man with a ribald sense of humor. He is discovered to excel at billiards and cards, but he took his work very seriously.

“In Search of Mozart” is rich with excerpts from many of Mozart’s works – it is obviously impossible to feature an entire composition – plus there are in-depth explanations on why Mozart broke new ground in how his symphonies, concertos and operas were crafted. A wealth of experts, including soprano Renee Fleming and director Jonathan Miller, provide erudite and witty explanations on why Mozart was revolutionary in his day and why he remains relevant three centuries after his death.

All told, “In Search of Mozart” is a splendid celebration of a creative artist whose work continues to fascinate the world. It is an extraordinary triumph of non-fiction filmmaking and a joyful framing of the concert hall’s genius within a stylish cinematic frame.

"In Search of Mozart"
2006, Not rated, 129 minutes
Directed by Phil Grabsky
Released by Microcinema International

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