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BPO Recap: Musing on 'Mozart and Salieri'


By Mary Kunz Goldman

A concertgoer was nice enough to read my review of the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra's concert this past weekend, which featured Rimsky-Korsakov's opera "Mozart and Salieri." He writes, in part:

...You took no shots at an obviously lame piece. While I'm a big fan of Ms. Falletta, I am often mystified at her penchant for taking obscure pieces and presenting them to us (or maybe subjecting us to them.) There's a reason these pieces are obscure. I know musicians and directors get tired of playing the same Bachs and Beethovens over and over, and yes some of her selections can be interesting, but for every decent new piece she delivers to us there is something like that awful stinker Gliere piece, or this Rimsky-Korsakov....  Paraphrasing "The orchestra performed it wonderfully" - maybe so- but the piece itself was a piece of crap, especially that Gliere. Again, there is a reason these pieces are obscure.

I like this guy's passion for music and his civil discourse -- I mean, he didn't call me an idiot or anything because I wrote positively about a piece he did not like. I did, honestly, enjoy "Mozart and Salieri." I was looking forward to it and it did not disappoint me.

As I wrote back to our correspondent...

... there are things about "Mozart and Salieri" you could argue about. One thing I wish time and space would have allowed me to go into was the point where Mozart improvises on the piano while Salieri listens, awestruck. The melody Rimsky-Korsakov provides there is lovely, but it's not Mozart, and as it goes on, it gets almost laughable. Maybe the opera should have included a genuine Mozart piece for that interlude -- the C Minor or D Minor Fantasy? Except it is supposed to be something new. Maybe one of his later pieces? In any case it seemed as if some genuine Mozart was called for.

On the other hand when you finally do glimpse the real Requiem it is jarring in a way it might not have been had you just heard, say, the C Minor Fantasy. Maybe that was in Rimsky-Korsakov's mind. I am sure he was under no delusions that his contrived improvisation really sounded like Mozart. 

These are things you could walk around thinking about for hours.

On a lighter note, another thing that occurred to me: I complained about Mozart being saddled with that shrieky laugh such as Tum Hulce laughed in "Amadeus."

And I could almost hear Salieri responding from wherever he is now:

"Here I am going down in history as a murderer. And you're worried about him going down in history as having a shrieky laugh?"

Anyway. A lot of people went to the BPO this weekend, from what I understand. I am interested in what other people thought about "Mozart and Salieri." Did you enjoy it? Were their criticisms you had of the piece, ways in which you think it could have been more effective? On the other hand, were there aspects of the little opera that affected you, that you enjoyed, or that made you think? We are into highly subjective territory here so there are no right and wrong answers.

How did you feel about the BPO "dusting off" this piece? Are there other pieces the orchestra has dusted off that you especially enjoyed, or any you thought were not worth it?  I am honest in the reviews I write of these pieces ... if I think a piece of music is not worth the work, I will say so. I thought "Mozart and Salieri" was worth it.

By the way the picture of Mozart and Salieri at the top is by the tormented 19th century Russian artist Mikhail Vrubel.


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