Classic Mornings

A Snowball’s Chance


The snowball grew into an avalanche of sorts.  His 1979 award-winning stage work Amadeus became an award-winning film. The film and its soundtrack, featuring the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields led by Sir Neville Marriner, went on to spark a Mozart revival.

Sir Peter Schaffer, the English playwright who wrote Amadeus, died on June 6th at age 90. That prompted me to take a look at the notes that accompanied the 1984 film soundtrack. For one thing, I noticed that the CD, on the Fantasy label, had the number 900-1791(that’s the year Mozart died). Anyway, Schaffer said back then that when he was approached by director Milos Foreman about filming Amadeus, he was reluctant because he intensely disliked every movie based on one of his plays. That suggests there almost was no film version.

The story was told in the same notes that 4 prominent members of the concert world were asked to submit a list of 3 conductors known for their affinity for Mozart. Neville Marriner was on the top of all 4 lists. The soundtrack provided the film audience with bits and pieces of Mozart symphonies, concertos, operas and sacred music. There was just enough of a sampling to introduce viewers to various aspects of Mozart’s musical genius. And there were plenty of Mozart recordings released back then to more than satisfy anyone’s curiosity that had been aroused by the film.

Amadeus also led to a renewed interest in the music of Antonio Salieri – the bad guy in the play and movie.  Over the years, I’ve had to remind some listeners that it was a work of fiction, especially when I sensed that his portrayal had led to a distorted picture of the real life composer. Performances of Salieri’s music in recent years by the likes of Cecilia Bartoli and the London Mozart Players have helped to set the record straight. And ironically, it was Shaffer’s snowball that started all of that as well.

Even when they’re not dramatized, Mozart stories seem to be so compelling. A recording that just came into the Friends of WILL Library includes a story related by Mozart’s sister Nannerl. I passed it along just before Father’s Day, remembering some old movies in which it was suggested to children that the best gift they could give their father was a little quiet time to rest.

Nannerl wrote about a 2 to 3 month period in London during which she and Wolfgang were forbidden to touch a piano while their father was recovering from a severe throat ailment. She went on to say that to occupy himself, her then 8-year old brother composed his first symphony. Would you have expected anything less from the legendary composer? Nannerl added that she assisted him in writing it all down. Nobody has gone so far as to call it the “Shhhh” Symphony.

We’re reminded in the recording notes by the late musicologist, composer and conductor William Malloch that Mozart would write several other symphonies during the 15-month stay in London. Before that the Mozart children dazzled some very important people in places that included Munich, Brussels and Paris. In London they played for King George III on 3 different occasions. The King put young Wolfgang through some rigorous musical tests. And the child was asked to accompany the Queen in an aria she sang.

The newly acquired recording features the Prague Chamber Orchestra led by Sir Charles Mackerras (Telarc 80256). The CD has just ended something of a 25-year period of silence of sorts. Somehow, it just never made it into the Friends of WILL Library. It’s there now! It’s one of 10 CDs that Charles Mackerras made with the Prague Chamber Orchestra of the complete Mozart Symphonies. Released in 1991, it’s one of the last that they recorded, featuring the earliest of the symphonies.

Long after Amadeus had its successful run and the novelty wore off, public radio stations have continued to play Mozart’s music and to tell his stories. We’re fortunate to be one of those stations that still presents classical music on the radio. For that we’re grateful to thousands of Friends of WILL who make annual gifts of support.  They help to ensure that the music will be there for listeners of all ages. With all the amazing stories and music from the young Mozart, hopefully young people in our community might be inspired by it all. By making it possible for young people to be able to hear the music and the stories, either on the radio or streaming WILL-FM online, there’s at least a chance they might be.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to make a contribution to WILL over the past year, please consider doing so by June 30th, which is the end of our fiscal year. All the money we raise by June 30th will be used for next year’s programs.  You may pledge online at, or call 217-244-9455 with your gift. If you have made a contribution already, thank you very much!