A Conversation with a Modern Day Mozartian!

24 May

Posted May 24th. A Conversation with Sherry Davis, a Modern Day Mozartian, and Tyson Vick, artist.

I recently met a fellow Mozartian and Blogger, Sherry Davis, author of the blog The Chronicles of a Modern Day Mozartian through my blog. Sherry is an active supporter of the arts, and has devoted much of her life to stewardship and scholarship, sharing the music of Mozart with both passion and friendliness.

We decided to have a conversation about Mozart for you readers, much in the style of Interview Magazine, keeping things on more of a personal level than an academic one. Mozart’s music has buried itself in our lives, blossoming in happy ways that are deeply rewarding. I talked with Sherry about how Mozart’s music has effected our lives, and asked Sherry what stewardship means in the modern era. Sherry even shares some of the adventures she has had visiting the places Mozart lived and performed!

Please enjoy this  conversation with Sherry Davis, a Modern Day Mozartian!

Tyson: To start, Sherry, can you tell us a little bit about how you came to be a steward for Mozart in the modern age, and what this entails?

Sherry: First of all, thank you for referring to my work as stewardship. This role is very dear to me and whenever it’s acknowledged, it’s also the greatest compliment!

It all began with a simple desire to share my passion of Mozart’s music with others.

My hope is to inspire others to action, encouraging them to be active patrons of Mozart’s music in some way. It started with basic gestures like making mixed CDs, lending books, and sharing links with friends and family, also inviting them to concerts and operas (all of which I still do, of course!).

Sherry Davis with a Portrait of young Mozart.

Sherry (cont.): Then, I met multi-media mogul Chris Andrews at the end of 2005 when the world was abuzz on the eve of Mozart’s 250th birthday anniversary. As owner of the Mozart.com domain (arguably the most sought-after domain of the year, The Economist estimated the Mozart brand to be worth $5 billion that year), Chris was developing a platform where Mozart’s admirers could access the latest news and resources, as well as connect while leaving celebratory wishes. It was Facebook for Mozartians!

Chris came up with the brilliant idea to host contributing writers for Mozart.com. Chris approached a few of us to author blogs. He recognized my passion and encouraged me to embrace that passion and put it into words, put it into action. I was hesitant. Would I be considered worthy of writing on the subject? Did I have anything new to say? There was no title, no template, nothing, and from this void, emerged The Chronicles. And it was the beginning of something much more than just a blog.

As if giving life to my authorship wasn’t significant enough already, Chris also introduced me to Phil Grabsky, Director of In Search of Mozart, the first feature-length documentary ever created about Mozart’s life. I was hired as the Marketing Manager for the North American theatrical release. It was a dream come true; an unprecedented opportunity to embrace a newfound stewardship by taking Mozart to a broader audience! (Note: The Documentary is available on YouTube Movies)

Phil Grabsky, director of the documentary “In Search of Mozart”, and Mozart.

Sherry (cont.): I’ve spent, and continue to spend, a great deal of time studying Mozart, traveling to Europe, attending operas and concerts, serving on organizational committees and maintaining relationships with the scholarly community.

Although my travels center mainly on visiting tangibles from the past, whether a fortepiano or theater, after the museums close, and the concerts end, what remains is the underscored importance of preservation and people. What if nobody had taken the time to save these buildings, manuscripts and artifacts? What if Constanze Mozart had not published her late husband’s works? (Less than 100 were published during his lifetime!) What if we didn’t have the travel diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello, the first Mozart admirers to make a Mozart pilgrimage in 1829, who documented their conversations with Mozart’s widow Constanze and his youngest son Franz Xaver?

As a part of preservation, I love to emphasize the importance of people experiencing the “living” history as in performances, new artistic interpretations (like your illustrations of Mozart’s operas!) and so on. The name of the game is innovation, imagination, interaction and inspiration.

I believe God entrusted this music to every individual in the world who has ever drawn joy from it.

Tyson: Mozart seems to have had a profound effect on you. Where did your passion for Mozart start?

Sherry: I was initially fascinated by Mozart when my 5th grade music class watched the film, Amadeus. I was completely swept away by the drama, theatricality, and above all, the music (the proverbial hook!). Being 11 years old, I never could have guessed that a lifelong love affair had just begun.

The Queen of the Night from the film Amadeus.

Sherry (cont.): The film encouraged my curiosity and subsequent sleuthing which in time revealed my passion for the real man and artist. The soundtrack was the best introductory to his music I could have ever received, and it didn’t hurt that it was accompanied by dramatic Hollywood narrative! I continue to adore this album. It’s very sentimental to me.

As a teen, I periodically rented Amadeus from my local video store. I think I paid enough in rental fees to almost cover the retail cost, but I eventually bought a copy myself!

After making a short trip home from graduate school in London for the holidays, it was one of the few items I managed to fit into my suitcase (suitcases, rather!) for the trans-Atlantic voyage back to the capital. The film encouraged me to immerse myself into independent musicological study and before I knew it, I was traveling to Salzburg, Vienna and Prague the following summer. Reaching this new threshold of understanding, the beaming bright Hollywood lights of Amadeus faded, revealing my love for the small, pockmarked young man who had a penchant for fashion, dancing, punch, billiards and a good German translation of Shakespeare. Mozart!

Tyson: For me, it began with “Riconosci in Questo Amplesso” from The Marriage of Figaro, which was the first foreign language opera I ever listened to. This is an ensemble in the opera where the main character, Figaro, discovers who his parents are. The song is mostly a set piece of comedic moments, but it features a strange moment of pathos where Figaro says “This is my mother, she’ll say so herself, and This is my father, he’ll say so himself.” The whole song has been funny up until that point, and those lines have already come and gone separately, but when put one after the other, the music seems to say that Figaro has been fulfilled, that what was lost was found, that what was broken has been fixed – he’s found his wife, his mother, his father and his family — and the four characters voice’s flutter away, like leaves on a breeze, into a hymn of love, leaving the other characters separate, apart.

That meant so much to me as a young man, because that was a feeling that I had longed for — to be loved and accepted by my parents, no matter what evils had gone on between us (just like Figaro and his villainous parents.) — and the first time I had ever felt that feeling was through Mozart’s music. That’s when I knew that there was more to be found in opera than there was in any other art form. One of the greatest moments in my life came when I actually did experience that feeling with my parents, and it was everything Mozart said it would be! (“And let the Count burst with our happiness!”)

Sherry: “Riconosci” is otherworldly on its own, but to connect to it on a personal level as you did…wow! As long as people are connecting to Mozart in this way, the music will always have life.

I’m actually wondering if this particular cathartic moment influenced your decision to illustrate his operas?

Tyson: That, and the monsters. Mozart has Monsters. At least six appear across his operas. You totally need Monsters if you want to hang out at the cool composers’ table. None of this dying of consumption crap.

Figaro Sketch and Pic

My original color drawing of the Figaro reunion was made back in 2002, before I started illustrating the operas through photography. The thumbnail I drew a few days before the shoot in 2008 and the final image I took shortly after.

Tyson (cont.): I’m really just a standard fan-boy. I probably know more about Mozart’s operas themselves than I know about the man, himself. However, you’ve gone a step further. Mozart has led you on a path of adventure! You have explored fantastic European cities like Prague, Vienna and Salzburg which all have a connection to the composer. Are there any amusing stories you can share about your travels to learn about Mozart?

Sherry: When I was attending the Mozart Society of America’s conference in Prague in 2009, we visited Lobkowicz Palace. The Lobkowicz collection is one of the largest and grandest private art collections in Europe. Amongst the notable musical manuscripts we saw that day included original scores and manuscripts by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Gluck — including Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies and Mozart’s 1787 arrangement of Handel’s Messiah, which I never thought I’d see in person.

Sherry in Prague attending the Mozart Society of America’s conference.

Sherry (cont.): Since we were given time to wander independently, I was entirely immersed in my own world. I was swept away by the whole experience, by the grandeur of the palace, the family’s history and portraits, the magnificent artifacts and paintings by great artists like Cranach. I spent a great deal of time just beholding Mozart’s autographed score.

Then, quite unexpectedly, Prince William and Princess Alexandra Lobkowicz appeared out of nowhere! Though patrons of a Who’s Who list of great European artists, they were all smiles, gracious and friendly as they greeted us with their American accents (I later discovered that the Prince was born in the US and they spent much time there). They were very talkative and interested in what we found fascinating in the collection.

It turned out that a member of our group had been working with them on their music collections, so they stopped by to say hello. They were very down to Earth, sincere and genuine. They didn’t stand on ceremony, but made themselves, their home and history accessible to us. It was a “mi casa es su casa” moment between royalty and a group of Mozartians. It was clear that they were just as passionate about this music as we were. I attended one of their daily mid-day concerts in the palace’s stunning 17th Century Baroque concert hall. Icing on the cake!

Lobkowicz Palace Concert Hall where Sherry attended the concert of the Prince and Princess.

Tyson: It’s great to find a common ground with strangers over your love of classical music! Every once in a while, during my time learning about opera, I have come across behavior that can only be described as snobbish.

Sherry: Snobbery is unfortunately alive and well. I penned my master’s thesis about the history of the aristocratic concert society, and how it prevails today in deterring audiences from the music.

People will tell you that they’ve never listened to classical music or opera because of the elitist stigma. They assume it’s boring, superficial music for wealthy, superficial people, not music with substance that’s relatable, entertaining and worthwhile. Yes, music was largely a diversion in Mozart’s time, but his music is far from the trifling Rococo!

Tyson: Though, I think we can both admit that he did write some Rococo trifles! The great thing about Mozart’s music is that he wrote for every genre of music available at the time, and so you can find some really serious Mozart music, some really trivial Mozart music, as well as religious music, background music, and duets with cats, etc.

When I became interested in experiencing all of Mozart’s operas, which is a bit like wanting to see all of Scorsese’s movies, I had all the music on CDs, but I didn’t have the text to the plays he was setting. I wanted to read along to enjoy the drama.

So, I went to an opera forum online (not a wise decision in general), and asked if anyone knew where to find the text to Mozart’s more obscure works. The replies I received all said something along the lines of, “Are you saying the Neue Mozart Ausgabe is incomplete?” or “Those things are unimportant and/or don’t exist.”

My first thought was, “Wow. These are really unhelpful answers.” My second thought was, “What the hell is a Neue Mozart Ausgabe?”  I’m not a scholar, I’m just a uneducated fan. I just want to read an old play, and they’re accusing me of making — from what I can infer from their tone is — an offensive claim that this Neue Mozart Ausgabe is somehow incomplete?

Thank heavens for Google. About a half an hour later, I knew full well what this “Ausgabe” was (A digital Collection and Transcription of all of Mozart’s works). Also, I was not any closer to having my question answered. It was such a bad experience that I have never posted in an online forum since.

Sherry: Ouch! I’m sorry that this happened to you, but I hope it makes you feel better that these purists (which are the minority) not only attack innocent doe-eyed novices like yourself, but they also attack each other!

Tyson: Don’t feed the trolls. Am I right?

Sherry: You’re always welcome to visit my friendly and drama-free forum dedicated to the study and advocacy of Mozart’s wife, Constanze. She has also been a victim of malicious attacks over the years.

The Mozarts in Green. (Wolfgang, left, Constanze, right) I’ve photoshopped their original colors for an upcoming shoot!

Sherry (cont.): I’d have to say that the snobbery I experienced towards Mozart in Vienna was the pinnacle of [my] shock and dismay. Vienna was a city Mozart once called home and “The best place for my métier.”

My friend Robert offered to take my sister and I around the city and to the countryside one afternoon, showing us treasures known only to the locals. He was a musician, a native of Vienna, so music was always a significant part of his life.

When our conversation turned to Mozart, I could not have predicted what I was about to hear. His attitude was severe. He said that Mozart was not and will never be considered a Viennese composer. Mozart was a foreigner who did not succeed in Vienna. (In Mozart’s time, Salzburg was an independent state and not part of Austria, so Mozart wasn’t technically Austrian during his lifetime.)  I felt that I had stepped back into the 1780s and was talking to a Viennese gentleman who had great reservations about the Salzburg composer’s latest work.

He couldn’t believe that our main reason for visiting Vienna was for the Mozart history, in his eyes, the history of a foreigner. I asked him if his opinion was commonplace, and he said that many felt this way. I was glad we had this conversation, because I learned a great deal.

Sherry at the Vienna State Opera.

Sherry (cont.): Today, Austria’s principle industry is tourism. How ironic it is for Mozart to be the bread-winner of a nation where he’s still undermined as a “foreigner” by some of its citizens.

Although Mozart was always drawn to conquering Vienna, the capital of the empire, he unfortunately never received the recognition and appreciation he so readily deserved. The Viennese were often cold and indifferent to his music. On the other hand, Mozart achieved a god-like reception in Prague. The Bohemians loved him and expressed their adoration openly, more than any other city he visited. (I’ve been there three times in the past eight years and can tell you that they still love him.)

Prague was nearly unprecedented in musical talent and appreciation in the late 18th Century. The general population was highly educated in music due to their state-mandated instruction in sacred music (Roman Catholicism). Mozart is claimed to have been said, “Meine Prager verstehen mich.” (“My Praguers understand me.”).

Mozart’s music lived more amongst the people unlike the more staid, aristocratic Vienna, and he loved it. In a letter to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin, Mozart wrote: “I was very delighted to look upon all these people leaping about in sheer delight to the music of my Figaro, adapted for noisy contra-dances and waltzes; for here nothing is discussed but Figaro; nothing is played, trumpeted, sung, or whistled but Figaro; no opera is succeeding but Figaro and eternally Figaro; certainly a great honor for me!”

Tyson: It’s good that Mozart found his audience while he was alive. We often forget that recordings didn’t exist back then. For most historical composers, their music would only be heard for a few weeks before being retired for hundreds of years.

When I consider the character of Mozart, I am often inspired by his dedication to doing his work for little pay, little recognition, and absolutely no knowledge that the future generations would name him the finest of all composers. In his situation, I think most people would be depressed most of the time, working so hard, never advancing very far, and worst of all, having to deal with the aristocracy. But he always kept a good head on his shoulders.

In one of my favorite Mozart quotes, he writes to his father, “Young as I am, I never go to bed without thinking that possibly I may not be alive on the morrow: yet not one of the many persons who know me can say that I am morose or melancholy. For this happy disposition I thank my Creator daily, and wish with all my heart that it were shared by all my fellows.”

Sherry: An excerpt from a letter his father Leopold wrote to him is eerie: “Your countenance…was so grave that many intelligent persons, seeing your talent so early developed and your face always serious and thoughtful, were concerned for the length of your life.”

Tyson: Yet he always kept his sense of humor. In another of my favorite quotes, he writes to his sister, “I have no news except that 35, 59, 60, 61, 62, were the winning numbers in the lottery, and, therefore, that if we had played those numbers we would have won; but that inasmuch as we did not play those numbers we neither won nor lost but had a good laugh at others.”

Sherry: Great choice of quotes! This duality represents the man of faith, love and sincerity who was also not above vanity and being entertained at the expense of others!

Mozart's Face

W. A. Mozart.

Tyson: Mozart is a very relatable fellow with his strong work ethic, a desire to promote love and brotherhood, a sophomoric sense of humor, who took joy in being with his family, and who, hilariously, couldn’t stand talentless people. I remember reading a passage he wrote once about a pianist who played a little sloppily, really making fun of them, and it just had me in stitches because he was describing exactly how I play the piano. One way to keep Mozart relevant is to share the feelings and experiences we have while learning about the man, or better still, listening to his music. People connect with people, and it’s easier to relate to experiences than to facts and figures.

Sherry: Capitalizing on the human interest element is at the heart to what I do, because it’s inherent to Mozart and it’s inherent to me as a person who loves social history. From early childhood, Mozart was a darling of European courts. He knew how to charm and dazzle. He was a social being and his music was crafted amidst a hefty social calendar of touring, teaching, composing and concertizing. Moreover, his music is a narrative on humanity in every way.

There’s a quote from the documentary, Adieu Mozart, in the context of his operas which is appropriate to share here: “Mozart knows so much about human nature as if he had invented it himself, while people just conform to his template.”

Thank You Sherry!

One Response to “A Conversation with a Modern Day Mozartian!”

  1. Jose Garcia June 15, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

    BRAVO!!!! BRAVO!!!! ENCORE!!!! ENCORE!!!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: