Happy birthday Wolfie! The hills are alive with the sound of Mozart on his 250th

Wednesday, January 25th 2006, 10:34 am
By: News On 6

SALZBURG, Austria (AP) _ It's a birthday bash being heard around the world.

The cobblestoned and turreted city of Mozart's birth was the focal point for Friday's 250th anniversary celebrations _ but the sound of the master's music was being heard around the globe.

Orchestras halls and opera houses worldwide planned performances of his works. Piano students scheduled Mozart marathons and puppeteers were planning jubilee performances as hundreds of cities across five continents toasted the musical genius.

For mezzo-soprano Angelika Kirchschlager, Mozart is ``a gift from God'' and ``the light I orient my life around.''

Salzburg cabbie Andrea Gautsch put it more simply Friday: ``For us, Mozart came with mother's milk.''

Too much hoopla? Consider this: Mozart wrote his first symphonies before turning 10 and his first significant opera at 12. He was instrumental in changing opera into the form we enjoy today.

He was prolific like few others, creating at least 626 musical works despite living to only age 35. Other greats like Beethoven and Wagner publicly recognized their debt to him.

But he had plenty of detractors in his day.

Some history books depict his tenure in Salzburg ending ingloriously in 1781 with a kick in the bottom from a servant of a patron, the city's imperious archbishop, after Mozart refused to follow orders on how to compose.

Still, the town where he was born on Jan. 27, 1756, was Mozart Central on Friday.

Always a trove for Mozart kitsch, Salzburg has outdone itself. Stores are stocked with Mozart beer and wine, Mozart baby bottles, Mozart milkshakes, Mozart knickers and Mozart jigsaw puzzles _ along with the usual T-shirts, calendars and coffee mugs.

Salzburg was sprinkled with posters proclaiming ``Happy Birthday Mozart'' on Friday and the daily Salzburger Nachrichten displayed a full-page portrait of a serious-looking ``Wunderkind'' sitting at the harpsichord, as it proclaimed: ``Salzburg celebrates its great son.''

On the Salzburg schedule were Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic with Mozart's Piano Concert No. 18. Later, Riccardo Muti was to lead the orchestra _ and renowned singers _ through their paces in a collage of his works. Many of the 12 main events, including outdoor parties complete with mulled wine, were to start in the evening.

Salzburg visitors were advised to watch the calories. One of the attraction at an open-air event was a gargantuan birthday cake weighing in at more than 300 pounds.

In Salzburg's ornate Neue Residenz museum, visitors eyed Mozart's clothes brush and tobacco tins as they scurried through the ``Viva Mozart'' exhibit. Others at the interactive presentation joined in a minuet, under the watchful eyes of a dancemaster, dressed in 18th century garb.

``Front step, back, step, now back to your places,'' she intoned, as a group of Japanese tourists attempted to curtsy and pirouette in a clumsy copy of the bewigged and corseted dance troupe going through the movements in a live telecast behind them.

Vienna, which claims Mozart in his later years, was staging a new production of his ``Idomeneo'' in one of the city's three opera houses and reviving ``The Magic Flute'' in another.

Mozart ruled elsewhere as well.

Public broadcaster Swedish Radio set up an Internet radio station broadcasting Mozart music for 24 hours. The station will be up for at least five days, playing what Swedish Radio called ``Wolfie's hits & misses.'' Public TV also honored Mozart with a 12-hour special.

Performances of his works were planned by orchestras or opera houses in New York, Moscow, Washington, Prague, London, Paris, Tokyo, Caracas, Quito, Havana, Mexico City, Taipei, Budapest and scores of other cities worldwide.

America's oldest orchestra, the New York Philharmonic, got a jump on the birthday by performing an all-Mozart program on Thursday night. The program, being repeated Friday and Saturday, included the orchestra's first ever performance of the uplifting ``Coronation Mass,'' which Mozart wrote in 1779.

Even Nashville, more famous for country than classical, scheduled a musical tip of the hat to Amadeus, with the city's symphony orchestra performing his Piano Concerto No. 21.

Many classical radio outlets worldwide were reprogramming for the day to play only Mozart. Hundreds of marionettes were to take to the stage in excerpts of his operas in the German city of Augsburg, where his father was born.

Back in Salzburg, not everyone was in all-Mozart-all-the-time mode. Breakfast at the Hotel Auersperg was accompanied by the soft piped-in sounds of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony. But the seeming protest against too much Mozart was short-lived.

``Oops, how did that happen?'' tittered waitress Anna Santiago, when asked about the choice of music. Within minutes, a Mozart concerto was wafting through the air.