Phil Grabsky’s combined biography and appreciation of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was undertaken, he tells us, to satisfy his own curiosity about the composer who was quite probably the greatest natural genius in the history of music while also being, as the film repeatedly makes clear, an intensely practical craftsman (more so, perhaps, even than Handel). The result is a visually beautiful and aurally magnificent film. But though it’s instructive, “In Search of Mozart” may have greater appeal for those who are already fairly well versed in Mozartiana than relative newcomers.
On the one hand, the picture—filmed across the continent, lavishly illustrated and filled with fact-based narration (spoken by Juliet Stevenson), readings from letters among members of the Mozart family and other documents, and comments from musicians and scholars (in various languages, some subtitled) as well as snippets of Mozart’s music (for the most part chronologically arranged)—provides a sound biographical introduction, one that corrects, though without undue irritation, some of the errors of Peter Shaffer’s “Amadeus” (and the Milos Forman film based on it). As such it can serve as a good, if rather conventionally organized, introduction for the uninitiated, though they might find the very wealth of detail somewhat intimidating.
On the other hand, devotees will appreciate the detail, and in particular will enjoy the incisive, often awestruck reflections of noted artists—conductors like Rene Jacobs, Charles Mackerras, Adam Fischer, Roger Norrington, Christophe Rousset and Franz Bruggen; singers like Ian Bostridge, Simon Keenslyside and Renee Fleming; directors like Jonathan Miller. Appropriately, special emphasis is put on the operas and piano concertos, on which such great keyboard performers as Lang Lang, Ronald Brautigam, Imogen Cooper and Leif Ove Andsnes offer comments. They may, however, wish that it had been possible to hear longer stretches of the music, and not to have voiceovers compete with it.
Though “In Search of Mozart” doesn’t exhibit the imagination of some of Tony Palmer’s films on musicians, Grabsky is certainly to be congratulated on his dedication, sensitivity and good taste. It’s making the rounds of festivals and cities, so you might watch for it to appear in your area. And it’s available on DVD at www.seventh-art.com.