The Grarrwphone, December, 1925
i ts greatest triumph in Prague, where a year later (November 4th, 1787) the first performance of Don Giovanni took place. The public there instantly recognised what a masterpiece Mozart had written for them and declared i t to be " the finest, the most perfect opera that had ever been performed." The Viennese were slower to perceive this. As Fetis says, " Too many beauties were accumulated in the score, and those bea,uties were of an order too novel to be understood at first by the public; only a few musicians were capable of grasping the fact that Mozart had here attained the highest degree of invention and of the sublime. Opinions were divided, therefore; but ere long wiser counsels prevailed, and the whole country became enthusia stic over this immortal work of genius."
One hardly knows which to marvel at most, the extent or the variety of the strenuous and increasing labour that Mozart accomplished, whilst delicate and a,iling, during the concluding years of his unparalleled career. Such activity, such slavery, was never equalled by any mnsician before or since. After Don Giovanni other great works were still to come, treading on each other's heels; operas such as Cosi fan Tutte (1790) and The .1Ylag'ic Flttte (1791), with that miraculous final achievement, the R eqtli em, written and very nearly completed on his death-bed in 1791. But, enormous as was the qua,ntity of that feverish output, i t was not more a. 'tonishing than the development of style and the constant growth in the masterful handling of ideas that were pervading i t all. No opera was exactly like i ts predecessor, though each in turn was pure Mozart.
The originality of II Semglio (1782) is said to have taken aback the Viennese tremendously. Said the Emperor Joseph II. to the composer: " I t is too lovely for our ears; in fact, there are too many notes in i t for me." " Precisely as many as are wanted," replied Mozart, who had only received 50 ducats for writing the opera! But four years later the music of The J'VIar-r'iage of Figaro sounded newer and more original still. For the treatment of the Beauma,rcha,is comedy was entirely different; whilst another phase in the ma,ster's manner became manifest in Don Giovanni , and yet another in The ~jJ1agic Flute. I do not say that these distinctions are pa,lpable to every ear; but unquestionably they are there, and they help to account for the perennial freshness and charm that l ift these operas of Moza,rt above all danger of sameness or monotomy. Hence i t is that one seems never to listen to them without an abiding sense of unalloyed enjoyment and satisfaction. Would only that the whole of the series that I have named above could be heard in London regularly every year! Perhaps a couple, not more, will be given at Covent Garden next season.
The available collection of Mozart gramophone records can scarcely be termed a truly representative one, so far as the voice is concerned. Neither does i t do justice to the glorious opportunities afforded by even the more familiar operas to which I have been referring. They do not nearly cover the ground. I t is useless for one to begin to enumerate the vocal numbers and the many wonderful ensembles-essential features, of course, of any stage performance-that you may search for vainly in the current catalogues. Why is this ~ Are we to suppose that the interest of the buying public has become centred entirely in the symphonies and quartets and instrumental i tems generally ~ Or is i t that during the period that these long-neglected gems have been recelVlllg attention, the operas have been allowed to recede into the background ~ But a,nyhow, i t is an unquestionable fact that the latter have never yet been recorded on a scale that nearly approached completeness. I do not go so far as to suggest that the t ime has come for recording any of Mozart's opera.s from the first note to the last. I t would not pay to treat Don Giovanni or Le N ozze di Figar-o in similar fashion to JlIudarn Butterfly or Faust or the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. In any event, of course, i t would be quite unnecessary to include the arid wastes (musically speaking) of recitativo secco, which embody the copious dialogue of the Abbe da Ponte; but of all the rest not a single number tha,t is habitually heard in the theatre ought to go unrecorded. The only question on which I do entertain some doubt is whether the right singers are to be had for the purposesingers, that is to say, of sterling ability, who have been trained adequately and correctly to interpret Mozart. And that is a very big question indeed.
" LE NOZZE Dr FIGARO."
I propose to deal in this number with the two great operas which Mozart composed to Italian l ibretti; or rather I should say, perhaps, to discuss the merits of such records from these operas as have been deemed worthy of consideration. Most of them are new to me; though a good many, no doubt, have been in their various catalogues for many a season. With here and there an exception, they give me the impression of being executed by artists who were not completely at home in this kind of music; in some cases by artists who had never actually played the part under contribution, or had forgotten, whilst recording i t , the dramatic situation in which the piece occurred. For instance, I cannot definitely state that Amelita Galli-Curci has never played Cherubino on the stage; but I can safely declare tha,t her Non so pitt (H.M.V., D.A.214) contains no more evidence that she knows wha,t she is singing about in her language than the same air, Neue Freuden, neue Schmerzen (Poly. 65654), rendered by Elisabeth Schumann who has certainly sung Cherubino, gives any indica-