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Franz Xaver Mozart
1791 - 1844



By John Sidgwick

LONDON, 17 FEBRUARY 2006—Barbara Bonney has a distinguished record of appearances on the operatic stage, yet she has never made a secret of the fact that she is happiest on the concert platform. As she herself put it, "I am a lieder singer who happens to have performed in opera".

The programme she presented at London's South Bank on 9th February was a fascinating and wide-ranging blend of songs by Beethoven, Schubert,  Schumann, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Verdi and Wolf in the first half and works by Aaron Copland, Charles T Griffes and Samuel Barber after the interval.

Ms. Bonney displayed the qualities which have rightly put her in the top rank of art-song performers: clarity and freshness of voice, commitment and imagination in gesture and manner. Her partner on this occasion was the admirable Malcolm Martineau.

A special spice was added at the outset of this recital by the inclusion of three lieder by Franz Xaver Mozart  "F.X.Mozart…who he?" you may be tempted to ask. Well, he is Ms Bonney's latest enthusiasm. And when people of her calibre have enthusiasms of this nature, they must be listened to.

Franz Xaver Mozart was four months old when his father, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died on 5th December 1791. His destiny was to be an unfortunate pawn in the heroic efforts made by the great composer's widow, Konstanze, to guarantee the permanent success of her late husband's artistic legacy. It is a sad fact that famous and successful fathers more often than not turn out to be disasters for their progeny, however talented the latter may be.  This has been demonstrated time and again, not only in the arts but also in other fields including politics and sport. 

Nevertheless, the most flagrant examples have been in the arts, particularly in music and Franz Xaver was no exception. He had musical talent, true, and this became apparent at an early age. He went on to enjoy a relatively successful career both as a keyboard player and as a composer of piano concertos, chamber works and songs. He was soon, however, completely forgotten after his death in 1844 and later generations right up to the present day have pooh-poohed his compositions. That is, until Ms. Bonney came along and "jumped for joy" (her words) at the discovery of his songs. She found in them a true and worthwhile transition leading to the golden age of German lieder.

I am sorry to say that for my part, I cannot share Ms. Bonney's enthusiasm. In spite of the beauty of her performance and the elegance of Malcolm Martineau's piano-playing last night, the songs had a disconcerting triteness about them. They were well-crafted but that is all I can say about them. There was no emotional spark.

So sad! How I wish I could have been convinced otherwise.


John Sidgwick writes about classical music in Britain and France for Culturekiosque.com. 

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