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Music

The wonder of Wolfgang: Even from a young age, Mozart rocked

Age and experience can enrich a musician’s work, but we’re always fascinated by a child prodigy, says Claire Jackson

Musical prodigies – and, often, their eye-watering daily routines, carefully managed by their guardians – have fascinated audiences for centuries. But while tweens can often have extraordinary technical faculty on their chosen instrument, lots of repertoire requires a deeper, more thoughtful approach that can only be achieved with emotional maturity.

I once interviewed former violin prodigy Sarah Chang after she had recorded the Bruch concerto for the first time. She explained that, although she was note perfect (from memory) in her teens, she wanted to wait until her twenties until she committed the work to disc because she wanted the emotional dexterity, too. Music expresses experience, and the highs and lows that life entails.

There are of course exceptions, with the most famous being Mozart, who showed incredible skill at the keyboard as a toddler. The young Mozart was subsequently trotted out all over Europe by his father Leopold, who closely managed the career of Wolfgang – and his equally talented sister, Nannerl. Mozart began composing aged five, producing an enormous body of work before his untimely death at 35.

Mozart 250 is an epic chronological survey into Mozart’s output, comprising concerts, educational resources and collaborative projects, following each year of Mozart’s life, 250 years later. This month, Ian Page and Classical Opera are performing a selection of works that Mozart played as a teen sensation (a classical Justin Bieber).

Mozart began composing aged five, producing an enormous body of work before his untimely death at 35

1769: A Year in Music (January 29; Queen Elizabeth Hall, London) considers the musical scene that the 13-year-old Mozart experienced. Soprano Chiara Skerath and BBC New Generation Artist baritone James Newby will perform pieces by Mozarts senior and junior (including a recently discovered concert aria), and work that inspired

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Mozart during this time, including two arias from Thomas Arne’s ode commissioned for David Garrick’s 1769 Shakespeare Jubilee. Arias by Paisiello and Gluck are also on the programme, along with Haydn’s exuberant Maria Theresia symphony.

Mozart 250 continues in March with the UK premiere of Piramo e Tisbe by Johann Adolph Hasse (March 28, Cadogan Hall, London), a prominent (at the time) 18th-century composer who completed over 60 operas. The plot draws on a tragedy in Book 4 of Ovid’s Metamorphoses; an usual topic when it was first performed, deviating from the usual tales of courtly love and bravery. The score will be played by The Mozartists, who play on period instruments, promising an evocative atmosphere.

Harp-ing On

One of Mozart’s favoured instruments, the harpsichord, gets a 21st-century reboot this month. Harpsichordist Mahan Esfahani has worked with musicians from Guildhall School of Music and Drama’s Electronic Music department and the Barbican to perform a genre-bending programme of electronic harpsichord music at London’s Milton Court (January 17).

The concert includes the premiere of Quadroforone by Faroese composer Sunleif Rasmussen, which is written for harpsichord and three pre-recorded sound edited harpsichords on three pairs of loudspeakers placed around the hall. Esfahani has done wonders for the humble harpsichord in recent years: his latest recording Music of the English Virginalists is a quirky take that brings historical repertoire to, if not quite the masses, a wider audience. I admit to having an allegiance to the piano over its predecessor instruments, but Esfahani’s style is immediately appealing.

Ok Choral

One of my New Year’s resolutions was to listen to more choral music, as it’s not a genre I’ve always felt comfortable with, preferring instrumental music and opera. To that end, I picked up a copy to Enchanted Isle by a cappella group Voces8. This new collection of arrangements of British folk songs sees the eight-piece ensemble combine traditional works such as My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose with Barber’s Agnus Dei and Pyramid Song by Radiohead.

The pieces have been chosen to evoke a variety of natural landscapes, from the green and pleasant to the more rugged. The album isn’t entirely unaccompanied; there are several instrumental appearances which add colour and depth. It’s a far cry from the light-hearted, Pitch Perfect– versions of Pharrell Williams’ Happy et al that I’ve seen the group perform at corporate events, and demonstrates a deep understanding of choral textures.

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