Desperately seeking Mozart

Even by the standards of disaster-prone great composers, the catalogue of dramas in Mozart's life is pretty impressive. The one-time child prodigy packed a lot into his 35 years: astonishing works, a sexy wife, rude letters, joy and heartbreak, acclaim and ignominy, a mysterious final commission, an early death and an anonymous burial.

Over the years, television has retold this epic tale through historical re-enactments, psychological analysis, musical analysis and post-Freudian probing. Phil Grabsky's In Search of Mozart, Channel 5's first foray into classical music, was described as a "radical rethink of the classical music documentary", probably because Grabsky's approach is to try all the above at once.

Thus, we are treated to clip-clopping hooves through Salzburg, furious bowing of modern violins, energetic playing of period pianos, historic snow on Viennese rooftops, contemporary shots of women in sunglasses, clips of opera singers and famous portraits of the Mozart family. There is also a bunch of German and Austrian tour guides, which adds to the intriguing air of a daytime travel show.

Do we find Mozart? Not at first. There is simply too much going on from experts and tour guides. There is also Grabsky's dogged literalness to contend with. Every time Wolfgang journeys to Vienna, Paris or London, we too are dragged along. The film is weighed down with shots of traffic in a variety of European capitals.

However, as the documentary gathers pace, the pundits fall away and we are left with Mozart's voice through his letters and his music. As the terrible, inevitable ending drew near, with the struggling Mozart still producing astonishing music, I was close to tears.

The second and third parts of In Search of Mozart will be screened on Channel 5 on 17 and 24 January at 7.15pm

Next Article