Playing Mozart — On Mozart's Violin
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. The violin and viola that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart played more than 200 years ago are kept in careful storage in Salzburg, Austria. They're only taken out once a year and this year, for the first time ever, those instruments have been brought to the U.S. NPR's Anastasia Tsioulcas got an introduction.
ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: I could feel my heart stop, my fingers were trembling, and I'm pretty sure I had huge smile on my face as I tucked this violin under my chin - the instrument that Mozart used to perform his own concerts.
(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA MUSIC)
TSIOULCAS: Professional musicians got the same thrill at the Boston Early Music Festival.
(SOUNDBITE OF ORCHESTRA MUSIC)
TSIOULCAS: For safety's sake, the violin and viola were flown here on separate airplanes. But the six-person team from the Salzburg Mozarteum who are safeguarding them, don't make for a very flashy entourage. There are no huge, beefy guys in shades with crossed arms, no SUVs with blacked-out windows. Instead, there's just a small huddle of frankly, not very intimidating-looking Middle Europeans.
GABRIELE RAMSAUER: A main thing is to travel so unspectacular as possible, that nobody should know what is inside these cases.
TSIOULCAS: Gabriele Ramsauer, the director of the Mozart Museums, and the rest of the team refer to the violin and the viola simply as "the luggage." The instruments are being held in an undisclosed location during the tour. They were made in the early 17th century as workhorse fiddles. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Mozart's violin and viola were made around the year 1700 - at the beginning of the 18th century.] They're quieter than modern instruments, and they produce less brilliantly colored tones. They force the audience to lean in, to appreciate them.
(SOUNDBITE OF STRING MUSIC)
TSIOULCAS: Backstage after the Boston concert, Milos Valent said it was hard to describe the feeling he had, playing the viola Mozart used in Vienna to jam with friends like Franz Joseph Haydn.
MILOS VALENT: For musician who is living with music his whole life, Mozart is somebody who is really, really important. To touch his instrument is something extremely personal.
TSIOULCAS: For her part, violinist Amandine Beyer says she couldn't help but wonder if she was channeling some ancient spirit when using Mozart's fiddle in Boston.
AMANDINE BEYER: I had all the time this question. But I tried to call this spirit, no? And to say, are you there? (Laughing) But I think you can do it with every instrument, when you play the music of Mozart.
TSIOULCAS: That's exactly the kind of reaction the Mozarteum is hoping for, says its head of research, Ulrich Leisinger.
ULRICH LEISINGER: If we close the eyes, we perhaps even think about Mozart playing the violin. But there are typically two methods to deal with historic instruments. One would be to say, we lock it in a shrine and never let anybody touch it again. But we are entirely convinced that you need to play the instruments because these are the messengers of Mozart's music.
TSIOULCAS: And when the musicians in Boston finished playing, not only did they take their bows, they thrust the violin and viola forward for their own, well-deserved round of applause.
Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News.
BLOCK: And tonight, Mozart's violin is in New York, where it's being played in a concert at the Austrian Cultural Forum. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.