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MUSIC

Wife of Wolfgang Amadeus wanted their son to be ‘the second Mozart’. No pressure then…

Having famous parents can be a mixed blessing, but Austrian musician Franz Xaver Mozart had it tougher than most.

Wife of Wolfgang Amadeus wanted their son to be 'the second Mozart'. No pressure then...
A painting of Austrian musician Franz Xaver Mozart on display at the Mozart Residence in Salzburg in 2016. Photo: AFP

Born months before Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart died in 1791, Franz Xaver spent his life trying — and failing — to step out of his genius father's shadow.

“A child that disappoints their parents… will encounter disgrace and misery. Let these words be a warning to my lovely (son),” his mother Constanze wrote in 1801 to her nine-year-old son.

READ ALSO: 12 things Austria gave the world

Her ominous note is one of many personal letters currently on display at the Mozart Residence in Salzburg, as part of an exhibition organised by the Mozarteum Foundation.

When he passed away in 1844, Franz Xaver — the last of the Mozart line — donated hundreds of family documents to the foundation.

“History has sort of forgotten Franz Xaver but he's actually of big importance to us,” Mozarteum curator Armin Brinzing told AFP in an interview.

“We owe it to him that so many original manuscripts from the Mozart family including handwritten compositions have survived and are accessible to the public, instead of being destroyed or spread all over the world.”

'Immense pressure'

Of the six children born to Mozart and Constanze, only Franz Xaver and his older brother Carl Thomas survived into adulthood.

While Carl Thomas became a government official, Constanze had much bigger plans for her other son.

After her famous husband's death, the widow decided that Franz Xaver “should become the second Mozart”, Brinzing said.

“At the age of two, she already made him take piano and music theory lessons,” the curator noted.

Constanze hired some of the era's most eminent teachers, including Italian composer Antonio Salieri whose pupils included Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven.

Even more tellingly, she only addressed her son as Wolfgang Amadeus.

In fact, Franz Xaver himself would sign all his works with “Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, son”.

Letters exchanged between Franz Xaver and his older sibling reveal that from an early age, Franz Xaver felt under “immense pressure” and “not treated very well at home”.

Aged barely 13, Franz Xaver gave his highly anticipated first public concert in a packed Vienna hall.

Critics praised his performance — “he gave a nice if slightly slow rendition of his father's piano concerto,” according to one review — but also warned the boy not to rest on his laurels.

“May he never forget that although the name Mozart currently grants him some indulgence, it will place great demands on him later on,” read an editorial in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung, a key 19th-century music magazine also on display at the Residence.

United in death

At 17, Franz Xaver fled the parental nest and took a job as a piano tutor for a wealthy family in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, then part of the Habsburg empire.

He spent the next two decades teaching and performing across Europe as he sought to build up his reputation.

Having inherited his father's excellent ear, he conducted a 400-strong choir and founded Lviv's first music school, now the National Conservatory.

But compared to the original Mozart, Franz Xaver's artistic output was small and generally failed to impress.

“Franz Xaver was a very good pianist especially when he played his father's concertos, but his own compositions enjoyed only mediocre success,” said Brinzing, adding that some of them are being rediscovered today.

“That last spark of genius was missing in him. He was considered a gifted musician and composer, but not one of the great ones.”

Nowhere was this more apparent than when he was asked to compose a piece for the unveiling of a monument dedicated to his father in Salzburg in 1842.

Riddled with self-doubt, he refused, telling organisers that he was a musician of “little ability” bound to disappoint.

Instead he turned two of his father's unfinished compositions into a cantata, which was greeted with great applause at the inauguration.

Afterwards, Franz Xaver sent a signed copy of his work to Emperor Ferdinand I.

Tradition had it that the ruler paid a small fee in exchange for autographed sheet music.

Having only vaguely heard of Mozart's son, the emperor asked his advisers whether he should reward the composer.

“As everyone knows, the famous father's talent has not been transferred to his son so we should give him some money,” an official replied.

Two years later, Franz Xaver died of stomach cancer during a health retreat in the Czech town of Carlsbad, where he was also buried.

Even in death Mozart's spirit still looms large, with Franz Xaver's tomb stone carrying the inscription:

“May his father's name be his epitaph, as his veneration for him was the essence of his life.”

By AFP's Nina Lamparski

READ ALSO: Why Salzburg is Austria's most inspiring city

MUSIC

‘Mahleresque’: Austrian orchestra performs AI-written symphony

Can artificial intelligence turn out symphonies to match one of the greats of classical music?

'Mahleresque': Austrian orchestra performs AI-written symphony
Photo: DPA

That was the question posed by one unusual orchestra performance in the Austrian city of Linz on Friday, in which Gustav Mahler's unfinished Symphony No.10 was played — immediately followed by six minutes of “Mahleresque” music written by software. 

The project's creator says that the two are clearly distinguishable but not everyone in the audience agreed.

“I couldn't really feel the difference… I believe it was really well done,” Maria Jose Sanchez Varela, 34, a science and philosophy researcher from Mexico, told AFP.

The performance was part of Linz's Ars Electronica Festival, which aims to highlight connections between science, art and technology.

The brains behind the pioneering performance was AI researcher and composer Ali Nikrang, who works at the Ars Electronica Futurelab research centre affiliated with the festival. He used the open-source AI software MuseNet to write the music.

“It all sounds like music, there are emotions, but someone who really knows Mahler will notice immediately that it is not Mahler,” Nikrang told AFP, admitting Mahler's typical “harmonic expressions” were not quite there yet.

He said AI learned from “data from the past, from data left to us by Mahler” so it may be able to create an exact copy of Mahler, but it still could not come up with a “concept” or overall theme for the music the way the classical composer himself did.

But Nikrang says that AI has nevertheless made great strides. Working with the first 10 notes of Mahler's Symphony No. 10, the software gave him four suggested segments, out of which he chose one, following which it continued giving him four more segments and so on.

In all, Nikrang evaluated a few dozen pieces before choosing what spectators heard on Friday.

“All the suggestions were quite good… That is not obvious with AI, at least given the state of the technology five months ago” Nikrang said, adding that MuseNet had enabled a jump in quality. Christine Schoepf, the Ars Electronica festival's co-director, said that back when she took part in the very first edition 40 years ago, “of course we couldn't have guessed what would happen with AI”.

“The fact it would progress in such quick steps wasn't foreseeable,” she said. –

Lacking 'emotional depth'

Experts say the project highlights interesting questions.

“This is of course really exciting,” said Aljoscha Burchardt of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI).

“One wonders whether the machines are so smart that they can accomplish great music, or whether the music wasn't such a great accomplishment after all?,” Burchardt asks.

“Maybe the pieces followed a graspable logic that in the past only very good composers knew, and now a machine can do it. That's the question,” he told AFP.

With computers churning out work at a speed composers cannot compete with, prices could drop, but on the other hand — just as in other fields where “hand-made” commands more prestige — artists who write their music without software could be able to charge a premium, Burchardt said. Machines also still needed humans to guide them, Austrian music expert Christian Scheib said.

“Even with highly-complex AI, it depends on the artistic quality and skills of the respective composer,” he told AFP. And of course, AI isn't yet able to explain its projects to journalists either.

As Nikrang predicted, some spectators noticed when AI took over the composition in Friday night's performance.

One of them, Manuela Klaut, said: “I somehow thought suddenly: 'Ah, it is getting a bit more arbitrary' or something like that'.” But she admitted that it was hard to pinpoint what exactly changed, and the overall performance was still “great”.

“I felt slightly that the emotional depth that you have in a Mahler composition was missing, maybe also the melancholy,” the 39-year-old from Germany told AFP.

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