Fall in love with music, and one thing is certain: You're sure to get your heart broken.
Music is full of tragedy. Listen to "American Pie," and you'll be reminded of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly. The sound of Dinah Washington's voice makes a listener sigh that the jazz singer died so young.
In Paris, fans pay tribute to tragic trumpet player Chet Baker. And whenever anyone hears "Our Love Is Here to Stay," it's with regret that George Gershwin hadn't quite finished it when he died, at 39.
Next weekend, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Music Director JoAnn Falletta, will perform Mozart's Requiem. Beautiful and overpowering, the music is a monument to the sorrow we all feel when a great musician dies young. Mozart was one of the greatest tragedies of all. The Requiem was the last piece he wrote before he died, at 35.
There's so much about Mozart that was astonishing. As a child, he entertained kings (and played with Marie Antoinette, who wasn't much older than he). As an adult, he was a haughty virtuoso, a ladies' man, a composer who baffled some folks and bewitched others.
But the Mozart legend didn't really take off until his death.
One July day in 1791, a stranger in gray turned up at his door. The anonymous man requested that Mozart write a requiem.
The sinister figure had been sent by a nobleman who wanted to commission a death Mass for his dead wife -- and pass it off as his own. But Mozart didn't know this, and, his wife later said, began to believe he was writing the Requiem for himself.
He fell seriously ill Nov. 20, but struggled on with the work. When he died, early Dec. 5, the unfinished score was lying on the bed beside him.
Through the centuries, the powerful, cathartic piece has assumed a life of its own. The world has turned to it at times of untimely grief. It was performed in Paris for the funeral of Frederic Chopin, who loved Mozart and, like his hero, died too young. A hundred years or so later, Leonard Bernstein conducted a heartfelt recording of the work, dedicating it to the memory of his wife.
Next weekend's BPO performance will be a tribute to Scott Parkinson, the BPO's principal trombonist, who died suddenly in July, at only 27 years old.
"It seems fitting, partly because of the serious nature of the music and partly because the Mozart Requiem has probably the most famous trombone passage in literature," says Falletta, alluding to the stark phrase that begins the "Tuba Mirum" portion of the piece.
"Scott joined us as second trombone, and the second trombone plays that part," she adds. "That seems to me to be a way of saying something special about Scott, what he says to us."
'The candle went out'
In 1825, two British tourists obsessed with Mozart tracked down his sister-in-law, Sophie Haibl. Her account of his last night has become famous.
I went into the kitchen; the fire had gone out. I had to light a candle and make a fire. I was thinking of Mozart constantly. The coffee was ready and the candle was still burning. ... I stared right at it and thought to myself, 'I wonder how Mozart is?' and while I was thinking this and staring at the candle, it went out, as if it had never been alight. ... I shivered, ran to our mother and told her everything.
She said, "Very well, take off your good clothes and go into town, but come back and tell me how he is." I went as fast as I could. Oh, how frightened I was when my sister came out and said, "Thank God you've come, Sophie. He was so ill last night that I didn't think that he would still be alive this morning. ..."
Such beautiful storytelling, embroidered or not, added to the Mozart drama.
Long before Peter Shaffer's 1980s hit play "Amadeus," imaginations were already ablaze. Whispers that Mozart had been murdered began immediately after Mozart's death, with fingers pointing chiefly at Antonio Salieri, Mozart's friend and sometimes rival. Beethoven's friends gossiped about the situation, and rumor had it that Salieri confessed on his deathbed. In 1830, the Russian poet Pushkin wrote a poem called "Mozart and Salieri," and in 1897, Rimsky-Korsakov turned it into an opera.
A hundred years later, the fascination continues.
Granted, the fervor might be fueled by the Mozart Effect -- the much-publicized theory that came out 10 years ago and holds that Mozart aids in problem-solving. (One gem from the book: Listening to Mozart helped cure actor Gerard Depardieu's stutter.)
But hype alone doesn't explain Mozart's hold on the world.
"What Mozart's allure is for me is it can be interpreted on so many levels," says BPO Associate Conductor Ron Spigelman, who is already gearing up for concerts in 2006 that will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth.
"It's very earthy music, I think, very real music," Spigelman adds. "To me, it has a visceral quality. You feel his earthiness. I never think of Mozart as elegant. There's elegance in his music. But it's yearning, it's pleading, it can be raucous. There's some genuine anger, some genuine humor, urgency and a lot of passion."
A little bit of Coldplay
It's sometimes funny, but also touching, to see Mozart's magic surface in unexpected ways.
Actress Gwyneth Paltrow, though married to the leader of the band Coldplay, plays Mozart for her daughter, Apple. A friend told the Sun: "Mozart is on most of the time -- with a little bit of Coldplay, only softly."
In a few years, Paltrow might want to introduce Apple to Maurice Sendak. The children's book author is an avowed Mozart nut and even drew him into "Outside Over There."
Filmmaker Franco Zeffirelli has marveled at Mozart, saying: "Listening to 'Don Giovanni' is like looking at the 'Last Judgment' of Michelangelo."
And at 15, future National Security adviser Condoleezza Rice was invited to play the Mozart's D minor Concerto with the Denver Symphony. One wonders if, negotiating the stormy last movement, she ever sensed the turbulent times ahead.
Generous pop stars admit their debt to the great master.
Soul singer Alicia Keys, who studied classical piano, was asked by MTV: "Whom did you admire growing up?" Her first reply? "Mozart." (Mary J. Blige had to wait.)
Elton John has been known to appear on stage dressed as Mozart. And Elvis Costello, on his Web site, observes how he loves the C Major "Dissonant" Quartet -- at 7 a.m., no less.
One Internet blogger recalls writing a term paper comparing Mozart with Prince. His best argument: "Both men had rivals. Prince had Rick James. Mozart had Salieri."
Funny as his thesis is, he could have a point. Prince, after all, is said to have watched "Amadeus" obsessively and even adopted 18th century curls and ruffles in tribute to his idol.
If that's true, he could have done a lot worse.
Two centuries of Mozart fans, after all, can't be wrong.