Monday, August 3, 2015

One of the best things about staying in the city in August is attending the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center.

WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART: I, for one, have always preferred the city to the country. While my little Constanze often departed to take the healing waters at Baden-Baden, Vienna was the only place for me. The vibrancy of the city inspires me.
MM: I’m talking about New York City, Amade'. Although I’d be happy to spend some time in Vienna before this summer ends. But for now we’re staying in Manhattan.
WAM: And we are having such fun, are we not?
MM: You bet! This weekend we attended the eponymous festival that celebrates your music and heard virtuoso pianist Jeremy Denk perform your D Minor piano concerto—
WAM: —with grace and perfection, I would add. The man is a consummate artist.
MM: Yes. He captured the range of emotion of your composition flawlessly and with exquisite nuance. It made me cry at times.
WAM: Which was my intent, my dear. D minor is the death key, you know.
MM: I know. On the other hand much of the concerto is soaring and hopeful. Life-affirming.
WAM: Well, one does not wish to spend too much time wallowing in tears, does one? There is so much to enjoy in life.
MM: Most particularly music. For me, it’s the best thing in life. A healing force. Which leads me to yesterday’s adventure, a screening of Sound of Redemption: The Frank MorganStory at the Lincoln Center Film Society.
WAM: Frank Morgan…this is not a name familiar to me. Is he Viennese?
MM: No, Amade', he was an American jazz musician. Virtuoso alto sax player and protégé of Charlie Parker. The film is a moving and emotional experience that uses a memorial concert at San Quentin as a springboard to tell Morgan’s story and trace his journey from young prodigy in the Midwest to the heights of the L.A. Jazz scene, and on to San Quentin, imprisoned for crimes relating to his heroin addiction. The redemption comes after his release, when he resumes his career and conquers new audiences, including those at the pinnacle of the jazz world in New York City.
The screening featured a Q&A at the end with author Michael Connelly, who was one of the producers, and N.C. Heiken, writer and director. Afterwards, virtuoso alto players Grace Kelly and Marc Gross, both of whom appear in the film, treated us to an impromptu performance.

Years ago, Morgan’s music so inspired author Michael Connelly, he used it as the underlying soundtrack in many of his books. His lead character, Detective Harry Bosch, finds peace and comfort in Frank Morgan’s music, escaping into his CDs at the end of the day to help wash away the pain. Much the way I find peace in your music, Amade', at the end of my day.

WAM: I am happy you find solace in it, my dear. I found solace in composing it.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Feeling sentimental. Forty-one years ago today my plane touched down at LaGuardia and I embarked on my new life in Manhattan. As my taxi whisked me over the Triborough Bridge to an uncertain future, with my head full of  dreams and my heart full of hope, I thought about my immediate “to do” list: Find a job, an apartment and the love of my life. I somehow knew they were all waiting for me in Emerald City. It’s been a twisted and sometimes mysterious road, but it eventually led me to all three.

WAM: Do you not just adore it when dreams come true? I enjoyed the same experience when I moved from Salzburg to Vienna over 200 years ago.

MM: Yes, my dear Mozart, but you accomplished your dreams much faster than I. And in fact, I’m still working on some of them.

WAM: You do procrastinate, my dear.

MM: No, my dear Mozart, I multi-task. You applied yourself to your music full-time. After quitting my job as an advertising writer, I pursued many outlets for self-expression: Non-fiction, fiction, songwriting, singing, and serious composition. And yes, sometimes I became side-tracked, as in traveling the world with my late husband while he performed with the Original Blues Brothers Band.

WAM: In my day, we might have called you a dilettante

MM: I’ll ignore that. Point is, I’ve been working on a memoir about my unconventional life, and when I  heard about the New York Table 4 Writers Foundation 2014 Grant Competition I extracted 2,500 words from it, entitled it “Lullaby of Broadway,” and entered. It’s a three-part story that opens with that young woman looking down from the plane at the be-jeweled city waiting to welcome her and fulfill her dreams; then it segues into the reality of her NY life, as she snorts heroin with her piano teacher during her lunch break; and concludes with a nightmarish experience of playing piano bar in a Broadway dive, entertaining hookers and tourists.

WAM: Vastly different from our Sunday afternoon soirees at Baron van Swieten’s library.

MM: Vastly. But worth living through because it provided me with so much material to write about. And best of all, it won me a grant from the Foundation.

WAM: My heartiest congratulations, Madame.

MM: Thank you, Amadé. I received my award last night at the Table 4 Gala at the Metropolitan Club — exactly on the eve of when my New York story begins. Doesn’t that just feel…mystical?

WAM: A gala, you say. And you did not invite mois?

MM: I didn’t think you would have the appropriate attire.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013


I’ve always admired writers of historical fiction. To be able to place one’s imagination in the ambience of another decade, or another century, another country, even, where one may or may not have visited – is a skill I never conceived of possessing.

WAM: Quite frankly, my dear, I do not find that to be an unusual talent. I composed my Turkish “Janissary” music, never having traveled to Turkey, and never having met a Janissary, either.

MM:  Yes, Amadé, but in truth, it was your conception of Janissary music, not necessarily an actual reproduction of the form.

WAM: Still, I believe I did a most excellent job of it, did I not? My Turkish Rondo most certainly captures the flavor of that musical style – even though I never encountered personally the invading forces of the Ottoman Sultan.

MM: I might just interject here that the Janissaries were not only bodyguards of the Sultan, but also players of fearsome brass instruments that were intended to scare off the enemy before the Turkish troops actually reached their lines.

But getting back to truth in writing, particularly historical fiction, I’ve come to believe that truth (or fact) is not so important as atmosphere and ambience. Which is basically what my friend, Mr. Mozart is implying.

WAM: Yes, but I must also point out that I took offense at the film, “Amadeus.” Certainly it was entertaining, and brought my life and my work to the attention of millions who might never have played one of my sonatas on the fortepiano, but it bore no relationship to the truth. Salieri poisoned mois? Ridiculous. Salieri and I were friends and often attended the opera together. Why, he even conducted my music! The only transgression he committed against me was to recommend to the Emperor that he need not pay me the same salary he paid my predecessor, Christoph Willibald Gluck.

MM: Well, here’s the point I’m trying to make. I’ve screwed up my courage and I’m writing an historical novel, after years of feeling intimidated by the form.

WAM: Brava, my dear!

MM: Thank you. Yes, my new work, an historical murder mystery, takes place in Vienna in the 18th Century –

 WAM: Eighteenth Century Vienna, you say! Am I perchance involved in this work?

MM: Most certainly Amadé. You are the protagonist. I have a clear storyline, which is total fiction, but I want the surrounding facts to ring true.  So as I write, I’ve also been doing my homework, researching daily life in your Vienna, and of course, studying your life, (which I’ve been doing for many years now).

Google has been a tremendous help in my research. But I’m thinking that perhaps I should walk the streets you walked, visit the venues where your music was performed, soak up the atmosphere of your adopted city…

WAM:  (CLAPPING HANDS)  Are we traveling to Vienna?

MM: Yes, my dear Mozart, we are traveling to Vienna!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Art (or Not) of Competition

Mozart and I have been discussing the competition that Emperor Joseph II arranged between Muzio Clementi and himself on Christmas Eve, 1781, and it’s started me thinking about the value (or not) of competition.

WAM: That evening will live on forever in my memory. How good it felt to put that imposter in his place.

MM:  Imposter?  Clementi was an accomplished pianist and composer, as were…er, ARE…you.

WAM: Yes, he enjoyed that reputation, my dear, and he certainly did have some technical proficiency, particularly in his right hand, but his lack of sensitivity – I believe your generation would call it “soul” – was evident.  His playing was fiery, but mechanical.  And that is why the Emperor proclaimed me the winner and awarded me 50 ducats.

MM:  So I take it that you consider competition to be healthy.

WAM:  In my case, Madame, there was no competition. I was simply the best.

MM:  Okay, Amadé, I’m not going to argue that point. But I’m referring today to competition in writing.  Specifically in fiction. I recently returned from Malice Domestic, a conference of mystery writers and their fans.

WAM: I was there, remember? I thought the chicken at the banquet was a bit rubbery.

MM:  The banquet, yes, where they presented the Agatha Awards in categories like Best First Mystery, Best Mystery Novel of the year, Best Nonfiction Mystery, etc.

I was catching up on my reading over the weekend, and managed to consume several books. I have a favorite, one I could not put down until I’d finished it—

WAM: Care to share the title?

MM: Not just now, I’m thinking of writing a review of it in a future blog. My point here is, though, that what I couldn’t put down, someone else might not have been able to finish.  She might not have been as engaged in the story as I was. Reading is so personal.

WAM: As is music.  But, of course, everyone loves mine!

MM: Yes, but the point I’m trying to get to here is, that trying to compete with a fellow writer is futile. The writer’s voice is personal. And if a writer strives to compete with another, she might just alter her voice, and thus do her own work a disservice.

My late, brilliant husband used to say, “Don’t compete with anyone else.  Compete with yourself.”  I think Alan was right.

WAM:  Ergo, strive to make the next work outshine the last one. Yes, Madame, that was always the driving force behind my own compositions.  After all, who could compete with me but Mois?

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Music and Words

WAM:  Madame Moreno, you promised me we would spend more time together.

MM:  I know.  I did.  And I’m sorry.  But I’m just way too busy today.

WAM:  Every Wednesday, you said.  From here on in, we would attend to our blogging every Wednesday.

MM:  I said that, yes, Amadé.  And I meant it at the time.  But that was last week, before I knew I had a final exam in music theory due tomorrow.

WAM:  Music theory, you say?  Now who could be more helpful to you than mois?  Who could enlighten you more?

MM:  Please don’t think me unkind Herr Mozart, but I’m afraid post-tonal music theory is beyond anything you’ve experienced.

WAM:  (SNORTS LOUDLY)  Madame?  To whom do you think you are speaking?

MM:  The musical genius of the 18th Century, of course.

WAM:  Musical genius of all time, my dear.  Excepting, of course, dear Mr. Bach.

MM:  Yes, Amadé, but there are those who have followed you and developed new techniques in the art of writing music. Berg.  Schoenberg.  Messaien. And too many more to mention here.

WAM:  Music is music, my dear.  Now allow me to help you with your examination questions.

MM:  Okay.  What is combinatoriality?

WAM:  Excuse me?

MM: Define invariant sectors.

WAM:  I beg your pardon.

MM:  Help me construct a 12-tone matrix.

WAM:  Are you making fun of me?

MM:  No, Amadé.  I’m just trying to illustrate how much 21st Century music differs from the music of the classical period.

WAM:  Evolved?  Indeed!  Are you saying it is superior to my music?

MM:  Of course not. But music reflects life the way it is today.  Contemporary composers don’t want to write like you, or Mr. Bach.  They can’t.  Their work would be poor imitations.  So they strive to create something completely different.

Come to think of it, it’s pretty much the same with writing fiction. Contemporary authors don’t try to imitate Jane Austen, or Agatha Christie, or Hemmingway.  We strive to write with original voices.

WAM:  Voices, yes.  Now that is something I can understand thoroughly.  When I composed my arias, I always took into consideration the unique properties of the voice of my soprano…

MM:  I don’t have time for this right now, Amadé, I really don’t.  I need to get back to my exam.


MM:  Please don’t be like that.  I promise we’ll get together next week and we’ll write something together.  Perhaps a new murder mystery.  Perhaps one that takes place in 18th C. Vienna.


Wednesday, May 8, 2013


Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart here, reporting in after an extended absence. Mme. Moreno and I have recently returned home from a delightful weekend in the company of people who commit murder for a living.

MM:  You may wish to clarify that, Amadé, lest readers get the wrong impression.

WAM:  From what I could gather, between visits to the lobby bar, my dear, Malice Domestic is an annual gathering of writers dedicated to partying and creating general mayhem, am I not correct?

MM:  Maybe I'd better take over from here.

WAM:  Please!  Must you always interrupt me?  You are not the only writer in the room, Madame!

MM:  True, but I'm the writer who purchased this computer, so I'll interrupt as I see fit, especially when I catch you straying from the truth, Amadé.  Malice Domestic is an annual event that celebrates the traditional mystery,  and it brings together both the authors and their fans.

WAM:  Now, fans are something I understand, although in my day we referred to them as audiences. Thousands of people from all over the Continent celebrated my music and attended my concerts and operas.

MM:  They still do today, and their numbers have swelled to millions. I am, perhaps, your biggest fan, Amadé, striving as I am to bring you into the 21st Century with your very own series of murder mysteries.

WAM:  Merci, Madame.  I am looking forward to that event with great anticipation.

MM:  So that's why I decided to attend my first Malice and get a better grasp of how this business works.

On the social side, I got to spend quality brainstorming time with my fabulous agent, Christine Witthohn, and to party with her extraordinary group of writers whom I'd previously met only online - Liz Lipperman, Kari Lee Townsend, Joni Sauer-Folger and Barbie Mahoney.

In a surprising moment of synchronicity, I sat next to a New York neighbor and multi-published author, Elizabeth Zelvin, at Saturday morning's Sisters In Crime breakfast.

I got to meet published authors whose work I've admired for years - Harlan Coben, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny. (Why didn't I think to get my picture taken with them??? Oh, well, maybe next year.)

I attended panels on how to negotiate the rocky road to joining their ranks. And I got to meet editors who may or may not publish our book one day.

WAM:  Brava!

MM:  But best of all, I came home fired up with enthusiasm, full of ideas for new projects, and renewed commitment to daily writing.

WAM:  If you do not mind my asking, what was the most important thing you learned?

MM:  I learned from Harlan Coben that even multi-published, successful authors are terrified of not being able to produce another book.  And that the only way to overcome this fear is to sit down and write!  So that's where I'm headed now.  Back to MS Word to work on the new novel.

WAM:  Mind if I tag along?

MM:  I wouldn't have it any other way!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

360º of MOZART

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, here, reporting from NYC in the 21st Century, and I must say, it is a bit more exciting than Vienna in the 18th.  Of course, back then Americans were preoccupied with asserting their independence, and not much concerned with culture.  But now - oh, my dear, the new world's innovations in music and concert presentations literally make my heart dance!  I must thank Mme. Moreno for providing me with the most exciting evening I've experienced in centuries.    

MM:  That concert was over two weeks ago, Amade.  A little late in your posting, aren't you?

WAM:  My dear, I see no room for criticism on your part, considering that you have not been heard from in well over a year.

MM:  Touche.  Anyway, I'm happy you enjoyed the concert.  I certainly did.  But then, you know I always love hearing your music.  Especially the work you composed during your Vienna days.

WAM:   Enjoyment is too modest a word for the emotions I felt whilst observing my Act I Finale from Don Giovanni performed in a most unique venue.  I believe "enraptured" would be more appropriate.  I must congratulate your generation on its innovation in concert programming, particularly as it applies to my music.

MM:  My friend is referring to the NY Philharmonic's concert presented in the drill room at the Park Avenue Armory on June 30, billed as "Philharmonic 360."  It was surround sound without benefit of Bose speakers.  And it was enhanced by lighting and living theater.

As we entered the drill room, we were greeted by a display of statues depicting women in 18th century gowns and powdered wigs.  At least I thought they were statues, until one by one, they started making subtle gestures like winks, smiles, and unobtrusive head turns.

WAM:  I could have sworn I saw my dear little wife, Constanze, in the milieu.

MM:  The audience was seated on risers, set up stadium style, with three stages for the orchestra interspersed among them.  There were also ensembles set up on a catwalk on either side of the room, as well as a group of woodwinds and percussion within our section.  The idea here was to perform spatial music the way the composers originally intended.

WAM:  My Don Giovanni Act I finale takes place in the scoundrel's castle, where he is entertaining a large group of guests that consists of both peasants and aristocracy.  I, in my genius, succeeded in composing a score that consists of three orchestras playing simultaneously in three different styles:  There was the main orchestra, usually seated in the pit, accompanying the arias and recitative, and two off-stage orchestras, one playing a minuet in 3/4 time for the aristocrats' dance of preference, the other playing a countredance in 2/4 time, popular among what you might now call the "middle class."  Later, another ensemble joins in, playing a German teisch, so popular among the peasants.

One might think that this would result in a cacophony, and in the hands of a lesser composer it might well have.  But I managed to weave all these disparate elements into harmonious bliss. 

MM:  Yes, you did, and the way the Philharmonic presented it was blissful, as well.  Before the Don Giovanni, the orchestra(s) played two other spatial pieces, by Gabrieli and Pierre Boulez.  While the setting up for the Mozart, the audience's attention was distracted by the living "statues," who ran into the room and performed a little theater, engaging with the audience members who were seated in the middle of the room, and pretending to sip champagne.  It turned out that these people were the chorus that accompanied the soloists.

Several of the soloists were seated, unnoticed, among the audience and would simply stand up at the appropriate times for their entrances and sing as they made their way down to the center of the room.  

WAM:  I couldn't have staged it better myself.  Well, I really couldn't, because the Vienna Staatsopera would not have allowed such intricate choreography.

MM:  The evening was rounded out by Stockhausen's Groupen, written for three orchestras, and Charles Ives "The Unanswered Question," a riveting piece that features the strings and woodwinds playing pianissimo and a lone trumpet repeating its poignant question throughout.  I left the Armory feeling as if I'd just had a gourmet musical meal, and so grateful to be living in New York.

WAM:  Yes, my dear, I will agree that your New York is growing on me, as well.  What's on for us next?

MM:  Tonight,  Madama Butterfly in the park!

WAM:  Hmm...yes, Puccini has his charms, as well.