Maestro Jan Schantzenbach discusses the relationship between Wagner and Mozart

Written By The Wagnerian on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 | 8:55:00 am

There are not as many novels whose central theme is opera as there are should be. There are even fewer about productions of Don Giovanni - actually I think you might make that there is only one. There are even fewer still, that contain, murder, ghosts and convoluted mysteries - actually make that only one also. There is certainly only one in which the Maestro (a central character) also loves Wagner (to put it mildly). Gale Martin - an associate  over at twitter, opera blogger, classical music reviewer at Bachtrack and now fine writer of fiction  (and all-round good egg) - has taken it upon herself to write such a beast: "Don Juan in Hankey, PA". While I am not a great fiction reader, I am reading it at the moment and and am enjoying the experience (should anyone be interested I shall write up a review on completion). 


With this in mind, I was very grateful when Gale agreed to interview her  tyrannical Maestro Jan Schantzenbach regarding his thoughts around the relationship between Mozart and Wagner. And now, over to the Maestro TW




Today’s special guest is Maestro Jan Schantzenbach, music director of the fictional Hankey Opera Company, from my newly released novel DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA.  (Word to the wise – Jan demands that he be called Maestro. They don’t call him the Teeny Tyrant for nothing.) He is, for the first time, conducting Don Giovanni in Hankey, Pennsylvania (in the novel). He placed in the top twenty in an international conductor’s competition in 2003. – Gale Martin

Maestro: First, let me offer a hearty hojotoho to The Wagnerian for a wonderfully informative and instructive blog.  I am honored to be here today.

GM: Maestro, since this a blog devoted to Wagner, I’m counting on you to make some connections between Mozart and Wagner.

Maestro:  A task easily accomplished, GM. As The Wagnerian has himself reported in a superb post on this blog, Wagner not only conducted Don Giovanni on many occasions, he counted on that particular opera (with some alteration of Wagner’s own making) to raise the standard of opera in Zurich.

GM: As a conductor, what comparisons might you draw between Mozart and Wagner?

Maestro:  First let me say that Wagner was intrigued by the music of other composers. He listened carefully and formed his opinions of the works of composers like Mozart deliberately and diligently. “Mozart’s music and Mozart’s orchestra are a perfect match,” Wagner was alleged to say.

GM:  Apart from the fact that Wagner, a great nationalist, disapproved of  a German-speaking composer like Mozart writing operas in Italian, on the surface of it, do Mozart and Wagner have anything in common?

Maestro:  Yes, in fact, they do. While the name Wagner is synonymous with opera, Mozart is generally regarded as the universal genius in all kinds of music.  However (und this is a big however), it is worth noting that opera was Mozart’s favorite part within his wide-ranging field of music composition.  In a letter dated February of 1778, Mozart wrote, “You know my greatest desire is—to write operas.” Both composers were, in their own fashion, both fascinating and somewhat repellent personalities—Mozart and Wagner’s private lives are both filled with embarrassing episodes.

GM: Thanks for those tidbits, Maestro. I didn’t know all this about Mozart while I was writing the book or I might have worked it in somehow.

Maestro:  Perhaps you should be thinking of a sequel, a spinoff of DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA with me as the central character.

GM: I’ll give it some thought. Back to the Mozart/Wagner analysis, is there anything dramatically different between the composers and the public’s acceptance of their work?

Maestro: Why, yes. Good question, GM. Mozart’s Italian operas never approached the same level of acceptance in Italy as Wagner’s operas in Germany. Not even close. Purportedly, Italian audiences are somewhat perplexed by Mozartian operas, never quite knowing when to applaud. It’s true that Mozart’s operas don’t have the same appeal to the galleries as some of the famous Italian composers (who shall remain nameless for this article—but we all know of whom I am speaking). However, in Don Giovanni, Mozart makes a irrevocable contribution to the world of opera. Richard Wagner is, of course, another significant figure in the history of opera.  So great was Wagner’s influence on opera that opera could never again be the same art form that it was before Wagner. I say this as one who fancies himself a 21st century Wagner.

GM: That’s quite the self-accorded accolade. Gosh, I didn’t know you composed, Maestro.

Maestro: I don’t. But if I were to write an opera, it would be in the vein of something by Wagner. (A self-satisfied smile crosses his face.) But I do conduct a magnificent Giovanni in DON JUAN IN HANKEY, PA. Readers will have to agree once they finish the book that I am the reason that the book is such a page-turner.

GM: Right. (GM furrows her brow at that comment.) Well, that concludes our interview with Maestro Jan Schantzenbach.  Thanks to our generous host, The Wagnerian, for sharing his blog with us today. If you’re curious about Maestro’s assertion that he is the main reason to keep reading the novel, you can buy the book in print and e-book versions at:  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at iBooks from iTunes today and find out for yourself.