The Mozart Question performed for HMD 2022 at the Minerva Theatre Chichester
The Mozart Question is a children’s novel set in the modern day about an acclaimed violinist Paolo Levi and his family’s connection to the Holocaust. In short the novel follows Paolo as he recounts the story of how his parents were both interned in a concentration camp and forced to play in the camp orchestra.
Sir Michael Morpurgo, deals with a very challenging issue in this short tale :–
how can we talk about and try to understand the trials and tragedies of the past? How do we heal the impact of the extreme situations which have damaged and still haunt survivors – things their descendants frequently struggle to understand? Especially in the face of many survivors reluctance to talk about let alone discuss their terrible experiences.
When a young reporter is sent an interview with a famous violinist, she is warned not to ask ‘the Mozart question’ i.e. why he will not play Mozart. She is not told of what this means and so she is able to develop an extremely meaningful and significant conversation with a descendant – of a survivor – of a Nazi concentration camp.
‘The Mozart Question’ represents many of the unasked questions we have for survivors of war. In this story, we might ask:
- Why doesn’t Paulo’s Papa play his violin anymore?
- Why did his mother never reveal that she also played violin?
- How will they react to Paulo’s violin lessons?
It explores how something so moving as Mozart’s music can be used for evil purposes; it shirks nothing and yet is suitable for family audiences; the play highlights the courage and resilience of human beings in the most evil and perilous of circumstances. Sir Michaels work reminds us of how cruel people can be.
Lesley – the young reporter- is sent to Venice to interview the world-famous violinist Paulo Levi on his fiftieth birthday. She is told that she can ask him anything at all – except the Mozart question. But it is Paulo himself who decides that the time has come for the truth to be told. And so follows the story of his parents in a concentration camp, forced to play Mozart violin concertos for the enemy; how they watched fellow Jews being led off to death and knew that as long as they were played they themselves would live.
Over the course of the interview, Lesley begins to understand the full horror the camps- and how one group of musicians survived because of the only talent they had and that it was one useful to the SS.
In the Minerva Sir Michael himself together with Alison Read who played Lesley the young journalist are -in essence- are narrators of the story.
The Music was led, and led magnificently by violinist Daniel Pioro.
It was in the words of one attendee :
‘the most moving evening I have ever attended at the theatre.’
The theme of HMD 2022 was ‘One Day’ and at the introduction to the evening Clare Apel Chair of the Trustees of CMHMD chose the day of the Anschluss which ultimately led to the death of some 40 of her family. Then immediately prior to his chanting the Al Moleh Rachamim for the Shoah, the prayer for the souls of the dead of the Holocaust, Ralph Apel chose the 24th of August 1942 the day his brother, sister and his grandfather together with his uncles aunts, cousins, his father’s uncles aunts and cousins coming to a total of 250 persons, were forced onto trains leading to Treblinka and Auschwitz. None survived.