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Thursday, 25 May, 2000, 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK
Long-lost Mozart comes to London

By BBC Monitoring's Paula Kennedy

A long-lost opera with music by Mozart is to receive its first European performance since 1814 at London's Hampstead and Highgate Festival on Saturday.

Mozart was persuaded to compose some of the music for The Philosopher's Stone by his friend, the Viennese actor and impresario Emanuel Schikaneder, in the summer of 1790.

Schikaneder was in a hurry to produce a musical comedy in time for the autumn season at Vienna's Theater auf der Wieden, and so drew on the services of three other composer friends in addition to Mozart.

The resulting piece of musical teamwork was such a success that it remained in the repertory for 25 years - an unusual achievement at the time. More importantly, it laid the foundation for the creative partnership between Mozart and Schikaneder which in 1791 produced The Magic Flute.

Mozart: The movie may be misleading
Like The Magic Flute - one of Mozart's greatest works - The Philosopher's Stone is a fairytale opera which contains much attractive and tuneful music.

One of the numbers now known to be by Mozart, the delightful Cat duet, clearly anticipates the comic duet for Papageno and Papagena in The Magic Flute.

The rediscovery of The Philosopher's Stone came about almost by accident. In 1996 an American musicologist, David Buch, visited Hamburg to do some research for a book on supernatural elements in 18th century musical theatre.

I did a double-take just to see if anyone was looking over my shoulder

David Buch
Going through archive material from the Hamburg Theatre collection that had recently been returned to Germany after its removal by the Soviet army 50 years earlier, Professor Buch came across a manuscript score of The Philosopher's Stone. He was startled to see Mozart's name over several numbers.

"I did a double-take just to see if anyone was looking over my shoulder," he said.

However, as the manuscript was not in Mozart's own hand - it was a copy dating from a few years after the composer's death - the inscription did not in itself prove anything.

The Philosopher's Stone in Mozart's time
To corroborate his finding, Professor Buch had to establish that the person responsible for making the copy would have been in a position to know the authorship of individual numbers. Much musicological detective work later, he appears to have done just that. The copyist at the Theater auf der Wieden in the early 1790s was Kaspar Weiss, a Slovene-born actor and singer who was on intimate terms with Mozart, Schikaneder and their circle.

Professor Buch feels it would be wrong to dismiss The Philosopher's Stone as unworthy of attention just because it was a collaborative effort.

"This notion of Mozart as an isolated genius producing towering masterpieces is 19th century romantic nonsense," he says.

Contrary to the popular image reinforced by Peter Schaffer's 1979 play Amadeus, The Philosopher's Stone shows that Mozart was happy to work with other composers - in fact, there is evidence to suggest that he collaborated with Benedict Schack, one of his co-authors in this project, on other occasions too.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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