What Makes Mozart So Great? Bringing the Classics to the General Public

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Mozart, the prodigy, at age 14 in Verona. Painting by Saverio dalla Rosa.

Mozart, the prodigy, at age 14 in Verona. Painting by Saverio dalla Rosa.

Classical musicians know what makes a composer great. They study the masters and perform their works time and again. But what about the rest of the world? Does the ordinary person really appreciate the true power of music? The power of the classical greats, that is? Not to belittle the contemporary popular music styles, but one really can’t experience the true power of music until one is totally immersed in it; until one receives the guidance to understand and to unleash its full potential.

Classical musicians around the world try to do just that.

Composer and conductor Robert Kapilow hopes to inspire listeners of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to revel in the wonders and mysteries of classical greats like Mozart.

Peggy Hills, Artistic Director of the Chamber Music Society of Mississauga, takes classical music into the classroom to inspire young minds to observe, to listen, to appreciate and, hopefully, to understand.

Are they alone in this quest? Who else ventures down this path of revealing great music to the likes of ordinary people who only want to listen to contemporary popular music styles?

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The Power of Music in the Classroom

Understanding music, any kind of music, requires some rudimentary understanding the construction and evolution of music – who wrote it and why. This is where music can and should be part of the educational curriculum. Peggy Hills points out in the Chamber Music Society of Mississauga that, “exposing your kids to the arts while they are young helps ensure they appreciate arts and culture when they are older.” Her programs reach out to people of all ages, creating and combining music with dance, story and visual expression to bring music alive, to make all who listen understand and appreciate the power of the music.

Robert Kapilow, in his recent pop concerts with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, has the same goal in mind – demystifying the great classics. It’s really quite simple. Music, as a language, a means of expressing thoughts and emotions, needs only to be broken down into understandable pieces. “We need to break down the artifice,” Kapilow points out in The Star. “Music is filled with humanity and emotion. Just as theatre needs great audiences, music needs great listeners. You don’t have to know Italian, German or French. All you have to do is listen.”

What a concert, a musical performance, really needs is involvement. People need to be and to feel engaged in the whole experience; they need to be invited “inside the music.” Children danced in the aisles at a recent concert at the Lincoln Center in New York, horrifying the organizers. They shouldn’t be horrified. As Kapilow points out in The Star, the children’s “response to the music showed that they were listening and really hearing it.”

Music to the Masses: Historically Speaking

This idea of bringing music to the general public is certainly not new. Composers have long explored means of making their musical accessible, understandable and appreciated by all.

The English composer, Benjamin Britten (1913-1976), wrote his orchestral showpiece, The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra (1945), with that idea clearly in his mind.

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (1835-1921) wrote his Carnival of the Animals (1886) as a fun piece to entertain his young students and to bring them into the music.

Sergei Sergeyevich Prokofiev (1891-1953) wrote his beloved Peter and the Wolf (1936) with the intent of cultivating musical tastes in children.

And the list goes on.


We, as humans, seem to need never-ending stimulation in the form of constant entertainment in order to fulfill our lives, our souls, our very being. We tend to believe that music from the Classical greats is beyond our meager sense of understanding. But it isn’t. The power is in the music. All we have to do is listen, to really listen. As Peggy Hills points out in the CMSM, “Music is the instrument that develops young minds!” Music is also the instrument that enriches the soul and enhances the minds and capabilities of all of humanity.


Crawford, Trish. What Makes it Great?: Composer demystifies Mozart with a series of Toronto concerts. (2013). The Toronto Star.
 Accessed November 12, 2013.

CMSM. Chamber Music Society of Mississauga. (2013). Accessed November 12, 2013.

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© Copyright 2013 Emily-Jane Hills Orford, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Past

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