VIENNA -- Take a whiff of Mozart, the latest perfume on sale in the shops of Vienna and Salzburg. Or bite into the new, improved version of the Mozartkugel, that popular Austrian confection of marzipan and chocolate, named after the country's most popular classical music export.
With scents and tastes as well as the familiar sounds of Mozart's compositions, Austria is girding itself for the "Mozartjahr," a yearlong onslaught of activities cultural and commercial commemorating the bicentennial of his death here in 1791.
For decades, Austrian entrepreneurs have named liqueurs, movie theaters, pastries, hotels and coffee houses after the composer. The Mozart Year is expected to bring even more onto the market. But organizers of the impending festivities say they are quietly hoping to keep Mozartmania under control.
"We cannot forbid someone from inventing Mozart slippers or from giving a poodle a Mozart cut," said Peter Weiser, assigned by Mayor Helmut Zilk to direct the municipal celebration. "It's impossible. We have a free economy and a free market, but we don't encourage these things. If a firm comes to us, which they often do, I've made an effort to discourage a plan when it was idiotic.
"For instance, in Mozart's time you used chamber pots, and there was somebody who wanted to produce chamber pots with Mozart on the bottom of the pot, in miniature, in every size, even for use. So I said, 'I don't think it's a very good idea.' We had long talks about this. And then I gave him another idea that had nothing to do with Mozart. I said, 'Why don't you do it and put Lenin and Marx on it and sell it to Czechoslovakia?' ... He was delighted."
In keeping with the city's professed efforts to minimize such kitsch, Vienna will kick off the bicentennial on Dec. 5, the 199th anniversary of Mozart's death, with a scholarly exhibition on his final decade, the years 1781 to 1791, which he spent in the imperial capital.
The seriousness of this endeavor was made clear in the choice of Marie-Louise von Plessen, deputy director of Berlin's German History Museum, as chief curator. Von Plessen won acclaim earlier this year for the museum's inaugural exhibition, devoted to the life of Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
"Maybe there will be a quite harsh reaction against the concept of the exhibition because there is nothing of kitsch within it," she said in an interview about the upcoming show, entitled "Mozart and His Age." "It's rather the contrary, like a laboratory where he is laid out with all of what has survived and been documented, nothing else."
The exhibition, to be held in the Kuenstlerhaus, where the "Vienna 1900" show drew international attention in 1985, aims in part to counterbalance the false picture of Mozart's life painted by the Milos Forman film "Amadeus." The theory that Mozart was poisoned by the composer Salieri will be swiftly dispatched through documentary evidence, according to von Plessen.
It will also show that, contrary to the popular myth that he was abandoned by Viennese society, toward the end of his life Mozart was on the way to repaying his debts and that his body was not cast into a pauper's grave after brief obsequies in a side chapel of St. Stephen's Cathedral.
Along with setting the record straight, von Plessen will further attempt to trace the creation of a genius cult around Mozart in the early 1800s and how his life was distorted by biographers seeking to boost sales of their books.
"The real conditions of Mozart's life got more and more confused by the way he became more and more famous after his death," she said. "He is in a way easily exploited, although he is not at all easy. He is very difficult. But his music is so pleasant. You couldn't do it with Schoenberg, you could never do it with Beethoven. Mozart is always pleasant, and he never really depresses. He always gives you a sort of kick because he is so harmonious. You must have a lot of musical understanding to be able to listen and find out about the contradictions and dissonances within his work."
There will be plenty of opportunities in Vienna during the coming year to sample Mozart's musical mastery, which totaled than 600 published works. "There will be so much Mozart that perhaps after the Mozartjahr one won't want to hear about him anymore," worries State Opera Director Claus Helmut Drese. In the view of city bicentennial director Weiser, "We did a bad job if people are saying at the end of the year, 'Thank God it's over.' ... But I don't think we are making too much music."
The city's two main orchestras, the Vienna Philharmonic and the Vienna Symphony, will be performing a series of commemorative concerts under the direction of conductors including Claudio Abbado, Daniel Barenboim, Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Seiji Ozawa.
"We are absolutely sure that during the Mozartjahr the same conductors will conduct the same works with the same orchestras, from New York to London to Vienna to Tokyo," said Weiser. But Vienna has the unique ability to present much of the music where it was first performed, and the Viennese maintain that no others can play Mozart as well.
"There's a difference when a Brazilian plays the samba and when I do," said Martin Kerschbaum, a timpanist with the Vienna Symphony. "There are few things we can truly be proud of, and how we play Mozart is one of them. We have a tradition."
Aside from the panoply of concerts in the main Viennese halls, the Musikverein and Konzerthaus, hundreds more will be performed in their historical settings, starting with Schoenbrunn Palace, where the 6-year-old Mozart dazzled Empress Maria Theresa. Open-air performances of his operas will be staged in front of the palace, and an outdoor festival of Mozart opera films will be screened at Vienna's city hall.
One of Vienna's oldest churches, St. Michael's, where Mozart's children were baptized, will incorporate the composer's entire oeuvre of ecclesiastical music into its Sunday masses throughout the year.
The State Opera will have nine Mozart productions running in May and June and again from September to December. These include new productions of "La Clemenza di Tito," the rare "Lucio Silla" and "The Marriage of Figaro." "Nine Mozart productions will be performed 40 times in one month," boasts director Drese. "No other opera house can pull that off."
At next summer's Salzburg Festival, in Mozart's birthplace, seven Mozart operas will be staged, beginning July 26 with "The Magic Flute" under the direction of Sir Georg Solti. And Austrian state television plans broadcasts of "Don Giovanni," "The Marriage of Figaro" and "Cosi fan tutte" in provocative contemporary versions by Peter Sellars. These were originally produced for the Summerfare Festival in Upstate New York, but have been filmed in the network's Vienna studios for worldwide transmission.
The commemoration climaxes on December 5, 1991, with a performance in St. Stephen's Cathedral of Mozart's last work, the unfinished Requiem, by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra and the chorus and soloists of the State Opera. Leonard Bernstein had been scheduled to conduct, and the city is currently looking for a replacement for the maestro, who died this month.