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MUSIC : MOZART INC. : 1991 EARNINGS REPORT : If Wolfgang Amadeus were alive today, he'd be the richest 235-year old man in the world.

February 24, 1991|LAURENCE VITTES | Laurence Vittes is a free-lance writer.

Everyone knows the Mozart myth.

His talent was so great that he wrote symphonies in his sleep, but he mismanaged his money and was buried in a pauper's grave.

Things are different today for successful classical composers. Some, like Krzysztof Penderecki and Luciano Berio, are reputed to be millionaires.

How much money would Mozart make if he were alive today?

"He'd be a multimillionaire," says composer Lalo Schifrin, adding, as many did, "but he'd need a good agent."

"As a recording artist," says industry executive Michael Olsen, "Mozart would make more than Paul McCartney."

"If he were alive and I were his publisher, I'd be talking to you from my Rolls Royce limousine," says Tom Broido, in charge of performance promotion for leading classical publisher Theodore Presser.

"Mozart's fee per concert could be as much as $100,000," says Michael Blachly, associate director of UCLA's Center for the Performing Arts.

Mozart merchandising mania last surfaced--the 1984 movie "Amadeus" aside--in 1977 when the European division of Philips Classics released a mammoth collection of 145 LPs arranged according to genre and packaged in 16 moss-green, gold-imprinted boxes taking up more than two feet of shelf-space.

But that wasn't enough for Philips' Japanese division. They offered 183 LPs (the extras were devoted to rarities and works by other composers) and arranged them, compulsively, in chronological order. The set, which came packaged in its own bookcase, included a new biography and a revised version of the standard Koechel catalogue of Mozart's works. Nippon Phonogram's efforts were rewarded. Over a three-year period, the Japanese edition sold 3,500 copies (640,500 LPs) and rang the cash register for 1.274 billion yen (about $10 million).

Seven years before "Amadeus."

There was no sentiment attached to the project. According to Nippon Phonogram executive Tadaatsu Atarashi, Philips "did not have any special reasons to compile the edition at the time but commercial ones."

Translation: They wanted to make money on Mozart.

Now that it's 1991, the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, everyone has a special reason to make money on Mozart.

The live concert world is dominated by the Mozart Bicentennial at Lincoln Center, 500 events stretching through August 1992, during which time all of Mozart's works will be performed by the Center's eleven resident companies. There will be ballets, films, exhibits, lectures and theater works. Coordinating costs alone are estimated at close to $3 million; the actual production costs are incalculable.

This year's Salzburg Festival--in Mozart's birthplace--will feature six Mozart operas plus the world premiere of an opera by Helmut Eder called "Mozart in New York." Mozart-mania is also evident in Vienna, Nice and San Francisco.

Locally, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra has begun a series of five concerts titled "Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Portrait of an Artist," recreating the look and feel of concerts Mozart might have staged. The L.A. Philharmonic, which had initially taken a casual attitude toward the Bicentennial, will devote a block of four Hollywood Bowl concerts in August to Mozart. On Dec. 5, Mozart's birthday, the Philharmonic will stage a 12-hour Mozart Marathon at the Music Center. And the Mozarteum Orchestra of Salzburg appears at the Orange County Performing Arts Center on March 4.

You can catch Mozart on the tube too. Bravo began showing eight operas in authentically staged productions filmed especially for television by Rainer Moritz at the unique 18th-Century theater in Drottningholm, Sweden, beginning last week with "The Marriage of Figaro." In June, the Metropolitan Opera's new production of "The Magic Flute" will air on PBS, which just finished airing Peter Sellars' controversial trilogy of Mozart operas.

For musicians, the authoritative Baerenreiter edition of Mozart's complete works is being published in a 20-volume paperback set. At $1,425 it will be an dearly coveted, if expensive, treasure.

For its part, Philips has updated the 1977 concept to a 180-CD set called "The Complete Mozart Edition." The "standard" version, which is now being released in the United States, comes packaged in 45 volumes (7 now available; the rest scheduled for release between now and November).

Not surprisingly, the Japanese division has again repackaged the set. Although its version contains the same number of CDs, it comes in 15 gorgeous volumes each with a full-size, fully illustrated, 200-page book. The Japanese edition is being sold exclusively through Shogakukan, Japan's largest book club, for 380,000 yen (about $3,000). Sales have already exceeded 7,000 copies. Another $21 million for Mozart!

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