Michael Morpurgo: the Mozart Question


Edinburgh Book Festival

Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, Charlotte Square


20 August ONLY




Michael Morpurgo, instead of doing the usual “I’m going to talk to someone about my new book” session, gave us a wonderful story-with-music which has to be one of the highest highlights of my festivals year.


Alison Reid begins the story.  A newly-employed cub reporter, she is unexpectedly sent to Venice in place of her injured editor to interview Paolo Levi, the world-famous violinist – who never gives interviews (this one has taken months to set up), is about to give his 60th birthday concert, is very difficult, and MUST NOT BE ASKED THE MOZART QUESTION.  No matter that the young reporter has no idea what the Mozart Question is, has never done an interview of this magnitude before, and really doesn’t know what she’s doing – she can’t refuse this opportunity, even though she is aware that failure will cost her her job.


She goes to Venice and meets the violinist, who seems to be able to read her mind: she is desperate to get this right, but finds it hard to think straight.  In desperation she asks what made him pick up a violin for the first time.  Instead of answering her question directly, he tells her the story of the young Paolo Levi, son of the best barber in Venice; how Paolo knew his father used to play the violin but doesn’t any more, and must not be asked about that, and what happens when his mother finally yields to his insistent questioning and shows him the violin that’s hidden in her bedroom.  It’s a gripping, fascinating, disturbing and unforgettable story, as we discover why Palo refuses ever to answer the Mozart Question.  What raises it to magical heights was not simply the nature and the manner of its telling [and MM is indeed a master storyteller] but the interjection into the story of music from a staggeringly talented solo violinist and an equally marvellous young string quartet, who held the audience of young children and their parents spellbound throughout.  The story and the music were intertwined, complementing and illustrating each other, fusing words and music into a whole that was greater than the sum of the two separate elements.


It’s a magnificent and deeply-moving piece: if ever you get a chance to hear it, go!  The audience hung on every word, and raised the roof at the end, both for the storytellers and, if possible, even more so for the young musicians who had transported us into a magic world of sound and emotion.



Mary Woodward