In Search of a Divertimento

I saw Out of Africa in 1986 on the big screen in Mum­bai, when I passed my Xth grade. I was mes­mer­ized by the movie’s visu­al grandeur and swept off my feet by the music. Lat­er in 1987, I man­aged to rent a VHS video cas­sette and savored it sev­er­al times. There were two hyp­not­ic sequences in the film that had the same back­ground score — a West­ern Clas­si­cal piece by Mozart:

First, when Karen (Meryl Streep) is walk­ing alone in her farm and hears the sound of music for the first time in her farm. She seeks the source of the sound and dis­cov­ers Denys (Robert Red­ford) play­ing a gramo­phone. “Look, they final­ly made a machine that’s real­ly use­ful!”, he exclaims.Out Of Africa

Sec­ond, when they’re on safari, Denys places the gramo­phone with a string attached in the wilder­ness near a pack of baboons. He pulls on the string to play the music and see how the baboons react. After the baboons jerk off the pick­up, he says “Think of it: nev­er a man-made sound…and then Mozart!”.

The music sound­ed dev­il­ish­ly sim­ple, yet there was sub­tle com­plex­i­ty. It was spir­it­ed, vibrant, mis­chie­vous, and relent­less.

I was obsessed with that piece of music. Through the end­ing movie cred­its on the overused VHS cas­sette, I could iden­ti­fy it as a Diver­ti­men­to, but could not dis­cern the Kochel cat­a­log num­ber. This was 1987: West­ern Clas­si­cal music was vir­tu­al­ly unheard of in India. There were no west­ern clas­si­cal cas­settes avail­able in shops — and if there were a few in Mumbai’s Rhythm House, they were beyond my mid­dle-class, student’s pock­et. More­over, how could I get this piece with­out know­ing the full details?

My elder broth­er then went to the US for a year and on my insis­tence, brought back the Sound­track CD of the movie. I was elat­ed, and then dis­ap­point­ed when I found that the Diver­ti­men­to was not on the CD!

I then learnt that Max Mueller Bha­van in Mum­bai had a large west­ern clas­si­cal col­lec­tion and offered a free student’s mem­ber­ship, where you could bor­row 3 music cas­settes a week. I trav­eled to the Bha­van every week­end, por­ing over the col­lec­tion. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, most of the cas­settes didn’t even have any titles or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the con­tents. I didn’t relent, and picked my lot­tery cas­settes every week. And one day, vio­la! I got the Diver­ti­men­to on one cas­sette and imme­di­ate­ly cre­at­ed my copy. I still didn’t know the Kochel cat­a­log num­ber, but I had it on cas­sette. This mir­a­cle hap­pened in 1988.

In the 90s, I dis­cov­ered a site called “Clas­sics of the Sil­ver Screen”. It was an excel­lent resource for iden­ti­fy­ing oper­at­ic and clas­si­cal works used in pop­u­lar Hol­ly­wood films. How­ev­er, the Diver­ti­men­to was not list­ed for Out of Africa. I wrote to the web­mas­ter, and he didn’t know about it either. Nei­ther did IMDB. (Both these sites now list it). But soon, the Inter­net explod­ed, and by 2000, I dis­cov­ered that it was the 1st move­ment “Alle­gro”, of the Diver­ti­men­to in D Major, K. 136.

In 2001, when I dis­cov­ered in Gutman’s Cul­tur­al Biog­ra­phy of Mozart, that this Diver­ti­men­to was com­posed by Mozart in 1772 — when he was just a teen of 16 years — I wept.

What a jour­ney through the years! What is this obses­sion? Insane? Stu­pid? Call it what­ev­er you wish, this is the way I am! It took me almost 16 years to find out the music com­posed over 225 years ago by a 16 year-old. It will take less than 16 min­utes today. Here’s the YouTube ver­sion con­duct­ed by Menuhin:

This is what tech­nol­o­gy does — aren’t our chil­dren lucky?

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  • hmm. you took me back to 1998, I was in grade 11 when I first saw this movie. Didn’t have to fight so hard to get Diver­ti­men­to 😉 In fact I heard it live recent­ly, played by a group of under­grads at the music school.

  • Priyank: Wow! How I envy you! 🙂

  • Very inter­est­ing, and real­ly, I appre­ci­ate what you say only too well.

    Ahem..Mahendra, you said “Baboons jerk off”. I am sure they do, but in Africa or Out of Africa??
    (I joke, I laugh.…joining me??)

  • In the sec­ond line of the above com­ment, I wrote a line with­in pointy brack­ets that your Word­Press delet­ed.
    “Aside: This sounds too prim and prop­er for me, right? Let’s be true to char­ac­ter!”

  • Ramana: I should’ve known this was com­ing! 🙂 Dun­no why Word­Press edit­ed part. I also checked if it had some­how con­sid­ered it as spam but it had not. Thanks for the appre­ci­a­tion and yes, I had a good laugh!

  • I think any­thing with­in the angled brack­ets gets recog­nised as HTML cod­ing or some­thing.

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