“Any tips on how to be a prodigy?” I ask British film director Phil Grabsky.

The man has spent the past few years inside the heads of three of the most famous composers in the Western canon: Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. He must have noticed some similarities.

“It takes a lot of hard work.” Phil’s answer gets a laugh from the Cinema Paradiso audience. “Seriously, any notion that Mozart just tossed out the music without any effort simply isn’t true. He didn’t go to school, he spent his entire childhood studying music with his father. He worked very hard his whole life.”

Well Phil ought to know. He is up to his third documentary of famous composers. In Search of Haydn reconstructs Haydn’s life using performances and interviews from today’s most admired classical musicians. The documentaries are much loved around the world and paricularly in Australia where In Search of Beethoven and In Search of Mozart made it into the top 10 all-time most popular documentaries.

Classical composer Haydn

 I suspect I wasn’t the only one at the preview screening of In Search of Haydn who learned many new things about the 18th century celebrity composer. In his day he was more famous than Mozart. In England he dined with royalty even though at home in Austria/Hungary he was ranked a livery-wearing servant of the Esterhazy house.

I hadn’t realised Haydn’s childhood was spent dominated by the ritual of the Catholic Church. He left home at the age of six and became a choir boy at St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. I suppose that explains his ability to write so fluently for voice. He spent twenty years writing operas for the Esterhazy family, who had no less than two opera theatres custom built in their gardens. In 1778 Haydn composed a staggering 50 operas in one year, which grew to 120 performances a year. This must have been before TV!

In Search of Haydn completes the trilogy of films Grabsky has written on the great composers. (Although during our interview Phil mentioned he is entertaining the notion of another doco on Chopin.) I’d reccommend these if you like your classical music and enjoy watching live performances. Filmed with beautiful cinematography and laced with humour, this has to be the easiest way to ‘read up’ on famous composers.