Mozart: A Life

Jul 20, 2021 in Book Review

Introduction

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is one of the most famous composers of classical music in the world. His contribution to classical music is so significant that the pieces he composed are popular even now, several hundred years since he died. The book Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon unfolds the details of the life of the famous composer, discussing the perspectives of a talented musician in Europe in the 18th century. The book consists of four parts each devoted to a specific period of the composer’s life. Starting from Mozart’s birth, Maynard Solomon closely retells the story of his life, highlighting its most critical periods and the outcomes for the composer and his musical inventions. Although the author fails to discuss Mozart’s life by providing a strong flow and coherent structure of the book, this source is still useful for musicians and scholars interested in the peculiarities of the creation of classical music.

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Beginnings

The first part of the book entitled Beginnings presents the story of a young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who was recognized as a promising student of music and who gradually evolved as a successful public performer. The author considers that it is necessary to explore the life details of the father of the famous composer in the chapter “Leopold Mozart” as his education and the attitude toward life and the people significantly impacted the development and education of his son. By analyzing the character of Mozart’s father, Solomon brings the idea that his failure to become a composer turned into the will to make his son a prominent composer. Thus, the beginning of the book is a valuable insight into the issues that played a critical role in Mozart’s formation as a person.

The chapter “Early Days” presents different facts about Mozart’s family before his birth, as well as explores the circumstances of his birth and the details of his upbringing and education. The author makes an attempt to convince the reader that young Mozart was a genius capable of composing small pieces of music, and his father was doing everything possible for Mozart to progress in music.

In the chapter “The Grand Journey,” the author introduces the idea of a never-ending journey, which became Mozart’s lifestyle since childhood. His first tour lasted over 3.5 years, and during that time, the boy turned into a celebrity in Europe. Solomon suggests that a young boy was talented since childhood, which is why Mozart’s father used him to earn money for the family. Therefore, Solomon unveils the relationship that presumably was hidden from the public attention. As a result, as the next chapter “The Family Treasure,” suggests, the family journey brought both recognition and financial success to Mozart’s family even though the boy hardly turned nine years.

According to Solomon, a young Mozart had unique performing and composing skills, but the leading role of his father directed his talent toward achieving mostly financial benefit. Disregarding this fact, the author indicates the first steps of Mozart as an autonomous learner and composer. For instance, in the chapter “A Vienna Solojun,” the book focuses the reader’s attention on the fact that Mozart started composing symphonies of the Viennese symphonic tradition and had moderate success. Together with this, Leopold Mozart developed a strategy of making his son a popular musician by seeking influential patrons in different cities and countries. Thus, the author tries to discus Mozart’s learning and development from the perspective of an average observer, who does not specialize in music. This can be proved by the absence of the analysis of Mozart’s earlier works and their comparison and contrast with the ones published during the composer’s adulthood.

The final chapter of the first part of the book “Italian Journeys” has a similar approach as in the previous chapters and focuses on the role of the three of Mozart’s journeys to Italy. However, this time, Solomon utilizes different music terms and refers to the opinions of the musicians and composers of that time, who supported the idea that a young Mozart was a promising composer. For instance, his serenata surpassed the work of a famous composer of that time Johann Adolph Hasse, which he admitted personally. Therefore, the author is convinced that Mozart’s creative productivity was growing together with the number of his experiences during numerous journeys. In order to support this position, Solomon refers to the memories of different musicians and composers regarding the growing success of the little boy.

Salzburg

In the second part of the book, Salzburg presents Mozart’s experience in this city associated with numerous rises and falls both in his career and personal life. Thus, the author prefers to divide the book into four parts according to Mozart’s locations, which is a doubtful approach. In contrast, a more beneficial approach could have been to divide the book according to his different contributions and experiences. For instance, the first part could have presented Mozart’s life, whereas the second one could have discussed his progress as a composer by means of analyzing his works in different periods of life. In this sense, assigning the parts of the book to Mozart’s locations, the author fails to utilize a systematic approach to the analysis of the composer’s life.

In the chapter “The Favorite Son”, the author admits Mozart’s success and recognition due to which he enjoyed popularity and financial independence and was free to experiment with the music. During this period, the composer created numerous piano concertos, violin concertos, and church music. An apt approach of the author is explaining the reason why some of Mozart’s pieces are focused on violin as a solo instrument supported by the orchestra: for Mozart, the violin was one of the favorite instruments that he mastered individually. Due to such explanations, Solomon’s contribution to the reader’s understanding of Mozart as an individual and a composer is unique and valuable.

The chapter “A Composer’s Voice” discusses the circumstances in which Mozart developed an individual style and realized that his style was different from others. This self-revelation came after numerous experiments and attempts to compose different musical pieces that initially lacked originality. Furthermore, in “A Fool’s Errand,” Solomon discusses Mozart’s hard experience of struggling for a job and having relations with different people surrounding him. The problems with the job were partially associated with his young age, character, attitudes toward different cities and individuals, including the patrons. The author’s opinion regarding these issues is that life crises significantly enriched the quality of the composer’s music.

One of the chapters that characterize Mozart’s controversial personality is “Mozart in Love” where the author discusses the aspects of the private life of the composer as he had a rather challenging relationship with his cousin Maria Anna Mozart and Aloysia Lange. Experiencing constant attraction to both, Mozart finally betrayed Maria Anna Mozart in favor of Aloysia Lange, but his inner struggle due to his affection for the two remained in the young composer and added tragedy to his works. According to the author, the tragedy intensified even more after the death of Mozart’s mother, which is discussed in “A Mother’s Death.” There was no proper treatment for an ill woman although the doctors attempted to cure her disease, so the family recognized that her death was inevitable. The death of his mother was significant stress for Mozart and a hard burden on his father as he blamed himself for the death of his wife. In these chapters, Solomon follows a similar opinion that the stresses of this life period were for Mozart the catalysts for producing outstanding musical pieces.

Furthermore, in the chapters “Parallel Lives,” and “Farewell to Salzburg,” Solomon describes the circumstances of Mozart’s life, which led him to leave Salzburg. One of the most valuable chapters for musicians is “Trouble in Paradise” as the author analyzes Mozart’s composing style. According to Solomon, many Mozart’s pieces combine calm and “storming” parts that add drama to his music and reflect the flow of his life. Along with this, the experience and knowledge together with the passion for musical experiments allowed Mozart to use innovative combinations of chromatisms, modulations, and other tools. Solomon believes that such experiments significantly contributed to the composer’s style and demonstrated outstanding composing art.

Unfortunately, the author fails to discuss the musical components of Mozart’s works deeper, which may lead to the lack of interest to the book among the professional musicians. Thus, after analyzing Mozart’s music, Solomon returns to the discussion of his life and draws a parallel between Mozart senior and Mozart junior, finding numerous similarities, which are discussed in the chapter entitled “Parallel Lives.” Therefore, the major disadvantage of the book is the failure to give a comprehensive and, at the same time, adequately structured picture of Mozart’s life. Attempting to mention as many factors that impacted Mozart’s composing skills as possible, Solomon forgets about the need for making smooth and coherent transitions between the chapters. For this reason, some of the readers may be irritated by the lack of a deeper coverage of the topic of Mozart’s music. In contrast, others may not want to read the characteristics of his musical pieces as the book’s title indicates that the author discusses only the life of the composer.

Vienna

The third part of the book Vienna presents a period during which the popularity and recognition of Mozart reached their climax although some obstacles, such as financial problems, were also present. In the chapter “Arrival,” Solomon explores the initial agitation and expectations of Mozart, who was ready to meet new challenges in life. One of his initial steps was refusing from the patronage of the Archbishop and searching for individual success. The chapter “Constanze” tells a story of Mozart’s affair with Constanze Weber, who later became his wife and the beloved mother of their children. Furthermore, the chapter “Two Families” discusses the challenge for Mozart to maintain a positive relationship both with the wife and the father. Finally, Weber’s family accepted Mozart, and the composer could now enjoy constant support.

One more time, surprisingly, the author breaks a discussion of Mozart’s life with the chapter “Adam,” in which he speculates regarding Mozart’s selection of the name Adam. This section of the book, together with many others, is not directly related to Mozart’s life and raises the question of its importance in the book, or at least in the discussed part of the book. Solomon could have written another part of the book that would serve him as a section for reflections and discussions of secondary factors in Mozart’s life. However, the author fails to do it, which may mislead a reader, who prefers reading biographies instead of the author’s speculations regarding different topics of secondary importance.

In the next chapter entitled “The Impresario,” the author returns to the previous manner of narration and explores the peculiarities of the skill and composing talent of Mozart during the Vienna period. In particular, the writer claims that Mozart created many works that led to his recognition by the aristocracy and financial stability. Thus, he became a remarkable performer-composer with an unprecedented number of concerts.

Putting aside his achievements, the author attempts to characterize Mozart as a person in the chapter “Portrait of a Composer.” Thus, Mozart was a remarkable young man with notable appearance, cheerful and flourishing. These qualities assisted him in attracting public attention. At the same time, he did not focus on the effect of his appearance and preferred hard work that could demonstrate his skills. Though he was a central figure in society, he occasionally suffered from loneliness and searched for consolation. Furthermore, in “Freemasonry,” the author characterizes Mozart as a member of one of the lodges of Freemasons. In general, having the role of composing Masonic music gave him access to an even more prestigious lodge. Disregarding the fact that gradually the Masonic movements faced different restrictions and were becoming less active, Mozart was impressed by their movements, and it had a specific impact on his later works.

The chapters “The Zoroastrian Riddles” and “The Carnivalesque Dimension” discuss the influence of other creative movements on Mozart as a composer and Mozart as an individual. For instance, the practice of creating riddles developed his creativity, whereas a carnivalesque approach to his works allows explaining their powerful images. Thus, characterizing Mozart, Solomon emphasizes his passion to creativity in any aspect of life, including music, lyrics, performance etc. According to Solomon, the goal of Mozart’s creativity was to refine, elevate and purify the material he worked with and to convert it into its higher form. By making such accents, Solomon proves that Mozart was a genius who creatively used any material to produce new meanings and develope an unusual individual style in any activity.

As for the metaphor carnivalesque, for Solomon, it explains Mozart’s behavior as it violates the laws of time, rationality, law and other. This metaphor assists in explaining the lifestyle and personality of the famous composer as he hectically changed the places of habitat and performance, experienced complex love affairs, broke connections with his patrons, etc. As a result, many of his inspirations and reflections of the life took the form of musical beauty. Solomon characterizes his latest works as “superlative beauty itself,” which surpassed his earlier attempts at composing music. The author is convinced that many of Mozart’s works composed before the Vienna period lacked superior quality and the transformation of “loveliness into ecstasy” and “pleasure into rapture.” This characteristic indicates that with time and experience, the range of musical tools mastered by Mozart became so significant that his creativity led to the production of outstanding pieces.

Attempting to explain Mozart’s attitude to life and music, Solomon often includes the elements of psychological analysis and reference to the literature concepts in his writing. For instance, in the chapter “Fearful Symmetries,” he refers to Freud’s psychological assumptions, according to which, Mozart possibly created beautiful music as a means of sublimation or an attempt to exhaust all its possibilities in rendering the concept of beauty. In other cases, he refers to Goethe’s Faustus, characterizing music as a mediator between beauty and death due to the fact that both Mozart and his father had a rather philosophical attitude to death. Therefore, the third part of the book significantly enhances the reader’s understanding of the factors that influenced the process of formation of Mozart’s personality and art skills.

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Endings

The final part of the book Endings unfolds the details of the last years of Mozart’s life and his tragic death and analyzes the influence of the composer in the world of music and culture. The initial chapter “Little Leopold” discusses the life of Mozart’s father without his son. According to the author, Leopold Mozart desperately craved for repeating the experience with his son and returning the past. For this reason, he intended to take the copies of Wolfgang when teaching music to several young students, which caused the misunderstanding of his son. Similarly, he attempted to substitute the absence of his son with another transformation of a father’s love by raising little Leopold Mozart. These issues aggravated the relationship between the father and the son although they were not perfect those years. Similarly, in the chapter “Carissima Sorella Mia,” the author of the book characterizes the relationship of Mozart with his sister. Thus, in the initial chapters of the last part of the book, Solomon considers it rational to bring more insight into Mozart’s life as the tragedy of his life impacted his works.

The chapters “Prague and Beyond” and “The Journey to Berlin” similarly present Mozart’s journeys and performances in different European cities. During these journeys, Mozart received remarkable attention as the composers and the listeners admired his Figaro and other pieces at balls and other public performances. Moreover, Constanze Mozart, his spouse, constantly supported the composer as he had much work, such as composing operas, overtures, and other musical pieces, to be done within short periods of time. During his trip to Berlin, though, Mozart worked alone and even forgot to send letters to Constanze, failing to adequately explain the reasons for it. In this sense, Solomon characterizes this period of life as “the opacities, lies, coincidences, evasions … and mysteries of Berlin journey” during which Mozart accumulated problems from debts to the possible worsening of relations with his wife. In addition, Constanze developed a disease, and Mozart required the money for her treatment. Overall, these circumstances damaged his composing ability, and the works composed during this period did not receive the admiration of the public.

The chapters “A Constant Sadness,” “The Last Year,” and “The Final Journey” deepen into explanations of a sharp decrease in Mozart’s composing abilities. Attempting to escape from the lifetime crisis, the composer initiated a number of journeys, but it was impossible for him to escape from his controversial identity. His reputation and self-recognition were damaged after the Berlin journey, and he found no means to overcome these issues. According to the author, the breakdown of the composer’s creativity was related to his depression caused by numerous responsibilities, including financial ones. However, the year before his illness and death was rather productive and reawakened his talent. During 1791, he became stunningly productive and wrote a series of operas, a large part of a requiem mass and other works, which partially alleviated his financial burden. Unfortunately, due to a progressing disease, Mozart realized that he would not escape a soon death, which is why he started writing the requiem for himself. Gradually, his condition aggravated; his body was swollen and prevented the composer from writing, and doctors could not offer any helpful method of treatment. The concluding chapter of the book summarizes Mozart’s contribution to music, supplying the reflections of different composers that performed his musical pieces. Summarizing the book, Solomon claims that music was Mozart’s “talisman against corruption, fear, and death.” Apparently, the power of this talisman is so significant that his music lives long after the death of its creator.

Conclusion

The book Mozart: A Life by Maynard Solomon is a valuable source for individuals who want to explore the details of the life of one of the great composers in the history of humanity. The value of the book is granted by its accent on the aspects of Mozart’s style and the process of its development, as well as the insights into his family and relations with the father. After reading this book, the reader realizes the role of Mozart’s father in his development, as well as the power of his individual character and talent. At the same time, one of the most critical flaws of the book is the author’s failure to adequately structure the chapters and provide a smooth transition that would make the content more coherent. Nevertheless, the analyzed source provides a valuable insight into the life of a great composer, offering a minor discussion of the structural aspects of his music.

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