It has been a century since Hermann Aber printed his monumental biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) and greater than 40 years since “Amadeus,” Peter Shaffer’s hit Broadway play (and subsequent film) made the lifetime of the composer, in addition to myths surrounding it, the stuff of common tradition. Jan Swafford has availed himself of recent scholarship and printed an up to date biography of one of many best composers within the historical past of Western music. He presents not solely a full of life, accessible, and richly detailed account of his topic’s life and occasions, but in addition takes a crack at debunking the “hoary corpus of myths about Mozart.”
Swafford begins “Mozart: The Reign of Love” by recounting a scene within the Mozart residence in Salzburg, Austria, in 1761. The 4-year-old Wolfgang, although he has by no means displayed any uncommon curiosity within the harpsichord, stuns the household by enjoying a reasonably troublesome scherzo he has heard practiced by his older sister, Maria Anna, herself a keyboard prodigy. Within the days that comply with, below the tutelage of his father, Leopold, younger Wolfgang learns extra items from his sister’s pocket book, enjoying them note-perfect and with impeccable rhythm. “When the tiny youngster sat on the keyboard,” Swafford writes, “he commanded it.”
Younger Mozart additionally displayed a genius for composing. He printed 4 violin sonatas at age 7 and was writing symphonies at 8. Leopold wrote that “on daily basis God performs recent miracles via this youngster.”
Mozart spent most of his childhood on the street, touring below arduous circumstances on years-long excursions, performing for European royalty below the supervision of his father. A violinist, composer and instructor, Leopold Mozart devoted himself to nurturing and selling his youngsters’s extraordinary skills whereas additionally hitching his monetary star to their incomes capability.
As a younger teenager, Mozart proved himself to be a peerless tunesmith in addition to an awfully onerous employee. At 17, his apprenticeship over, he was engaged as a musician within the Salzburg court docket. He later landed in Vienna, the place he composed lots of his best-known works, together with symphonies, operas, concertos, sonatas, and sacred works. Adept in all musical genres, he was some of the admired composers in his day, although not probably the most beloved, as a lot of his music went over the heads of the typical listener. Swafford sums up a standard chorus about Mozart voiced by critics and connoisseurs alike: “too many concepts to absorb, too many devices, too many notes.”
Swafford has written well-received biographies of Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms and Charles Ives. He’s additionally a composer and program-writer for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and along with prodigious analysis, he gives up well-informed value determinations and insights into Mozart’s work. He additionally makes good use of an unlimited trove of letters written by Mozart, his relations, and lots of others. Mozart’s letters give the reader a first-hand glimpse at his intelligence, his playful, typically bawdy, wit and his caustic scrutiny of individuals and their many foibles.
Mozart was in nice demand as a performer and composer, and loved industrial success, although was in fixed monetary straits because of his lavish dwelling and his lack of ability to deal with cash. There’s little doubt that his early and far mythologized demise on the age of 35 was due largely to overwork. This gave rise later to the parable that his overwork was because of neglect, poverty, and desperation. Swafford disputes this, asserting that Mozart took on an excessive amount of work as a result of he needed to, seeing each alternative as one thing to be seized.
Swafford contends that Mozart was “basically a cheerful man,” and rejects the favored depiction of Mozart as a tortured genius. That notion, which arose through the Romantic period, was fairly overseas through the Enlightenment, the interval wherein Mozart lived. “Mozart didn’t subscribe to the Romantic cult of genius, and he didn’t create artwork for artwork’s sake.” Certainly, Mozart didn’t consider himself as writing music for the ages, however for the duty at hand.
As to a deadly rivalry with composer Antonio Salieri, that’s one other common concept upon which Swafford throws chilly water. When Mozart arrived in Vienna, Salieri was a well-established composer within the extremely aggressive musical world there and a favourite of Emperor Joseph II. In his day, Salieri’s operas had been much more common than Mozart’s and Swafford asserts that he had little motive to see the youthful man as a rival. Sadly for Salieri, the rumor that he poisoned Mozart hung over his head in his final years and past.
Mozart premiered two operas in three weeks in 1791, the yr of his demise, wrote extra music and earned more cash than at any comparable interval. In Swafford’s view, the one profound tragedy of Morzart’s life was his early demise, when he was on the verge of taking his artwork to even larger heights.
“When Mozart died, having simply written the magical and incomparable Zauberflöte [The Magic Flute], he was imagining an opera primarily based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest,” Swafford writes. “It makes you weep to consider it.”