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Q: Mozart biographies ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Mozart biographies
Category: Arts and Entertainment > Music
Asked by: dakhurst-ga
List Price: $150.00
Posted: 19 Dec 2004 22:59 PST
Expires: 18 Jan 2005 22:59 PST
Question ID: 444979
I am seeking a list of the top authoritative biographies on the life
and works of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.  The biographies I wish to
review must be well researched and written by top Mozart scholars.
Subject: Re: Mozart biographies
Answered By: leapinglizard-ga on 20 Dec 2004 12:48 PST
Dear dakhurst,

Many of the foremost Mozart authorities, such as Neal Zaslaw, Robert
Levin, and Stanley Sadie, are musical scholars who devote their attention
to Mozart's compositions rather than to his life and times. There exists,
nonetheless, a rich biographical Mozart literature authored by reputable
historians and sociologists as well as by dedicated biographers. These
works come in many flavors, ranging from erudite studies to popular

Since you have expressed an interest in authoritative works, I begin
with a list of the five most important scholarly studies of Mozart's
life. Following these, I offer two lighter, less academic biographies
with sterling reputations. Finally, I consider prominent tomes that
address Mozart's obliquely: as psychological portraits of the man,
as commentaries on the general perception of Mozart, and through the
medium of documentary evidence.

Alfred Einstein, not to be confused with the physicist Albert, was
a noted Mozart expert who studied his subject's life as well as his
music. Einstein's mid-twentieth-century biography stands to this day as
a touchstone of Mozart scholarship, interleaving critical appreciation
of the works with an assessment of the life. Reviewers note that the
former has stood the test of time better than the latter.

"Written by one of the world's outstanding music historians and critics,
the late Alfred Einstein, this classic study of Mozart's character and
works brings to light many new facts about his relationship with his
family, his susceptibility to ambitious women, and his associations with
musical contemporaries, as well as offering a penetrating analysis of
his operas, piano music, chamber music, and symphonies."

Oxford University Press (USA): "Mozart: His Character, His Work" by
Alfred Einstein

"Few writers are as qualified as Alfred Einstein to discuss the musical
works of Mozart. [...] Einstein's great gift is his ability to explain
the musical and historical significance of these compositions without
having to use musical jargon. This is why later writers (including this
one) continue to rely on his commentary more than 50 years after its
original publication."

Mozart Project: Steve Boerner: Review of Alfred Einstein's "Mozart:
His Character, His Work"

Amazon: "Mozart: His Character, His Work" by Alfred Einstein

Like the late Einstein, Konrad Küster is an eminent German scholar
whose much-cited Mozart biography is available to us in English
translation. Also like Einstein, Küster strives for an appreciation
of Mozart's life through an examination of his works. Yet Küster's
biography is a recent one and therefore benefits from half a century's
Mozart scholarship that was unavailable to Einstein.

"Although there are many accounts of Mozart's life, and countless
descriptions and analyses of his music, this is the first attempt to
portray Mozart's creative life as a composer. Küster selects forty works
or groups of works covering virtually every important stage in Mozart's
career, from the first keyboard works of the young Wunderkind to Mozart's
final days and the composition of the Requiem. Each chapter deals with
the developments and events in the lives of the Mozarts as associated
with or highlighted by a particular work or constellation of works. The
bulk of the book is concerned with Mozart's life and compositions from
his arrival in Vienna in 1781 to his death there some ten years later.

"Drawing on the tremendous advances in Mozart research over the last
thirty years, and the publication of the New Mozart Edition, Küster's
book makes a major contribution to our understanding of the creative
development of the composer who represents for most musicians and music
lovers the highest pinnacle of musical achievement."

Oxford University Press (USA): "Mozart: A Musical Biography" by Konrad Küster

Amazon: "Mozart: A Musical Biography" by Konrad Küster: Editorial Reviews

Whereas Einstein's and Küster's biographies are written in the classical
vein, with admiration as their chief sentiment, Maynard Solomon's
study of Mozart's life thoroughly deconstructs its subject. Solomon's
groundbreaking psychological analyses, though daring and in parts
speculative, are built on a foundation of serious study.

"From Publishers Weekly:  Beethoven biographer Solomon here presents
a revisionist biography of Mozart, which his publisher claims is the
first full-scale biography in nearly 40 years. Certainly it is a major
work in terms of heft and range. Solomon will have none of the "divine
child" approach, limning instead a man growing up under the shadow of an
impossibly demanding father who was at once overprotective and jealous
of his son's vast gifts. There is a great deal of psychological probing
into the agonies of their relationship, much of it sensible; and Solomon
paints an indelible portrait of Mozart's last years, begging for money,
guilty about his deprived wife Constanze, resentful of being virtually
cut out of his father's will, yet still heroically forging a new musical
aesthetic. He also clears up much of the mystery about the bizarre Requiem
commission, and the burial in the "pauper's grave." He is convinced that
Mozart and his cousin "the Basle," recipient of many of the infamous
smutty letters, were lovers for a time; and the portrait of the composer
that emerges is of an extraordinarily sensitive, liberal-minded (the
Masonic material is superb), extravagant but responsible person who has
been much belittled by biographers beginning almost immediately after
his death. Solomon also writes acutely about what was daringly new,
and wonderfully enduring, about Mozart's music. Only a certain lack of
flow between the chapters suggests the origin of much of this material
in lectures. Illustrations. BOMC selection.  Copyright 1995 Reed Business
Information, Inc.

"From Library Journal:  Solomon (music, Stonybrook Univ. and Harvard)
follows up his well-received Beethoven (LJ 11/15/77) with another
ambitious biography. The author explores Mozart's life and works with
a wealth of facts that were culled from 18th-century sources as well
as from the most recent scholarship. Mozart and his family emerge in a
new light from this mass of well-chosen detail through Solomon's own
convincing interpretation of events and relationships. Appropriate
musical and pictorial examples, which will appeal to both scholarly
and casual readers, accompany the text. The author closes the book
with an impressive, well-annotated bibliography and indexes of Mozart's
compositions by Kochel number and by common name. Recommended for music
collections in both academic and public libraries.

"Edward W. Said, The New Yorker:  I do not know a musician's biography
as satisfying and as moving as this one...In reading Solomon, we come
to know not so much a transformed as an inevitable Mozart, ever the
miraculous creator but also the considerable human being, unsurpassably
impressive and somehow closer at hand."

Amazon: "Mozart: A Life" by Maynard Solomon: Editorial Reviews

A more conventional Mozart biography than Solomon's, but just as
well received, is the one by Robert Gutman. In his learned and fluid
style, Gutman depicts the composer as an ambitious, self-regarding, but
ultimately moral personality. Unlike Einstein and Küster, Gutman dispenses
with deep musical analysis in favor of purely biographical writing.

"  Readers who think of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) as
the shrieking vulgarian depicted in Peter Shaffer's hit play (and movie)
Amadeus will be astonished by the man they meet in this biography by
music historian Robert Gutman: "affectionate and generous ... an austere
moralist of vital force, incisiveness, and strength of purpose." Without
scanting Mozart's often maladroit handling of his patrons or his earthy
way with words ("Let the whole company of patricians lick my ass,"
he declared in a 1777 letter), Gutman portrays a musical genius who
slowly and painfully achieved personal maturity as he emerged from the
shadow of his domineering father. The rich cultural life of 18th-century
Europe forms a vivid background for Mozart's professional and artistic
evolution. And Gutman's descriptions of Mozart's work are models of music
writing for the lay reader: they capture the brilliance and beauty of the
great composer's art in easily accessible language, as in the analysis of
The Marriage of Figaro's place in "a new aesthetic of surging movement
... the vocal and orchestral lines twine, separate, and reunite in
confrontation, opposition, and accommodation, an ever-changing, effortless
interlacing." The prose delineating Mozart's complex personality is just
as full-bodied and perceptive. --Wendy Smith

"From Publishers Weekly:  Gutman's [...] ambitious biography traces
Mozart's (1756-1791) career against the background of the courts in which
he worked--the circle of Archbishop Colloredo in provincial Salzburg,
the aristocratic households of Europe and England and the salons of
Joseph II's culturally diverse Vienna. Gutman shows how Mozart grew
from a pampered child prodigy, nearly helpless in practical matters,
to a mature, self-sufficient man. Interspersed are discussions of the
political and cultural trends of Mozart's day, including the complex
dynastic alignments at the end of the Seven Years War, the Enlightenment,
the Sturm und Drang movement and the prevailing musical styles. Through
these discourses, Gutman shows how aspects of intellectual trends appeared
in Mozart's music: for example, the Age of Reason in The Magic Flute,
Sturm und Drang in some of his symphonies. However, these sections
don't always meld smoothly with the biographical narrative. Gutman's
analysis of Mozart's personality and his relationship with his father,
Leopold, while not groundbreaking, is more successful. Gutman describes
Leopold as an "intellectual, ambitious, suave, and frequently cunning" man
determined to dominate his son, and depicts how the young Mozart finally
freed himself from his controlling parent and embarked on a promising
career in Vienna. Gutman counters persistent legends portraying the end
of Mozart's short life as a time of poverty and despair and demonstrates
that he was then, as always, an exuberant, optimistic man. [...]

"From Library Journal:  With this sprawling, meticulously researched
work, Gutman (Richard Wagner) enters the already crowded field of Mozart
studies. He succeeds admirably in interweaving the chronology of Mozart's
life and musical compositions with essays on the social, political,
and religious fabrics of the 18th century, offering extended discourses
on the Enlightenment, Sturm und Drang, Freemasonry, and other movements
that influenced the composer both personally and in his works. Special
attention is paid to the tours that Mozart family members undertook to
various European locales, the contacts they made there, and the reception
of their talents and personalities. Gutman contextualizes rather than
analyzes the music; one feels that he has a great deal of respect for
the composer's abilities but is not unwilling to be critical. Covering
similar territory as Ruth Halliwell's recent The Mozart Family (Oxford
Univ., 1998) but with more extensive descriptions of the music, this
work is directed at an audience of sophisticated lay readers. Highly
recommended for all music collections of significant size, this should
set a standard for future Mozart scholars to emulate."

Amazon: "Mozart: A Cultural Biography" by Robert W. Gutman: Editorial Reviews

Rounding out the best of the full biographies is a work by Georg Knepler,
published in the original German in 1991 and in English translation
in 1994. Striking a middle course between Solomon's revisionism and
Gutman's panegyrics, Knepler's guiding conceit is that Mozart was an
artistic revolutionary who upended the culture of his day.

"  Who was Mozart--the pure artist some have thought him,
or the grotesque idiot savant, obsessed by the scatological but still
capable of writing music as if channeling God? In this 1991 biography
(newly translated into English by J. Bradford Robinson), author Georg
Knepler demolishes both notions. In their place he presents a thinking
man, a true son of the Enlightenment, a man unimpressed by inherited
position--at home in all segments of society--and profoundly affected
by events and ideas around him. Knepler traces Mozart's intellectual
and musical development to make a compelling case for the composer as
a complex and multifaceted individual. This is one of the best, most
thoughtful biographies of Mozart to appear in recent years.

"Review:  Could the composer, who lived to see the French Revolution,
have been immune to revolutionary thought? Emphatically not, Knepler
says. Evidence appears through careful reading of Mozart's letters and
from impressive analysis of several musical works, particularly parts of
the operas. The book, translated brilliantly from the German by Robinson,
includes notes, index, illustrations, musical examples, and a large
bibliography; an appendix offers several texts that 'played a role in
Mozart's intellectual development.'...This provocative, original book is
highly recommended to students of Mozart and to anyone interested in the
cultural life of the alte 18th century." Choice "Among the innumerable
books triggered in 1991 by the bicentenary of Mozart's death, that of
Georg Knepler shone with exceptional distinction; we are duly grateful
that it reaches us, three years after the event, in a translation by
J. Bradford Robinson worthy of Knepler's dense yet gracious prose. The
book, neither a chronological survey nor a comprehensive Life and
Works, is something much rarer: a sequence of insights into matters
biographical, historical, psychological, and mythical, and into the
musical techniques wherein they are incarnate....Especially moving is
Knepler's final chapter....he still believes in Mozart's vision and so,
surely, must we. This great book tells us why."

Amazon: "Wolfgang Amadé Mozart" by Georg Knepler: Editorial Reviews

"The subtitle of this dense tome perhaps should be 'The Composer as
Revolutionary.' Its author presents an invigorating portrait of a Mozart
schooled in Enlightenment thought and prepared to be a willing participant
in the social changes swirling through Vienna in the last decade of the
18th century."

Mozart Project: Steve Boerner: Review of Georg Knepler's "Wolfgang
Amadé Mozart"

The five books listed above are the best regarded and most complete
biographies of Mozart I have come across. On the other hand, I can
recommend a pair of popular works that each impart a concise, entirely
non-technical survey of Mozart's life. The first is from the excellent
biographical series Penguin Lives. Its author, Peter Gay, has received
wide acclaim for his brief though informative portrait of the composer.

"Mozart's unshakable hold on the public's fascination can only be
strengthened by the historian and biographer Peter Gay's bold, new
perspective. His passionate and painstaking research reveals truths
more fascinating than the myths that have long shrouded the maestro's
life. Here is the archetypal child prodigy whose genius triumphed
over early precociousness, and who later broke away from a loving but
tyrannical father to pursue his vision unhampered. Peter Gay's Mozart
traces the legendary development of the man whose life was a whirlwind of
achievement, and the composer who pushed every instrument to its limit
and every genreespecially operainto new realms. More than an engrossing
biography, this is a meditation on the nature of genius and, for any
music lover, a trove of new critical insights."

Penguin Group (USA): Penguin Lives: "Mozart" by Peter Gay,,0_0670882380,00.html

"Despite the tumult of Mozart books published over the past ten years,
one in particular has been missed: a brief yet authoritative account of
the composers life. Happily (and just in time for the end of the decade),
Peter Gays new Penguin Lives biography fills the gap perfectly. At 
177 pages, this slender volume can be absorbed in an afternoon. But
superficial it is not."

Mozart Project: Steve Boerner: Review of Peter Gay's "Mozart"

"  In his lifetime, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart didn't have the
best of luck with his patrons. One of them, Archbishop Colloredo of
Salzburg, actually had his chamberlain kick the composer in the ass to
signal the end of his employment. Mozart has been luckier, however, with
his biographers. In the last 20 years alone, he has been the subject of
two fine books: Maynard Solomon's meticulous study, which slides Mozart's
rather mystifying psyche under the analytic microscope, and Wolfgang
Hildesheimer's more sardonic effort, in which the author seems determined
to strip every last bit of romantic varnish from the traditional portrait.

"Now Peter Gay joins the party with his own brief life. Weighing in at
177 pages, Mozart will never displace its deep-focus predecessors. But
it's a delightful introduction to the composer, whose entire existence
was, as Gay puts it, a "triumph of genius over precociousness." It's
one thing, after all, to knock 'em dead at age five--at which point the
waist-high Mozart was already a keyboard virtuoso. It's quite another to
keep developing at the same prodigious pace. "A child prodigy is, by its
nature, a self-destroying artifact: what seems literally marvelous in a
boy will seem merely talented and perfectly natural in a young man. But by
1772, at sixteen, Mozart no longer needed to display himself as a little
wizard; he had matured in the sonata and the symphony, the first kind
of music he composed, and now showed his gifts in new domains: opera,
the oratorio, and the earliest in a string of superb piano concertos."

"Gay gets in all the essentials: Mozart's mind-blowing maturation, his
family life, his weakness for billiards, and (of course) his seriously
scatological style as a correspondent. Like Solomon, he takes an Oedipal
approach to Wolfgang's perpetual head-banging with his overbearing
father. And like Hildesheimer, he's at pains to scotch certain cherished
myths--the mysterious figure who commissioned the Requiem, for example,
turns out to be no otherworldly harbinger of death but a chiseling wannabe
who hoped to pass off the finished product as his own work. Perhaps
best of all, Gay never goes sublime on us. His portrait is attractively
level-headed, and at one point he's even modest enough to knock his own
metaphors for their puerility. Here, surely, the author is being hard
on himself. But he's right about one thing: as far as artistry goes,
this former child prodigy does make children of us all. --James Marcus

"From Publishers Weekly:  In the new Penguin Lives series, edited by
former New York Times editor James Atlas, Gay's Mozart biography comes
with particularly high expectations, given the author's distinction
as a historian (he won the National Book Award for volume one of The
Enlightenment). There is little new information here, yet Gay's overview
of the composer's life and work is lucid and concise. Noted for his
studies of Freud and Victorian society, the author clearly knows the
Mozart literature as well. His book includes a fine bibliographical essay,
in which he admits to leaning on Maynard Solomon's 1995 tome, Mozart: A
Life. Gay provides brief glimpses into the social and historical contexts
of Mozart's music: changing attitudes toward listening, the economics
of composition and new audience sectors. Also notable is the discussion
of how well Mozart's works were received and the author's survey of how
Mozart was regarded by subsequent composers. Gay offers a straightforward
and helpful introduction to Mozart, debunking romantic interpretations of
the composer's life. (Gay maintains that Mozart's burial in an unmarked
grave was due to the practice of the period, when extravagant funerals
were frowned upon, rather than to poverty.) However, in a book this
size, it's hard to stay away from the occasional oversimplified phrase
(Mozart "could not have written mediocre music if he tried"). While
Gay's judgments of Mozart's works are mostly unsurprising and in line
with general opinion, they are discussed vividly and with enthusiasm--and
bolstered with famous quotes and thorough references."

Amazon: Mozart by Peter Gay: Editorial Reviews

Another recent, succinct, and well received Mozart biography is by John
Rosselli. His brief work, published by Cambridge University Press, takes a
tack similar to that of the Marxist theorist Knepler, though with a less
dogmatic bent. Rosselli paints Mozart as a paragon of the Renaissance,
as a member of the European elite who led the way from the Age of Faith
to the Age of Reason.

"This biography sets Mozart's life within the history of an age plunging
into revolution and European war. Staying with known facts, it probes his
crucial relationships with his father, his wife, and his employer. It
studies--in depth though in nontechnical language--characteristic
examples of Mozart's music and asks what they can tell us about their
author and ourselves."

Powells: "The Life of Mozart" by John Rosselli

"I'm impressed. Rosselli has something to say and the skill to write
fluently and clearly ... the author writes sensibly about Mozart's life
and in amazingly few words reminds us of what the music can mean. --Early
Music Review

"No-one is better qualified to set the material in proper perspective
than John Rosselli. As in his previous books he brings to his subject
all the skills of a professional historian, adept at sifting and weighing
evidence ... the book is a triumph, and one which leaves its successors
in the series much to live up to. --Julian Budden, Opera

"The seven crisp, lucid and learned chapters of this wonderful book
dispel the clouds and put the man in perspective for us; Mozart, his
time and his music seen together, and as arising from each other. --Jill
Paton Walsh, The Tablet

" ... an extremely useful and, for its pages, remarkably thorough
introduction to Mozart's life and work. --Sophie Fuller, Times Literary

Cambridge University Press: "The Life of Mozart" by John Rosselli

If you are a Mozart completist, you will be interested in works that
are not directly biographical but deal with Mozart's life through the
medium of documentary evidence or in the form of metacommentary on the
study of Mozart. Below are some of the most renowned among these these.

Robert Spaethling has translated letters written by Mozart himself,
annotating them with biographical commentary.

Guardian: Books: Review: Nicholas Lezard: "Mozart's Letters, Mozart's
Life: Selected Letters" by Robert Spaethling (ed.),12084,1216285,00.html

Amazon: "Mozart & Posterity" by Gernot Gruber

The late Norbert Elias is a sociologist who wrote an important collection
of essays on Mozart's place in the court society of his time.

Amazon: "Mozart: Portrait of a Genius"

Mozart Project: Steve Boerner: Review of Norbert Elias' "Mozart: Portrait
of a Genius"

In 1932, Marcia Davenport published a novelistic account of Mozart's
life that, though quaint in our day, is still widely read with pleasure.

Amazon: "Mozart" by Marcia Davenport

Barnes & Noble: "Mozart" by Marcia Davenport

An antidote to the mythologization of Mozart perpetrated not only
Davenport but by more serious scholars is William Stafford's critical
study of Mozartiana.

Amazon: "The Mozart Myths: A Critical Reassessment" by William Stafford

"On Mozart" is a collection of scholarly essays published on Mozart's
bicentennial in the same scholarly vein as Stafford.

Amazon: "On Mozart"

A more conventional work of metacommentary, also a collection of essays
by recent scholars, is The Cambridge Companion to Mozart.

Amazon: "The Cambridge Companion to Mozart" by Simon P. Keefe (ed.):
Editorial Reviews

Finally, an older work dating to 1966 but still considered indispensable
by many students of Mozart is Deutsch's collection of documents related
to the composer and his times.

Amazon: "Mozart: A Documentary Biography" by Otto E. Deutsch (ed.)

Mozart Project: Steve Boerner: Review of Otto Erich Deutsch's "Mozart:
A Documentary Biography"

In preparing these two lists of the most important Mozart studies,
the necessity for selection has inevitably caused me to leave out
several well-known works. For instance, I have disregarded Wolfgang
Hildesheimer's biographical study in favor of the other, better works
in my top five. You may wish, however, to peruse brief descriptions of
Hildesheimer and others in a comprehensive bibliography found on the
Mozart Forum. Although I came upon this bibliography after making my
own selections of Mozartiana, I find that my choices overlap to a great
extent with those of the Mozart Forum. Their list is certainly longer,
if less discriminating, than my own, and it consists in large part of
works that are only tangentially biographical.

Mozart Forum: Book Reviews

It has been a pleasant challenge to address this question on your behalf.



Request for Answer Clarification by dakhurst-ga on 21 Dec 2004 21:21 PST
Dear leapinglizard,

Thank you for your very thorough answer;  I think the material you
presented will provide me with the knowledge I am looking for.  I am
subscriber to The Times (London) newspaper and I wonder if you are
able to turn up any Times' reviews of any of the books mentioned.

I am looking forward to purchasing and reading your recommendations
and will post comments regarding these books once read, for purposes
of discussion.

Many thanks indeed,


Clarification of Answer by leapinglizard-ga on 21 Dec 2004 22:11 PST
I'm afraid I haven't found any reviews from The Times, but then it
isn't easy to search their content online. The archives only go back
to 1985, and the search facility isn't much help at all. It's a shame
for such a fine paper.

I did find a long article in The New York Review of Books that covers
three of my recommendations, namely the books by Maynard Solomon,
Norbert Elias, and Georg Knepler. I'm not sure how far its reputation
extends in Britain, but The New York Review of Books is a very serious
and august journal. This article can be purchased online for $4.00.

New York Review of Books: Archives: "The Wonder of Mozart" by Frank Kermode

Subject: Re: Mozart biographies
From: fp-ga on 19 Dec 2004 23:31 PST
In which language?

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