- Hardcover: 992 pages
- Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (November 29, 1999)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 015100482X
- ISBN-13: 978-0151004829
- Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 1.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 27 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #708,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Mozart: A Cultural Biography Hardcover – November 29, 1999
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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 (Richard Wagner) ambitious biography traces Mozart's (1756-1791) career against the background of the courts in which he workedAthe 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. Illustrations not seen by PW. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top customer reviews
In all events, this book is a must read for anyone interested in this dynamic, transitional perid in the move from Germanic Baroque (JS and Christian Bach) through a strong Italluan influence (Mozart's operas and extracts and evolutions from them) into Beethoven.
One last note: I found Gutman's commentary on the Monarchs and their inter-family relationships quite interesting apart from their respective roles in music and Mozart.
I agree with another reviewer about the revelations concerning Leopold. Far from the one-dimensional Mother of All Stage Fathers he's been so often depicted as, at some moments he comes off as admirable, an authentic figure of the Enlightenment. His eventual self-destruction - the pettiness and jealousy that poisoned his relations with Wolfgang and the role he played in estranging Nannerl from her brother - is nothing short of tragic.
For my one quibble I'll paraphrase Emperor Joseph's apocrypha: Too few notes, Mr. Gutman. The book has not a single musical quotation, which the author explains in the preface by citing the abundance of scores and recordings available. This made for somewhat choppy reading (along with the too many footnotes, Mr. Gutman). Still, the inducement to go beyond the text led to a few discoveries, both by the Apollo incarnate himself and by some of his contemporaries - all of which added immensely to the enjoyment of this book.
I found his analysis of Mozart's works to be a bit subjective, but the rest of the book was highly engaging and informative.
Gutman describes in detail historical events which influenced the lives of the Mozarts: wars, experiencing freedom in England, interacting with other musicians and philosophers, new outlooks on life and new developments in music.
The fine historical detail embellishes the thorough presentation of Mozart's life: for example, knowing his hometown of Salzburg was not part of Austria during his lifetime makes his eventual move to Vienna seem even more dramatic than otherwise.
The two reasons I don't give it 5 stars are: 1) it paints a more sanitized picture of Mozart than other sources, and 2) many writers seem to think it enhances their works if they include phrases in foreign languages. Gutman is no exception. For example, Mozart's father's thinking at one point is described as "Aut Ceasar, aut nihil." This is apparently a somewhat well-known phrase meaning "To Ceasar all or nothing." but I shouldn't have had to take time out of otherwise enjoyable reading to look it up on the Internet.
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This book give a thorough history of the culture in which Mozart lived.Read more