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Mozart: A Cultural Biography Hardcover – November 29, 1999

4.3 out of 5 stars 24 customer reviews

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Amazon.com Review

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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Product Details

  • 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: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,178,362 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
A definitive biography of history's greatest creative genius is of course an illusion. Nevertheless, two American writers have in recent years written large scholarly works which strive to achieve that distinction: Robert Gutman and Maynard Solomon. Gutman's book is greatly to be preferred.
Solomon's book should be read by any serious Mozartian for his interesting new material on and interpretations of issues such as the Mozart family finances and the complex varieties of late 18th century Freemasonry. But his biography is vitiated by his Freudianism and his relentless demonising of Leopold Mozart. In Gutman's book, by contrast, Leopold emerges as a much more interesting and complex character than Solomon's monster. Some of the best parts of the book are the extracts from Leopold's letters during his trips with the boy prodigy. Leopold was an intelligent, humane, tolerant and well-educated man, with shrewd powers of cultural and social observation. (His description of Naples in the 1760's is priceless.) But Gutman's Leopold is no saint either. Gutman convincingly portrays him as a man who was often socially out of his depth and whose maladroit plotting on his son's behalf did Wolfgang more harm than good. He also accuses Leopold of ultimately cheating his grown son out his boyhood earnings - a charge I felt Gutman did not quite prove.
In the early chapters of the book I also found it a bit tiresome how often Gutman felt he had register his disapproval of absolute monarchs. Personally, he prefers democracy. Thank you Mr Gutman, we get the point. For some Americans, it seems, it's always 1776.
Gutman's musical judgements do not quite accord with my own. I thought he was far too dismissive of the compositional skill of the young Mozart.
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Format: Hardcover
This twelve-year effort by Mr. Robert W. Gutman to create a cultural biography around the core that was Mozart, should meet the needs of those educated in music, or those like myself who are fascinated with this genius of History. This work is massive by any measure and even the Author suggested certain passages could be passed over by less sophisticated students of Mozart's work, and music in general.
I read this work over a lengthy period of time as the material is very dense, and the book is more like a collection than a single volume. This is a Biography of Mozart, and also biographies of those who were Family, his peers, and The Monarchs who ruled during his short life. It is a work of History as well. For Mozart the person, throughout the book is always placed within the context of the events surrounding him. Politics would influence where he could play, as would religion, all forms of civil disobedience, and war. In this sense the work has as an element Political Science as well. The Author includes detailed economic facts from the smallest of costs that were included for a concert tour, to the largesse that was or was not handed to Mozart by a variety of Royal Courts. These latter two issues were obsessions with his Father. Mozart Sr. not only micro-managed the lives of his children, but also was constantly vying for the good graces of the wealthy, The Nobility, as well as The Royalty, and dealing with all manner of court intrigue in hopes of his personal advancement.
For any who became interested in Mozart after seeing, "Amadeus", this book, as others do, portrays the composer as at times a colorful individual, but not the debauched character that was seen in the film.
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Format: Hardcover
A few tips before buying this book: Read another, shorter biography of Mozart first. And be familiar with Mozart's operas before opening this book, especially Cosi Fan Tutte K.588, The Magic Flute K.620, Don Giovanni K.527, The Abduction from the Seraglio K.384, The Marriage of Figaro K.492 and Idomeneo K.366. And know your musical lingo: should you not know the definitions of terms such as "appoggiatura" or "arpeggio", you are also going to need convenient access to the works of Daniel Webster.
This book is far from an introductory selection. This is more like a textbook. It is very thorough, very dry and, even at well over 700 pages, it reads longer than its page count. Gutman's incessant footnoting (average of about two footnotes per page, each footnote averaging probably three or four sentences in length) make a long book much longer.
I came into this book thinking I had a decent a decent vocabulary, but the author left me with the impression I am a slack-jawed buffoon. Gutman has an interesting habit of never using a word when a longer one will suffice. As a quick example: not once were the words "happy" or "pleasant" used. Everything was "felicitous". To the point of the felicities being felicitous in their felicitousness. Thus, this book is an excellent investment in that it contains much more than its asking price in fifty-cent words. Gutman obviously has a firm grasp of his dictionary, but someone really needs to buy him a thesaurus.
However, despite the shortcomings of the actual prose, this book has everything you will ever need to know about Mozart.
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