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Mozart: A Life Hardcover – November 14, 2013

4.2 out of 5 stars 56 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* For once taking an uncontroversial stance, politicallycontentious popular historian Johnson lauds everyone’s favorite composer so as to pique the interest of every reader of this profile. He seems to have two primary objectives: to explain why Mozart’s music is so good and to uproot the sentimental legends that have grown like so much honeysuckle (a weed, after all) around Mozart’s life. While proceeding overall in good biographical chronology, Johnson prosecutes his first objective by, for instance, discussing how Mozart’s writing for particular instruments—from piano to viola to the then-new clarinet to trombone to tympani—reflects mastery of the qualities and capabilities of each (the chapter occupied with this argument is reason enough to rejoice about the book). Johnson starts debunking myths on the first page, where he insists that Mozart wasn’t a sickly child. Thereafter, he continues to lay bare misconceptions: that his father coldly exploited him; that he ever lived in poverty; that he was lascivious and unfaithful to his wife, as well as that she was improvident and shrewish; that he had a pauper’s burial; that he ever was a neglected musical presence in his time; that he was ruinously in debt. They all crumble under Johnson’s commonsense presentation of evidence. An altogether excellent primer on possibly the most complete musician who ever lived. --Ray Olson

Review

Praise for Mozart by Paul Johnson:

“Historian Johnson lauds everyone’s favorite composer so as to pique the interest of every reader. . . . Johnson starts debunking myths on the first page . . . [and] they all crumble under his commonsense presentation of evidence. An altogether excellent primer on possibly the most complete musician who ever lived.”
Booklist (starred review)

"Most satisfying . . . A highly accessible initial foray into an astonishing, and inexhaustible, subject."
Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Impassioned . . . Johnson captures the depth of Mozart’s achievement with a scholarly fan’s . . . enthusiasm. . . . A compact and knowledgeable portrait of genius.”
Kirkus Reviews
 
“Johnson packs a great deal of information into these pages . . . and his grasp of Mozart's musical output is astounding, his description of Mozart's works comprehensive and enlightening. . . . This is a solid, and often fresh, introduction to the life and work of the composer.”

Publishers Weekly

“The perfect stocking stuffer . . . A portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that will give pleasure to and increase the understanding of old Mozart hands as well as those reading for the first time about the man . . . Like his latest subject, Johnson never strikes a false note.”
The American Spectator

“Excellent . . . A delightful, concise read. It's fun—like listening to Mozart is. . . . To learn about the life of such a remarkable musician is a treat and a privilege. Paul Johnson has made Mozart’s story accessible and rewarding.”
Washington Independent Review of Books
 

“This short, pithy, intelligent book will appeal to music lovers and general readers.”
Hudson Valley News
 

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition, First Printing edition (November 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670026379
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670026371
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #605,079 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It was interesting to see Tony Skelton's mention of "a few errors". (Amazon UK) There are many, many more throughout this very sloppily researched book. It gives a strong impression of an experienced writer resting on his laurels.
There are some schoolboy howlers - "Kegelstaff trio of works ..." (- it should be Kegelstatt, and it's a single trio, not a trio of works - two of the four errors squeezed into a single sentence!), reference to Mozart's use of the harp in addition to the Flute and Harp Concerto (he never used the harp in any other piece), the assertion that Haydn never used muffled drums and muted trumpets (listen to the slow movement from Symphony No 102), the confusion of JS Bach with JC Bach (page 111) - all these and others are unforgiveable.
Johnson also asserts that "worry about what he had written was unknown to him" (page 43), but he needs to read of Mozart's struggles with his six so-called "Haydn" string quartets (Mozart confessed that they had cost him "long and arduous work") Also Johnson elsewhere refers to these same quartets as K. 168-73, but these are Mozart's earliest quartets, not the great works dedicated to Haydn - K 387, 421, 428, 458, 464 and 465.

There are also many crass, unsupported opinions and an increasingly self-indulgent, cosy feeling, as though a self-satisfied uncle is generously sharing his knowledge and preferences with the reader.
I am absolutely amazed that this book has been well received in America, so I am particularly keen to say that Paul Johnson (and his editors, who were perhaps out to lunch at the time) should not be allowed to get away with this ! How can so many (experienced?) reviewers have failed to spot the errors?

This is an annoyingly bad book which should never have seen the light of day. To be avoided!

Philip Borg-Wheeler
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Format: Hardcover
It’s a familiar maxim that “context is everything,” and that often holds true for established authors who spend their lives intentionally carving out and filling up very specific niches in the realm of human knowledge. British historian and global political analyst Paul Johnson is a brilliant and popular example. Over a career spanning more than half a century of incisive topical journalism and definitive academic work, Johnson has memorably illuminated a host of critical issues and titans of leadership, from ancient times to our own.

And now, out of the intellectual blue it seems, along comes MOZART: A LIFE. Nowhere in Johnson’s prolific bibliography (or biography for that matter) could I find any overt reference to musical issues or a personal musical passion of any kind. Friends of mine who have studied political science, military history, economics and journalism have nearly all heard of him, read him and praised him. But music students and my fellow instrumental amateurs? Not a one!

So it’s no exaggeration to say that this month’s release of Johnson’s latest achievement in the art of the biographer is more than the real deal; it’s a potential game-changer, one that could well knock many a dull or poorly researched precursor on the famous composer right into the dustbin.

As someone who has spent all of my conscious life deeply connected with music, I know that it takes years of study and discipline to develop an expert’s affinity for any particular composer. It’s much more than simply liking what one hears --- and who is easier to like among the icons of western classical music than the tragically short-lived Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)?
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a short, brief, to-the-point book about Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, which, for all its brevity, is probably the only book a general reader would want to consult to be fully informed of his life and work.

In addition, if you are like me, your only source of information about the life of Mozart is the great movie and stage play, "Amadeus." If that is the case, as the Firesign Theater says, "Everything you know is wrong."

Johnson's book does much to dispel just about every factual assertion indicated in that movie. For example,

* There was no murderous rivalry between Mozart and Salieri. Johnson calls this slander. Leopold, Mozart's father, probably distrusted Salieri more than Mozart himself, who was on good terms with Salieri.

* Further, the "Mysterious Stranger" who commissioned Mozart to write the Requiem was not Salieri. History has definitively identified another person.

* Salieri did NOT assist the dying Mozart in completing the Requiem.

* Constanze, Mozart's wife, was not some fluzzy, but an accomplished, respected soprano singer herself. While she was not, as indicated in the film, his de-facto manager in his life, she was an able administrator of his estate on death.

* Mozart was not a flake constantly in debt. While he did ask for money many, many times, in his life, Johnson attributes this to the primitive condition of the public banking system, where public cash was in short supply. The equivalent to modern loans was friends lending other friends money. Loans which were made in his life were paid on a timely basis, and on his death Constanze paid his outstanding loans quickly from his estate.

* The movie implied that Mozart's burial in a common grave was the equivalent to that of a pauper.
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