About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Mozart in fiction, part 2

After finishing Mozart's Last Aria, I moved backwards in time and read Marrying Mozart by Stephanie Cowell. This novel takes place beginning when Mozart was 21 years old in 1777 until he married Constanze in 1782. The Weber family and especially the four Weber daughters are the core of the story. However, the novel begins in 1842 when an Englishman, Vincent Novello, comes to visit the youngest Weber girl, Sophie, in hopes of learning more about Wolfgang Mozart. Sophie is by this time an old woman. This is similar in structure to Mozart's Last Aria, wherein Mozart's son comes to see his Aunt Nannerl and is given her journal to read. Sophie both talks with Novello and gives him some letters to read. This helps explain how we can see the story from viewpoints of each of the Weber daughters and sometimes Wolfgang. Short conversations between Sophia and Novello set off the sections of the book.

This is a lively story that includes quite a bit of historical fact. Mozart did woo Aloysia Weber, who became a well-known opera singer. She jilted him and he eventually married the next youngest, Constanze. The oldest sister, Josefa, was also a successful opera singer. Mozart wrote the Queen of the Night part in The Magic Flute for her.

Besides the Weber family, including father Fridolin and mother Maria Caecilia, Mozart's friend Joseph Leutgeb is included as an important secondary character. Leutgeb was an outstanding horn player for whom Mozart wrote his four horn concertos. Wolfgang's parents and sister are also characters in the story, both in person and through letters (They were a great letter-writing family.) Other real-life characters include Padre Martini, who Mozart had met in Italy as a boy; Joseph Haydn, and Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, who employed both Wolfgang and Leopold Mozart in Salzburg and with whom Wolfgang had repeated run-ins.

All of the settings -- Vienna, Salzburg, Mannheim -- felt authentic. The musical evenings at the Webers also rang very true. It is known that the Mozart family hosted friends for evenings of music making; probably this was common at the time among both professional and amateur musicians. (Those evenings sound like so much fun that I wish we could revive the idea.) Some parts of the plot did not feel true to me, though I won't disclose them and spoil the story. The author has created clear personalities for each of the characters; some, like Maria Caecilia Weber and the horn player Leutgeb, I felt were probably close to what they had been like in life, based on what I already knew about them. Others I believe are more the authors' creation. In both novels -- Marrying Mozart and Mozart's Last Aria -- Wolfgang Mozart comes across as a serious, thoughtful young man. As I read the book I wished that the author had either identified the pieces she referred to more clearly or included a list of all the pieces with K√∂chel numbers.

I was not familiar with Stephanie Cowell before coming across this novel, but I learned from her website that she has written a number of historical novels. She was an opera singer for a time and did considerable research on Mozart. She has written quite a few post for Wonders and Marvels, including this one, on Mozart, Salieri, and the movie Amadeus. Marrying Mozart has recently been adapted into an opera and performed in New York.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mozart in fiction, part 1

Back in January I wrote a post about the Mozart family. Part of the post was about the novels (and one movie) that the various Mozarts inspired, including several titled Mozart's Sister. Wolfgang Mozart and his family seem to attract novelists, more than any other classical musician. Following that post, I decided to look for and read these Mozart novels. In writing about them here I won't be revealing any spoilers. I want to look at how the characters, especially the Mozart family members, are portrayed; who the other historical characters are and their relationship to Wolfgang, and how much of the novel is historical fact.

The first novel that I read was Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees. Rees is known as a crime novelist and has used his expertise to write a suspenseful story. The novel takes place after Wolfgang's death and he appears only in his music and others' recollections. His sister Nannerl is the main character. The story is presented as a flashback, with Mozart's younger son Franz Xaver, also known as Wolfgang Amadeus the son, visiting his aged aunt Nannerl. She gives him a mysterious book, which turns out to be a diary of a few weeks in her life right after Wolfgang died. The rest of the novel is the story Nannerl tells of those weeks, with a final scene back in her home with Franz Xaver.

At the time of his death, Wolfgang and Nannerl had been estranged for a number of years. Wolfgang had left Salzburg and his family to live and work in Vienna, where he married Constanze. Nannerl had stayed to care for their father Leopold and eventually married an older man and moved to St. Gilgen, a small, remote town. Their break had to do with the reception Leopold and Nannerl gave Wolfgang's wife and the fact that Leopold left everything to Nanerl in his will. All of this is fact.

In Mozart's Last Aria, Nannerl receives a letter from Constanze informing her of Wolfgang's death and also that he thought he was poisoned. Telling her husband that she needs to pay her last respects to her brother, Nannerl travels to Vienna to try to determine what really happened.

A number of historical people figure into the plot. Wolfgang's widow Constanze Weber Mozart is naturally an important character. Baron van Swieten, who was one of Wolfgang's strongest supporters, plays an integral role. Since The Magic Flute was one of Mozart's last works, the people associated with that production appear regularly. These include the impresario Emanuel Schikaneder who wrote the libretto for The Magic Flute, and the actor and writer Karl Gieseke. Gieseke (or Giesecke) was a cast member in the premiere of The Magic Flute. He also translated several of Mozart's operas into German from Italian. He later left music and Austria to become a minerologist in Greenland and then a professor in Ireland. Other musicians in the story include Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart wrote his clarinet concerto and clarinet quintet, and Maria Theresia von Paradies, a blind concert pianist and singer.

Matt Rees gives background in his Author's Note about which events are historically true and what he changed for the plot. (He also includes a listing of the pieces that are referred to in the novel.) One of these altered facts is that Nannerl never visited Vienna after her brother's death. In order not to reveal too much of the plot, I refer you to the novel and the Author's Note for the rest.

Another afterword discusses how Rees came to write this novel. The plot is structured on Mozart's Piano Sonata in A Minor, K. 310, which he wrote shortly after his mother died.  As I read the book, the beginning drew me into the story, showing Nannerl's quiet life in the country filled with disappointment and unfulfilled hopes. She learns of her brother's death from Constanze's disturbing note and sits down to play the first movement, which mirrors her unease. The second part of the novel, set in Vienna, became confusing for me as Nannerl learned more and more about her brother's life, work, and associates. Many mysterious events and conversations occurred and I felt is was quite dark. For Rees, this is the Andante Cantabile second movement; this movement begins and ends calmly but has a darker, tumultuous section in the middle. When I reached the final part of the novel, the disparate threads began to come together and make sense as many of Nannerl's questions were answered. The third movement of the piano sonata is a Presto that comes to a rousing and satisfying conclusion while staying in the minor key.

I enjoyed this book. I recommend it especially if you like mysteries, classical music and Mozart, historical fiction, and Vienna.