About Life in Flow:Flow in Life

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.

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