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 Köchel 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.

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