Saturday, July 13, 2013
While it is clear that the author knows something about Mozart and his family, the characters are two-dimensional caricatures of the real historical people. Leopold Mozart is depicted as uniformly stern, doting only on his son and treating Nannerl almost as if she didn't exist, interacting with her only to stifle her musical abilities. Anna Maria, the mother of Nannerl and Wolfgang, appears to be coarse and uneducated, her dialogue peppered with swearing. The first appearance of Nannerl shows her as a strange, possibly autistic, little girl with a gift for music. Wolfgang is self-centered and casually cruel to others.
The events also do not follow the historical record. Captain d'Ippold was in reality a lifelong friend of the Mozart family, as well as a suitor of Nannerl's. In this novel he rejects Nannerl and her family and deliberately moves to another city to get away from them. When Nannerl meets her future husband, Baron Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg, he is a charming, handsome man, though in reality he was quite a bit older than Nannerl and appears to have been somewhat of a curmudgeon. His children have all been given now names, too. That seems like a small point, but if the real names are easily available, which they are, and the book is filled with real people, why change their names?
Even before I finished the book, I started considering why I disliked it so much. I enjoy historical fiction and read a lot of it. I recognize that everything in a historical novel will not be true. How much needs to be true, or what aspects of history need to be preserved in a novel?
A problem with historical fiction is that readers take the fiction parts as fact. I recently participated in an online discussion thread on education in which one writer sited Salieri's killing of Mozart in the Amadeus movie to make a point about some people's jealousy of gifted individuals. The person making the comment and the person who responded to it both believed that Salieri really did kill Mozart. I jumped in with the generally accepted facts about Mozart's death as well as what we know about Salieri.
I used to have my 4th graders read Mr. Revere and I, a historical novel narrated by Paul Revere's horse. I really like this book and it brings parts of the American Revolution to life for young readers. It doesn't bother me that a horse is telling the story, though I made a point in teaching with the book to clarify aspects of the story that were not historically accurate, such as that the real horse that Revere rode on his famous ride was a borrowed horse, not his own. However, the Revere family and other historical figures, such as Samuel Adams, are depicted realistically, and the important events of the time are also accurate.
Then I began thinking about the other Mozart novels I read. They all include some fiction, of course. My favorite turns out to be the first one I read, Mozart's Last Aria. Notable fictions that author Matt Rees has created include Nannerl making a trip to Vienna after her brother's death and having one character die who in reality lived a reasonably long life. Both these elements are important to the plot, and Rees includes extensive notes in his afterword about the history behind the story that explain what he changed. He also has a discography of the music referred to in the story and an explanation of how he structured the plot.
I find that whenever I read historical fiction I always wonder what's true and what the author made up. That is what inspired me to start reading nonfiction about Mozart. The afternotes and discography that Matt Rees included at the end of Mozart's Last Aria enhanced the reading experience for me and saved me from searching for some answers. I also think that including actual works of Mozart as important parts of the plot is excellent!
There is one more novel that I haven't yet read, this one being about Anna Maria Mozart. There's is also a movie titled Mozart's Sister that I haven't seen. For now, though, I'm reading another nonfiction work, The Mozart Family: Four Lives in a Social Context. The author has done extensive research with the primary documents. I'm looking forward to reading it and then writing about it!