Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life by Robert Spaethling

As a music lover, I suppose I’ve been too confined to one genre of music. The Hindi music is so vast that I never ventured outside. I’ll have to admit that present day English pop is something that I’ve never enjoyed. It focuses too much on the rhythms, while I enjoy soulful tunes. This is exactly the reason why I greatly enjoy Madan Mohan’s music; it has great melody and meaningful lyrics (although that’s not his contribution).

I’ve read indirectly of the great music legend, of course. “I swear it on Mozart’s head” was Ruth’s refrain in The Morning Gift. If you’ve ever read Eva Ibbotson’s works, you would know how much she focuses on music and the musical city of Vienna recurs in almost all of her books.

So, when I saw Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life by Robert Spaethling in our Resource Centre, I was just slightly intrigued. I’ve never been one to read biographies, and especially not about people that I have little or no knowledge of. But then again, I have a penchant for letters, and the title compelled me to pick it up.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's compositions charact...

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

What better than to hear things from the horse’s mouth! Even autobiographies tend to take on shades and hues; nobody is able to give a completely honest picture of one’s own life. Letters and diaries, on the other hand, are written without reserve, and are much more closer to the real person.

I didn’t have the chance to finish the entire book. I just read the first part : The Early Years (1769 – 1776).

That was the period when a young Wolfgang Mozart made various journeys to Italy, Vienna and Munich on account of his music. He was accompanied by his father Leopold. The letters are mostly addressed to his sister Nannerl and a few to his mother. It is evident that he was extremely fond of his sister and the two shared a very comfortable relationship.

The “wunderkind” was mischievous like any other child of his age. We have a tendency to disregard the childhoods of famed people. Forget them, it’s difficult to imagine anyone as a child if you know of them only as adults. Mozart was unapologetic about describing the inadequacies of other people, be it musicians or Royalty.

What pleased me the most was that Mozart appeared to be humble, and almost unaware of his genius. He referred to his successful operas in almost an offhand manner. Most of his conversations about music were practical; about writing the notes, copying papers and so on.

Being famous to the degree he was, Mozart’s letters, no doubt, generated a lot of scandal when published. Several biographers have attempted to tone down the language (which included a lot of profanities in German, Latin, Italian and French). This particular collection of letters, however, retains its original form. He played a lot of word games as well, which made for a colourful read.

Here are a few gems from his letters.

I don’t know anything new, except that Herr Gelehrt, the poet from Leipzig, died and after his deathe has written no more poetrie. (p. 7)

I kiss mama’s hand, and to my sister I send a smacker of a kiss and remains the same old – but who? – the same old buffoon. (p.9)

Write to me and don’t be so lazy. Otherwise, I shall have to give you a thrashing. What fun! I’ll break your head. (p.16)

The dances are miserably pompous[…]in the opera house, he always stands on a little stool so that he appears taller than the queen. (p.16)

We have the honor of being aquainted with a certain Domenican who is said to be holy. I myself am not convinced of it, becaus he often consumes for breakfast a cup of ciocolata, right after a big glas of strong spanish wine,[…] a whole plate full of birds, two full saucers of milk with lemon. Maybe there is some kind of plan behind it all, but I don’t think so, because for one thing it’s just too much, and for another, he takes quite a few morsels with him for an afternoon snack. (p.20)

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