Reviews: Mozart and Vienna Nocturne

A new theme to this book review post.  Two books I recently reviewed had a character in common:  Amadeus Mozart.  One is a new biography of him while the other is a novel featuring Mozart as one of the key players.

Mozart was born in Salzburg, Germany in 1756.  He began his musical training as a toddler and quickly became a child prodigy both playing his violin and keyboard and for his original compositions.  He toured Europe prolifically as a child with his father, sister Nannerl (also a musician), and his mother.  At the age of 17, be became a court musician in his hometown.  In 1781, he moved to Vienna and established his career there.  During that time, he wrote and conducted his most famous works including the opera, The Marriage of Figaro (starring Storace, mentioned below); numerous concertos, symphonies, and choral pieces; and his uncompleted Requiem.  Mozart, alongside Joseph Haydn, are considered the fathers of Classical music.

Mozart:  A Life by Paul Johnson

Viking Adult, 2013.  Hardcover, 176 pages.mozartalife

Mozart: A Life is less a biography of Mozart, as the title says, than it is a biography of the works of Mozart. Allow me to explain. The book was light on Mozart’s personal life, providing only what a reader needed to know to interpret the rest. The bulk majority of the work discussed Mozart’s compositions and their orchestration. Because of that focus, I think a person not familiar with written music could easily become lost as the book is filled with specialized music terms. Thankfully, as I have over a decade of music lessons under my belt, I was able to appreciate and understand the material discussed as most of the terms were not defined. Also, the author had a clear bias towards Mozart as he continually interjected his opinion on particular Mozart orchestrations.

Looking at just the biographical material, I have seen older children’s book that provided more details (this is written for adults). If one is looking to understand how Mozart created his compositions, I would recommend this title.

I obtained this biography via a Goodreads First Reads Giveaway.

Vienna Nocturne by Vivian Shortwell

Ballentine, 2014.  Hardcover, 304 pages. viennanocturne

This novel traces the early life of opera singer Anna Storace.  Since little is known about her other than family, acquaintances, and performances, a novel was the perfect way to present her story.  The novel begins with her first lessons and performances in her native England before following her to her big debut in Venice.  From there, her opera company moves to Vienna at the request of the Austrian emperor, Joseph II.  Once there, Anna becomes a “superstar” and meets Amadeus Mozart.

We also see Anna’s relationships with those closest to her play out.  Her mother does her best to protect Anna.  Rauzzini, her teacher in England, provides guidance from afar.  Michael Kelly, a fellow member of the opera company becomes her best friend.  Francesco Bennuci, the primo buffo of the company, is the first man to hold her heart and becomes Anna’s lover.  Mozart begins as Anna’s friend before composing songs for her and becoming her second and most dear lover.  Once heart-wrenching point in the story was her ill-fated marriage of necessity with John Fisher and the events directly thereafter.  All of the relationships help shape and mold Anna, as the novel covers her life for during her formative years (age 11-21).

In all, it was a good story.  I think anyone would be able to follow the storyline.  However, there is a need to know musical terms as they are frequently used and not defined (compared to Mozart: A Life, use of these terms is minimal and does not break the flow of the story if one chooses to look them up).  The descriptions within the book (of people and places) is reminiscent of an older era; they reminded me of Lousia May Alcott’s writings.

I obtained at this ACR at the library conference I attended back in October.  I wanted to wait until closer to the release date of February 25, 2014.  This is Shortwell’s debut novel.


P.S.  Sorry for the couple hour delay in posting.  Something went wrong and WordPress didn’t do it automatically; I had to go back in and manually post it.


2 thoughts on “Reviews: Mozart and Vienna Nocturne

  1. I will have to read Johnson’s book for certain. Many of the Amazon reviews were negative, claiming the book was light on the musical interests. Thank you for the clarity.

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