Friday, December 07, 2012

Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791 by Christoph Wolff

Author Christoph Wolff, a professor at Harvard and known for his studies of Bach and Mozart, thinks that many scholars view Mozart's final four years incorrectly. They write as though Mozart were thoughtfully wrapping up his career as performer, conductor, and composer. They present evidence drawn both from the composer's works and his life. His music had reached a pinnacle and daily living was becoming unbearable. Death was predestined and unavoidable. Not so, says Wolff in Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791.

Wolff looks first at Mozart's life, which was admittedly always chaotic and a bit nomadic. The composer's finances were a mess as he always lived beyond his means. Mozart was not worried, for he could usually make more money. The economic crash brought about by the Holy Roman Empire's war against the Ottoman Empire, however, closed theaters and reduced royal support for the arts. Mozart adjusted some to the times, writing Cosi Fan Tutte for only six singers as an economic measure. Still, he believed he was bound to be fabulously wealthy in time and was proved right, for royalties from his music made his wife and sons rich. Why sacrifice style and comfort when he could easily pay in the future? Wolff says Mozart was not despairing.

Wolff also examines Mozart's later symphonies, operas, sacred music, and unfinished works to see if he could find any signs that the composer was contemplating the end. He found no such signs and argues that Mozart had numerous unwritten works already composed in his head. The composer had plans for what would have been more glorious music.

Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune is a short but not a quick read. Wolff uses some musical terms that casual readers will not recognize, and the book may seem a bit dry at times. Skimming over some of the technical paragraphs, I was able to get the gist. Wolff's introductions and summations, however, were compelling, and I enjoyed the effort. The book is a challenge worth taking for classical music fans.

Wolff, Christoph. Mozart at the Gateway to His Fortune: Serving the Emperor, 1788-1791. Norton, 2012. 244p. ISBN 9780393050707.

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