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BIOGRAPHY/Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
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Penguin lives series
New York : Lipper / Viking Book 1999.
Item Description
Includes bibliographical references.
Physical Description
177 p.
Main Author
Peter Gay, 1923- (-)
Review by Booklist Review

Gay, famous as a historian of the Enlightenment, brings a transparent prose style to a new entry in the Penguin Lives series, concerned with that transcendent Enlightenment glory, Wolfgang AmadeMozart (to give the form of his name that he preferred). Gay presents the composer's life as a succession of developmental periods, beginning with his childhood as "The Prodigy" and continuing through his roles as "The Son" of a domineering father, "The Servant" of the prince-archbishop of Salzburg, "The Freelance" musician at a time when entrepreneurship was new for artists, "The Beggar" of friends because of his improvidence, "The Master" of music who continued to grow in brilliance throughout his life, "The Dramatist" who understood how to make an opera grab an audience, and "The Classic" exemplar of musical genius that he has been regarded as ever since his early death. Despite the book's brevity, Gay also scotches several Mozart myths--not only that Salieri murdered him but that his anonymous burial reflects any ignominy. An ideal introductory life. --Ray Olson

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission. Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

In the new Penguin Lives series, edited by former New York Times editor James Atlas, Gay's Mozart biography comes with particularly high expectations, given the author's distinction as a historian (he won the National Book Award for volume one of The Enlightenment). There is little new information here, yet Gay's overview of the composer's life and work is lucid and concise. Noted for his studies of Freud and Victorian society, the author clearly knows the Mozart literature as well. His book includes a fine bibliographical essay, in which he admits to leaning on Maynard Solomon's 1995 tome, Mozart: A Life. Gay provides brief glimpses into the social and historical contexts of Mozart's music: changing attitudes toward listening, the economics of composition and new audience sectors. Also notable is the discussion of how well Mozart's works were received and the author's survey of how Mozart was regarded by subsequent composers. Gay offers a straightforward and helpful introduction to Mozart, debunking romantic interpretations of the composer's life. (Gay maintains that Mozart's burial in an unmarked grave was due to the practice of the period, when extravagant funerals were frowned upon, rather than to poverty.) However, in a book this size, it's hard to stay away from the occasional oversimplified phrase (Mozart "could not have written mediocre music if he tried"). While Gay's judgments of Mozart's works are mostly unsurprising and in line with general opinion, they are discussed vividly and with enthusiasmÄand bolstered with famous quotes and thorough references. BOMC selection. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved Review by Library Journal Review

Noted cultural historian and Freud scholar Gay, author of the autobiographical My German Question (LJ 8/98), here presents an intriguing psychological exploration of the life and music of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Using copious excerpts from Mozart's family's letters and drawing on a variety of secondary sources, Gay constructs a portrait of a developing genius who appears obsessed with the scatological and financial aspects of his existence. Gay traces the artist's maturation in his relations with his father and other authority figures while describing the culminating musical masterpieces of Mozart's later years. Gay is an eloquent advocate for Mozart's place in the very highest echelon of composers. He performs a valuable service in debunking several myths, and his exemplary bibliographic essay directs readers to other relevant titles. Recommended as an illuminating guide to Mozart's psyche; seek elsewhere for musical analysis or straightforward biography.ÄBarry Zaslow, Miami Univ. Libs., Oxford, OH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by School Library Journal Review

YA-This "biography in the short form," chronologically arranged in eight chapters, is a real gem. Young adults will be attracted to the book because of its brevity. Serious classical musicians will enjoy it, and nonmusicians will learn nearly as much about music as they do about the man. Teens will appreciate Mozart's streak of independence, his dramatic flair, and his zest for life. The beautifully written and extensively researched work conveys a strong sense of the person as well as his contributions to the world of music.-Jean Johnston, Fairfax County Public Library, VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted. Review by Kirkus Book Review

In the late '60s, Yale historian Gay won a National Book Award for a history of the Enlightenment; for the third installment of the Penguin Lives he depicts the lightning career of its greatest musical mind. Gay's aim seems to be the application of a scholar's circumspection to the Mozart myth, and the best that can be said of the book is that it establishes historical context with the efficiency so compressed a format demands. The worst that can be said is that it's dry. That may be unavoidable, given the amount of information it has to convey in so brief a span. But the few excerpts from Mozart's notoriously bawdy and scatological correspondence explode through Gay's measured academic prose like a carnival at a Mass. He tries to remain even-handed in treating the vexed subject of Mozart's authoritarian father, but judicious citation does all the editorializing he needs. Leopold to Wolfgang, 1778: 'You must with all your soul think of your parents' welfare, otherwise your soul will go to the devil.' In general, Gay's analysis of the orchestral music suffers from the effusion and imprecision of the amateur: 'The dissonances and chromatic shifts Mozart so brilliantly deployed provided his astonished listeners with moments of simple poignancy or sheer delight. . . .To experience them is to enjoy a spectacle of energy translated into beauty.' But he fares better with the operas, which are clearly his passion. And surprisingly, his austere demystification of the most overly dramatized episodes in Mozart's life'the anonymous late commission of a Requiem Mass, his purported poisoning'imbue its end with even greater poignancy: fate and conspiracy are easier to assimilate than bad luck and incompetent doctors. One month music's supreme genius was a healthy and productive 34-year-old; the next month, as it happened, he was dead. Though short on local color, Gay's book is a lucid and concise account of the facts that fed the legend.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.