Paul Johnson, 1928-

Book - 2013

"In addition to his many insights into Mozart's music [in this concise biography], Johnson also challenges the many myths that have followed Mozart, including those about the composer's health, wealth, religion, and relationships"

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BIOGRAPHY/Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus
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New York, New York : Viking, published by the Penguin Group 2013.
Item Description
"A life"--Jacket.
Physical Description
164 pages ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 157-158) and index.
Main Author
Paul Johnson, 1928- (-)
  • The "miracle" prodigy
  • Master of instruments
  • A married composing machine
  • Mozart's operatic magic
  • A good life fully lived.
Review by Choice Review

The intended audience for this book would appear to be persons with at least vague notions of Mozart's accomplishment but without musical literacy. Johnson, a popular historian and journalist, concludes that Mozart, even in his darkest moments, led an essentially happy and satisfied life as a result of his Catholic faith, his devotion to his friends (through the Freemasons especially), and his marriage. Other modern biographies, e.g., Maynard Solomon's Mozart (1995), provide a more ambiguous view. Johnson mostly avoids discussion of Mozart's works except in general terms, a choice that doubtless renders the book more accessible. Peter Gay's Mozart: A Life (1999) competes almost directly in size and scope. A reader looking for Mozart the solid citizen might choose Johnson; one looking for a more subversive Mozart might choose Gay. The apex of Mozart biographies (and of composer biographies), Hermann Abert's W. A. Mozart (Eng. tr., CH, May'08, 45-4885), will be out of reach for most readers; on the other hand, anyone can read Johnson in an afternoon. The volume does not displace Gay but can be recommended as a gentle introduction to Mozart's life, albeit one with a distinctive perspective. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers. B. J. Murray Miami University

Copyright American Library Association, used with permission. Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* For once taking an uncontroversial stance, politicallycontentious popular historian Johnson lauds everyone's favorite composer so as to pique the interest of every reader of this profile. He seems to have two primary objectives: to explain why Mozart's music is so good and to uproot the sentimental legends that have grown like so much honeysuckle (a weed, after all) around Mozart's life. While proceeding overall in good biographical chronology, Johnson prosecutes his first objective by, for instance, discussing how Mozart's writing for particular instruments from piano to viola to the then-new clarinet to trombone to tympani reflects mastery of the qualities and capabilities of each (the chapter occupied with this argument is reason enough to rejoice about the book). Johnson starts debunking myths on the first page, where he insists that Mozart wasn't a sickly child. Thereafter, he continues to lay bare misconceptions: that his father coldly exploited him; that he ever lived in poverty; that he was lascivious and unfaithful to his wife, as well as that she was improvident and shrewish; that he had a pauper's burial; that he ever was a neglected musical presence in his time; that he was ruinously in debt. They all crumble under Johnson's commonsense presentation of evidence. An altogether excellent primer on possibly the most complete musician who ever lived.--Olson, Ray Copyright 2010 Booklist

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

Historian Johnson (A History of the American People) has taken to writing succinct biographies of world-renowned figures like Darwin and Churchill that usually clock in under 200 pages, and this newest work, is no exception. Johnson packs a great deal of information into these pages in this chronological narrative, and his grasp of Mozart's musical output is astounding, his descriptions of Mozart's works comprehensive and enlightening. Johnson nicely gets into Mozart's character ("Mozart had just enough experience with opera for it to remain fun, without disgusting him"), and he challenges preconceived notions about Mozart's financial situation, marriage and, in an epilogue, the events surrounding his death. Overall, this is a solid, and often fresh, introduction to the life and work of the composer. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

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

Johnson (Socrates) here delivers a concise biography of classical composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-91). Johnson strives to debunk legends that surround the artist's life and to give listeners a new appreciation of his musical achievements. The author analyzes and dispatches as falsehoods popular misconceptions about Mozart's health, his relationship with his father, his indebtedness, and the portrayal of his wife, Constanze, as a spendthrift shrew, but the focus of the biography is the man's music. Mozart's naturally cheerful disposition and knowledge of instruments and musicians informed his composing. Mozart understood how to use musical instruments and musicians to their maximum ability. He also mastered the tricks, jokes, and artifice of music and composed witty satirical pieces. Johnson helps the reader appreciate the depth of the genius of Mozart. There are a few points where some background knowledge of music would be helpful. Narrator Robert Ian Mackenzie delivers a well-paced performance. VERDICT Music lovers will appreciate this succinct biography. Cynthia Jensen, Gladys Harrington Lib., Plano, TX (c) Copyright 2014. 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

An impassioned mash note to an immeasurable artist. In the latest of his short biographies of great men (Darwin: Portrait of a Genius, 2012, etc.), historian Johnson doesn't stint on his love for the singular life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (17561791). The facts, of course, remain staggering: Mozart was playing piano at 3, composing at 5, touring and writing piano minuets and violin sonatas by 7, an opera, and a mass and two symphonies by 12; he was knighted as a maestro by 15. He was gifted with a phenomenal memory for everything he heard, a mastery of instruments, a perfect ear for tone and pitch, and a work ethic spurred by ceaseless inspiration. He wrote all the time--during his morning wig fittings, in a coach, in between playing billiards or all through the night. The faucet never shut off, particularly in his last decade, when he was churning out immortal symphonies, operas and concertos at warp speed, bouncing from one form to the other without breaking a sweat. This is a very personal appreciation, and Johnson captures the depth of Mozart's achievement with a scholarly fan's feverish and at times overweening enthusiasm. He barely notices the composer's wife, children or negative attributes, presuming he had any. This Mozart is not only great, but exceptionally good, a kind, warm, deeply religious, financially astute--despite Johnson's own evidence to the contrary--artist who was adored by women, beloved by all, resentful of no one and died at 35: "He seemed to know he was dying, but his mood was composed, tranquil, resigned to accept his fate, and grateful for all the mercies life had brought him." A hard-sell hagiography but also a compact and knowledgeable portrait of genius.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.