Saturday, May 15, 2010


Before my trip to Bratislava, I made a list of books to look for about that part of the world. I have done this for all my my trips to Central Europe, so there are books I've already read. Frederic Morton's "Thunder at Twilight" is fantastic, but I've read it too many times. Out of the fifteen books on my list this round, only one was available at the Strand- Robert W. Gutman's "Mozart: A Cultural Biography." I finally finished it early this week, and it was a lot to haul around. But it was really good.
Gutman ties together a bunch of different things- Mozart's day-to-day life, his family relationships, the power of royalty and the church, the evolution of musical forms in his lifetime, other important contemporary composers (like Gluck, and the Haydn brothers), along with the broader intellectual life of Western Europe and England. I can never think of England as European- it's a thing unto itself.
Two aspects of the book were particularly gratifying to me. One was the explication of why Mozart wrote "Ave Verum Corpus" for the organist at Baden for the Feast of Corpus Christi. It was because the priest, Anton Stoll, was so helpful in looking after Constanze Mozart while she recuperated in Baden.
The other are the parallels that Gutman finds between Mozart and Goethe. (Mozart and Goethe together- what's better than that?!) Though I think of Goethe as much later than Mozart, he was actually seven years older. And lived a lot longer. I also learned that for all the eager Austrian embracing of Amadeus, Salzburg (while the see of a bishopric) was in Bavaria, not in the Empire at all.

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