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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography

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This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enduringly popular and celebrated composers to have ever lived. His substantial oeuvre contains works that are considered to be among the most exquisite pieces of symphonic, chamber, and choral music ever written. His operas too cast a long shadow over those staged in their wake. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enduringly popular and celebrated composers to have ever lived. His substantial oeuvre contains works that are considered to be among the most exquisite pieces of symphonic, chamber, and choral music ever written. His operas too cast a long shadow over those staged in their wake. And since his untimely death in 1791, he remains an enigmatic figure—the subject of fascination for aficionados and novices alike.  Piero Melograni here offers a wholly readable account of Mozart’s remarkable life and times. This masterful biography proceeds from the young Mozart’s earliest years as a Wunderkind—the child prodigy who traveled with his family to perform concerts throughout Europe—to his formative years in Vienna, where he fully absorbed the artistic and intellectual spirit of the Enlightenment, to his deathbed, his unfinished Requiem, and the mystery that still surrounds his burial. Melograni’s deft use of Mozart’s letters throughout confers authority and vitality to his recounting, and his expertise brings Mozart’s eighteenth-century milieu evocatively to life. Written with a gifted historian’s flair for narrative and unencumbered by specialized analyses of Mozart’s music, Melograni’s is the most vivid and enjoyable biography available. At a time when music lovers around the world are paying honor to Mozart and his legacy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be welcomed by his enthusiasts—or anyone wishing to peer into the mind of one of the greatest composers ever known. 


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This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enduringly popular and celebrated composers to have ever lived. His substantial oeuvre contains works that are considered to be among the most exquisite pieces of symphonic, chamber, and choral music ever written. His operas too cast a long shadow over those staged in their wake. This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, one of the most enduringly popular and celebrated composers to have ever lived. His substantial oeuvre contains works that are considered to be among the most exquisite pieces of symphonic, chamber, and choral music ever written. His operas too cast a long shadow over those staged in their wake. And since his untimely death in 1791, he remains an enigmatic figure—the subject of fascination for aficionados and novices alike.  Piero Melograni here offers a wholly readable account of Mozart’s remarkable life and times. This masterful biography proceeds from the young Mozart’s earliest years as a Wunderkind—the child prodigy who traveled with his family to perform concerts throughout Europe—to his formative years in Vienna, where he fully absorbed the artistic and intellectual spirit of the Enlightenment, to his deathbed, his unfinished Requiem, and the mystery that still surrounds his burial. Melograni’s deft use of Mozart’s letters throughout confers authority and vitality to his recounting, and his expertise brings Mozart’s eighteenth-century milieu evocatively to life. Written with a gifted historian’s flair for narrative and unencumbered by specialized analyses of Mozart’s music, Melograni’s is the most vivid and enjoyable biography available. At a time when music lovers around the world are paying honor to Mozart and his legacy, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart will be welcomed by his enthusiasts—or anyone wishing to peer into the mind of one of the greatest composers ever known. 

30 review for Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne

    Although it wasn't boring, this biography is more about where Mozart traveled, for whom he played, and how much he made. Melograni spends more time talking about money than Mozart in an effort to dispel rumors about how bad he was with his money. Other than that, this is a decent biography. Although it wasn't boring, this biography is more about where Mozart traveled, for whom he played, and how much he made. Melograni spends more time talking about money than Mozart in an effort to dispel rumors about how bad he was with his money. Other than that, this is a decent biography.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Fredrik Öjbro

    En gåva av den eminente Per Nyrén som är konstnärlig ledare för Helsingborg pianofestival. En förstår förförelsen av klassisk musik mer när personen bakom blir tydlig. Saklig och lättläst bok med lagom långa kapitel. Är en intresserad av personen Mozart är den helt klart läsvärd.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Alan Murchie

    This book is written as a straightforward biography of Mozart, and on its own terms it succeeds. The author has lovingly gone through heaps of primary source material, primarily letters, and written an interesting account of the composer's life and relationships. The trouble is that a straightforward, chronological narrative of the life of a great composer has a great big vacuum at its heart: without music, the exercise feels hollow. This short biography grounds itself in compelling primary sour This book is written as a straightforward biography of Mozart, and on its own terms it succeeds. The author has lovingly gone through heaps of primary source material, primarily letters, and written an interesting account of the composer's life and relationships. The trouble is that a straightforward, chronological narrative of the life of a great composer has a great big vacuum at its heart: without music, the exercise feels hollow. This short biography grounds itself in compelling primary sources but neglects the one that matters the most: the music. It has no musical examples, which would be OK (and maybe ideal for a broad audience) if it still brought the reader the sense and color and magic and mystery of the music. . . even in words. . . .but it rarely does. I would recommend Rushton's short biography as an alternative. It's about the same length, readable, engaging, and filled with music.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    Mozart's 256th birthday was a few weeks ago, on January 27. When I was reminded of that on the news on the 27th, it occurred to me that despite my love of classical music and my interest in Mozart, I didn't actually know that much about him. I've seen the movie Amadeus, but it only shows one part of Mozart's life (his adulthood after marrying his wife) and I wasn't sure how accurate it was anyway. So I decided to read this biography, and to be honest, I chose this one out of all the various Moza Mozart's 256th birthday was a few weeks ago, on January 27. When I was reminded of that on the news on the 27th, it occurred to me that despite my love of classical music and my interest in Mozart, I didn't actually know that much about him. I've seen the movie Amadeus, but it only shows one part of Mozart's life (his adulthood after marrying his wife) and I wasn't sure how accurate it was anyway. So I decided to read this biography, and to be honest, I chose this one out of all the various Mozart biographies simply because my library had it and it wasn't ridiculously long. My overall impression is that this is a good place for anyone interested in Mozart's life to start learning about him, because it's pretty in-depth while still being accessible for a non-musicologist and non-historian audience. Here are a couple of cool things I learned about Mozart and his time period (the second half of the 1700s): —In Mozart's time, music played by an orchestra (especially in operas) was just considered background noise; the singers were the real stars. Mozart was the first composer who showcased instrumental music and got people to appreciate orchestral music in its own right. —Someone from today attending a concert in the 1700s would be appalled at the audience's behavior. It was normal for people to talk, move around, eat, drink, and clap at random times during a concert, in stark contrast to the complete silence expected at classical concerts today and the social rule of only applauding between movements. —Court composers at that time were considered servants. If someone was the official composer for a king, for example, they had to wear a uniform and were expected to eat and socialize with the other servants of the house. The idea that composers are exalted artists and even geniuses didn't become popular until later. —The concept of copyrights and royalties didn't exist yet, so composers were only paid one upfront price for their compositions. After that, no matter how many times their piece was performed or copied or sold, they didn't get paid anything else. —Mozart was never successful in finding a permanent, salaried position at a court (despite being more talented than virtually every other living composer at the time). Instead, he made money by taking commissions from whoever was interested, basically trusting his income to the free market. He was essentially a freelance composer, which was considered pretty odd back then. —It's hard for us to visualize this today, since we're so familiar with Mozart's music and since classical music in general sounds so old-fashioned and proper compared to all the modern musical genres, but at the time, some of his pieces caused confusion and scandal because they were judged to be “too modern” and “too strange.” —The rooms where Mozart gave performances – even the fancy ones – were dark and bitterly cold, since candles were the only light source and fires were insufficient to keep huge rooms warm. We tend to forget just how uncomfortable it must have been to play an instrument with really cold fingers. There was at least one occasion when Mozart had to postpone playing because his hands were so cold. —Mozart was apparently a pretty unattractive guy. He was short, pale, pockmarked (from when he got smallpox as a child), had a deformed left ear, and had knobbly hands (either as a result of constant piano playing or from arthritis, no one is sure). —The image we have of Mozart from the movie Amadeus is pretty inaccurate, but it was interesting to find out how the myth of Mozart as a silly, childish man got started. In actual fact, Mozart was quite serious in demeanor, a devout Catholic, and a Freemason. The “eternal child” myth was spread by his sister, who had started out as a child prodigy like Wolfgang but never became as successful as him and was jealous of him her entire life. The man who wrote the first biography of Mozart (shortly after his death) interviewed his sister, who told him how dependent Mozart had been on their father and how irresponsible he was. Her bias has persisted throughout history. Mozart's father, a man who desperately wanted Mozart to need him, was especially pernicious in spreading the “eternal child” idea, trying to convince himself and others that Mozart was helpless and clueless without him, when in actuality, he only really became well-known and respected once he left his father's clutches. Also, in contrast to the perception of him as naturally gifted and effortlessly brilliant, Mozart worked incredibly hard, practicing for thousands and thousands of hours throughout his life. He undoubtedly had natural aptitude as well, but people tend to forget that hard work made up a big portion of his success. There were a couple of flaws to this book. First, the author stresses throughout how innovative Mozart's music was, but doesn't really give us any examples of what made it innovative. I already mentioned the novelty of putting orchestras in the spotlight, and I suppose you could also count his decision to blend the comic and the tragic in his operas (as opposed to staying strictly in one form or the other), but I feel like there has to be more to it than that. I would have appreciated more depth on the specific qualities of his pieces that made them so different from anything that came before. Second, there's a ton of information on Mozart's father and a fair amount on his sister, but we learn next to nothing about Mozart's wife, Constanze, or his children (two out of six of whom survived). I wanted to know more about Constanze's personality, how she filled her time, what she thought of her husband, etc. I also wanted to learn more about the four babies who died (the author makes no mention of funerals or burial sites, or even the parents' reaction), as well as more about the two boys who did survive. All we have are their names. I'm sure some of the omission is because of a lack of source material (which consists almost entirely of letters), but I was still disappointed. Third, I wanted more details about Mozart's creative process and habits. Was he a morning person or a night owl? Where did he find inspiration? Did he sketch broad outlines first and then fill in details later? Did he write while sitting at a piano? The author doesn't cover any of this. I also wanted to know what instruments he could play. He was brilliant at the harpsichord and piano (a new invention at the time), and to a lesser extent the violin, but those are the only instruments the author mentions him playing. Obviously, he wrote music for many more instruments than that, but I have no idea if he was proficient at every instrument he wrote music for. Again, this could be because of a lack of available evidence, so it might not be the author's fault. All in all, a very enjoyable and informative book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Floris Steenbreker

    This book gets more fun the more you know about music. There are a lot of pages with tons of small little details. I'm really into classical music, so this book hits a nerve, but the amount of names and songs is personally a little bit too much. It made me lose the big picture sometimes. But overall, a good book! This book gets more fun the more you know about music. There are a lot of pages with tons of small little details. I'm really into classical music, so this book hits a nerve, but the amount of names and songs is personally a little bit too much. It made me lose the big picture sometimes. But overall, a good book!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Miss

    This book was okay. I read most of it, skipping over parts like some of the operas. I wouldn't recommend it to children, due to the details about his personal life and interactions with women. Good biography, well written. I came away from this book with a stronger dislike for Mozart than ever. I don't approve of the lifestyle he had and some of the things that he did, but I still enjoy playing and listening to his music. I don't like the picture they picked for the front cover. They could had p This book was okay. I read most of it, skipping over parts like some of the operas. I wouldn't recommend it to children, due to the details about his personal life and interactions with women. Good biography, well written. I came away from this book with a stronger dislike for Mozart than ever. I don't approve of the lifestyle he had and some of the things that he did, but I still enjoy playing and listening to his music. I don't like the picture they picked for the front cover. They could had picked a different one because we have plenty of good pictures of Mozart. Maybe they choose this unfinished one because he died so young (which was really sad) and, like the painting, his life was incomplete. He was very talented. I hadn't realized how much his father pushed him to perform and be such a star. If you want to know more about Mozart's family and life, read this book. It has some interesting pictures in it and the design is spot-on.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Othón A. León

    This is the second Wolfgang Amadé Mozart biography I have read and so far, the best! Melograni succeeds at smootlhy taking the reader from June 1765 at a London tavern (The swan) where he interpreted at the early age of 9, to Mozart's death bed in 1791 at only 35 years of age. If yoy saw the Milos Forman's movie "Amadeus" then you have the wrong (very wrong) picture of the life of this genious and playful character. Chapter after chapter, his works are simply and accurately described, his family af This is the second Wolfgang Amadé Mozart biography I have read and so far, the best! Melograni succeeds at smootlhy taking the reader from June 1765 at a London tavern (The swan) where he interpreted at the early age of 9, to Mozart's death bed in 1791 at only 35 years of age. If yoy saw the Milos Forman's movie "Amadeus" then you have the wrong (very wrong) picture of the life of this genious and playful character. Chapter after chapter, his works are simply and accurately described, his family affairs "naked", his passions explained, his women revealed, etc. You are not a "Mozartini" (as sometimes he joyfully called himself) connossieur until you read this book... so, put your records on, download volume and enjoy the reading!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Pete D'angelo

    i found it sad that mozart's genius was never really appreciated in his lifetime. and his father was exploitative and pretty awful. tho the musical environment wolfgang grew up in probably had a significant effect on the great composer he would later become. and contrary to what i've heard, he did work very hard and it seems was not nearly as frivolous as he was portrayed in the movie amadeus. tho one anecdote i liked was when mid performance he got up, jumped over a table and began to meow like i found it sad that mozart's genius was never really appreciated in his lifetime. and his father was exploitative and pretty awful. tho the musical environment wolfgang grew up in probably had a significant effect on the great composer he would later become. and contrary to what i've heard, he did work very hard and it seems was not nearly as frivolous as he was portrayed in the movie amadeus. tho one anecdote i liked was when mid performance he got up, jumped over a table and began to meow like a cat. overall, while he never achieved the fame he maybe could have within his lifetime, his refusal to compromise and his stylistic innovations are probably the main reason his music has achieved its timeless quality and enduring appreciation up to the present day.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Jane Wetzel

    This is a marvelous book. The information came from historical facts and Family letters giving documented truth about A. Mozart's life and times, both of which surprised and amazed me. This book has inspired me to read and study more about this musical genius, his life and all of the music he has written. So much information; I loved it This is another book that I would love to purchase for my own personal library. This is a marvelous book. The information came from historical facts and Family letters giving documented truth about A. Mozart's life and times, both of which surprised and amazed me. This book has inspired me to read and study more about this musical genius, his life and all of the music he has written. So much information; I loved it This is another book that I would love to purchase for my own personal library.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Phil

    I'm not much of a biography reader and this did little to change my opinion of the genre. However, the subject matter was engaging and I did learn a great deal about Mozart's early life that I didn't know before. I'm not much of a biography reader and this did little to change my opinion of the genre. However, the subject matter was engaging and I did learn a great deal about Mozart's early life that I didn't know before.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Angela Joyce

    A compassionate, fair, and highly readable biography.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Peter Williams

    Easy and enjoyable read. Makes Mozart into a real person.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    An enjoyable biography on the life, travels, family relationships and musical works of perhaps the greatest composer ever.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Greg Collver

    Very good biography. I did not agree with the author's view that Mozart's adversities in life may have contributed to the originality and greatness of his music. Very good biography. I did not agree with the author's view that Mozart's adversities in life may have contributed to the originality and greatness of his music.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    This is a great biography. It doesn't read like a typical history, and really humanizes the man from the icon to a man burdened with a great gift. This is a great biography. It doesn't read like a typical history, and really humanizes the man from the icon to a man burdened with a great gift.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Niccolò Gallo

  17. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  18. 4 out of 5

    Holly Saxton

  19. 5 out of 5

    Benton Jackson

  20. 4 out of 5

    Aida Honeycrisp

  21. 5 out of 5

    Emil Dalén

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mozartwillis

  23. 4 out of 5

    Maggie

  24. 5 out of 5

    Bára Grey

  25. 4 out of 5

    MNM

  26. 5 out of 5

    Ann

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mindy Malenius

  28. 5 out of 5

    Keith Jaffir

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jill Mardesich

  30. 5 out of 5

    Zweiundvierzig

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