Mozart's women : his family, his friends, his music

by Jane Glover

Paper Book, 2005

Status

Available

Publication

London : Macmillan, 2005.

Description

A chronicle of the women who inspired, fascinated, and, at times, disappointed Mozart reveals the important role they played in shaping the characters that appeared in the operas he wrote.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
The context in which I came across this book (a cross-recommendation from Susan McClary's Feminine endings) and descriptions I saw of it rather led me to expect it to be a radical, revisionist, feminist biography. But of course that would be silly - Jane Glover has spent much of her professional life conducting Mozart and confirming his standing as the greatest operatic composer of his time, she's not someone who's likely to rush out and tell that it's all a myth and he was just fronting for his sister. Nor is that a version of events that would make any kind of historical sense.

In real life, this is a collection of three extended essays, written in non-technical terms for the general reader, looking at the role played in Mozart's life, his operas, and his posthumous reputation by a group of extraordinary women, in particular his sister Nannerl, the pianist who inspired all his early keyboard music, and his wife Constanze Weber and her three sisters, all of them highly-talented singers. Lesser parts are played by Mozart's mother (who acted as his business manager on his Paris tour, when his father couldn't leave Salzburg) and by some of the other distinguished singers for whom he wrote parts in his operas.

Glover confesses herself to be a fan of Peter Shaffer's Amadeus and credits Simon Callow with helping her to get started on this book. But she quietly sets aside many of the more romantic myths we cherish about Mozart. Salieri was a personal friend as well as a professional rival, and his mistress Caterina Cavalieri (Constanze, Donna Elvira, the Countess, etc.) was one of the most important singers to work closely with Mozart. In Josef II's Enlightenment Vienna it was not at all the custom to organise splendid funerals and tombstones; the "pauper's grave" story comes from nineteenth-century views of Mozart's death. Count Walsegg-Stuppach's habit of commissioning works anonymously from composers and then passing them off as his own was a standing joke in musical circles, and Mozart was simply playing along with it by describing the count's agent who came with the commission for a Requiem as a "ghostly messenger".

Even Mozart's financial situation wasn't quite as dire as it's usually presented - Constanze had taken things in hand (a little late in the day, admittedly) and spending was under control and a lot of the debts already paid off by the time of Mozart's death. Posthumously, Constanze went back to performing for a while, and showed herself to be a skilled manager of Mozart's reputation, who managed to do well financially out of his manuscripts and biography (left unfinished by her second husband, Georg Nissen, and published under Constanze's control).

I found the account of Mozart's operas to be the most interesting part of the book - this is obviously Glover's bread-and-butter, and she presents interesting practical insights into the way Mozart wrote to take advantage of the particular gifts of the singers he had available to him. And puts his work into context, so that we can see just how radical and innovative he was as a composer. Of course, it's a lot easier to write in non-technical ways about opera than it is about orchestral music, because you have the narrative as a foothold for those who would get lost in key-changes and tempi, but this still struck me as a great example of how you can write about music for the non-technical reader without obviously dumbing things down. Excellent stuff!
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LibraryThing member omphalos02
Maybe a little dry for those who have no interest in the behind the scenes stories of most of Mozart's vocal works, but I still enjoyed it.
LibraryThing member arielgm
Jane Glover is Music Director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, and an internationally known conductor. Her lifelong involvement with the music of Mozart has included a long-standing interest in his sister, wife, and the other women in his circle. She acknowledges that she has “done no original research in dusty libraries” (390) for this book, relying instead on the numerous existing biographies. Mozart’s Women therefore adds a different perspective rather than new knowledge, or a new interpretation of existing knowledge to the already crowded field of Mozart biography. The four sections, “Mozart’s Family”, “Mozart’s Other Family”, “Mozart’s Women” and “After Mozart” are practical, though a little clunky in their rearrangement of chronology for the sake of manageability. The third section contains the most detailed exposition of Glover’s expertise, and is presumably the most innovative, though I’m sorry to say that I do not know enough about the music to judge adequately. Interesting and accessible though the book is, I think Glover is trying to cover too much territory. Given her specialist knowledge, a more detailed treatment of a narrower sphere (Nannerl Mozart or the Weber sisters, or the operatic roles) might have been more satisfying. That, or a much longer book.… (more)
LibraryThing member trinibaby9
The first half of this book was great. It gave alot of insight into his life. The second portion after his death could have been cut out entirely it really just repeated what had been said in the first half of the book. Worth reading though.
LibraryThing member PamelaManasco
Still working through it, but it's an intriguing read so far.
LibraryThing member arielgm
Jane Glover is Music Director of Chicago’s Music of the Baroque, and an internationally known conductor. Her lifelong involvement with the music of Mozart has included a long-standing interest in his sister, wife, and the other women in his circle. She acknowledges that she has “done no original research in dusty libraries” (390) for this book, relying instead on the numerous existing biographies. Mozart’s Women therefore adds a different perspective rather than new knowledge, or a new interpretation of existing knowledge to the already crowded field of Mozart biography. The four sections, “Mozart’s Family”, “Mozart’s Other Family”, “Mozart’s Women” and “After Mozart” are practical, though a little clunky in their rearrangement of chronology for the sake of manageability. The third section contains the most detailed exposition of Glover’s expertise, and is presumably the most innovative, though I’m sorry to say that I do not know enough about the music to judge adequately. Interesting and accessible though the book is, I think Glover is trying to cover too much territory. Given her specialist knowledge, a more detailed treatment of a narrower sphere (Nannerl Mozart or the Weber sisters, or the operatic roles) might have been more satisfying. That, or a much longer book.… (more)

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