Mozart: A Cultural Biography

Gutman, Robert W.

Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1999
ISBN 10: 015100482X / ISBN 13: 9780151004829
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Synopsis: This major work places Mozart's life and music in the context of the intellectual, political, and artistic currents of eighteenth-century Europe. Even as he delves into philosophic and aesthetic questions, Robert Gutman keeps in sight, clearly and firmly, the composer and his works. He discusses the major genres in which Mozart worked-chamber music; liturgical, theater, and keyboard compositions; concerto; symphony; opera; and oratorio. All of these riches unfold within the framework of the composer's brief but remarkable life. With Gutman's informed and sensitive handling, Mozart emerges in a light more luminous than in previous renderings. The composer was an affectionate and generous man to family and friends, self-deprecating, witty, winsome, but also an austere moralist, incisive and purposeful. Mozart is both an extraordinary portrait of a man in his time and a brilliant distillation of musical thought.

Review: Readers who think of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) as the shrieking vulgarian depicted in Peter Shaffer's hit play (and movie) Amadeus will be astonished by the man they meet in this biography by music historian Robert Gutman: "affectionate and generous ... an austere moralist of vital force, incisiveness, and strength of purpose." Without scanting Mozart's often maladroit handling of his patrons or his earthy way with words ("Let the whole company of patricians lick my ass," he declared in a 1777 letter), Gutman portrays a musical genius who slowly and painfully achieved personal maturity as he emerged from the shadow of his domineering father. The rich cultural life of 18th-century Europe forms a vivid background for Mozart's professional and artistic evolution. And Gutman's descriptions of Mozart's work are models of music writing for the lay reader: they capture the brilliance and beauty of the great composer's art in easily accessible language, as in the analysis of The Marriage of Figaro's place in "a new aesthetic of surging movement ... the vocal and orchestral lines twine, separate, and reunite in confrontation, opposition, and accommodation, an ever-changing, effortless interlacing." The prose delineating Mozart's complex personality is just as full-bodied and perceptive. --Wendy Smith

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Title: Mozart: A Cultural Biography
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: 1999
Binding: Hardcover
Book Condition: Used: Good

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