MOZART: His Music in His Life by Ivor Keys

MOZART: His Music in His Life

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The life is the grist of the works, which are for the most part as they are, when they are, and where they are because of the life."" So English critic Keys has written a Mozart biography that stops for purely musical discussion whenever a composition is written. A reasonable notion--except for two things: Mozart was so supremely prolific that it's virtually impossible to keep a narrative going with so much musicology to attend to; and, more crucially, Keys only occasionally finds real links between life and work, aside from influential encounters with other composers. (He notes, quite rightly, that ""plights seem neither to impede nor to stimulate great creators."") Still, there is much of value here. One of Keys' major goals is to upgrade the much-debated place of Mozart's father Leopold, and he does a fairly persuasive job of it: he gives a long chapter to Leopold's own musical background, a pivotal influence; he portrays him as a basically altruistic, loving father (not a child-exploiter); he stresses Wolfgang's ""tendency to happy heedlessness""; and, of the increasing family friction, he says, ""The unprecedented gifts were ultimately too much for father and son."" He's also skillful with the influences of the Bachs (first J.C., then J.S.) and Haydn. And his necessarily brief critiques of the oeuvre are usually vivid and fresh (no musical examples, however), with careful but un-pedantic attention to dates and development. As for the life, it's a wearying series of travels and frustrations that Keys gives little shape--though he writes jauntily enough (despite an over-fondness for certain clichÉs) and doesn't neglect Wolfgang's hauteurs, xenophobia, or bathroom humor. Not the life-and-work interweave that Keys set out to write, then. (He doesn't even take up the suggestive father-figures in the operas.) Nor an ideal introduction for students. But for those already somewhat knowledgeable--a thoughtful, stylish, sometimes provocative serving of genial scholarship.

Pub Date: March 3rd, 1980
Publisher: Holmes & Meier