MOZART AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT by Nicholas Till

MOZART AND THE ENLIGHTENMENT

Truth, Virtue, and Beauty in Mozart's Operas
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 An erudite mix of music, history, philosophy, biography, sociology, and even depth psychology--adding up to a triumphant study of Mozart's supreme masterworks. Writers faced with Don Giovanni or The Magic Flute have generally retreated into plot summary or musical analysis. Not so here. Stage-director Till, needing to find practical theatrical solutions to the paradoxes of Mozart's operas--why are those peasants loose in Count Almaviva's palace?--turns for help to Mozart's own intellectual milieu, the ``German enlightenment.'' He weaves the chronology of Mozart's professional progress into a tapestry of 18th-century ideas: the social contract; the ``enlightened despot''; the pursuit of happiness; the moral worth of sentiment; the status of the individual. In a text dense with apt quotation from Diderot, Rousseau, Voltaire, Montesquieu, Goethe, and others, Mozart's personal and artistic ambitions are seen playing themselves out against the larger tension of a society striving to reconcile the freedom necessary for bourgeois prosperity with the authority thought necessary to hold that society together. In his early travels, Mozart fed on Enlightenment ideals (e.g., the artist as honored public figure rather than private lackey). He went to Vienna upon the accession of Germany's most enlightened prince, Joseph II, and in the next five ``years of optimism'' produced a host of mature masterpieces. Each opera from La finta giardiniera onward receives full discussion of its connection to contemporaneous social thought, and there is a particularly compelling treatment of the final operas within the context of the ``collapse'' of Joseph's reform program. Mozart's Masonic associations also receive an illuminating presentation. Not all of Till's propositions can be accepted without question, and his occasional forays into psychobiography prove the weakest link, but no matter: Few books provide such a satisfying exploration of the thoughts and feelings from which great art is born. The subtlety and richness of Till's argument cannot be conveyed by prÇcis: A feast for the intellectually adventurous. (Photographs--not seen)

Pub Date: April 26th, 1993
ISBN: 0-393-03495-X
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1993




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