A fourth outing by New York soprano and novelist Cowell (The Players, 1997, etc.) re-creates the situation that led up to Mozart’s marriage.
Based on true events, this is the story of the prodigy who, at 21, is just beginning to make a name for himself as a serious composer. Unhappily engaged as a court composer for the Archbishop-Prince of Salzburg, Mozart leaves the bishop’s employ in 1777 and begins to travel throughout Europe with his beloved, ambitious mother. In Mannheim, the two visit the home of Fridolin Weber, an impoverished musician whose four daughters (Josefa, Aloysia, Constanze, and Sophie) are as renowned for their musical talents as for their beauty. Mozart eventually becomes a lodger in the Weber home and a fixture in that family’s life. Fridolin’s wife Maria, a shabby-genteel sort who nurses memories of her fine upbringing and dreams of recovering her lost position in society, wastes no time in sizing up the young Mozart as a good prospect for a son-in-law—although not in the same league with the Swedish count they’re also trying to reel in. Before long, Mozart is engaged to Aloysia, but this ends unhappily when it turns out the young lady is pregnant by another boarder (a painter). The brokenhearted Mozart leaves Mannheim and throws himself into his work, but he has a change of heart in the end and returns to the Weber house to marry Constanze and live out the rest of his life with her—fairly happily, too. Cowell frames the story by relating much of it as a memoir, recalled by Sophie in 1842 at the behest of Mozart’s English biographer Vincent Novello. With its frequent changes in locale and abrupt switches in the objects of affection, the tale is reminiscent of nothing so much as an opera—appropriately enough.
A delight, at once fanciful and erudite: should be richly satisfying to Mozart buffs and fascinating to those in the outer circle as well.