MOZART by Wolfgang Hildesheimer


Email this review


More an attack on previous Mozart scholars than a coherent study in its own right, this free-form biographical essay--no chapter divisions, constant digressions, only the roughest chronological order--sets out to free Wolfgang Amadeus from the sentimentality, the clichÉs, the subjective fudgings of such allegedly misleading writers as Alfred Einstein. ""They pass over bizarre elements, leave out what seems to them unessential, explain away what is embarrassing. Thus, they stretch the image in every direction, upward and (especially) downward, smooth it out and arrange it until it corresponds to a vague Apollonian ideal and idol, which, of course, keeps tumbling off its pedestal."" Hildesheimer, then, insists on drawing no firm conclusions, no clear connections--especially since his Mozart is ""a genius at self-concealment,"" a fellow whose testimony (primarily in letters) can never be taken at face value. And the Mozart here is thus seen as ""a helpless foreigner"" in human relations, a repressed, sublimating type with little real attachment to his father and mother and no attachments later on: ""Where is there ever even a hint from the mature Mozart that the personality of any other individual had affected him. . . ?"" Likewise, supposed links between Mozart's inner life and his work--the choice of emotionally charged keys, the effect of his parents' death--are all dismissed: keys were consciously chosen for artistic reasons; Die Zauberflote was no spiritual swan-song, but ""a last, energetic attempt to achieve solvency""; etc. Still, Hildesheimer does, in a rather tortured fashion, acknowledge the emotional involvement of Mozart in his operatic characters; and there are long, iffy, but richly challenging discussions of the creative dynamics at work in Don Giovanni, Cosi fan Tutte, and others. Useful, too, are the rambling, lively musings on wife Constanze, father Leopold, collaborator Da Ponte, and some Mozart patrons and creditors--though Hildesheimer's attempt to distribute blame for Mozart's deterioration (""Undesired and ultimately unloved, he ended up in unrespectable company that, for us, is veiled in darkness"") is spotty and unconvincing, as is the half-hearted portrayal of Mozart as a quasi-rebel against the establishment. This, then, is far from a definitive biography, especially since Hildesheimer makes no claims to musicological sophistication. And his rhetorical excesses--repetitions, ill-tempered sarcasm, gratuitous asides--are often off-putting. But, in the absence of a major recent serious Mozart Life-and-Work, the psychoanalytic anti-romanticization here (subjective, of course, in its own way) makes for erratic but densely provocative reading--above all for those (fewer, surely, than Hildesheimer seems to believe) who still cling to the 19th-century clichÉs of Mozart life-history.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1982
ISBN: 0374522987
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux