I didn’t know anything about Mozart before this book.
I could recognize a few of his works and I knew he was a genius, but that was it. Little did I know.
Johnson is somehow able to convey the personal and professional highlights of Mozart’s life without becoming dull. We learn about his close relationship with his father, touring at a young age, and the beginnings of his composing career. From there we follow him through his travels, meeting royalty, marrying his wife, writing more music. And more music. Then more music. Honestly, it’s a completely unreal amount of composing. Hundreds of pieces and more than 5 million bars of music according to Johnson.
Which leads me to what is perhaps the most impressive part of this book. Johnson’s ability to cover music, and lots of it, without losing me. As much as I adore listening to music, I can’t read or play a single piece of it. Not Chop Sticks, not the recorder, nothing. Mozart wrote so many pieces, including everything from chamber works to operas, and each one was masterful based on different instruments or emotions. I was able to follow along and appreciate the work despite my lack of technical knowledge. Not only that, but it was still an enjoyable read.
Another enjoyable element of Johnson’s writing was his denouncing of all shady theories. He addresses and dismisses them one by one in the book. Mozart and his father had a pretty good relationship, he wasn’t sleeping around on his wife like crazy, he was never so dirt poor he became a beggar. Did Mozart have his problems? Of course. But according to Johnson, many of the accounts of Mozart’s life take actions out of context and in so doing, read them incorrectly. He also gets quite sassy at one point, and you know I love a good sass.
It was also a joy to learn about Mozart as a human being. He made inappropriate jokes in his letters, loved his music, had friendships, and even tiffs. It’s easy to look at a genius like this and forget he was human, Johnson doesn’t let us do that.