Sunday, September 23, 2007

JOHN CHUCKMAN REVIEW: FRANCIS CARR'S MOZART AND CONSTANZE

REVIEW OF FRANCIS CARR'S MOZART & CONSTANZE BY JOHN CHUCKMAN, February 3, 2006


Here is biographical study blended smoothly with murder mystery. The cause of Mozart's death remains a mystery after many attempts to explain it. Despite the great success of Amadeus, the idea that the composer Salieri poisoned Mozart out of jealousy is generally not credited. Francis Carr skillfully reopens the question of poisoning, but with a new and plausible suspect, having set the stage with an analysis of Mozart's and Constanze's marriage.

It may seem hard for the general reader to believe that so little is known about parts of the life of so great a figure as Mozart. No matter which biography of Mozart you pick up, you find efforts to explain certain blanks in the life of a man so celebrated in his own time. So, too, the odd manner of his funeral and burial. Carr's thesis brings together and explains a number of these mysteries.

In the second half of the book, Carr does a superb job of documenting inconsistencies and reopening the question of why Mozart's remains were treated the way they were. In this matter he masterfully sweeps away the weak explanations of major biographers, especially those around the burial laws of Emperor Joseph II.

The book has a good many passages quoted from Mozart letters, a practice that I generally find less than happy, being so often used as padding. But here the letters are skillfully used to establish Mozart's feelings and attitudes towards his wife as well as providing key testimony from figures such as Constanze's sister Sophie. The absence of letters at certain times, presumably destroyed by Constanze, is itself a line of evidence. Because the heart of the book - Mozart's relationship with his wife and what happened to cause Mozart's death and strange burial - can be little more than an extended essay, the author may be forgiven some padding.

The book is well enough done that you may find yourself reading it in one sitting, just as I did.

If you had previously rejected the idea that Constanze was an inappropriate wife for Mozart, believing it based in prejudice and being aware, through letters, of Mozart's great affection for her, this book may just change your mind.

No comments: