Mozart: The Man and the Artist Revealed in His Own Words

compiled and annotated by Friedrich Kerst, Translated and edited by Henry Krehbiel

Review by Cathleen Myers

Dover has re-released in paperback its edition of Mozart: The Man and the Artist Revealed in His Own Words - a useful little source book very usefully priced at $4.95! Culled mostly from Mozart’s voluminous personal correspondence, the quotes are conveniently arranged into chapters (e.g., "Chips from the Workshop," "Concerning the Opera," "Love and Friendship," "Morals," "Concerning Others," ). Fans of Amadeus will be disappointed that Kerst carefully edits out a lot of Mozart’s more "colorful" language and that no excerpts from any of his hilarious obscene letters appear in this edition. Ah well! (If you want to read the letters in full, there’s a three-volume collection, edited by Emily Anderson, that can be found in most good libraries. And, for a really great read, get the Pelican paperback collection Mozart’s Letters, edited by Eric Bloom, which includes all the juicy stuff: detailed descriptions of backstage politics at the Archbishop’s Court and at the Opera, the composer’s very honest discussions of how to write show-stoppers, cute sex-talk with his wife Constanze, the hysterically funny scatological letters to his cousin Basle, and language that would make the South Park dudes blush!).

For a more serious look at the Master - and an excellent introduction to Don Giovanni - check out Nicholas Till’s Mozart and the Enlightenment: Truth, Virtue and Beauty in Mozart’s Operas, now in soft cover (W.W. Norton & Company). With so many attempts to "modernize" the operas and make them "relevant" to modern audiences, it’s refreshing to look at them for a change in their 18th century context. Today’s audiences, charmed by the beauty and elegance of the music, forget just how radical the operas’ libretti were in their own time, written, literally, between the American and French revolutions and how steeped in revolutionary ideas. Till makes it clear that Mozart is not the child-like innocent of Peter Shaffer’s Amadeus, but took an active part in the revision of his librettists’ work.

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