March 26th 2007

'1791: Mozart's Last Year'
1791: Mozart's Last Year
H.C. Robbins Landon

Seventeen ninety-one was as extremely prolific year for the 35-year old Mozart, but there is a great amount of misinformation and romanticised legend regarding the demise of the composer which has now sadly passed into the domain of apparent fact.

In an attempt to set history straight, Landon follows the trail of Die Zauberflöte, La Clemenza di Tito and the ever-present Requiem, leading to--and going beyond--his untimely death in the early hours of December 5th. All the various myths, theories and legends regarding the manner of his death are examined and then refuted with a skill and a firm commitment to referencing primary sources only, as well as demonstrating the grave shortcomings in citing from any other origin.

Gripping and well-researched, additional gems include entire chapters detailing the contemporary attitudes to public concerts, as well as an interesting chapter on the Imperial Redoutensaal dance rooms. The final chapter refutes some of the criticisms of Constanze Mozart, attempting to remove her "extraordinary décolleté and fatuous giggle" thrust upon her by Amadeus and even worse slanders by other academics. Landon does so convincingly, portraying the widow as industrious and practical, securing herself Mozart's posthumous pension and ensuring the popularity and success of many of Wolfgang's works.

Defects are somewhat slight: one of the most important Mozart sources is the biography written by Constanze with her second husband, Georg Nikolaus von Nissen. Von Nissen defaced some of Wolfgang's letters to protect the identities of individuals still living, so it is not a great stretch of the imagination that other letters were completely withheld and/or destroyed. However, my fault is that despite it being the most authoritative source, Landon does not analyse it in nearly enough detail.

Regardless, highly recommend, even to the non-Mozart fanatic.

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