Conductor Offers New Mozart Biography Mozart's wild ride from child prodigy to accomplished composer was fueled with strong family relationships — not all of them good. Author and conductor Jane Glover tells Liane Hansen about her new book, Mozart's Women.
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Conductor Offers New Mozart Biography

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Conductor Offers New Mozart Biography

Conductor Offers New Mozart Biography

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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, in Salzburg, Austria. You're gonna heart that a lot in this year of the great composer's 250 birthday. ..TEXT: Commemorations from New York to Tokyo to London to Johannesburg and, of course, to Salzburg and Vienna, will celebrate Mozart's already well-celebrated work.

The life that took Mozart from child prodigy, playing harpsichord and violin by the age of five, to accomplished composer, was fueled by strong family relationships -- some nurturing and others crippling. Mozart's father hoped that his offspring's musical talent would bring the family respect and fortune. Mozart enjoyed fame before he died at the age of 35. But he was penniless, left to be buried in an unmarked pauper's grave in Vienna.

Author and conductor Jane Glover reads between the notes in her new book, 'Mozart's Women: His Family, His Friends, His Music'. Jane Glover joins us from our Chicago bureau. Welcome to the program, its nice to meet you actually.

Ms. JANE GLOVER (Author, 'Mozart's Women'): It's a great pleasure to be here, thank you.

HANSEN: Let's begin with one of the most loving relationships in the book. It's the one that actually begins the book and its that of Mozart and his sister, Nannerl. Tell us a little bit about how did that relationship translate into Mozart's music.

Ms. GLOVER: Well of course Nannerl was older than Mozart by about five years and she was extremely musical too and indeed it was through her having piano lessons from their very clever teacher, father Leopold, it was discovered that the little boy was not only also extremely musical, but was phenomenally musical. And so, the relationship between them as musicians as well as siblings was really very close and very intense because they spent much of their childhood literally on the road. And so they were sort of each other's best friend because that's really all they had. I mean, they made friends wherever they went but they lost them again as soon as they moved on. And I think it's a very interesting thing that Nannerl was a very talented pianist but here little brother soon joined her in ability and in fact shot past her in ability which was quite difficult for her on a personal level in the sense she came down to his level. So the thirteen year old became and eight year old when they were playing games at the back of a carriage, you know.

HANSEN: You write, the first of his piano duets, the Sonata in D, this piece of music actually is a musical illustration of the way they were together.

(Soundbite of Sonata in D)

HANSEN: The way that he wrote it, the way that the pianists have to play this piece of music, it's a wonderful illustration of their relationship.

Ms. GLOVER: Absolutely. And indeed, one often thinks, now what is it that Mozart contributed to musical literature? What did he put that was not there before? And one would think that the piano concerto was something that he developed. But also the piano duet, which he absolutely wrote for himself and Nannerl to play, and interestingly, we have pictures of them playing duets and she's playing the primo part on top and he's playing the secondo part. So it's quite clear that they were absolutely in a sense equal as pianists. And I love the fact that the piano duet, which became in the 19th Century, a sort of vehicle for flirtation and seduction if you think of two bodies sitting very close together on one instrument with their hands entwined and all that sort of thing. For siblings, of course, this was entirely natural for these two people who'd been doing it ever since their early childhood, just to have this physical proximity and make music as one body, but with four hands.

HANSEN: Another force in Mozart's life was his mother. And she died while she was with him, while they were touring together his father was in Salzburg during her illness. And from the letters that you have in the book, he never seemed to forgive his son for his wife's death, Mozart's mothers death. Did the guilt of her death hang over him throughout his life?

Ms. GLOVER: I'm sure it did. I regret to say that Leopold, the father, lost very few opportunities to remind his son. He kept saying, if I had been there in Paris, she would not have died. I mean-appalling thing to say to your son. It was a deeply traumatic event for Mozart. I mean, he was 21 at the time. He was, as you say, on a job-seeking tour which was actually disastrous.

He went to Munich and Manheim and Paris, desperate trying to find a job because he couldn't stand being in Salzburg anymore. He wasn't allowed to travel alone by his father. But his father had to remain in Salzburg to earn his living. So mother went with him. And she also got increasingly ill. They had a terrible journey from Manheim to Paris in appalling conditions and obviously, by the time they arrive in Paris, she was not well. And she got worse and worse and worse. After a few weeks she actually died.

For Mozart, here he was, on his own for the first time in his life. And he'd never made a travel arrangement in his life. He'd never made any sort of decision for himself apart from a musical one. And suddenly he had to deal with not only his own grief and shock and as you say, guilt, but also the physical thing of dealing with this mother's body and sending her effects back to Salzburg. And, of course, the really, really tricky thing of informing his father and his sister that mother had gone.

HANSEN: Let's talk about Mozart's other family and particularly the Weber sisters. He referred to them as almost a string of pearls. He married Constance, however it was her sister that provided almost a turning point in Mozart's vocal writing, and Idomeneo was a result.

Tell us how Aloysia Weber, part of the famous Weber sisters, influenced him to the point where he really began to make his mark with vocal music with this opera, Idomeneo.

Ms. GLOVER: Actually the two things were a little bit different, because they were two different visits to Manheim. But the first time he met the Weber sisters was when he was with his mother on that ill-fated trip. And, as you say, he was blown away by the fact that they were not one but four amazingly gorgeous teenage girls, great fun, very good looking and by the way, extremely talented. And he was in heaven, absolute heaven. And particularly, it was the number two sister, Aloysia, who was so talented that it was almost that that drove them together. And indeed, her elder sister, Josefa just to give the instance of what he family traits were like, was the first Queen of the Night a few years later.

(Soundbite of woman singing opera)

Ms. GLOVER: So it was that sort of brilliant singing and Mozart was just thrilled by this and immediately sat down and wrote an aria for her and said, okay, go away and learn this and come back and sing it to me. She came back in two days time. I think all the vocal music he wrote after that was utterly transformed. In a way, she helped him mature in his vocal writing right then.

HANSEN: How much of an influence did Constanze, his wife, have on his fame posthumously?

Ms. GLOVER: A huge amount. One of the great things for me in writing this book has actually been finding out what happened to Constanze after his death because we tend to think of the end of Mozart in 1791 and that's the end of the line. But in fact, Constanze outlived him by 50 years, amazing.

But Constanze was widowed at the age of 29 and she had a 7-year-old boy and a 4-month-old baby and no money. That's just a huge thing to face. And she obviously had to do something about it. Basically she did two things: she mounted concerts of Mozart's music and indeed, Aloysia, her great sister who was by now, as it were, the Renee Fleming of her day, she really was the most distinguished singer in Vienna. ..TEXT: Constanze and Aloysia did concert tours together and put on concerts together and raised a lot of money, but then, when she got herself therefore more stable, she realized that the great gold dust that she did have, of course, was Mozart's music. And she entered into negotiations with, in fact, two firms of publishers, both of whom thought they could walk all over her, they see her as a young, idiot widow. Not a bit of it.

She was very tough in her dealings with the publishers, but by the turn of the century, 1800, she actually had a huge contract with Breitkopf and Hartel -- who, by the way, publishes music to this day -- and had got herself and her children sort of provided for, but much more to the point, had got his music sort of secure in the publishing house

HANSEN: Jane Glover's new book is called 'Mozart's Women'. It's published by Harper Collins and Jane Glover joined us from our bureau in Chicago. Thank you.

And I guess, happy Mozart's 250th birthday.

Ms. GLOVER: Thank you very much.

(Soundbite of a woman singing opera)

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