I just finished it! I was not just reading a book, I went through an epic journey listening to the works of Mozart. Would I run into a complete chapter dedicated to The Marriage of Figaro, I would watch the opera on Medici.tv.com (a site for classical music lovers). What an adventure!
I enjoyed immensely that particular biography. The author, Jan Swafford, is skillful in making Amadeus a man with his problems and limitations. He’s also careful to put the man in his time and place. And everything makes sense.
I can see you want a “for instance”. Ok, I’ll give you a good a “for instance”.
We’ll compare the legend and the actual fact.
The legend wants Mozart to have died poor and buried in a common grave with nobody following the hearse to the cemetery. The scene has been brilliantly depicted in the movie “Amadeus”, it’s one of those movies that’s described like this: “If you haven’t seen it, go see it”. In other words it’s a great movie.
Now the truth: Mozart made more money the year he died than any other year (He died at the beginning of December). He had some debts, probably due to his love of clothes and of precious things, but also, mostly, because he was gambling at pool (a habit he had picked up in his teens but he wasn’t a good player). Those debts were big, maybe, but about to be paid off in their entirety. How do we know? His wife paid them within a year after Mozart’s death. Mozart was making an enormous amount of money, more than any other musician at the time. Someone with a comfortable setting (house, family, carriage, servants, etc.) needed about 450 florins a year to maintain that lifestyle. Mozart was flying on the stratosphere of around 3 to 4,000 florins per year. And the year he died he made 6,000 florins! Mozart wasn’t poor. He was not very careful with his finances, but he wasn’t poor. He was famous and his work was paid handsomely.
Let’s see his funeral. Ah!
There was a law in Vienna that burials would be done outside the city and that nobody would be allowed to follow the coffin. The emperor had decided so after several epidemies had broken out and killed the population. It was a cruel and inhumane law, for sure, but it was one intended to protect the viennese people. Only the nobles were exempt from this decree, something Mozart was not. But Mozart’s death was felt and lamented in Vienna as well as other cities of Europe. In Prague, for instance, the whole city organized ceremonies to mourn his passing. They loved Mozart over there. His Figaro was sung in the streets. He had been attending or conducting the premiere of some of his major works in the capital of the Czech Republic. His name was respected and honored. I look at the picture I attached to this blog. I’m thinking “Poor dog!”. But there wasn’t any snow. The day of Mozart’s funeral was cool and… misty. No snow.
I liked Jan Swafford’s work. It feels true to the music attached to Wolfgang Amadeus.
I’ll finish the legend of his death because one important question remains: why was this legend created (among many, many others)? Answer: because it’s romantic. I’ll develop that subject in the next blog.