Sunday, June 14, 2009

Mozart's Wife by Juliet Waldron

This interesting and insightful novel gives Mozart's longsuffering wife, loyal, practical, loving Konstanze a voice and whisks readers back to 18th century Vienna to peer through the verbal window of Konstanze's words and witness what being married to lovable but selfish musical genius Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was like.

It is a story or trials, of constant ups and downs. Despite the perfection of his music, Mozart is a deeply flawed man; loveable and likable, and in some ways almost child-like, money flows through his fingers like water, and he spends far more than he earns. Just like a child, he insists upon instant gratification of all his wants and whims whether it be new silver shoe buckles or to keep a horse he cannot afford. And always there are bills, bills, and more bills; debts that he cannot pay, and more piling up all the time. When he has money, instead of settling his debts, he fritters it away, and he is a notorious soft touch for a loan. His shifting fortunes necessitate frequent changes of address, borrowing money, and pawning the gold snuffboxes and watches his patrons routinely reward him with. He absolutely refuses to be practical.

While Mozart spends his days giving lessons and trying to curry favor and commissions from the rich, Konstanze is left to her own devices, almost perpetually pregnant, a bored German hausfrau with endless piles of sewing and housekeeping to do. It is also her lot to deal with the endless procession of creditors who come knocking at the door. Mozart's nights are spent at concerts, parties, and the opera, sometimes with, but most often without, Konstanze at his side.

The novel also poignantly illustrates the achingly real perils of motherhood in the 18th century. Konstanze stoically endures numerous pregnancies, fully aware of the dangers that a woman faces in childbed, the knowledge that Death is never very far away, and also confronts the painful reality of infant mortality as, more than once, her children die.

Konstanze also endures her husband's dalliances and infatuations with various female students and opera singers, including her own sister the beautiful golden warbler Aloysia, a worldly prima donna with marital woes of her own. When Mozart protests his innocence, vowing that he loves only Konstanze, and hasn't really done anything wrong, she reluctantly lets the matter drop, even though she knows she should be more forceful and assertive, "but my poor heart still wanted so much to believe."

Konstanze also faces her own erotic temptations in the form of a handsome military officer, and her life doesn't end when Mozart's does. After his death, Konstanze becomes a professional widow, adept at always keeping the flame of Mozart's memory burning bright so that even though the composer is dead the music never dies, and earns a tidy sum to provide Konstanze with the comfortable existence her wayward husband could never give her when he was alive. She eventually marries again, this time to solid, dependable, reliable, Georg Nissen, a Danish diplomat and ardent admirer of Mozart's music.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, I've always found Mozart and his talent fascinating ever since I saw the movie "Amadeus" as a child, and I applaud author Juliet Waldron for bringing his beloved Stanzi out of the shadows and giving her a voice. Also, this is a story it would have been far too easy to romanticize and mythologize as one of the great love stories of history, kudos to the author for resisting that temptation and giving us Mozart and his wife as real human beings with all their flaws and foibles, and showing us the stark reality of their marriage instead of presenting it as a beautiful bed of roses. So, another round of applause for Juliet Waldron!

A wonderful director's cut of the movie "Amadeus" is also available on DVD

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