Mozart: A Life Critical Essays

Maynard Solomon


(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In MOZART: A LIFE, Maynard Solomon argues that biographies of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart may be divided into those that idealize Leopold Mozart’s relationship with his son (thus preserving the myth of Mozart as “the eternal child”) and those that cast Leopold as a villain, suffocating the composer’s need for autonomy and interfering with his musical development. MOZART: A LIFE clearly falls into the latter category. Relying heavily upon Freudian psychology, Solomon portrays Leopold as a jealous and bitter man, unable to compose anything of his own after 1762 and eager to make his son dependent upon him by any means possible.

This central thesis proves to be unconvincing. Solomon has reduced the Mozarts to little more than a dysfunctional family. Leopold’s cruelty to his son, Solomon suggests, derived from a psychological need to relive the estrangement that had once erupted between himself and his own mother. The composer’s flight from Salzburg and his father’s bitter accusations regarding this move were, he insists, remarkably parallel to the way in which Leopold abandoned is mother in Augsburg nearly fifty years earlier.

Solomon’s Freudian analysis tends to ignore much of the other evidence that makes Mozart’s life so complex for biographers. For instance, Solomon distorts the young Mozart’s repeated prayer that “First comes God, then Papa” into a child’s rebellious reminder that his father can never be first in his affections. His interpretation conceals the intricacies of Mozart’s relationship with Leopold, a bond that contained dependence as well as a desire for liberation and genuine affection as well as resentment against Leopold’s lack of sympathy. MOZART: A LIFE at best presents only one side of this picture.

Sources for Further Study

The Christian Science Monitor. March 2, 1995, p. 11.

The Economist. CCCXXXVI, July 22, 1995, p. 80.

The New York Review of Books. XLI, October 19, 1995, p. 32.

The New York Times Book Review. C, March 26, 1995, p. 7.

The New Yorker. LXXI, March 13, 1995, p. 99.

Opera News. LX, August, 1995, p. 48.

The Wall Street Journal. February 21, 1995, p. A24.

The Washington Post Book World. XXV, March 12, 1995, p. 4.