Written by Marcus Weeks
(National Geographic Society, 2007)
Reviewed by Colin Kerr
This book is aimed at young readers. It is beautifully illustrated and laid-out, as one might expect from National Geographic. With index, it is 64 pages long. It won’t intimidate any reader. And it is very interesting. The first thing the reader wants to know is about Mozart as a child prodigy. How early did he actually learn to play and write music, anyway? He was playing the harpsichord well and writing little pieces of music by five.
But this book takes us into the life of the young boy beyond the music too. It talks a little bit about his every-day life, his travels to the royal courts of Europe with his father and sister. But the prodigy thing had to run out eventually – by fifteen he had to look for a concrete job. This started in Salzburg as first violinist, a position which he was soon to outgrow. The book talks about his friendship with Joseph Haydn (pp. 42-3), describes some contemporary musical instruments (pp. 26-7), discusses the Enlightenment – but without being preachy as National Geographic sometimes is (pp. 40-1), and has an informative section on operas (pp. 54-5). It mentions billiards, a game called ‘skittles,’ and the Freemasons. It talks about Mozart’s family life and his problem managing his money.
The book is a perfect introduction for young readers, and would help to situate this great musician historically, indeed, provides a good, light history lesson in itself. None of the sensationalism that is often associated with the life of Mozart (courtesy of Pushkin and the movie, Amadeus) is found in these pages – which is a very good thing. But, alas, neither is the famous anecdote about Palestrina! Sure, it’s light on the religious element, so you will have to consult other, fuller biographies to get a solid sense of the faith of the Freemason who wrote such great Catholic church music too.