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Book Title: Mozart: A Life|
The author of the book: Maynard Solomon
Date of issue: March 7th 1996
ISBN 13: 9780712659741
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 712 KB
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Reader ratings: 6.2
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Solomon attempts to do the impossible in this book -- to get inside the unconscious minds of the Mozarts on the basis of historical documents and letters -- and fails. That this book is so widely admired is, I think, more a testimony to the reading public's desire to understand Mozart on this level than the quality of this book.
This biography has deep problems.
First, Solomon's analytical impulse counteracts the narrative flow. Instead of organizing the book in linear chronology, he analyzes well-defined periods in Mozart's life (i.e. back in Salzburg prior to departing for Vienna) in several chapters which cover the same years from a different perspective (one chapter on finances, another on his relationship with his father, then his mother, then his romantic involvements, then music of the period, et cetera). This fragmented approach disrupts the reader's sense of chronology and makes obvious relationships between different aspects of Mozart's life difficult to see.
I thought Solomon's widely-described psychoanalytic framework would not work for me, but I underestimated how bad it would be. It is deeply distracting, unnecessary, and forces the reader to accept Freudian theory in order to appreciate the book. I reject it -- at least in the bankrupt terms that Solomon employs.
Freudian psychoanalysis is an empirical theory which makes claims about the world. Freud considered himself a scientist and a doctor, not a literary critic. For a writer in the mid-1990s to uncritically employ long-disproven empirical categories such as the preposterous psychosexual stages of development loudly calls their analytical framework into question. This is especially true when Solomon uses Freudian theory to interpret everything from Leopold's relationship to his son to Mozart's use of tension and resolution.
A note on the latter -- surely Solomon does not think extramusical considerations outweigh the formal context for Mozart's musical development? He has little to say about the musicological rationale behind Mozart's use of tension and resolution in sonata form, but the interested reader would do well to turn to works such as Rosen's "The Classical Style" for an alternative account. Then she can decide for herself which analysis is more persuasive.
And what is the reader supposed to make of passages such as this?
"In some way, the Salzbug Mozarts were now reenacting a drama of sacrifice and atonement, unconsciously staged by Leopold Mozart to come to terms with the earlier events, the memory of which continued to grieve him. For Leopold Mozart was sorely wounded by his mother's repudiation of him and burdened with guilt over his own actions."
A careful reader should be alarmed by the certainty with which Solomon presents such assertions, and also by the lack of evidence preceding this strident claim. Leopold certainly did not profess a burden of guilt over his own actions. If this is to be accepted as negative evidence, how can anyone possibly argue with this claim? It is motivated only by the theoretical premise of Freud, has no evidential support, and cannot be contradicted or disproven. To present a theory on these terms as if it is a plain fact betrays a crucial lack of critical self-awareness, and a dangerous dependence on his preferred theoretical modality. The Mozarts are made to fit the cookie cutter model of Freudian psychodynamics.
The one ground upon which Solomon stands well is historiography. While the facts are not always clearly presented or well organized, or are undermined by unpersuasive speculation, they are the most interesting, useful, and important part of the book. I would have loved this book to be re-written at 200 fewer pages without all the mumbo-jumbo about guilt and sublimation, with more attention to musicological analysis, and organized to reflect the integrity of life as it is actually lived.
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Read information about the authorMaynard Solomon was a co-founder of Vanguard Records as well as a music producer, and later became a writer on music
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