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Reviewed by:
  • Mozart: The Early Years, 1756–1781
  • Jane R. Stevens
Mozart: The Early Years, 1756–1781. By Stanley Sadie. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. [xxv, 624 p. ISBN 0-393-06112-4. $35.00.] Illustrations, bibliography, indexes.

Shortly before his death in March 2005, Stanley Sadie completed the manuscript of the first volume of a long planned two-volume work about Mozart and his music. Sadie was surely correct in perceiving a need for a comprehensive monograph on Mozart's life and works that would take account of over half a century of scholarly studies, both biographical and musical, that have transformed many of our ideas about this most "classical" of composers. Few, moreover, would question this scholar's credentials for such an undertaking, building as it does on decades of research, best known from his New Grove article and other work on Mozart. Yet this is not a project for the faint of heart. Much has changed since the early-twentieth-century canonic work of Hermann Abert, Théodore Wyzewa, and Georges de Saint-Foix: not only has our knowledge of relevant and often essential minutiae vastly increased, from paper and handwriting dating to the identities and lives of countless contemporaries who contributed to Mozart's world; but our most basic views of eighteenth-century music history and of the ways that composers contributed to it have lost their straightforward clarity in favor of an often rather murky complexity. While such considerations only underline the need for this new monograph, at the same time they contribute to the formidable difficulties it faced and to its unavoidable susceptibility to criticism on a multitude of fronts, especially in its present truncated form. Happily, the skill with which Sadie met these difficulties will ensure that his book will become an essential staple of any scholarly library, despite its equally sure fate as a continuing object of scholarly critique. [End Page 588]

The plan of this volume, like much else about it, is rather traditional—meaning it is a plan that has served the needs of a great many writers and readers in the past. In twenty chapters, beginning with Mozart's family history and concluding with the composition of Idomeneo, we move through the largely familiar chronological periods of Mozart's first twenty-five years, each characterized by a title that often serves to give direction to the narrative (e.g., "Disappointment in Vienna" [1767–1769], "Frustration" [1775–1777]). The first and usually longer part of each chapter is devoted to detailed biography, including Mozart's composing activity; in most cases this narration is followed by a discussion of the principal works of the period, with attention both to issues of sources and authenticity (where relevant), and to musical commentary. Like all biographies of Mozart, this one must rely for information about these early years on the voluminous correspondence written by and to family members, largely during periods when the young musician was away from his Salzburg home. But Sadie is sometimes able to augment these accounts with those of outsiders commenting on the family's activities. In early chapters, the attention given to the practical details of travel, with sometimes numbing listings of names of inns and people encountered along the way, can lead to reader ennui; one wishes for a map on which one could trace the Mozarts' routes for a vicarious (or actual) tourist expedition. Yet these details serve in themselves to evoke Leopold's own very real concerns during these journeys—how would he get his family safely and comfortably to the next major destination, how much would it cost, would they be able to make enough money in appearances to make up those expenses?—as well as the arbitrariness of their compensation, over which they had no control.

As Wolfgang grew older, Leopold's continued preoccupation with these concerns has appeared to modern historians to be increasingly inappropriate (as it certainly was to his son). Ever since the early years of the nineteenth century, Mozart's biographers have been fascinated by his personality, what we might call his psychological makeup. The twentieth century added another element, the psyche of the father and especially...


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