This is a terrific introductory book to Mozart, and would be beneficial even to those who are already familiar with the subject. The author does a good job of deflating Mozart myths *without generating any new ones himself.* This has been particularly tough for writers of Mozart biography. The author just presents Mozart as a man, paints a picture of him with the latest research, and does not attempt grandiose summations or philosophical meanderings. At the same time, he knows and appreciates Mozart's greatness and uniqueness. The chapter called "Mozart in 2006" is particularly good, and worth the price of the book by itself. Kenyon talks about the events going on in Salzburg on the big 250th, and how Mozart is being marketed like a Big Mac (and much more successfully apparently, judging by the lines I had to wait in to get into the Geburtshaus this year). But then he retraces past history to show that for most of even the 20th century, it wasn't this way, Mozart was a composer loved for only a handful of works (it's amazing to contemplate how recently most of the operas of the "immortal Mozart" have entered the repertoire), was not considered "profound" or "sublime" but more like "pretty" and "enjoyable," and that his reawakening started with some British scholars--all but ignored at first--and then pushed into mainstream mania by the distorting film Amadeus. He shows how this has done as much bad as good for Mozart, but the ticket-takers in Salzburg wouldn't agree. The book then discusses Mozart year by year. The detail is rich and interesting, and again the author doesn't fetishize his subject. We learn some new things, such as the fact that apparently Prince Lichnowsky, who later became an important patron of Beethoven, was in the process of suing Mozart when he (Mozart) died.
The analyses of various pieces of music are also refreshing. Finally someone who dispels the myth that the finale of the Jupiter symphony consists of a four-part fugue. Well, there is a brief such moment in the coda, but it's gone in a flash and it's not the real reason for the piece's significance. His breakdown on such works as the symphonies 36 and 38, the Sinfonia Concertante K. 364, and other well-known works, is also fresh and readable whether you have musical training or not. In a world that already contains perhaps too many guides to Mozart, this one was really needed.
Mozart patrons and singers are listed and given brief bios, but oddly there's no section for other instrumentalists in his life. There are also sections with quotes and verse about Mozart, from everyone from Beethoven to Victor Borge. (Borge's is best!) Kenyon goes over the main corpus of Mozart's works and rates them. Overall I agree with the ratings, though I feel he shortchanges a few key works, such as the 17th piano concerto. Also Kenyon's chapter on performing period Mozart is a little naive, but it's typical of what Brits, who started the whole "original music" school, tend to think. All in all a fine book and a great introduction to the Divine Mister M, with an excellent list of suggested readings in the back so that you can continue your exploration. The small size (roughly that of a Tom Clancy paperback) means you can throw this in your luggage and take it when you visit Salzburg or Vienna, and carry it with you to appreciate the sites that much more. Highly recommended.