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Glover's time machine
on 26 November 2005
While you're in Amazon, try searching "Mozart" in the "Books" category [don't even attempt it in "Classical Music"!]. Over three thousand offerings will be displayed. Refining that search to "Constanze Mozart" returns barely two dozen. While that might be expected, the fact that "Mozart's Women" appears in none of the lists seems a distortion.
Glover has successfully offered something innovative in Mozartiana - his life and that of the women in it. With so many seeing Mozart's wife Constanze through the film "Amadeus", Glover's view may be something of a shock. Her depiction of Constanze and the other Weber daughters, along with Mozart's sister Nannerl, is more than a rehabilitation. It is almost an upheaval of the traditional view of the lives of 18th Century composers and performers. Moreover, the tale is done with such verve and enthusiasm that you are caught from the first lines and held captive until the story's complete.
Does anyone who's read this far need an introduction to music's most eminent figure? The boyish, extroverted, discouraged and often distraught man who produced so much, yet died before his peak productive years? Glover manages to re-acquaint us to the child who found strength and inspiration through the presence of his sister. Their times apart were difficult for both, leading them to exchange a constant stream of letters in their younger years. They played together, with more than just music, since Wolfgang would bring home games when Leopold dragged him to some distant city. Only his relocation to Vienna broke the link, further sundered by his marriage to Constanze. Glover traces Nannerl's life in parallel to Wolfgang's. That existence fits more appropriately the image we have of the time - marriage to an unpleasant man and enforced exile away from music centres.
Mozart's eye for the ladies rarely let up until his marriage. Constanze's sisters attracted his gaze in his younger years and his ear in the later ones. Glover's division of this book into three "family" segments seems simplistic at first glance. Her logic is demonstrated as she follows the sibling, then marital relationships. It is the third segment, "Mozart's Women", that allows the author to achieve her fullest expression, however. It's no longer games nor domestic bliss, but Mozart's compositions and how he worked with singers and musicians. In his operas, he targetted particular performers - disappointed when certain vocalists were unavailable, appalled when substitutions were forced by circumstances.
As Glover recounts the development of librettos and cast assemblages, she draws you into each story with commanding passion for her topic. It is her depictions of the performances that jar the modern reader. She is able to evoke the quality of the singers' efforts as if she had personally witnessed them. You "hear" Calavieri's poignant ability, Alyosia Weber's soaring escalations to the highest pitches, and listen to the ways Mozart found to utilise the voices of young children. His tenors were no less carefully selected, with Wolfgang rewriting scores to accommodate the loss of power in an older performer. The entire segment reads as if Glover was sitting in the second row of the music halls furiously scribbling notes as the music washes over her. Her recounting of what she "heard" should melt the resistance of the most hardened opera avoider. It did me. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]