Mozart: A Life

ISBN: 0143037730
ISBN 13: 9780143037736
By: Peter Gay

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About this book

A biography of the greatest musical mind in Western history.Mozart's unshakable hold on the public's consciousness can only be strengthened by historian and biographer Peter Gay's concise and deft look at the genius's life. 'Mozart' traces the development of the man whose life was a whirlwind of achievement, and the composer who pushed every instrument to its limit and every genre of classical music into new realms.

Reader's Thoughts


A good quick overview of Mozart's life and his music. I listened to it on CD and hoped they would include some musical illustrations. But no. Too bad. And they could have...the audio version was only 4 CD's long.


Peter Gay has written a survey of Mozart’s life for those interested in an accurate, well-written, and quick account of his life. In all of these items, he has succeeded. While not enthralling, it is an interesting portrait. There is no debating that Mozart was a musical genius, and a child prodigy. “A child prodigy is, by its nature, a self-destroying artifact: what seems literally marvelous in a boy will seem merely talented and perfectly natural in a young man. But by 1772, at sixteen, Mozart no longer needed to display himself as a little wizard; he had matured in the sonata and the symphony, the first kind of music he composed, and now showed his gifts in new domains: opera, the oratorio, and the earliest in a string of superb piano concertos.” (20) What is truly remarkable about Mozart was that he didn’t develop his full talents to maturity at a young age, as is implied about most child prodigies in Gay’s passage above. What is remarkable is that he matured early…and kept going. He was crude and vulgar, and this frankly surprised me to a large degree. He sang to Georg Niklaus Nissen loudly at the piano that “The person who doesn’t want me can lick my ass.” In writing to Basle, he asked her to join him and writes, “If you have as much pleasure in seeing me as I have in seeing you, then come to Munich, to that esteemed town—see that you get to it before the New Year, then I’ll take a look at you in front and behind…be sure to come, otherwise it’s a shit; then I shall, in my own high person, compliment you, put a seal on your ass, kiss your hand, shoot off the rear gun, embrace you, clean you behind and in front, pay to the last penny whatever I owe you, and sound out a solid fart, and perhaps let something drop.” Say what? Mozart, the master composer of classical music, wrote what? Clearly enlightened music does not necessarily make for enlightened thinking.Gay spends some time discussing the relationship with Salieri, as is appropriate. He dispenses with the rumor that Salieri somehow poisoned Mozart out of jealousy. He pursued money with a dedication only second in his priorities to his health, and wasn’t terribly successful at either. Despite this, he always was moments away from “childish exuberance.”Gay is not trying to introduce novel theories into our understanding of Mozart’s life. He presents the narrative in straightforward prose, concisely presenting Mozart as he was. This is a good book that can be understood by music lovers and non-music lovers alike.


This book serves as an excellent primer for someone in need of an overview of Mozart's life. I would recommend this book for a music layperson or someone who wants a quick outline before more intensive study.


This was a bargain buy at the book store when I went shopping with Lauren last year. She bet me that I wouldn't read it within a year. I beat the bet by 2 months. Woohoo! Anyways, it was an interesting book on the life of Mozart. Kind of dry reading, but overall okay. What I enjoyed the most was having all the melodies humming through my head as I read about the pieces. I'm such a nerd! :-D

Ed Smiley

Not bad. It's pretty good at sorting out the fiction from the rumors. Entertaining.Much of Mozartiana popularizations have a grain of truth, but some popular rumors are just pain made up.


This biography of Wolfgang Mozart is short but not sweet. The opening chapters provide a good overview of Mozart's childhood, family life, and early musical influences and training, and the final chapter does a good job dispelling the myths surrounding Mozart's death and burial. Even nonmusical readers will be able to understand the development of Mozart's musical talents and composition. Unfortunately, these accomplishments as overshadowed by the book's flaws.The book is organized so that each chapter shows a different role played by Mozart, which results in a nonlinear chronology that can be confusing at times if the reader isn't paying close attention to all the dates. The author doesn't feel inclined to provide exact dates for important events in Mozart's life. This same stinginess applies to the events themselves, and the author glosses over things that deserve more than a single sentence. Much time is spent analyzing Mozart's relationship with his father, but this is done from a modern point of view, so the intrepretation is skewed rather than set in its historical context. The author also goes into great detail regarding Mozart's amusingly smutty letters to his first love interests although they have no relevance to his later life, relationships, or musical compositions.Readers looking for a good solid biography of Wolfgang Mozart best look elsewhere, but Mozart does have its good points for those willing to spend their time on something that hits as often as it missed.


The subject matter was interesting, but I did not like the fact that the information was not presented in chronological order. I felt that at certain points the writing was a bit too dense for the subject matter.

Paul Jellinek

A briskly written, sympathetic portrait of one of the greatest geniuses ever to grace the human race. This book sparkles like one of Mozart's early piano concertos, and was a joy from start to finish.


I was interested to learn just how young Mozart was when he began composing! Wonderful to learn about the life of a true child prodigy and lifelong genius. The book also discusses a number of his works in light of Mozart's life at the time and some of the influences that can be seen in his operas. Fascinating.


A charming and brief biography on Mozart. Gay puts to rest some of the many myths surrounding the prodigy and gives the reader a clear portrait of Mozart as both a composer and a man. Also, I learned much about the time in which Mozart lived which I was previously unaware of. A great read for someone who is curious about the man behind the music but doesn't want to spend hours reading a lengthy biography.


This short volume, part of the Penguin Lives series, tries in less than 200 pages to explain who Mozart is and why his music is important. Gay does a good job of outlining Mozart's short but productive life, always being sure to tell the reader what music Mozart was composing at the different stages of his life. Gay also uses letters from Mozart and his father to flesh out their complicated relationship and to gives us a look into the mind of a musical genius(whihch at time is rather disgusting and juvenile).I might have been more intrigued by this book if I knew more about Mozart's music. Though to Gay's credit, I now want to listen to Mozart's compositions with a critical ear. Gay also makes sure that we understand the whole legend about Mozart being poisoned by Salieri is pure fiction, created decades after his death. In the end, this book just scratches the surface of a complicated genius who may be the most famous musical prodigy in history. I know the author was limited by the requirements of the biography series (short lives about famous people), but, I was left wanting to know more.

Marcelo Freitas

It says "short" biography.But it is "too" short.Peter Gay is a good biographer.R


Boy, for such an exciting personage as Mozart, this was a very dull book. Occasionally Peter Gay put some energy and verve into a part of the story, particularly when describing Mozart's operas, but for the most part it was really a book that puts you to sleep, so dry it was almost alarming. He does put to rest the question of whether the Amadeus movie was accurate, not by referring to it - I don't know if it even had been produced in 1999 when the book was published - but by telling the accurate story behind the Mozart legends. For instance, many people were buried in mass graves at that time in Vienna because it was thought morally inappropriate to make a show of individual importance. This was not because he was a pauper and not well known or respected. So, I did pick up information I was looking for, and enjoyed the few snipets of Mozart's letters, but, I had to lay this book aside many times over the last couple of years to read something containing more vitality. And now I know a bit about my favorite composer. But I wish I'd read someone else's biography of the master!


A good short biography, perhaps a little light on the more colorful aspects of Mozart's character, but useful for situating him firmly in the grasping bourgeois part of the court life of late ancien regime Europe. Not wonderful, alas, on just what it is that make's Mozart music so sublime.


think this is the one i read. not sure though. it's been a while. =0

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