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


This is one book that made me wish that I knew more about music just so that I could understand a lot of it. While a good account of Mozart's life, I wish that it had had some explanation (a glossary or something in the text) to explain what the musical terms meant.


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.


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.

Shawn Thrasher

I didn't know much about Mozart coming into this book, and I'm not sure I know a whole lot more upon finishing it. It's so short that I guess you can't expect everything, but some of the things you end up finding out are kind of odd. Like Mozart's fascination with excrement. Who knew? And that he wrote extremely dirty letters to girlfriends and his wife. And that his father was like a modern day stage mother a la Mama Rose from Gypsy. Gay's book starts out as a fascinating read, but it lost the narrative arc somewhere in the middle and I was kind of glad to be finished with the whole thing by the end.

Evan Brandt

A quick read, but interesting.I read this primarily on a bus ride to and from Washington, D.C. while chaperoning my son's sixth grade trip to the the nation's capital.His father seems to be every bit the monster/savior he has always been portrayed to be.

Faten Eassa

Reveals so much about Mozart and his era. I thought I knew everything about Mozart's talent and tragedy until I read this book. It reads like a thriller, very different from most of Mozart's biographies.


I had read a bit of Peter Gay's work in the past (his shorter biography of Freud) and never noticed his writing, which is, in most cases, a compliment. I couldn't help but feel that this work could of had a simpler tone. And I wasn't crazy about the book's organization either, which was more topical than chronological. The chronological jumping around just doesn't do it for me with biographies. That said, Peter Gay is Peter Gay and I respect his scholarship immensely.

Kathy Petersen

In a mere 160 pages Gay gives us a concise but complete life of this music genius plus a discussion of his work in all the many genres he mastered. Amadeus, great fun on both stage and screen, caught the tone and temper of Mozart; but it's essential that the actual Mozart be portrayed. Gay does this, although in some passages he is a bit disorganized, requiring an immediate re-reading of a paragraph now and then.


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.

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.


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.


Okay. I didn't really like the thematic dividing of chapters rather than the tale of his life being told chronologically.

Marcelo Freitas

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


Nice quick account of his life, relationships, and how and when his music was composed. As expected, he was an interesting figure with quite a few surprises.

'Aussie Rick'

This is a great book to read if you want a nice quick and very easy to read account of this great man. As the other reviews state its not a deep searching biography but its size does not detract from an excellent account of this man and his times. From page one I was drawn into the narrative and learnt quite a few interesting pieces of information about Mozart, his music and his personality. This book wets your appetite for more information about Mozart and his music and any book that can do that much then the author has done a decent job. Read it and enjoy!

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