Mozart: A Life

ISBN: 0143037730
ISBN 13: 9780143037736
By: Peter Gay

Check Price Now


A Arts Biographies Biography Currently Reading History Music Non Fiction Nonfiction To Read

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

Douglas Dalrymple

Though he pulls it off well enough, I don’t envy Peter Gay’s task in writing this little book. Writing a biography of a famous writer must be easier, since you can easily quote from the author’s works, but writing about a famous composer is like writing an un-illustrated biography of a painter. I myself never learned to read music (my son has one up on me in that regard), but it feels like a book of this sort ought to include an entire chapter, at least, of nothing but musical notation. At least we’re not in the position of our ancestors before the invention of the phonograph, when you had to hear something like the ‘Jupiter’ symphony performed live, or not at all.

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.

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.


This was a pretty good, quick bio of Mozart. It definitely didn't glorify him. Beyond his musical genius he was portrayed as a pretty normal guy--irresponsible with money, a bit of a philanderer and amused (perhaps more than the normal guy) with body humor.

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.


It was to be expected, from Freud's biographer, that he would write a Freudian biography of Mozart. Gay's short book focuses on Wolfgang Amadeus' relationship with his father, and highlights all manipulation and coercion of the latter on the former. A solid businessman, Mozart Senior had clear ideas about how to manage his son's talent (without envying it particularly, one must say). Gay's prose is always pleasant to read, but even such pleasant a book leaves the reader unsatisfied.


Remember kids - when you buy a book on the internet, make sure you know long it is beforehand. I was thinking it was going to be a giant brick, at least 1000 pages (ha ha no), but instead I got a petite 192-pager. Even the book looks cute. Awww. Ahem. Not that it was bad; in fact I'd say it's a perfect way to get into someone like Mozart, if you like classical music or not. The problem is that now I need to find a more thorough book about the man.


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.


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.


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.

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!


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.


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.

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.

Share your thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *