Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s friend and fellow-composer Joseph Haydn once wrote of him that “posterity will not see such a talent again in 100 years.” He may have understated the uniqueness of his friend; although many remarkable talents have found their way into the music world in the two hundred twenty years since his death, Mozart remains in a class by himself. When life presents us with such an extraordinary phenomenon as the music of Mozart, which was composed with few of the tools musicians have to work with today, either technological or those of music theory, and seems repeatedly to transcend the limits not only of what he had to work with but of mortality itself, we cannot help but ask ourselves how it could have happened. The man becomes a mystery and his life develops mythical character. Maynard Solomon in Mozart: A Life has attempted to explore possible answers to that question using a psychological approach that I feel works to an extent, although it leaves the mystery ultimately unanswered.
The inner workings of an extraordinary mind
Solomon identifies Mozart’s extremely difficult relationship with his father Leopold as the key factor in his personality. He speculates that Mozart and his cousin, to whom he wrote letters ripe with scatological humor, were lovers for a time. He goes into some detail about the composer’s relationship with his wife Constanze and his financial difficulties. He deals with the popular myths about Mozart, confirming some and putting others to rest. He covers the composer’s involvement with Freemasonry and his progressive politics. My sense is that while a lot of this accounts plausibly for why Mozart was so driven, and for the passion that emerges in his music no matter how precise and potentially limiting the format of the musical conventions of his time, the larger question remains how. There remains no good answer to this question, but nonetheless, an account of Mozart’s life and his psychological motivations is well worth the time invested, and this is a good one.