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Maestronet Book Club: Swafford's Mozart: The Reign of Love


Stephen  Fine
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Hi Maestronet!

One of my favorite authors, Jan Swafford, is releasing a new Mozart bio this month!  It's prohibitively expensive, unfortunately; eventually it'll come out in paperback, but even the kindle edition is going to be $25.

Whatever, I want it and I'm going to read it.  At over 800 pages, it'll be worth the $40 price tag.  Anyway, tell your libraries to order it.  Order it yourself if you can afford it and let's discuss!

PS- RIP Maynard Solomon who wrote one of my favorite Mozart bios, Mozart: A Life.  Solomon died back in late September at the ripe old age of 90.

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He got raked over the coals (somewhat unjustly, perhaps) for his early insistence on the Brahms family's poverty.  If you search around, you may find a dialogue in the press about that.  I gather he made some amendments to the second edition without admitting that it was a great idea.  Otherwise, that was a very good read, even if (I believe-- not sure) he was relying a lot on published texts and not so much using primary sources.

And while there was a lot of interest in the Beethoven biography, he let slip in a completely lazy and ignorant remark about LvB's interest in the metronome.  When I saw him personally and asked him about that, he went into some incoherent rant about recent recordings of the B-Minor Mass that he hated.  A pity-- he had some interesting perspective on the importance of Bonn, which is often glided over.  And he had great empathy for Beethoven's marketing of himself as a composer.

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33 minutes ago, Ernee said:

He got raked over the coals (somewhat unjustly, perhaps) for his early insistence on the Brahms family's poverty.  If you search around, you may find a dialogue in the press about that.  I gather he made some amendments to the second edition without admitting that it was a great idea.  Otherwise, that was a very good read, even if (I believe-- not sure) he was relying a lot on published texts and not so much using primary sources.

And while there was a lot of interest in the Beethoven biography, he let slip in a completely lazy and ignorant remark about LvB's interest in the metronome.  When I saw him personally and asked him about that, he went into some incoherent rant about recent recordings of the B-Minor Mass that he hated.  A pity-- he had some interesting perspective on the importance of Bonn, which is often glided over.  And he had great empathy for Beethoven's marketing of himself as a composer.

Well... I never read the first edition of the Brahms biography.  I only have it in paperback.  But, in my edition, he thanks Kurt Hofmann for his 1986 work Johannes Brahms and Hamburg "significantly... to clear up some haziness in the first chapter concerning family finances--as I suspected but did not spell out, the Brahmses were not as dirt-poor as history has painted them, and the part of town Brahms was born in was not the slum it later became.  At the same time, I can't accept Hofmann's claim that Brahms never played in waterfront bars in his youth.  I have addressed this question in detail elsewhere, but that aspect of the book is unchanged and I stand by it."

The bibliography has a ton of other people's research, but also plenty of the primary sources.  I appreciated his bringing in so many interesting papers and articles that I never would've had the time to read and integrate.

I can't find my copy of the Beethoven, so you're going to have to remind me what ignorant lazy remark he made about Beethoven and the metronome.

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I haven't dug too deeply into the Hofmann research.  Many reviewers do make similar points about Hamburg, and I don't know if they are all just taking his article as gospel or if other scholars have verified and expanded on those findings.  It does seem odd, though, that the biggest port on the North Sea would not have a red-light district.  And the presence of many laws against things like minors going into bars doesn't suggest that it was never a problem.  Legislatures don't usually outlaw things that have never existed.

Also, our own times should make it quite clear that lower-middle-class families with aspirations have many of their own insecurities.  So for all of that, I will cut Swafford some slack.  

As to whether we can take literally that this was all the source of his problem with women, that is an interesting question.  I am not inclined to be a revisionist here, but I suspect that somebody needs to have another crack at the argument.

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14 minutes ago, Ernee said:

I haven't dug too deeply into the Hofmann research.  Many reviewers do make similar points about Hamburg, and I don't know if they are all just taking his article as gospel or if other scholars have verified and expanded on those findings.  It does seem odd, though, that the biggest port on the North Sea would not have a red-light district.  And the presence of many laws against things like minors going into bars doesn't suggest that it was never a problem.  Legislatures don't usually outlaw things that have never existed.

Also, our own times should make it quite clear that lower-middle-class families with aspirations have many of their own insecurities.  So for all of that, I will cut Swafford some slack.  

As to whether we can take literally that this was all the source of his problem with women, that is an interesting question.  I am not inclined to be a revisionist here, but I suspect that somebody needs to have another crack at the argument.

Yeah... I don't think Swafford goes too far:

Quote

Johannes began playing in the Lokale of St. Pauli in 1846, before he turned thirteen, often playing until dawn.  After a few months of it he was weak, anemic, tormented by migraines.  But he was kept at the jobs until better came along off and on through that year and maybe longer.  

His months in the Animierlokale do not seem to have interfered with his studies or his intellectual growth.  Once Johannes's fingers had learned the requisite waltzes, polkas, mazurkas, and such, he would place on the piano rack a novel or a volume or poetry and read the night away as he played, learning into the book nearsightedly, the revels going on behind him. It sounds almost charming.  But the effects of the Lokale on him were indelible.  For the rest of his life, with friends or in his cups, Brahms would recall those nights as dark and shameful.  No one has had a harder time of it than I have, he would say, and narrate the shocking details.  He told one beloved that "he saw things and received impressions which left a deep shadow on his mind."

...

Many years later, in Vienna, the old Brahms got drunk and broke up a birthday dinner by branding all women with a word that nobody would repeat.  Later that night, walking it off with a friend, he spoke disjointedly of what he had seen and suffered in those places.  In a seizure of anguish and rage he cried out: "You tell me I should have the same respect, the same exalted homage for women that you have!  You expect that of a man cursed with a childhood like mine."

 

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