Simon P. Keefe
Mozart in Vienna
The Final Decade
Cambridge University Press, 2017
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart spent the last ten years of his life in Vienna, where he moved after he left the employment of Prince-Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg in 1781. In Vienna, Mozart composed the most significant part of his production, which included monumental operas as Le nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte, important instrumental works as the “Haydn” quartets and sacred music which nourished the legend about Mozart’s tragic end, the Requiem (for a study about Mozart’s last work, I suggest you to read Christoph Wolff’s book Mozart’s Requiem). Mozart’s last decade was characterized by intense activity, then, but also by notable changes in the composer’s private life. It was in the Viennese years that he married Constanze Weber against his father’s will, that his own children were born and that Leopold Mozart passed away.
This is the general picture that renowned scholar Simon P. Keefe has described in his most recent book about the Salzburg composer after the two series of Mozart Studies and Mozart’s Requiem: Reception, Work, Completion. The five sections into which the book is divided always start with a short description of Mozart’s life during the years taken into consideration. This part is rather short in comparison with the long music dissertations, but shortness never means superficiality in this book. Sometimes, new interpretations and recent corrections of old misconceptions are brought to the reader’s attention and, where there is nothing innovative to report, the summary of Mozart’s personal events constitutes always a framework to the extensive study of the operas and orchestral works that follows.
The main value of Mozart in Vienna is that Keefe focuses his attention on Mozart’s career both as a performer and as a composer. He analyses his production in a dynamic way. Through the study of primary sources and of autograph scores, Keefe singles out the passages that Mozart revised and corrected in view of his performances as a virtuoso (more frequent in the first years of his Viennese stay), on the occasion of the first performance or of the revival of his operas (requiring modifications for the incoming singers) or when his works were submitted to publication. Among the most significant passages, there are those on which Mozart’s attention was focused in view of a public performance to get a better effect.
The meticulous, philological research could have led to an empty exposition and instead Mozart in Vienna is an inexhaustible source of interest. It is possible to understand Mozart’s revisions and to make hypothesis on the reasons why he made this or that adjustment, with consequences on the performance. This modus operandi allows to make interesting considerations on Mozart’s way of working, but also to give significant suggestions to the performers of the present days.
Mozart in Vienna is an authoritative and well-researched book, necessary to understand the most important period of the Salzburg composer’s life and career. It can be considered a milestone on Mozart’s bibliography and it will be a cornerstone for the years to come.