Desert Isle Keeper Review

Marrying Mozart

Stephanie Cowell
2005, Historical Fiction (1770s Germany and Austria-Hungary)
Penguin, $14.00, 368 pages, Amazon ASIN 014303457X

Grade: A-
Sensuality: Subtle

Lately it seems as though historical fiction is succeeding in doing two things for me that many historical romances no longer do: Delivering a strong sense of time and place set against real life events and sending the reader on glorious flights of fancy. Marrying Mozart is just such a tale. Though it is fiction rather than romance, there is certainly a romantic element to the story that many will enjoy and the author's portrait of Mozart and the women he loved is especially delightful.

The four Weber sisters - Josefa, Aloysia, Constanze, and Sophie - are the story's focal point. As the book opens, they are all in their teens and living in a cramped apartment in Mannheim, where their father is a music copyist. The family is quite musical and their Thursday evening entertainments are at the nucleus of family life. It is as a guest at one of these evenings that Mozart first meets the Webers. The girls are drawn to him, and he soon becomes an important friend.

From that first meeting in Mannheim, Cowell's story moves forward through several years of the Webers' lives. In addition to experiencing the various friendships and relationships the girls form with Mozart, the reader also becomes privy to the Webers' attempts to survive financially, Josefa and Aloysia's attempts to establish themselves as professional opera singers, and Mozart's efforts to secure for himself a court position.

Many historical tales focus on the lives of the elite in society, but Cowell's novel offers a window into a different life. Mozart and the Webers occupy a rather awkward position in between the elite and the poor. As musicians, they are somewhat more educated and cultured than most who live around them, however, they are also deeply impoverished and must struggle to make enough money on which to live. In contrast, their musical careers bring them into contact with the richest and most powerful people in Europe and their observations of the aristocratic world as seen from the outside are quite interesting.

Cowell's writing style is very engaging and her use of small details to establish the personalities of her characters or evoke her settings is masterful. Each of the Weber sisters is vividly portrayed - a difficult feat since none of them is a "type" character. Cowell takes the time to make each a multi-faceted individual with strengths and weaknesses just like any normal person.

Though this novel is not strictly a romance, the friendships and relationships of Mozart and the various Weber sisters feature prominently in the book. Cowell skillfully manages to show the girls' relationships with their parents and various suitors, as well as Mozart's relationships with friends, family, employers, and women. The fact that she can move so smoothly through the intricate chain of relationships really is impressive. Her story flows almost seamlessly through the intricate dance of the Weber and Mozart relationships and the polished result is a delight to read.

Cowell's prose is enjoyable indeed, and her story paints a vivid picture of one of the happiest times in Mozart's tragically short life. Marrying Mozart allows the reader to travel back into a different time and place and the journey is certainly enchanting. Fans of Mozart's music and lovers of historical fiction will likely enjoy it. I know I certainly did.

-- Lynn Spencer

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