... admirable ... The central figure in Swafford’s book is Mozart, of course, but the author is a skilled enough storyteller to create the world he lived in. For those of us given to looking back on other times as tidy, aristocratic and pretty much everything that the 21st century isn’t, Swafford offers a sharp corrective ... This is an excellent book on Mozart for both musicians and the general reader. The story is told in a lively, knowing style, without written-out musical examples but shot through with unfailingly erudite and impassioned discussion of the composer’s work. Only toward the end do we feel the huge absence that would be left by Mozart’s death — and Swafford’s evocation of the moment the composer knew he was dying is appropriately terrifying.
Mr. Swafford delights in repeating these stories—it’s one of the pleasures of this comprehensive and engaging biography. He is thoroughly up-to-date on the latest information and controversies, debunking the still commonly held mythology about the composer, and he continually reminds us of what astounding music Mozart wrote ... Mr. Swafford vividly places the whole story in the context of the social and artistic life of the period, including the appalling medical conditions that surely hastened Mozart’s demise ... With the eye of an omniscient novelist, Mr. Swafford tells Mozart’s story looking both forward and back, knowing too well how it will end ... The narrative is both more plain-spoken and more eloquent than the controversial Freudian version of Mozart’s life that some (but far from all) readers admired in the late Maynard Solomon’s 1995 Mozart: A Life ... He treats each score with a sense of anticipation, suspense and dramatic resolution ... When he’s describing music, Mr. Swafford the novelist often becomes Mr. Swafford the poet, finding the impeccable image or unforgettable turn of phrase ... Mr. Swafford keeps returning to convincing central observations that are not so much psychoanalytical as thoughtful, sensible ways of understanding human behavior, showing us how the biggest picture emerges from the smallest gesture—the same way he leads us through Mozart’s music ... This is not a hagiography; Mr. Swafford is thoroughly cognizant of Mozart’s personal shortcomings—his irresponsibility, his self-absorption ... Mr. Swafford succeeds in laying to rest the persistent Mozart myths ... I regret that Mr. Swafford doesn’t touch on some of my own favorite Mozart moments...Not that I think this book needs more details or examples, just that I’d have liked to know Mr. Swafford’s take on passages to which I myself have given particular thought—to continue, as it were, the conversation he so irresistibly invites us to join.
[Swafford] presents not only a lively, accessible, and richly detailed account of his subject’s life and times, but also takes a crack at debunking the 'hoary corpus of myths about Mozart' ... in addition to prodigious research, he offers up well-informed appraisals and insights into Mozart’s work. He also makes good use of a vast trove of letters written by Mozart, his family members, and many others. Mozart’s letters give the reader a first-hand glimpse at his intelligence, his playful, often bawdy, wit and his caustic scrutiny of people and their many foibles.