Book review: “Mozart’ complete Letters” (by Marco Murara)

It is absurd to call this a review, as I am only at page 25 of volume 1 (of three) but this is a very nice gift I got from Santa this year, one I am already liking a lot  and since someone asked for links, I thought it was worth a holiday blog post; the italian book will soon be available on Amazon here.

<ebook rant mode>

My only regret is that this book does not exist in ebook format, which means it’s hard to annotate, hard to quote, hard to re-read. In short, hard to use, not to mention hard to lift (but this is just for me). Please, please book-loving crowd, don’t fall for the “Oh, I so love the physical handling of a book” rhetoric and think about the many ways to make a book more usable.

Paper books are – sorry to say this – crap when it comes to using them. For example, I have two editions of Joyce’s Ulysses, one with my notes and a clean one. I still don’t understand this book despite having read it maybe 10 times, but wouldn’t I like to share opinions with fellow puzzled readers? Yes, I would! Wouldn’t I like to share my flashes of insight? Yes, I would! Would my understanding progress as a result of this? You bet it would !

I have read Paumgartner’s, Solomon’s and Abert’s  biographies of Mozart; you can’t recount the tale of his life without mentioning pieces and executions and have therefore noted pieces worth listening to in the biographical context; I noted them on the front pages, then bought the records, but when I got around to listening to them I did not remember why I wanted to listen at them, and lost every biographical reference; sure, the music is still wonderful, but the connection between music and biography still escapes me.

Which is a true waste, as music has so many levels: the sensorial level is but the first, perhaps the easier and offers pure pleasure (or lack thereof). But anyone who understood a piece knows the orgasmic flash in “getting” what the composer really felt like when he put the notes one after another. Some critics have the rare ability of explaining this: wouldn’t I like a multimedia edition of the fantastic short essays “Reading the Zauberflote” or “Reading the Don GiovannI” by Massimo Mila?

How can anyone doubt the superiority of electronic books when it comes to music, or theatre or cinema? How can anyone not get the immense horizons which open to us when we can engage more than one sense?

I have a short novel somewhere in my files about the future of paper editions of books, where only very few copies get printed and are used for consultation, because people only buy ebooks and paper books become very cherished collectors’ items, much like infolios or first prints. A thing of the past, with a great intellectual and artistic value, but of no practical use. Is this what we want to relegate books to?

I hope not.

</ebook rant mode>

Back to Mozart’s letters. There are, apparently, several editions of Mozart’ letters in german, but very few are completely unabridged (Wolfgang was a little bit of a dirty scoundrel…) and if you don’t speak the language you’re out of luck.

Mauro Murara is a notary in Bolzano (the german-italian bilingual area also known as SüdTirol) and dedicated four years of his life to translating the letters into italian; for english readers, there is an english translation here, based on the same german set of works, but I cannot make representations to its integrity and completeness. Mind you, there is no ebook version of the english edition either (out of print).

Of course, if a language other than german was to be considered concerning Mozart, no doubt it would have to be italian, which he spoke fluently and loved very much, not to mention the fact that the majority of his operas have italian librettos.

This book is not only complete, but very rich when it comes to explanations, footnotes and complementary information, a monumental feat of love and knowledge which – again – I would like to use much more than I will be able to, as nobody (and certainly not I) can memorize a thousand-odd pages.

The corpus is represented by over 800 letters, the most complete of any eighteenth century musician: this abundance in part explains why we know so much of his short life; there is however another angle which I find fascinating.

These were the years in which a german culture was being created by the people who shared the german language pool (germans, bavarians, austrians etcetera) and it is very interesting to see intellectual debates over, say, whether the ablative case of a certain word should be this or that – this stuff was being made up there and then by the intellectual elites, who then popularized the language, for example by composing whole operas in german, as Wolfgang did with Die Zauberflote, challenging the then prevailing practice of using italian.

Our and our fathers’  generations won’t leave much trace of our own language innovations, not because they were any weaker than preceding or subsequent generations’, but because it mostly happened verbally, over the telephone; au contraire our kids will leave ample documentation of theirs through the billions of status updates and tweets.

Who knows, maybe in 400 years someone will compile “Gianni’s complete Tweets”. Now THAT would be hysterical !

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One thought on “Book review: “Mozart’ complete Letters” (by Marco Murara)

  1. […] Marco Murara. The book is a gift from my wife who is a staunch paper supporter, and as she read the rant I posted on this blog complaining the book was not available in ebook format, we went into the inevitable argument about […]

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