Roye E. Wates, a professor of music at Boston University, wrote the recently published book “Mozart: An Introduction to the Music, the Man and the Myths.” Written in an easy, conversational style, the book is intended for relative newcomers to Mozart who want to dig a little deeper. Wates says the book was needed because there’s so much misinformation about Mozart, in part because of the popular film “Amadeus.”
Roye E. Wates, a professor of music at Boston University, wrote the recently published book “Mozart: An Introduction to the Music, the Man and the Myths.” Written in an easy, conversational style, the book is intended for relative newcomers to Mozart who want to dig a little deeper.
Wates says the book was needed because there’s so much misinformation about Mozart, in part because of the popular film “Amadeus.” In both the book and our conversation, Wates makes it clear that the music world owes a debt of gratitude to Mozart’s father, Leopold Mozart, a brilliant man who home-schooled Mozart, “engaged his son’s imagination,” and devoted himself to the career of his child genius.
So what’s so great about Mozart?
I find him to be a fascinating human being. He was so complicated, so colossally talented, and he had a father who gave him superb instruction.
How do you feel about the film “Amadeus?” Has it done more harm to Mozart than good?
Almost every Mozart scholar I know thinks the movie is terrible and destructive. But I think the movie is a great artistic achievement. And the soundtrack is extraordinary; I detail it in the book. The movie also succeeded in stirring up a great deal of excitement and interest in Mozart. Although the picture it paints is almost entire fictitious, it makes Mozart important.
What’s the most egregious thing in the film?
That Mozart is portrayed as a silly, giggling guy who mistreated his wife and only liked comic opera.
Your book benefits from some up-to-date research. What new things are we learning about Mozart?
A couple of years ago, a new portrait of Mozart was discovered. He looks like your local banker. The portrait has been authenticated, but I can’t accept it, because it makes him look so boring. (Laughs.) The truth is, we don’t know what he looked like. He was small; probably a little over 5 feet. He had small hands. He may have been fidgety. He was full of energy and full of jokes. He loved Carnival — he was a man of the theater right from the start.
We have quite a bit of information about Mozart from his day.
Yes, that’s largely because of his father. His father was going to write a book about his son, so he kept everything. When Mozart was 6, his father took him on a tour of Europe. And his father sent back detailed reports to their landlord.
If you recommended one of Mozart’s operas to a first-time listener, which one would it be and why?
One of two. In my own teaching, “Don Giovanni” makes an immediate and powerful impact. You don’t have to know about opera to enjoy it. The story is about Don Juan. Every woman has had to deal with a Don Juan, and every man wants to be one. So there’s a connection to this fascinating mythological character. And Mozart’s portrayal of him is irresistibly charming, and at the same time terrifying. And, interestingly, the lead character has no arias that explain who he is. Some people regard that as a flaw. Others say that’s perfect; he’s a mystery man.
My other recommendation is “The Abduction from the Seraglio.” I taught it one year, and it turned out to be a really good introduction to what opera is about. The music is beautiful, and it’s very touching at the end.
If you were on a desert island and you could only have one piece of Mozart music, what would it be?
“The Marriage of Figaro.” (Pause.) And the Mass in C Minor. Both of those have a good deal of Mozart’s pastoral music, which I believe was his most distinctive personal idiom. The way Mozart wrote pastoral music was unlike any other, except Bach. It’s so powerful and so moving that I’m not sure I could live without it.
Are there any knowledgeable music people who are critics of his music, and if so, what do they complain about?
(Pause.) I can’t think of any.