Crime novelist Matt Rees wrote to me a few days ago to make me aware of his new book, Mozart’s Last Aria, published by Corvus. Matt now lives in Jerusalem but he grew up here in the Southeast. Due to that and the fact that he has so much of interest to say about Mozart and his music, I’m posting his blog entry here for Lewes Classical readers.
The Literary Review says,
“Matt Rees has drawn a lively portrait of
eighteenth-century Vienna and of characters whose names now live only because of their connection with the composer. This novel is well-researched, very clever and written in clean, suitably formal language.…This is an even-better mystery novel than the author’s prize-winning series about the Palestinian detective Omar Yussef—and that’s saying a lot.”
The reviewer in The Times says “Mozart fans and code crackers will enjoy the clever musical riddle. A very readable historical mystery romp.”
So, without further adieu––
The Musical Inspiration for my Mozart Crime Novel
By Matt Rees
I had many reasons for wanting to write a novel about Mozart. Not least was the peace his compositions brought me when I was suffering the traumatic effects of witnessing dreadful events as a foreign correspondent during the Palestinian intifada. I would drive around the desert hills of the West Bank unworried by the possibility of gunfire or stone-throwing on the roads so long as I was listening to Alfred Brendel’s recordings of the piano sonatas or Karl Boehm’s versions of the final symphonies. But the greatest impulse for me to write was simply the creative inspiration I found in his sublime music.
When the idea for the novel was no more than a seed, I discussed it with Maestro Zubin Mehta at a dinner in Tel Aviv (I’m based in Jerusalem, and he’s still the music director of the Israel Philharmonic, so he comes through town quite frequently). He was very clear about who he considers the greatest composer. “I’d find it very hard to live without Mozart,” he told me.
That prompted me to think about those contemporaries who had lived with Mozart and would’ve had to come to terms with life without him. What would that have been like, particularly if one considers that the great man told his wife and friends he had been poisoned? I knew that though I would draw on new historical research into the period and Mozart’s life in particular I’d have to put his music at the centre of the mystery itself.
I’ve played music all my life. But after my initial childhood music lessons I’ve eschewed the playing of classical music – no more Etudes by Heller for me. I’ve been a guitarist and bassist in various rock bands in New York and elsewhere. Less sexily, I played glockenspiel in my high school band in Croydon.
So for MOZART’S LAST ARIA, my new historical thriller in which Wolfgang’s sister Nannerl investigates his death in Vienna in 1791, I decided to learn to play piano. This showed me two things: first that I’m not much good on the piano; and second it gave me a way to see inside Wolfgang’s music, because the piano study made me think more deeply about musical theory than rock guitar. (Surely THAT doesn’t surprise anyone, but it was worth demonstrating anyhow.)
My guide in this was my dear friend Orit Wolf, a fabulous concert pianist who lives in Jaffa, Israel. (You can see her dressed up as Nannerl and hear her version of Mozart’s Fantasia in D on this video. The Fantasia was unfinished when Wolfgang died and though less well-known than the Requiem it’s just as loaded with intimations of doom). Orit’s probably best known for her heartfelt interpretations of romantic composers. When she plays Chopin or Schubert, I challenge you to stay on your feet, so emotional and breathtaking is it. But her insights into Mozart are stupendous. Our discussion of Wolfgang’s piano sonata in A minor I remember in particular. It gave me the idea of building the entire novel around the mood and structure of that piece.
Orit also introduced me to some of the techniques great musicians use when they prepare for a performance. For example, she told me that when she first looks at a piece for a performance she decides what color the music makes her think of. Before each performance, she’ll visualize that color and it will create a mood in her, and in turn that mood will be reflected in the music as she plays it. It isn’t just about hitting the right keys. (Editor’s note: this phenomena is known as synesthesia. Very interesting! Read Wiki’s entry here.)
During my research I’ve seen some astonishingly great performances of Mozart’s music in many different cities. I saw Don Giovanni performed in the Estates Theater, Prague, where it had its premier in 1785. I listened to The Magic Flute in a spectacular production where it all began, in Vienna. It was an elegant night at the Staatsoper (though that building wasn’t around in Mozart’s day). What could be better than a perfect Mozart production and, during the intervals, svelte young usherettes wandering the balconies with trays of delicious petit fours?
Perhaps the most fun was this: a group of singers from a South African township put on a wonderful version of The Magic Flute, backed by an orchestra of marimbas at a London theatre in 2008. As I watched the unrestrained joy of their performance, I was sure Wolfgang would’ve approved.
MOZART’S LAST ARIA by Matt Rees is published by Corvus.
Find it here on Amazon.
For more on Matt Rees’s books: www.mattrees.net
Many thanks, Matt. I’m definitely going to enjoy this one!