Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Book Review: Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees

Mozart's Last Aria by Matt Rees

Publisher: Harper Perennial
Publishing Date: November 1, 2011
Pages: 336
ISBN: 978-0062015860
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 3.0 out of 5

Book Summary: The news arrives in a letter to his sister, Nannerl, in December 1791. But the message carries more than word of Nannerl’s brother’s demise. Two months earlier, Mozart confided to his wife that his life was rapidly drawing to a close . . . and that he knew he had been poisoned.

In Vienna to pay her final respects, Nannerl soon finds herself ensnared in a web of suspicion and intrigue—as the actions of jealous lovers, sinister creditors, rival composers, and Mozart’s Masonic brothers suggest that dark secrets hastened the genius to his grave. As Nannerl digs deeper into the mystery surrounding her brother’s passing, Mozart’s black fate threatens to overtake her as well.

Transporting readers to the salons and concert halls of eighteenth-century Austria, Mozart’s Last Aria is a magnificent historical mystery that pulls back the curtain on a world of soaring music, burning passion, and powerful secrets.

My Thoughts: Classical music has been a part of my life since I was a child. My mother listened to Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart on a daily basis. I also share my birthday day with Mozart. I don't know a lot about the lives of these composers, although, or what kind of men they were. So, when I saw Mozart's Last Aria on TLC Book Tours list, I jumped at the chance to read this book. Unfortunately, this book isn't at all what I expected or hoped. Readers who loved Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, which I did not, will probably enjoy this book much more than I did.

Mozart's sister, Madame Maria Anna Berchtold von Sonnenburg aka 'Nannerl' travels to Vienna from her home in Salzburg upon receiving a letter from her sister-in-law, Constanze, informing her of her brother, Wolfgang Mozart's, death. Nannerl and Mozart have been estranged for at least three years which makes his death all the more painful for Nannerl. She was a talented piano player as a child but Mozart was a genius. When she arrives in Vienna, Nannerl, is asked to perform at a concert given in honor of Mozart. I enjoyed Matt Rees descriptions of Vienna and of Mozart's music as well as of the Mozart family history. As the story progresses, although, it becomes bogged down with melodrama and too many characters as Nannerl tries to ferret out the mystery of Mozart's death. And Nannerl herself becomes a tedious and annoying character.

The mystery of Mozart's death is linked to a secret Masonic society of which many of his friends and patrons may or may not have been members. As Nannerl meets the various characters in Mozart's life, such as the actor Karl Gieseke who seems suspicious of everyone and sleazy, the very smooth actor and singer Herr Schikaneder, patron Prince Lichnowsky and Mozart's fan and friend, Baron van Swieten, she tries to subtly determine what they knew of Mozart's life and death and the secret society. Beyond their names and a few minor details, none of these characters are developed in any major way. As a result, we can not relate to, understand or identify with any of them in any significant way making them and their importance in Mozart's life forgettable.

I found the pace of Mozart's Last Aria frequently schizophrenic. At times, such as when Nannerl is talking with her sister-in-law, thinking about her childhood with Mozart or an aspect of Vienna is described the story flows smoothly, moving at an enjoyable pace. At other times, though, when the secretive Masonic society is brought up or the brewing revolution, the story gets bogged down in confusing details that aren't explained well or sorted out. It almost feels like there are two different stories being told and forced together. Additionally, some scenes that should take barely a page go on for many pages because of crying, hand-wringing and other similar melodrama. But some questions and issues raised by Nannerl that I wanted to know more about, aren't explored in depth but are ignored, even, it seems, forgotten. The result is the mystery of Mozart's death feels contrived and manipulated to make an entertaining, highly dramatic, story.

There are many references to specific pieces of Mozart's music which was wonderful. Several times I listened to some of the named piece on You Tube. In some ways, this made the novel even less satisfactory for me because hearing Mozart's music made me wish for a less entertainment-oriented more solid novel about the life and death of Mozart. Readers who enjoy high drama, embellishment and stories manipulated for entertainment will probably enjoy this book more than I did. In the back of the book, Rees tells about the story behind Mozart's Last Aria and how he came up with this fictional tale. Rees researched quite a bit for this book and the historical details are true but the crime story is his own theory for the most part. I wish I'd known this before I began reading this book. But I now have a desire to know more about Mozart's life and hope to find the time to do some research of my own!

Matt Rees' website

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to read and review this book and to Harper Perennial for a copy of the book.


  1. I think your reaction was very much like my own, and I can't say that I enjoyed this book very much at all. I was a little annoyed by the notes at the end of the book as well, because the author seemed to be trying to say that the book was based on history, when it was mostly imagination and speculation. I also got really tired of the weeping and wailing, and felt that it got in the way of the story. Not a good read for me, I'm afraid, but at least it was short! Very perceptive and thoughtful review today. I enjoyed it and agree with it heartily!

  2. I thought this one looked interesting as I really liked Mozart's Sister by Nancy Moser. The cover is definitely beautiful, but I am now on the fence.

  3. What? Secret societies and crime? Nothing about the title or cover suggests that, it sounds like bad marketing to me.

  4. I can understand why you would have been disappointed with this one. I would have assumed it was a historical read about Mozart, which it sounds like this was not. I never read The DaVinci Code and have no desire to do so, so I think this is one that I am best advised to skip.

    Great, honest review Amy! Hope you had a nice holiday :)

  5. Darn, I'm sorry that this one didn't turn out to be your cup of tea. Thanks for your honest review for the tour.

  6. This doesn't sound like the book for me! Thanks for the review.