Book: Mozart's Last Aria
Author: Matt Rees
Genre: Historical Fiction/Mystery
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. -Harper Perennial, 2011.
I found this book in Barnes and Noble and I read through it pretty quickly. After the last few books I've read, whether they were long with very flowery prose or they contained a story or characters I didn't enjoy as much, this book was actually a nice breath of fresh air.
As always, spoilers will be kept to a minimum.
Nannerl, Mozart's estranged sister, receives news of her brother's death and decides to go pay her respects. She and Wolfgang had been raised as musicians by their father, but once Wolfgang began to show his talents as a prodigy, Nannerl's training diminished and she married instead of following in her brother's footsteps. At first, the visit is to simply reacquaint herself with her brother and his works, but once his wife lets it be known that Mozart believed he had been poisoned, Nannerl stays in Vienna to get to the truth. In the process, she finds sinister secrets, reflects on her relationship with her brother, and discovers parts of herself she had thought faded long ago.
The book's summary is very honest and true in its description of the tale. It begins with Nannerl finding out that Wolfgang has died and the plot takes off from there. It doesn't dwell on any side plots that don't have bearing on the main plot. If there are any side threads, they're very short or they tie into the main story line. If you like a straight-forward, to the point novel, this book will fulfill those needs. I never felt lost or like the story wasn't going anywhere.
Nannerl is a woman of her time. She is respectful of her place in the world and her purpose in it, but she also is fully of aware of what she might have been. In a way, her main flaw is that she never thinks badly of herself in terms of her own talents. She never believes herself to be better than her brother - she is aware of his genius and fully respects it. She simply accepts the expectations that come with the Mozart name - she hardly ever is addressed by her married name when she's in Vienna - and knows she can fulfill them easily. When it comes to investigating her brother's death, she pushes the envelope only slightly - she makes the men around her uncomfortable, but not scandalized. When she does cross the line to what would be considered extremely unbecoming of her, it's only on behalf of finding out the truth for her brother's sake - not because she wishes to do so as an independent action.
The men around her do blend a little together in the sense that it's not exactly easy to tell them apart. You meet several of Wolfgang's fellow artists and patrons, but only the ones who have a major purpose in the novel are easily differentiated from the other characters. Each one of them has a piece of the puzzle, but aren't so willing to put them together as Nannerl is.
There is a brief spot of romance in the novel and I can see how many might think it was thrown in or appeared at random. I do agree on a point that the confession of love on the part of both parties is a little spontaneous, but the seeds of the romance were planted pretty early on. All of these hints are subtle so it's not so obvious. I've read enough novels and romance stories to realize that when a particular male character is introduced in a certain way, it means he's going to be either a villain or a love interest. So, while it can seem a little too out of the blue or stale, the romance is there and it doesn't take over the main story line.
If anything, my main complaint would be the resolution. I won't give anything away, but I just feel like the resolution to the whole mystery not only became unnecessarily complicated, but brought the power of Mozart down to the level of mere mediocrity. I realize that Mozart was just a man, but he is one of the most famous composers of all time. Even if some people don't know his name, they know or have heard his music. The resolution of his fictional "murder" made him seem less of brilliant composer and more of an unfortunate, simple man who was a victim of his own circumstances. Nannerl tries to make him sound noble and beyond his time, but the resolution to his "murder" takes away from it heavily, leaving almost a bad taste in your mouth.
Oh, and if you were expecting Salieri to be a part of this, you will be disappointed. He only is mentioned a few times in the novel and only appears in one scene.
Overall, I think the story is well-written, well-paced, and the twists and turns are interesting enough to keep the reader entertained. I did enjoy it and I think anyone who likes music, especially Mozart, will enjoy it.
I give Mozart's Last Aria an A.
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