• Friday, January 27th, 2017

Stephanie Cowell was born to a family of artists in New York City, USA and still lives there. She is married to the poet and reiki practitioner, Russell Clay, and they have two adult sons.

Since an early age, Cowell “fell in love with Mozart, Shakespeare and historical fiction”. She wrote short novels in her teens which were never published and in her twenties twice won prizes in national story contests. As Cowell decided to become a classical singer, she abandoned writing in order to train her voice as a lyric coloratura soprano for classical singing. She sang in many operas and formed a chamber opera company.

When Cowell decided to go back to writing she chose historical novels, first a trilogy about an actor and a seventeenth century physician called Nicholas Cooke: Actor, Soldier, Physician, Priest, the first part of which was published in 1993. She then wrote The Players: a novel about the young William Shakespeare, published in1997, followed by Marrying Mozart in 2004 and then Claude And Camille: A novel about Claude Monet and his first wife, Camille Doncieux, published in 2010.

Marrying Mozart, Cowell’s fourth novel, was created from the years when Cowell was singing Mozart operas. It brings together her writing and musical skills as well as her love for the world renowned great composer. The novel was translated into several languages and was also a big success in its stage production when it premiered in New York city in December 2012 with Mozart’s music and Opera Moderne and Dicapo Opera.

Stephanie Cowell, best known for writing historical fiction, has said about her novels: “We find facts in history books; we find living truth in historical fiction… It is because I love some periods of the past and certain people who lived within them so much that I became a writer.”

Inspired by real events, Stephanie Cowell’s captivating novel which successfully intertwines facts with fiction, takes us to the classical music world of eighteenth century Europe and brings it vibrantly to life by including certain customs, several secondary characters as well as some of the daily domestic life of the time. Like the Weber sisters who take turns every morning emptying the chamber pots or go four floors down to get the milk from the milk seller.

The novel begins in 1842 when Vincent Novello, an English biographer visiting Austria, takes the opportunity to visit Sophie, the youngest of the Weber sisters and the only surviving member of the Weber family. Sophie who was eleven years old when she first met Mozart on a Thursday evening at her parent’s home in Mannheim long ago, is now in her mid-seventies. At the biographer’s request, Sophie narrates events going back over the previous sixty years.

Sophie’s story starts in 1777 in Mannheim, Germany. Fridolin Weber, the father and family provider, manages with great difficulty to make a living for his large family. He is a violinist, music copyist and teacher. With his wife, Maria Caecilia, and his four daughters, Josefa, Aloysia, Constanze and Sophie, they have the habit of receiving their musician friends in their confined, decrepit apartment every Thursday evening. Among the invitees is a twenty one year old Austrian musician called Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, accompanied by his supportive, cherished mother Anna Maria, who join the party for the first time.

The young, highly talented Mozart who is no longer the five-year-old prodigy child, is now touring Europe with his mother, looking for work as a composer in order to support himself, his father Leopold, his mother and his only sister Maria Anna (nicknamed, Nannerl). Mozart’s greatest wish is to be given the opportunity to compose operas for a living and not to follow in his father’s footsteps by working as church musician for the unpleasant, condescending archbishop of Salzburg.

At the Webers’ Thursday soirée, Mozart is introduced to the four Weber daughters: the rebellious, stubborn Josefa with a full voice, is the eldest. The second is the beautiful and gifted soprano, Aloysia. The two eldest sisters have in common their rebelliousness and their eagerness to be independent from their manipulative, manic, socially ambitious mother, who keeps a notebook of rich suitors for each one of her daughters.

The third sister, Constanze, is silent and withdrawn and the youngest, Sophie, is pious and an avid reader. The two younger sisters, Constanze and Sophie, want to keep the family bond going for ever and are subdued and attached to their mother and siblings. Mozart will fall in love with Aloysia but fate and circumstances will make him marry Constanze.

Marrying Mozart is a well documented novel, written at an unhurried pace like the era it is set in. The author travelled to Salzburg, Mozart’s birth place, read history books and went through many sources before writing her lyrical, colourful novel.

The story, set in Mannheim, Munich, Salzburg and Vienna, is filled with small details and focuses mainly on the Weber sisters, their life, their brief moments of happiness, their desperation as well as their struggle to survive, after the early death of their provider and beloved father in a combative, hostile world and the male dominated society of the time.

Nonetheless, the most interesting part of the story is their relationship and friendship with the young, musical, passionate and determined Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose path intertwines with theirs and who is battling to have his music recognised by making a name for himself as a serious composer.

Stephanie Cowell’s novel is a delightful, enchanting journey to a different era and place. It is for music lovers in general and Mozart lovers in particular with an added zest of interesting historical facts and insight into mid eighteenth century European life. All spiced with a little romance.

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Category: Book Reviews
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