02 May 2006

BROPHY: Mozart the dramatist

Brigid Brophy (1929-1995) was a noted novelist and critic who was passionately interested in opera, and especially Mozart and his operas.

At a time when amateur evaluation of composers and their music was giving way to scholarly, musicological examination, Brophy published this volume in 1964 as both a passion and a love. She did a revised edition of the book in 1988, of which this is a 2006 reprint.

The 1988 preface indicates a number of expansions and amendations from the 1964 edition. Obviously, the references section was revised and updated. Brophy goes into an extended diatribe in her preface about musicological performances of Mozart operas, which hide the drama and feeling of opera seria just because the plot is based on Greek mythology or history. She then goes into some of the historical background of the composition of the operas Idomeneo, La clemenza di Tito, and Die Zauberflöte.

The chapter titles throughout the book hint to the reader of a previous music writing style that was then moving towards extinction. Chapters like Singing and Theology, Compulsive Seduction, The Quest for Pleasure, and Society’s Guilt are geared more towards the music-listening and music-loving public, rather than a small group of scholarly colleagues or a profession. Here, the purpose of the book is to explore one person’s love and passion for a composer and his works vividly, and to share that listening and historical experience with others who share the same feelings. As Brophy goes through each of Mozart’s operas, providing both historical background as well as biographical information, she also links the musical experience of listening to these operas as a valued and important component of understanding and enlightenment. Neither musicologist nor musician, Brophy’s writing nevertheless is detailed and poignant, more like hyperextended program notes instead of a dry, sterile accounting of tonal modalities or rigorous musicological research.

I remember finding and reading books like this as a young adult, looking for others whose fascination and love of music was the focus of the writing. One cannot find these types of writing today, as it has been subsumed in the larger sphere of “music appreciation,” which oftentimes is as sterile and unfeeling as scholarly works on the subject. I found Brophy’s book nicely written and wonderfully personal, something that was written as a personal passion rather than as a scholarly requirement. In this sense, anyone who loves Mozart and his operas will find this book to be a real treat, a sharing of interest and feeling from one Mozart lover to another.

Dr. Brad Eden
University of Nevada, Las Vegas