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A review of the biography "Mozart," by Peter Gay. 

A Life in Brief

Penguin is publishing an interesting and useful series of brief biographies of famous people. One unusual aspect of this series is that the publisher has commissioned well-known authors to write the "Lives".

One of the newest additions to the series is "Mozart," ($19.95) by Peter Gay. Gay is director of the Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library and Sterling professor emeritus of history at Yale University. Such scholarly credentials might at first glance deter the average reader who does not know much about Mozart except that he wrote glorious music, died in what is in legend described as extreme poverty (and perhaps by poisoning), and, according to the play and movie "Amadeus," had a notorious scatological vocabulary.

But Gay has performed a tour de force: He has written a story of Mozart's life, and a readable analysis of much if his music. In the process, he shines a light on some of the legends — dispelling some of their darker aspects, yet showing their roots in truth.

He tells us that, "The most likely candidate as the cause of Mozart's misery is his lifelong contest with his father."

When Leopold Mozart died, Gay says, "At last, he left the son he had loved and tormented for so long. But he abandoned the scene of battle having implanted in his son irreparable feelings of guilt and an awareness of emotional and financial obligations left unfulfilled, obligations that would continue to plague Mozart as long as he lived."

If the next Penguin Lives are as credible and interesting as this one, we should be looking forward to the next in the series: Jane Smiley's book on Charles Dickens and Carol Shields' about Jane
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