BOOK REVIEW: Mozart in Paris by Frantz Duchazeua

Mozart in Paris

Mozart was not Parisian, let alone French; he was German. Mozart’s time in Paris was brief (lasting just over six months in 1778) and for the most part was miserable. His most reputable works including “The Magic Flute” were not written during this period. For Mozart, his time in Paris was one of humiliation, failure, betrayal, poverty, tragedy, loss and isolation. Nonetheless, one must remember that with Shakespeare, many of his tragedies were his greatest works. Whilst author Frantz Duchazeua began his career working for the French Disney magazine, Le Journal de Mickey; it is through “Mozart in Paris” and other works inspired by the music and folklore of the southern states of the USA, including, ‘Blackface Banjo’, a graphic novel about the so-called Minstrel Shows which are his most poignant.

For someone who was short in stature (some sources suggesting less than five feet tall), Mozart more than compensated for this with the length of his full name: Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (as well as his musical talent). Whilst Mozart’s reputation as a child prodigy quickly won him the love and respect of the Duchess of Castries (whom he gave private one-to-one lessons to) when he arrived in April 1778; it was his perfections and deftness as a composer that would hinder him in Paris. He ignored his father’s advice to be mindful of French tastes when composing music. Mozart was neither adept at socialising or networking; two things that were vital to be commissioned for work and making ones fortune in music in Paris. Mozart was seen as being awkward. He didn’t even like applause! Instead, he opted for “silent approval”.  Duchazeua hints that Mozart was gullible and naïve, for Mozart’s father (who indebted himself to fund Mozart’s Paris trip) warned him also to “not be so open with everyone”. Ironically this was a problem “Satori in Paris” author, Jack Kerouac (who had French heritage) endured.

Upon arrival, Mozart was enthusiastic about coming to Paris and leaving Salzburg, Germany; however, he could not appreciate or completely adapt his style of composing to French tastes. For instance, whilst Mozart’s skill for writing sinfonias was quickly recognised, which led to him being offered the post of Organist in Versailles (which he turned down); his sinfonias had too many modulations and were too long for a French audience. Mozart’s compositions in the eyes of the French lacked the “gusto” Piccinni’s opera possessed. Mozart disliked this Italians’ work. This would have been fine if he could have openly stomached Piccinni’s German rival Gluck, but he couldn’t; Mozart abhorred Gluck’s preference of poetry (libretto) over the music. Mozart is quoted in this graphic novel as comparing poetry as a “fly trapped in Amber (music); hence Mozart became disliked by the majority of influential Frenchmen in the circles he sought success in.

Mozart possessed an ability to improvise and play without a score. Whilst this impressed many, it offended his fellow composers such as well networked Cambini (who’s composition Mozart played and improvised without a score). This may explain why Mozart’s composition failed to appear in the 1778 Palais-Royal performance which was replaced by a composition by Cambini. As well as offending the French, Mozart felt offended by the French. His disliked their language which he is quoted in “Mozart in Paris” as being invented by “the devil” and “not meant for music”. Mozart disliked the French idea of “tutti” at the beginning of an opera (where the entire orchestra plays together).   Mozart even detested French drinking water!

From Mozart’s disproportionate smallness compared to all the other characters in the illustrations; Mozart is also described throughout as being naïve, juvenile and lacking the basic life skills a twenty-two-year-old adult needs in order to make his way in life.  Mozart is haunted by his reputation of being seen a child genius and not as an adult despite his large adult nose and his ruined complexion as a result of smallpox which had marred his cheeks. As well as taking away his dignity in many ways; Paris also took away someone very close and dear to Mozart: his mother (who died in July 1778).

Despite “Mozart in Paris” being a tragedy, this melancholy story is told with great humour, and Duchazeua’s brightly coloured illustrations deftly project this wit. Duchazeua’s illustrations also project the love between Mozart and his mother (as well as their equally large identical noses). It is truly incredible how a story, that for the most part fails to celebrate the musical accomplishments of Mozart, can move one to both laughter and tears whilst bring one closer to knowing the true Johannes.

“Mozart in Paris” is available to buy via https://selfmadehero.com/books/mozart-in-paris

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