Friday, May 9, 2014

A Mozartean and Proustian Madeleine: Vienna Nocturne

A Mozartean and Proustian Madeleine

Vienna Nocturne by Vivien Shotwell
A Story of Wolfgang Mozart and Nancy (Anna Selina) Storace
The Mark Twain House, Hartford, CT  May 8, 2014
A Review - Vincent de Luise MD

“Anna had seen many virtuosi play. Wolfgang Mozart surpassed them all. He exhaled, and so many breathing notes unfurled from his unhesitating hands. He played as she had always wished to sing—how she imagined she might sing if she were not so excitable and striving, but selfless and assured, bound to music alone.“-                                                
an excerpt from the novel, Vienna Nocturne, by Vivien Shotwell

I had the privilege and pleasure this evening of attending author and mezzo-soprano Vivien Shotwell's beguiling lecture and mini-recital at the historic Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford. The evening featured Ms. Shotwell and her first novel, Vienna Nocturne, an elegant portrayal of life in Vienna in a time gone by, and of the relationship between Wolfgang Mozart and Anna Selina (Nancy Storace).
Ms. Shotwell's writing of Vienna Nocturne was catalyzed by her hearing Mozart's gorgeous concert aria, Ch'io mi scordi di te...non temer amato ben (KV 505), a love song which Mozart wrote for Ms. Storace, upon her departure from Vienna in 1787.
Ms. Shotwell spoke this evening with The Mark Twain House's director of communication Craig Hotchkiss about her childhood loving vocal music and opera, that Die Zauberflote was the first opera she saw , that she was drawn to a career as a vocalist while at Williams College under the mentorship there of bass-baritone Keith Kibler where she first sang Ch'io mi scordi di te, about her studies  at the famed Iowa Writer's Workshop where she received  her MFA, and about her time at Yale School of Music where she received her Masters in Vocal Performance under the legendary Doris Yarick-Cross.  Ms. Shotwell is also a 2009 Regional Finalist of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions.
Ms. Shotwell has woven a lovely and elegiac story about life in the Vienna of the 1780s, about Nancy Storace and her initial struggles in London, Napoli and Venezia building a career as an operatic vocalist, and then of her being called to Vienna to sing, where at the age 21,she first meets the then 30-year old Mozart in 1786.

Both Storace and Mozart were prodigies as children, were both married to others at the time of their meeting in Vienna, and who then developed a very special friendship. 
The basic facts of the novel are true (but there is no evidence that Mozart and Nancy ever had an affair during their time together).  Nonetheless, a special kinetic energy existed between them.  Composers often conjure and create their genius Art when inspired by another artist, a Muse, if you will. I am thinking of Anton Stadler inspiring Mozart's foundational clarinet works, and Richard Muhlfeld doing the same for Brahms at the end of his life with his trinity of clarinet pieces.
Vienna Nocturne is an engaging and lyrical story, which Ms. Shotwell spins in "prose as spirited, timeless and touching as Mozart's greatest compositions" (per the book's liner notes).
A fascinating aspect of Ms. Shotwell's talk this evening was how her book, which has now been translated into ten languages, has been re-titled in each country's market !
Here in the US, it is entitled Vienna Nocturne. In Italy, it has been retitled L'amante di Mozart ("Mozart's lover"), in Germany the book is called Die Schule der Liebenden -("The School for Lovers" (taken evidently from the subtitle of Cosi - La scuola degli amanti), in Hungary, it is entitled Mozart's Muse, and in Turkey, one finds the book as  Vienna Waltz, (which is odd because the waltz hadn't really been invented yet).
 Actually, Ms. Shotwell wanted to entitle her book, Amato ben  ( My Beloved  - a title which I personally love, as it derives from two words from the second part of Ch'io mi scordi di te... non temer amato ben.) Her title was rejected in favor of Vienna Nocturne.
Ms. Shotwell, a tall and willowy mezzo, began the evening before her interview by warming up with the Habanera from Carmen, and then sang the ineffable lied Abendempfindung an Laura, KV 523 in a setting for mezzo soprano, sensitively accompanied by Kyle Swann of the Yale School of Music piano faculty.
Before Ms. Shotwell sang Abendempfindung, she told us of the tripartite nature of this sublime lied of Mozart, which talks about special friendships and the evanescence and impermanence of life, and what happens to friendships after one passes on. 

She mentioned Arleen Auger during the talk, and so here is the wondrous Ms. Auger in an indelible performance of Abendempfindung:
It was a delightful evening of Mozart, whose story and music is, for me, always a Proustian madeleine, opening up memories of the lives that I have led before, and the lives that I have yet to lead.
Ars longa,
Vincent de Luise M.D.

@ Vincent P. de Luise MD 2014
(The images below are of the Mark Twain House, the wonderful setting for the interview; Ms. Shotwell engagingly explaining her artistic arc and trajectory; Ms. Shotwell and myself right before the book signing; and two of the book covers of the novel. She signed my copy of her book - "Dear Vincent. So great to meet a Mozart expert -Thank you so much for your warmth and joy ! "   To which I would add, "Thank you, Ms. Shotwell, for giving us such a lovingly written reverie and timeless story about Mozart and his Muse."
An die Musik!
Vincent de Luise

@ Vincent P. de Luise MD 2014

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