I normally don’t review self-published books, and because I consider author interviews to imply an endorsement of the author’s book, I don’t normally interview self-published authors, either. But once in a while, I run across a book published on CreateSpace or one of the other self-publishing sites, and I am totally enchanted. Juliet Waldron’s wonderful historical novel, Mozart’s Wife, is one such book. Perhaps it is because I grew up listening to classical music. Perhaps it is because I’m married to a classical guitarist and musicologist who adores Mozart. Either way, I had to read Waldron’s book, and once I read the book, I had to interview the author herself.
So with no further ado, meet Juliet Waldron.
Let me start by telling you how much I enjoyed reading Mozart’s Wife. I’ve read several books recently about women from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries who were brilliant, strong, and independent, and yours ranks among the best.
Thanks, Smoky! When you’ve had to go the publishing route I have, you worry that your work won’t be taken seriously. Kind words about my Stanzi are genuine music to my ears.
Being married to a classical musician and college music professor, Mozart is a pretty common topic of conversation in my household. What led you to wanting to write about his wife, Constanze? From where did you get your inspiration?
I confess, my inspiration was the movie Amadeus. My sons and my husband went to see an action/adventure starring Arnold Schwartznegger, while I went to see the “chick historical.” I emerged from the theater sobbing and totally obsessed. I simply had to find out how much of the movie was fictional and how much was the real deal. I spent the next decade researching and making preliminary stabs at the story. I knew I couldn’t work from Mozart’s perspective—I’m not that bright—so I picked the closest person to him, his “best beloved” Constanze. That led to an exploration of eighteenth century mores, especially the chattel position of women. Gender issues have always been of special interest.
What most endeared Constanze to you?
Initially not much. Mozart’s biographers, especially the old-timers, were dismissive and condescending about his wife. What I first gathered from these gentlemen I put into in my book blurb: “giddy sugarplum or calculating bitch …?” In fact, Constanze is often hard to like, but after living inside her POV for all those years, I grew to understand the choices she made. She became my quintessential “hard-headed woman,” a lady who survived her husband’s career crash-and-burn and his catastrophic demise, then picked up the pieces and got on with her life. She’s not a romantic heroine, but there are plenty of women in the real world who can relate to her.
How did you go about researching this story? Did you read her letters and diaries? Were you fortunate enough to be able to travel to Vienna, Salzburg, or any of the other sites where the Mozarts lived?
I never was able to make the pilgrimage to Salzburg or Vienna, although it was a burning desire, especially during my decade of Mozart obsession. Constanze did leave diaries, but at the time I was writing, these were not yet translated. Not that they would have helped much, because they are from her second marriage years, a time when she had more money and leisure. Tellingly, she never mentions Wolfgang.
I did most of the research in the State Library of Pennsylvania. (This was the 1980’s.) I first used what was the common English-language source, The Mozart Family Letters, translated by Emily Anderson. The documentary biography of O. E. Deutsch provided a host of interesting leads to follow up and a wealth of period detail.
Mozart’s Wife is a work of fiction, yet given how much is known about Constanze, would I be correct in assuming it is more biographical than not? Just exactly what about this book makes it a novel rather than a biography?
Mozart has plenty of books written about his life, but the old saw, “Anonymous was a woman,” still applied to his wife. A hint here, a mention there, had to do. Not long after starting, the simplest thing occurred to me, which was to track her illnesses (mentioned in Mozart’s letters) and the births and deaths of their children, which are part of the public record. I began to match Mozart’s compositional output with these events and with their many changes of residence. These helped me plaster my fiction over a bare bones biography.
Aside from his undisputed musical genius, what do you think Constanze loved about Mozart?
I don’t think she ever really understood how marvelous his music was, at least, not until after he was long dead and that same music continued to provide for her. One of his German biographers, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, remarked that their relationship was “rooted in the deep earth of erotic understanding,” and I’d agree. Initially, Stanzi loved his romantic nature as much as she admired the bravery of his attempt to succeed in a big way without a patron.
It’s a well-known fact Mozart was quite the womanizer. As a woman, why do you think Constanze put up with all of her husband’s dalliances? Do you think it’s just a sign of the times in which they lived?
Mozart was a sensual man; he loved women and they loved him back, especially “his” prima donnas and piano pupils. If they were talented—and sometimes even if they weren’t—he would write splendid music for them. These women, in their way, became his instruments, objects through which he expressed immense creativity. The eighteenth century was famously libidinous, with one rule for men and another for women. Constanze was often pregnant and just as often seriously ill; she didn’t always have the strength to fight back against the current “other woman.” Later in their marriage, I think she went her own way, including the retaliatory affair.
The movie, Amadeus, made a big issue of Mozart being poisoned, and led viewers to believe that possibly his arch rival, Antonio Salieri, was behind his untimely death. Yet no one knows for certain how Mozart died. Poisoning is one theory, but there are musicologists—including my husband—who don’t buy the poisoning story. Other theories range from rheumatic fever to Vitamin D deficiency. What made you decide to go with poisoning as his cause of death? Was there a particular bit of research you did that led you to conclude he had indeed been murdered?
Poor Salieri! He had no need to poison Mozart, as the “little man’s” career at court was, by that time, pretty much over. I read a book called Mozart and Constanze by Francis Carr, which I thought made a good case for his murder at the hands of the husband of one of his piano pupils. There are, in fact, many odd things about his sudden demise and his throwaway burial that, for me, just didn’t seem right. On the other side of the argument, Mozart’s medical history certainly indicates long-lasting problems. He might have died from kidney failure or from a strep infection. He had, after all, barely survived rheumatic fever and smallpox during childhood.
Were you a fan of Mozart’s music before writing this book? If not, did this make you a fan? Do you have a favorite work of his?
Yes. I grew up in a house with classical music. My mother was a huge opera fan, although in the fifties, that meant a lot of Puccini, Verdi, and Wagner. The only opera we had of his was the Marriage of Figaro. Mom also had Mozart piano concertos she liked. After my “love affair” began, however, I collected his music. Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the Fields, Mitsuko Uchida, Jeffrey Tate and the English Chamber Orchestra, John Eliot Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists, Alfred Brendel and Malcolm Bilson, became daily companions. I was also fortunate to be listening in an era when I could hear original instruments. Musical input accompanied writing the story.
I find it rather dismaying that Miley Cyrus and Justin Bieber penned autobiographies that rank so much higher on Amazon than a book about Constanze Mozart. Classical music has a rather particular and limited fan base these days, unfortunately. Has that made it difficult to find an audience for the book?
Yes, Mozart’s Wife in many ways is a niche book, but it’s also an involving and recognizable human love story, one that could be set in any age. People who like historical novels do keep finding it, so that’s a plus.
What are you working on now? Is there another work of historical fiction in the works, by any chance?
I’ve a bunch of files of ideas that have been percolating for years. All need re-editing. So much energy now goes to the inevitable blogging, a practice we’re all learning about. Maybe that’s all the big stuff there is. I thank the Muse for what she’s given.
Who are your three favorite authors, and your three favorite books, keeping in mind favorite books don’t necessarily have to be written by your favorite authors? What kind of book, in general, are you most drawn to reading?
This is a tough one. I like historical fiction, but if I discover a compelling character, I needed also to learn what the academics have to say, so I’m split between fiction and non-fiction history. My fiction favorites change, with the exception of T. H. White, Jane Austen, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I loved Margaret Irwin’s historicals during my teen years. I’ve admired Henry Fielding, Margaret George, and, of course, Cecelia Holland. In the last decade I’ve binged on Perez-Reverte, and read Foucault’s Pendulum nineteen times in the bath. A recent non-fiction favorite is Hengeworld by Mike Pitts.
Tell us a little bit more about Juliet, the person. What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
I like to walk. It clears the mind and straightens you out. I would like to travel more, although at my age it’s a hassle. This year I got to the UK for a couple of weeks to do some tourist things and then solo hike, which I really enjoyed. I’m a hermit cat lady, mostly, spending my days playing doorman and housekeeper for them and my husband. I watch too much BBC and too many movies, listen to music, ride my bike and putter outside in the summer and try to keep reading and growing.
Where can readers learn more about you?
Thank you, Juliet, for being with us. People, Mozart’s Wife is a wonderful read if you’re a fan of historical fiction, or a fan of Mozart, or both. I highly recommend it.