Vocalist, author, historian. Stephanie Cowell gives us much more than a novel with her interpretation of the young Mozart and his relationships with the women who influenced his artistry. Her ability to capture the audience with a clever narrative not only offers the delicacy of historical romance, but also pledges to the advocacy of the musical genius.
Stephanie's concentration on the female dynamic in the novel reminds me of the 1939 classic movie with Norma Shearer entitled "The Women." Male actors were entirely absent from this film, although the influences of men were known in the plot. The women were catty and competitive, but they had an extraordinary ability to overcome tragedy together. Indeed, this is almost a striking resemblance to the Weber ladies and all of their drama of Mannheim!
Stephanie- Whether you're singing one of his arias or dedicating time to lectures and book signings, you're quite amazing to utilize all of these talents to represent Mozart's legacy. Please know that your inspiring efforts are very much appreciated. Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to conduct an interview and present the novel to dreamy-eyed Mozart fans everywhere!
Yours in Music, Sherry
Sherry: I’m completely fascinated by the manner in which you have captured the personalities of this musical history in your novel! You were born into a very artistic family and became fascinated with Mozart ever since your father took you to a performance of “Le Nozze di Figaro” as a child. As a trained coloratura soprano, you have performed much of the Mozartian repertoire on your own accord. These experiences undoubtedly engendered the novel’s charming authenticity of the Weber family dynamic. How did your passion for Mozart’s music bring about the advent of the novel? Were you influenced by women in your family to design the story around the relationship of the Weber ladies?
Stephanie: To begin with, I want to make sure your blog readers know that MARRYING MOZART is a novel about Mozart in his early twenties and a family of four musical sisters, one of whom he eventually married. And it’s structured like his opera FIGARO, with a lot of things happening, misunderstandings, found love, lost love, difficult parents, obstacles, really sad things but it all ends well. And it has had some wonderful reviews, a couple of which I have quoted at the end of this interview.
To answer your question, I fell in love with Mozart and his music at the age of twelve and it never left me. Actually, after I left singing opera and turned to writing novels, it did not occur to me for some time to write about Mozart. I was sitting in The Mozart Café in New York City one day under a picture of the great composer and drinking Viennese coffee when the idea came to me. I wanted to write about a happy time when he was just struggling to find his place in the world as an adult composer and I knew because I had studied his life that he came to know the four talented, lovely Weber sisters at that time. I thought it was a fascinating period; he was proud and poor, and his father kept sending him letters from home which said, so to speak, “Pull yourself together! Stay away from women!” And he was 21 years old and trying very hard to find work, but he didn’t want to stay away from women.
My family is nothing like the Webers. They were painters and not musical and my two sisters are so much younger than me there was no sibling rivalry. So I am afraid the dynamics of the four sisters quareling over fans and lace is strictly imagination!
Sherry: Besides the incorporation of your creative manner, imagination and musical experience, what amount of research was necessary to convey your interpretation of the characters and their lives? Did this quest for knowledge involve your acquaintance with scholars or did you conduct your research more or less independently? Did this elongate the writing process for you?
Stephanie: I am a historical novelist by profession, and we are used to doing a great deal of research! There was a huge amount of research for the book as always. First of all, I listened to a great deal if not all of the music Mozart composed between the ages of 21-25, the period of the book. I read the letters and many biographies. I adore Landon, but it was Robert Gutman’s work which convinced me that Mozart remained a virgin until his marriage (which he insisted to his father in the letters!). I researched dress, food, the streets, the history of the piano, you name it. Actually it was the fastest novel I ever wrote, no more than nine months with all the revisions. And it sold right away to the first publisher who looked at it and is now translated into five languages. This is very thrilling for me. Someone told me they saw it in a bookshop in Salzburg in German!
I couldn’t find out too much about the Weber sisters, and after I published the book I discovered Agnes Selby and her great research into the sisters. I had one classical music scholar help me during the writing: Richard Somerset Ward who has a fascinating book about historical sopranos and castrati and a big chapter on Mozart’s original singers.
Sherry: Your contribution surpasses the role of a traditional novelist. You are very involved in outreach campaigns to educate others about your work, the history and music. “Marrying Mozart” has been published in five languages. You have reached the younger audience through published articles for the National Federation of Music Clubs. As I also wish to dedicate my life to the advocacy of Mozart’s genius and classical music generally, I admire your gestures greatly. My thesis from the University of Westminster concerns classical music’s capability to transcend social stigmas and demographic stereotypes to engender a more representative audience that is also inclusive of non-traditional audiences, namely minorities and young people. Establishing a sense of relevancy, connecting antiquity with modernity, is of course a key element. Although centuries have passed, the human essence remains much the same. Strife, success, love, despair.
I believe your ability to capture an audience with your interpretation of these vibrant young lives within the pages of your novel brings Mozart to the public forefront with fascination and appeal. Do you find that your readership for this specific novel is varied? Do you believe you have elicited interest from a public that would not have otherwise been drawn to classical music?
Stephanie: I didn’t have a purpose in writing my novel…I was madly in love with this young man Mozart, and it all came from there. I hoped to delight people. I wanted to tell the story of a young man’s search for love and for a place in music. Yes, my audience has been very varied! I had a music loving audience of course at first, but I was very surprised to find myself nominated by a major romance novel magazine for the best historical romance of the year…so the novel crossed over to the romance market as well as being taken seriously by musicians. I am NOT a romance novelist; I am a literary novelist so I was very surprised! And it has been thrilling to receive many e-mails from young women of 15 or 16 who picked the book up on a whim and set out to find more about Mozart.
Sherry: In celebration of the 2006 Mozart Year, you accompanied a tour group to Vienna, Salzburg and Prague in May as a guest lecturer. I traveled to these three destinations at precisely the same dates, but I unfortunately didn‘t have the opportunity to meet with you! I’m sure the tour patrons accepted your presence with much enthusiasm!
Stephanie: Unfortunately the tour was canceled at the last moment, so I didn’t go there. (And my webmaster husband forgot to change the website!) I was sad, but my novel was in those places, and that was a wonderful thing. I found out they did a broadcast about it from Stephansdom, the Vienna Cathedral where Mozart was married and buried and which is down the street from the house where he wrote FIGARO.
Sherry: Residing in New York City, how do you plan to spend the remainder of the anniversary year?
Stephanie: It has been a wonderful anniversary year for me. I felt it was like twenty Christmases with his birthday coming. I felt so excited and I just cried in joy to have Mozart. And I got to travel such a lot and read my book with many fine musicians singing and playing his music in the reading.…sopranos, string quartets, even a chamber orchestra! On his birthday some extraordinary musicians gave a concert in Toronto based on the book and I went. I’ve been to Cincinnati as a guest of honor for the chamber orchestra benefit, to libraries with Viennese pastry cooked by a pastry chef from Salzburg, to Colorado and Oklahoma and Pennsylvania and I don’t know what else. Lots of radio and magazine and newspaper interviews. Oh and I wrote a special narrative about the ten year old Mozart and it was given in the historic St. Paul’s chapel in lower Manhattan with musicians and singers performing the music he wrote when he was ten. I have also gotten to know a number of wonderful scholars on the web site www.mozartforum.com and bought the 170 CD Brilliant Classics set of his work. This is a very great time to love Mozart, because everything is recorded. We have everything.
Sherry: What message would you like to convey to a potential reading public? What kind of knowledge and understanding would you like readers to grasp from the novel?
Stephanie: I want readers to fall in love with Mozart and these four girls. He was a funny, deeply serious, sometimes sad and wistful young man, very real. I’ve been told this is my gift as a historical novelist, making people very real. I hope readers see him more vividly so they can see how he laughed and cried and was just as human as anyone else except he had this great genius, and he had to handle that and it wasn’t always easy to handle for him or the people around him. But he was a good young man and rather kind. I can imagine every woman wanting to marry him!
|Stephanie Cowell, Author.|
“A grand little mini-opera, filled with twists of affection, musical politics, love, loss and chocolate.” Seattle Times
“Marrying Mozart is a charming novel, so much so that one would enjoy it even if the gentleman involved in these girls' lives were not one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music. It also has the virtue of offering a believable and appealing portrait of Mozart himself. Marrying Mozart is a perfect harmony of fact, fiction.” The Los Angeles Times
“A frolicking romp, highly imagined.” Houston Opera Cues
“With its frequent changes in locale and abrupt switches in the objects of affection, the tale is reminiscent of nothing so much as an opera — appropriately enough. A delight, at once fanciful and erudite: should be richly satisfying to Mozart buffs and fascinating to those in the outer circle as well.” Kirkus Reviews
“The twists and turns of all the character’s lives and loves is a tale that tugs at the heartstrings.” Columbus Dispatch