Mozart in Paris tells a fascinating and often gloriously inventive tale of a musical genius escaping an overbearing father and the city he feels simply doesn’t recognise his talent. But when Mozart arrives in Paris, he finds things may be no better. Mozart in Paris tells the tale of a genius and tells it well.
Graphic biographies are everywhere it seems, but all too often they recount in terms too dry. A case in point would be the recent Isadora, a beautifully drawn work that simply didn’t capture enough of the genius of its subject.
Thankfully, Mozart in Paris avoids the simple retelling route, instead taking this crucial era of Mozart’s life and using a mixture of genuine correspondence and sheer artistic imaginings of the man alongside the ingoing details of his time in Paris. And by doing that, it imbues the story with the sense that we’re getting a glimpse inside the musical mind of Mozart.
Mozart arrives in Paris in 1978 at the age of 22. His life till then had been that of an aging child prodigy in Salzburg, always struggling to overcome the demands of his father and the sense that his work simply wasn’t appreciated in the ways it should have been.
So an escape to Paris and what he imagines is the perfect surroundings for his works seems ideal. He imagines fame and fortune, finally a chance to become his own man and create magnificent works on his own terms.
It’s no wonder he positively skips into the Parisien streets…
But, as he soon discovers, Paris is more concerned with the complexities and intrigue of the Court and the machinations of high society. He struggles to earn enough money to keep himself and his mother and finds himself playing to the mostly indifferent reactions from the great and the good of Parisien society. His six months were not the thing you would think they would be.
His mentor, the critic Baron von Grimm, introduces him to a number of Parisian nobles, yet it’s almost always the case of an unrecognised genius in a world of grim mundanity.
And all of this is very well done, as Mozart himself is given great character, although not always positive. Yes, the man is a genius, but he’s also self-obsessed, selfish, full of insecurities, quick to frustration, prone to rash decisions, overly dismissive of those less talented. And by giving us this full picture makes us look not at the legend of a musical genius but imagine what the man himself felt.
However, what really marks Mozart in Paris out, what lifts it above a simple biographical retelling is the work Duchazeau puts in to get inside the maestro’s head and the invention used to depict the man in various ways… whether this is the somewhat cartoonish image of Mozart throughout compared to the other characters, emphasising the youth and inexperience of the man, somewhat lost in the complex world of Parisien high society machinations, or the depiction of Mozart’s relationship with his father, always looming over him, suffocating him…
Another glorious touch comes from the ever tricky matter of just how to draw the music and perhaps more importantly both the effects of the music and the white heat of inspiration of a master.
These are my favourite moments in Mozart in Paris, where Duchazeau dazzles with invention to portray these vital moments.
The first time we really see it is early in the book, with Mozart teaching a young Duchess. As he demonstrates, the room and the Countess fade away and the music comes in, as a dazzle of lights…
Similarly, the art captures the inspired moments of creativity in a colourful fog, another conceit so well done…
This sort of artistic and narrative flourishes really raise the level of Mozart in Paris well above what it might have been were it just an extremely well done biographical re-telling.
Frantz Duchazeau‘s Mozart in Paris highlights a formative time in the development of a musical genius, capturing all of the creativity but also highlighting the flaws of the man. In this way, Duchazeau creates a biography with life rather than a mere retelling of the life, a particularly well done portrait of the man and his music.
Mozart in Paris by Frantz Duchazeau, translated by Edward Gauvin, colours by Walter, published by SelfMadeHero.