Author: Matt Rees, 2011
Genre: Historical Mystery. Vienna 18th Century. Music.
Other Details: Hardback. 303 pages
It’s 1791 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is enlightenment Vienna’s brightest star. Master of the city’s music halls and devoted member of the Freemason’s guild, he stands at the heart of an electric mix of art and music, philosophy and science, politics and intrigue. But six weeks ago the great composer told his wife he had been poisoned. Yesterday, he died. - from cover blurb.
The narrator of this novel is Wolfgang’s older sister Nannerl, who had been estranged from her brother for a few years. She is living a quiet married life in the provinces when she receives a letter from her sister-in-law telling of Wolfgang's final illness and death. Constanze also confides Wolfgang's fears that he was being poisoned. So Nannerl travels to Vienna to pay her respects and there learns more of the rumours and suspicions surrounding her brother's death. She decides to investigate and finds herself quickly ensnared in a web of intrigue that includes jealous lovers, rival composers, disgruntled creditors and others. Most significantly she uncovers traces of Masonic secrets in his personal papers as well as in his opera The Magic Flute. Had he broken his oaths to this secret brotherhood and reaped a dreadful penalty? Despite the protection of her brother's friends and a powerful patron, Nannerl finds herself in danger of meeting the same fate as her brother.
This was a very enjoyable novel which increased my knowledge about the Mozart family as well as late 18th Century Viennese society and politics. I wouldn't have minded if it was longer though did appreciate Rees' economical style that allowed me to read it in a couple of afternoons. It was something of a new direction for Rees, who following a career as a journalist reporting on the Middle East has written a series of modern day crime novels featuring Palestinian teacher turned detective, Omar Yussef. It was obvious from his author's end notes that he felt a strong connection to Mozart's music and was also interested in telling Nannerl's story. His notes on the background of the novel include the revelation that he used meditation techniques in order to find Nannerl's voice as a character and that the novel had an underlying musical structure based on one of Mozart's piano sonatas. I found these aspects quite fascinating and they added to my appreciation of the novel.
I have included cover art from both the UK and US editions as I quite liked both, though feel the US one by featuring a female figure is truer to the content while the UK cover is more dramatic with its splash of blood and the almost ghostly figure of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart ever present as indeed he is in the story.
Matt Rees' page on 'Mozart's Last Aria' - includes links to photographs of the locations in the novel and the music used.