Magazine article Strings

Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life

Magazine article Strings

Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life

Article excerpt

Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life. Edited and translated by Robert Spaethting. W.W. Norton, www.wwnorton. com, $17.95.

The job of a translator is never an easy one. Colloquialisms that seem so right in one language may have a stilted counterpart in another. Subtleties and word play can be awkward to translate, and rhymes can be even worse.

The letters of Wolfgang Mozart are a case in point: spanning his brief life, from adolescent banter to grown-up pleas for money, they run the gamut from silly doggerel to pure eloquence. Mozart's letters have been translated from German into English before, but not nearly as beautifully and successfully as Robert Spaethling does in Mozart's Letters, Mozart's Life.

Spaethling, an emeritus professor of German at the University of Massachusetts, is completely at home with the intricacies of both languages. As a result, Mozart's personality comes alive in Spaethling's skillful hands, and he provides ample, helpful commentary to put these selected letters in a historical, cultural, and musical perspective.

Mozart's humanity is kept intact through the author's decision to include any and all original misspellings in the translation, so that the reader can really get a sense of the composer's early style. For example, when Wolfgang was a teenager, he and his father traveled to Italy, and the younger Mozart would add brief postscripts to his father's letters home.

Not yet a competent speller, his first postscript at age 13, as translated by Spaethling, begins: "My heart is filled with a alott of joy because I feel so jolly on this trip, because it's so cozy in our carriage, and because our coatchmann is such a fine fellow who dries as fast as he can when the road lets him. …

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