Mozart in Paris

Mozart in Paris
By Frantz Duchazeau
SelfMadeHero, 94 pages
A review by R.C. Speck

Historical graphic novels can be evocative conduits to the past. Comic artist and writer Frantz Duchazeau gives us just this with his wonderful graphic novel Mozart in Paris. Translated to English in 2019, Mozart in Paris tells the story of the six months Mozart spent in the French capital with his mother when he was twenty-two.

Disillusioned with his employment in Salzburg, young Mozart had high hopes in Paris, which he hadn’t visited since his days as a child prodigy. Baron von Grimm introduces him to high society in Paris, but Mozart quickly learns that his music does not suit Parisian tastes very well. He also finds that his lack of social refinement has become an impediment to his success. He becomes caught up in the political strife of the French music world—making perhaps more enemies than friends—all the while eking out a living on small commissions and lessons. Duchazeau also chronicles how Mozart had to deal with his mother’s failing health as well as his crush on Aloysia Weber in far-away Munich.

Duchazeau compiled much of his narrative through Mozart’s correspondences with his family, giving the graphic novel an epistolary feel as the narration often quotes directly from letters and covers the bitter disagreements the young composer had with his father Leopold back in Salzburg. Duchazeau includes all the love and longing as well, and through Mozart’s letters, reveals exactly how unstable and treacherous the life of a young musical genius could be back then.

Duchazeau also makes his story a period piece in every sense of the word. From the fashions to the furniture to the architecture, he puts late-eighteenth century Paris on display on every page. He treats us to exquisitely drawn views of its busy streets, its gardens, its estates, its waterways. He renders lighting and shadow impeccably as well. This visual depiction is one of the advantages of graphic novels over literature, and Duchazeau makes the most of it in Mozart in Paris.

Most strikingly, Duchazeau gives us a glimpse of what was going through Mozart’s mind with what I would call psychological license. Along with flashbacks to Mozart as a young prodigy, Duchazeau often invites that same prodigy to the present to reflect on the life of Mozart the man. Duchazeau presents images of Leopold towering over the city to emphasize his gigantic influence over his son. Mozart’s genius is also depicted graphically. When composing or playing music, his boundless creativity often finds representation in flashes of geometric forms in peculiar coloring.

Mozart in Paris is unique in that it seems to be as much about Paris as it is about Mozart. And through the medium of the graphic novel, Duchazeau makes both equally fascinating.

This book review appeared in the spring 2020 issue of Quarter Notes, the member magazine of WCPE Radio, The Classical Station. To receive a subscription, become a member today!

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