The year is 1791 and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is Vienna's brightest star. Master of the city's music halls and devoted member of the Austrian Freemason's guild, he stands at the heart of an electric mix of art and music, philosophy and science, politics and intrigue.
Six weeks ago, the great composer told his wife he had been poisoned. Yesterday, he died.
Nannerl, Wolfgang's estranged sister, returns to Vienna to investigate his death - and discovers a sinister conspiracy that reaches to the very highest echelons of Austrian society.
Never has the structure of a novel felt more important than in Mozart's Last Aria. Matt Rees takes the essence of Mozart's music to weave a plot that showcases musical genius alongside a desperately paranoid and rather naive young man, who just wanted to introduce equality to all levels of society. Rees starts with a difficult opening - as Nannerl hears about her estranged brother's death and starts to learn that he believed he was being murdered through slow poisoning. The central portion of the book is a more thoughtful and reflective period, where Nannerl discovers more about her brother's place in Viennese society. The final, explosive portion of the novel is the triumphant climax of the music - as Matt Rees calls it: "a crime novel in A minor."
It's been a while since I've read a novel that is as cleverly put together as Mozart's Last Aria. I appreciated the rising tension, the slow build as Nannerl starts to put all the clues together.
This would be nothing, though, without the exploration of Mozart's relationships with those close to him - his wife, his children, the Brothers of his Masonic Lodge, and Nannerl herself. This helps the reader to discover the man behind the music.
I loved the parts of Mozart's Last Aria that dealt with the Masons and how Mozart explored the future of the Masonic Brotherhood through the forms of his operatic pieces, particularly The Magic Flute. The Masons could so easily become an over-used device - all dark cloaks and twirling moustaches, but Rees presents them sympathetically, especially the notion of equality.
The only part of the novel that I wasn't sure about were Nannerl's encounters with the Baron Swieten. It did help to explain why the Baron might have been so willing to lend his aid to Nannerl, but I found it to be a little too sensationalist.
This is an entertaining and swift read through the possibility of Mozart being murdered. The mystery of who might be behind the murder - if, in fact, it is such - will keep the reader guessing to the end, and the character of Nannerl is one to be cherished. But the real treasure of Mozart's Last Aria is the appreciation of the man's music, and allows him to take his place as a true virtuoso.