A look into the unsuccessful search for employment and poverty Mozart experienced in his otherwise prolific life. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was one of the most influential and prolific composers in the history of music, yet during his lifetime, and despite his genius, he oscillated between waves of prosperity and poverty. In the graphic novel Mozart in Paris French comic artist and author Frantz Duchazeau, known for his work in The Journal of Mickey, Blackface Banjo, and other short stories, attempts to illustrate a look into the composer’s attempt to not just establish himself within the upper crest of 18th century Parisian society, but to prove that such a reinvention based on talent alone is entirely possible.
With gorgeous recreations and impeccably detailed rendering of a world long gone Duchazeau takes a deeper look into one of Mozart’s darker periods during his short time in an utterly foreign city as a young 20-something. The city of lights promises to free the genius composer from the tight grip of his father and to unleash his brilliance on the world. That’s the idea, anyway. As is often the case with lofty ambitions, promises are the easiest to declare, but the hardest to keep.
In Paris, Mozart experiences the most abject poverty he has ever come across. His mother, who travelled with him to the city, is left cold and hungry as her son heads out to earn money to keep both of them afloat. It’s a remarkable feeling when you see how Mozart has to confront his reality along with the voice of his father a constant presence in his mind. Even though he has his mentor, Baron von Grimm, to guide him through the city and introduce him to Parisian nobility, the composer doesn’t experience the success he was promised – or expected.
The French are a discerning group of people – they turn their noses up at Mozart’s spontaneity and frivolous composing – choosing instead to chat amongst themselves instead of listening to his brilliance. What constitutes as success in Austria doesn’t translate to France. But Mozart presses on, filling his time with lessons for women who want to learn from him and composing pieces for benefactors. But in the end, the young composer is used like a pawn in the game of status.
In his illustrations Duchazeau captures Mozart’s inner mind where he straddles between being an adult yet remaining a child to his father and the crowd French nobility, both of whom would do with him as they pleased. The sense of moroseness is quite heartbreaking. And yet, Mozart is undeterred from the inspiration he finds in Paris. The light within him is evident, almost to the point of overtaking his entire being, and Duchazeau perfectly captures how anyone is when inspired by their craft or passion.
The only darkness that comes is when his mother dies and leaves him completely alone. In the French world, Mozart would only succeed if he remains the child prodigy, forever imprinted on everyone’s mind. But people grow up. And the masses grow restless, unwilling to let go of their old fantasies. The interplay of the composer’s memories with his present reality strikes a note of never being ‘good enough’ for everyone.
Beautifully illustrated and provocative, with Mozart in Paris, Duchazeau taps into the heart of the matter familiar to most creative types; success in our own hometowns may not translate to the rest of the world. But if you persevere, never letting your inspiration dwindle or others to colour your work and bring you down, you just might find your place in the world. Even genius composers like Mozart weren’t welcomed everywhere. Even the thought of such a thing is itself a light at the end of a very dark tunnel for those of us with lesser gifts.