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I first came across this little gem of a book during its publicity tour where it was performed by a small group of musicians and a couple of people reading the book in its entirety. This was made more special by the venue, Cheltenham Pump Rooms, so a beautiful Steinway piano on the stage, some wonderful young musicians, the lead violinist I’m sure we’ll be seeing again, it’s just a shame I don’t remember his name, and the gentleman reading the dialogue of all the male characters was the author himself, Mr Michael Morpurgo.
A bit about the author. Michael Morpurgo is probably best known for his novel ‘Warhorse’ which has been recently dramatized and has been touring local theatres and looking on his website www.michaelmorpuro.com and I was surprised at how many children’s books he has written as I thought my daughter had them all, but she doesn’t. Michael Morpurgo was the first author who really turned my youngest daughter onto reading, she wasn’t into the ‘teenage issues’ kind of books penned by Jacqueline Wilson, she didn’t like the ‘Horowitz’ style action adventure and Harry Potter she found ok, but not great. Michael Morpurgo’s books are good stories, often very sweet but usually set in difficult areas like Afghanstan, possibly due to his military background. He was also evacuated during the war so war stories feature quite heavily, but the books rarely centre on warrior like characters, they are usually concentrating on small children, or animals that have been affected by the conflicts in some way, but are not directly involved.
The Mozart Question?
What is the Mozart Question? The premise of the book is based on an interview for a newspaper. The interviewee is a young, inexperienced girl, Lesley, who only in her third week on the job, is sent to Venice in her boss’s stead to interview Paolo Levi a world renowned violinist. She is told she can ask him whatever she likes about music and the composers but she may not ask him any personal questions, as he hates that and refuses to answer and may get angry and throw her out and above anything else, no matter what, under no circumstances must she ask ‘the Mozart Question’. This causes a small problem, as she doesn’t know what the Mozart question is, so she is gently told that this old chap has been playing for years is due to give a massive concert for his 50th birthday having been born in the 50’s and is currently the best known musician on the planet, but he refuses point blank to play any Mozart, and when asked ‘why?’ he clams up and refuses to answer, often getting very cross with the interviewer. So the inevitable happens, she arrives at the interview, totally star struck, bumbles in and ends up half not asking the question that she knows she shouldn’t she is petrified that she has blown the interview completely, however he thinks for a while and then says:
“I will tell you a story, after it is over you will need to ask me no more questions. Someone once told me that all secrets are lies. The time has come, I think, not to lie anymore” He Paused. “I will start with my father…..”
What then unfolds is a beautiful story that stretches right back to his parents first meeting, which I am sure you can work out from the dates mentioned early were within the backdrop of the 2nd world war.
This is a children’s book that deserves to be looked after, it isn’t hardback, or the standard paperback it has a thick glossy cardboard cover that is illustrated by the very talented Michael Foreman, who has also been responsible for illustrations for Roald Dahl. The pictures have a charm about them as well as portraying a ghostly hidden secret, which is revealed within the book.
What age is it for?
When I took my children to see this they were 10 and 12 years of age, and were delighted to get their brand new copies signed at the event. Both had read the book at least once whilst waiting for the show to begin. Usually at this age, I would not buy them a book that could be devoured quite so quickly, however because of the subject matter – which does touch on some uncomfortable elements within the war, I didn’t mind and I wouldn’t have wanted to go into too much detail with a young child. It is definitely not a young child’s bedtime reading book, although it was nice to read it together with my older children at the performance. It is also book that benefits from being discussed with your children, and did fit in well with the war project that the younger one was doing at school. I would say any child from the age of 8 would enjoy it, and I still have happily read it again today.
As a musician I warmed to this book too, as it mentions some great music throughout, and now my children are older and have tackled some of these pieces, in part, in orchestras they are still getting something from the book which even now 2 years on they go back to from time to time.
The book makes something lovely and charming and almost happy out of one of the darkest periods of our history, without in anyway diminishing the horrors that people suffered, and it is done in a gentle lovely way. It’s a wonderful story that is definitely worth the £4.99 soft cover price at Amazon – but I’m sure you frugal people can find it cheaper somewhere else.
I heartily recommend this book and I leave you with a quote from the cover, that also partly forms my title: “We fought back with our music, it was the only weapon we had”
Thank you for reading
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