Reading Reports
L'ombra di Amadeus

Pierdomenico Baccalario
The shadow of Amadeus

Report by Fiammetta Giorgi

A degree in classical literature; after years of experience as an editor, she has been doing translation from German and English, specializing in children’s fiction (translating, among others, Christine Nöstlinger and Ann...

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The story
7 December 1791. The day they buried Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; at least the first time. Because Baccalario has fun imagining that the funeral of the famous musician was simply staged to escape debtors and save a mysterious Egyptian casket handed down through the centuries from father to son, master to disciple. The scene soon moves to Italy where a very young and impetuous Gioacchino Rossini often comes to blows with other youths, and also “modifies” sheets of Bach’s austere music because when he thinks of music he thinks of the market and the emotional response of the people. He meets Brother Sarastro, none other than Mozart in disguise, who, becoming his maestro, helps him find the courage to express himself. Together they cross the Appennines on foot, fleeing from the threatening organization of the Sphinx. There, Amadeus meets his death at the hands of one of its members while Gioacchino challenges the Black Devil, eventually earning his respect. The Black Devil, a legendary officer under Napoleon who really existed is in fact Thomas Dumas, father of the famous novelist. Meanwhile the Egyptian casket passes from hand to hand: from Mozart to Rossini, from him to the young Alexandre Dumas and then back into the hands of Justus, the child who had saved it years earlier, on the day of Mozart’s staged funeral, and from him to his great grand-daughter, Alice Guy Blaché, the world’s first film director. Each of them will keep in it what they have of most precious, Mozart’s music sheets, among which the whole of the Requiem (in reality his greatest unfinished work), the stories of Dumas, and rolls of film of Alice: what each of them wishes to leave as their legacy for posterity. An exciting adventure, full of unexpected twists that play with intriguing historical mysteries, each conveying important messages in a light-hearted manner.

The characters
The narrator is a surprising choice: Justus. We meet him for the first time as a 7 year-old who has an unusual passion for holes and cemeteries, beautiful gardens, where people stroll happily and things make different noises than elsewhere. It is thanks to his curiosity that he is given custody of the precious Egyptian casket during Mozart’s funeral, and it is also due to his curiosity that he is able to discover the mysteries of a story that has lasted for over a century. All the characters are entertaining, as are their relationships of father/son or master/disciple: Mozart, forced as a child to follow his father’s ambition to make him a great concert pianist, but then also capable of directing the young Rossini’s passion for music; Napoleon, so blinded by his thirst for power that he is unable to distinguish between real and false friends, forgetting he has given his word to one of his bravest officers, the Creole giant Thomas Dumas: the promise he would be godfather to his first son Alexandre; Alexandre Dumas himself, who prefers running away from home to the idea of studying to become a priest, and then finding the courage to stand up to Napoleon in a daring speech; Antonio Salieri who Baccalario does not imagine as the envious rival, perhaps even responsible for the death of Mozart, but as a trusted friend, intelligent and sharp, who helps him elaborate the stratagem that sets off the adventure.

Rapidity of plot and the appealing light and shade of the characters are in keeping with the classic adventure story. Obscure plots, discredited legends and twists: typical ingredients made ​​original by a lively intellectual curiosity that enjoys finding in the history of our culture and music some of the most intriguing elements to appeal even to young readers.

Why translate?
Baccalario is one of the best-loved adventure story writers in the world: his most successful series, Ulysses Moore, has been translated into in 27 languages and has sold over 3.3 million copies. One of his strong points, effective in Italy as in any other country, is the idea that it is unnecessary to travel far or into a fantasy world to find adventure. It is enough, for example, to go through the woods to get from one town to another, rather than follow a road. This is what Gioacchino and Brother Sarastro do, meanwhile discovering the fascinating landscapes of the Futa Pass. L’ombra di Amadeus (The shadow of Amadeus) has the advantage of starting from a highly original idea: the history of music and the biographies of world famous figures.

“A great storyteller, Baccalario skillfully blends history and invention”

“A gripping romp through the centuries, including figures such as Mozart, Rossini and Napoleon”.
Laura Pezzino, Vanity Fair

“(…) The reader cannot help but get carried away by a fast-paced adventure where the writing never becomes secondary to “speed” and indeed, in a well-kept balance between dialogue and description, says much more than the story itself”.
Elena Baroncini, LiBeR

Pierdomenico Baccalario

Born in 1974 at Acqui Terme, aged only 24 he won the “Premio Il Battello a Vapore – Città di Verbania” with La strada del guerriero. Since then he has written numerous novels, currently published in 28 languages, which have sold millions of copies worldwide. Journalist and scriptwriter, he is considered one of the major experts on children’s literature in Italy, which he writes about in the culture pages of La Repubblica.

30 October 2014

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