Mozart and The Wolf Gang by Anthony Burgess - review by Alexander Waugh

Alexander Waugh

Whiffs of Wilde

Mozart and The Wolf Gang


Hutchinson 148pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

The best way to enjoy Mozart & The Wolf Gang is to avoid making any attempt to categorise it. In essence, it is about musical aesthetics. Burgess begins with a conversation in heaven between Beethoven and Mendelssohn who are shortly joined by Prokofiev and Bliss (composers who share centenary celebrations with Mozart in 1991) and later Wagner. After some witty bickering and perceptive musical observation they settle down to enjoy a nameless opera in honour of Mozart.

This opera is then presented to the reader as a libretto, more or less in the style of a late eighteenth-century opera buffa, complete with choruses, duets and arias (all in verse), recitatives and stage directions. Between the acts, in the intervals as it were, Burgess returns us to celestial debate where the protagonists keep changing: first Rossini, Berlioz and Stendahl, then Schonberg and Gershwin and finally Henry James and Mozart’s most memorable librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte. At this point the slim tribute arrives at an unstated halfway point.

The second half is a film-script, which forms the basis for conversations between the characters Anthony and Burgess who, in effect, replace the writers and composers from heaven. It also contains a whimsical attempt to translate Mozart’s 40th symphony into prose and an epilogic essay which goes a little way

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

A Mirror - Westend

Follow Literary Review on Twitter