Interview with Benjamin Laskin, Author of Catching Mozart

01 Dec 2021

What’s the story behind the story? What inspired you to write Catching Mozart?

My interest in Mozart developed by accident. I was looking for music to play through my spiffy new Bose sound-canceling headphones while I wrote at a local café. I tried different kinds of music—rock, country, jazz, and others—but I found them too distracting, especially songs or pieces with lyrics.

Next, I thought I’d try out some classical music. Until then, I had never given classical music much of a chance. I had never had anything against classical music; I just had nothing for it. But where to start? I found some “best of” collections on Amazon for cheap and downloaded several. The collections included music by a few dozen different composers and ranged from some of the great Baroque composers through the end of the Romantic period. Back then, I knew next to nothing about the Baroque, Classical, or Romantic periods, and I’d have had a head-scratching time trying to name any of the composers or to what period they belonged. I was just looking for pleasant music to block the outside noise that wouldn’t distract me from my work.

A month or two passed, and I continued to listen while I worked. Little by little, my ear became accustomed to the music, and I grew to really enjoy it. Now and then, a particular piece of music would grab my attention, and I’d glance at my iTunes app to see who was playing. This is where it became interesting. Darn if every time I looked to answer — “Who’s this?” The answer always returned the same — Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Every time, and we’re talking quite a few times. Huh, I thought, it seems I like this Mozart fellow…. I decided to purchase several Mozart collections. I downloaded them and started to listen to more and more Mozart, and I liked all of it. I thought I’d only like this or that piece, but no — I liked everything he composed. This struck me as amazing.

All I knew about Mozart at the time was the name and whatever I had learned from the famous 1997 Oscar-winning movie Amadeus. Although I had enjoyed the film at the time, it did nothing to enamor me to Mozart. The movie’s portrayal of Wolfgang Mozart — to my mind, and for long afterward — was a bit of a turn-off. I thought the movie made Wolfgang out to be a giggling buffoon — a musical genius, sure, but basically, I thought, an infantile jerk. Having had known nothing else about Mozart, I naively assumed that was who the guy truly was.

As many years had passed since that movie was out, and so older and slightly wiser, I wondered how accurate that portrayal of Mozart truly was. I began to read about the man and gobbled up nearly every biography on him in English I could find. Needless to say, they were eye-openers. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was not the tittering and childish clown the film portrayed, and far from it. By now, I was listening to Mozart constantly and learning everything I could about the man and his times. It was a fascinating and inspiring adventure that opened up a world I had never considered or contemplated. Soon, I was even listening to Mozart’s operas.

Two-plus years passed, and I started to toy with writing a novel based loosely on this new interest of mine. The idea marinated in the back of my mind as I worked on other writing projects. My problem was how to approach the subject. I didn’t want to write a biography of Mozart, as plenty of excellent biographies abounded, and I was no scholar. I considered a historical novel, but that required resources I didn’t have. Next, I considered a sort of Da Vinci Code-like mystery-thriller and even sketched out a few compelling ideas. Soon, however, I abandoned that approach as well. It wasn’t what I wanted to say or accomplish with the story. I wanted to keep things light and playful, like Mozart himself and so much of his music. I wanted to write a book that might inspire people like I was to start listening to Mozart and so gently wade into the wonderful world of classical music.

After more thought, the answer struck me one day in the shower like a bar of soap to the back of the head. I thought it could be a wildly good time to riff off of something known as the “Mozart effect” and write a fun, upbeat, and romping romantic comedy based loosely on Wolfgang’s opera The Magic Flute. As soon as I had settled on the approach, ideas for the novel sprang up like notes from a piano…

If you had to pick theme songs for the main characters of Catching Mozart, what would they be?

For this book, it would have to be something from Mozart. The overture to his opera The Magic Flute or Così Fan Tutte would do.

What’s your favorite genre to read? Is it the same as your favorite genre to write?

I read mostly history, biography, and philosophy books. Those are what stimulate my imagination and give me ideas or themes for fiction.

What books are on your TBR pile right now?

Some history books and then a long march through Shakespeare. I’ve neglected the genius for far too long.

What scene in your book was your favorite to write?

Honestly, I like all of them. Because I don’t write from an outline, every chapter and scene surprises me at the time. I never know what the characters will do or say next, but somehow, they always know exactly where they’re going.

Do you have any quirky writing habits? (lucky mugs, cats on laps, etc.)

Oh, many. Everything has to be in its place—this and that on the right side of the table, that and this on the left. Before I start, I open all the different apps I might need to access. I write wearing noise-canceling headphones, and when composing, I always and only listen to Mozart. If I’m doing work that requires little creativity, I’ll listen to other composers or stream a classical music station. But when it comes to composing, only Mozart works for me.

Do you have a motto, quote, or philosophy you live by?

“Rock me, Amadeus.”

If you could choose one thing for readers to remember after reading your book, what would it be?

If a reader were to come away from the novel desiring to spend a little more time listening to Mozart and a little less time watching television or social media, I’d be elated.


Benjamin Laskin is the author of the new book Catching Mozart

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