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The Mozart Question

The Mozart Question

5.0 2
by Michael Morpurgo, Michael Foreman (Illustrator)
A boy’s passion for music unlocks a painful secret — and draws his family together — in a multilayered tale by an outstanding author-illustrator pair.

Like any young boy, Paolo becomes obsessed with what he can’t have — in his case, a violin. Hidden away in his parents’ room, it beckons the boy to release the music inside


A boy’s passion for music unlocks a painful secret — and draws his family together — in a multilayered tale by an outstanding author-illustrator pair.

Like any young boy, Paolo becomes obsessed with what he can’t have — in his case, a violin. Hidden away in his parents’ room, it beckons the boy to release the music inside it. The music leads Paolo to a family secret, a story of World War II that changed the course of his parents’ lives. But once the truth is told, the family is reunited in a way no one had thought possible. From Michael Morpurgo and Michael Foreman comes a story about sharing the joy of music from one generation to the next and about music’s power to transform and heal.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

A distinguished British pair brings on the violins for this sentimental story built atop the Holocaust. A young journalist is to interview world-famous but idiosyncratic violinist Paolo Levi, and all she knows is not to ask "the Mozart question"-but not what, exactly, that question is. When she artlessly mentions this to him, the book turns into a sequence of flashbacks involving a Venice boyhood of stealing outside in the moonlight to hear a street musician, who later secretly teaches Paolo to play the violin. Eventually the musician meets Paolo's parents, only to discover that the three already know one another from their incarceration in a WWII camp, where all three were made to play in a camp orchestra and where Paolo's parents were known as "the lovebirds." Scarred, Paolo's father has since forsworn music and asks Paolo never to perform the Germans' favorite composer, Mozart, in public. Foreman obliges this text with nostalgic scenes of canals, quaintly dressed gondoliers, women and children carrying baguettes; his appropriately subdued watercolors of the death camp depict structures like those at Auschwitz. The story's foundation, unfortunately, is flawed: men and women prisoners did not mix in concentration camps, and orchestras were not exceptions. Why ask readers to honor history (much less a history that undergoes very public challenges) if the author reinvents the record? Ages 8-12. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature
AGERANGE: Ages 8 up.

In this story within a story within a story, a young woman journalist learns the answer to the question that a world-famous violinist has hitherto refused to answer: why he never performs any works by Mozart. Violinist Paolo Levi's story of his childhood fascination with the violin hidden in his parent's apartment in Venice and his chance friendship with a street musician who begins to give him violin lessons culminates in the retelling of his father's story of survival through the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. It was this that poisoned the father's own love of the violin, especially of the music of Mozart, forever. Morpurgo's many-layered tale is both barbaric and beautiful: grounded in the hideous historical realities of how music was prostituted and perverted in Nazi concentration camps, it is also a parable of transformation and redemption. Foreman's somber, dark-toned paintings of the Nazi camps and sunlight- and moonlight-drenched paintings of Levi's childhood in Venice are as eloquent as the story they illustrate. Together, Morpurgo and Foreman have created a remarkable book. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, Ph.D.

VOYA - Chris Carlson
A young reporter gets a "scoop" when violin virtuoso Paolo Levi reveals something he has never divulged to an interviewer before. Paolo begins by telling the reporter how he learned his craft from a street musician. When this teacher met Paolo's parents, they discovered that they were old friends who had not seen one another since the war. The three, all Jews, were talented violinists who were forced by the Nazis to play to calm their fellow Jews as they were being led to the gas chamber. After their liberation, the boy's father and mother married and determined never to play violin again. Because of Paolo's talent, however, they encouraged their son to continue lessons with their friend, but ask that he not play the Mozart melodies they were forced to play in the Nazi death camps. Because his last remaining parent has recently died and because the young reporter does not ask the "Mozart question," Paolo decides to reveal the secret to her. This short book would make a wonderful read-aloud to introduce a Holocaust unit. Although brief, the story reverberates with emotion, highlighting the cruelty of the Holocaust and the guilt that many survivors faced every day. Paolo's narrative is a love letter-both for his parents and for the joy he feels as a violinist. Because illustrations accompany the text, as if a picture book for older readers, it would also be a good choice for reluctant readers. Reviewer: Chris Carlson
School Library Journal

Gr 4-6- Set in Venice in the 1960s, this tale intertwines a famous violinist's boyhood reminiscences with the story of his parents' Holocaust experiences. Usually reticent Paolo Levi gives an interview to a young reporter and the story's narrator, answering the long-standing "Mozart question." When he was nine, Paolo badgered his mother into showing him the violin that was hidden away atop a cupboard, and she made him promise not to tell his father. The boy knew that Papa had once been a violinist, though he'd never heard him play. Soon after, Paolo became mesmerized by the music of Benjamin, a street performer. Longing to play himself, he secretly took the violin to Benjamin, who repaired it and gave him lessons. When the youngster finally confessed to his parents, they shared their own secrets: during World War II, the three adults were in the same concentration camp where they were forced to play music-mostly Mozart-for incoming prisoners to divert them from the horror that awaited them. After liberation, Papa vowed to never play again; however, Mama and Benjamin felt that music had saved them. When Paolo's parents heard how talented he was, they forgave his secrecy. The adult Paolo refused to play Mozart until after his father's death. Morpurgo breathes life into this touching tale, which is conveyed with compassion and honesty. Foreman's watercolors enrich the narrative, capturing both Venice's beauty and the camp's misery. This fine selection offers another view of the Holocaust and music's potential to heal.-Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ

Product Details

Candlewick Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.73(w) x 7.63(h) x 0.48(d)
810L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Meet the Author

Michael Morpurgo, British Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005 and the author of more than ninety books, collaborated with Michael Foreman on SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT and BEOWULF. He lives in Devon, England.

Michael Foreman, one of the world’s leading illustrators, is the author-illustrator of MICHAEL FOREMAN'S PLAYTIME RHYMES and MIA'S STORY. He lives in London.

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The Mozart Question 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent story to introduce young people to a horrendous time and occurrences of the recent past.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is so good. You just have to read it!!! READ IT!!! so good...!