The Mozart Question


The Mozart Question by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Michael Foreman


Lesley is a new journalist waiting for her big break. In waiting, she quickly figures out that while misfortune strikes one, luck strikes another.

That’s how her big break came about. Meryl, Lesley’s superior has been a ski accident – nothing major or life threatning – but still an accident that will disrupt her duties of interviewing famed violinist Paolo Levi – the child prodigy who has played in every major concert hall from one end of the world to the other. Meryl asks Lesley to step in, and to fill her shoes. She also stresses not to ask the Mozart Question. 

Lesley knows all about Levi, but she doesn’t know what the Mozart Question is, and because of that she’s a bundle of nerves the whole flight to Venice. 
Slowly, but surely she arrives on his doorstep, is greeted warmly, and invited in. Mint tea is steaming, the beloved violin is on the sill overlooking the waters of Venice, and Lesley has started off her interview by asking the one doomed – or so she thought doomed – question. The Mozart Question. 

Levi, who she thinks is upset and won’t move further into the interview, surprises her by telling her the story of his childhood self, how he came to know and love music, and how music – Mozart – saved his parents in a Nazi concentration camp. 

Eloquently written Michael Morpurgo has taken a harsh subject and has turned it into a story specifically written for children. Full of beauty, wonder, and love The Mozart Question offers readers the realities of the Holocaust without the gruesome details. Touching on the unknown aspects of the Holocaust and those in concentration camps, the story is ultimately about how many Jewish people who lived within those said camps were selected to creat an orchestra to entertain, not only the German soldiers, but in cases the Führer himself. While, not dumbing the subject matter down, Morpurgo’s words ask children to think beyond their realm of knowledge, to step into the past, and to read with an understanding and sympathetic heart.

The book is extremely well written, and full of smart, developed characters which aren’t only moving, but believable. Told mostly through Levi’s perspective the story is simple yet dramatic and really hooks readers with the mystery that lies behind the Mozart question – what it is, why won’t it be answered, and why has Levi chose to open up to this unlikely writer? A great aspect of this book is that Morpurgo has treated this subject matter, not just with gentility and respect but also with grace, tact, and art.

As if the story wasn’t beautiful and compelling on its own terms, illustrator Michel Foreman has skillfully crafted pictures, that not only propel this story, but a sole reason to pick this book up. Even the most heartbreaking illustration – people being herded into the gates of a concentration camp – is the most thought-provoking and beautiful image.