Review—Mozart’s Starling


Picture this: beloved composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart at his piano, writing his next masterpiece.

He has a great amount of fans eager for something new, so he cannot disappoint. Soon, he will have his piano hauled onto a theater stage (he prefers to use his own at all times); he will perform, bow to great applause, and return home (once again hauling his piano.)

Now picture on his shoulder a little feathered helper.

His pet starling, Star, offers brand-new melodies, or perhaps she trills what he’s already composed, making it sound better. It’s not known the degree to which this lucky bird helped Mozart compose, as she is scarcely mentioned in his letters or journals; what we can know without a doubt is that, like any good pet owner, he loved her.

I am always looking for quirky elements in history. I am a gardener and nature lover; I want to know as much about the past as I possibly can. When I read the description of Mozart’s Starling, I couldn’t resist–this is exactly the kind of the story I’m looking for, a legend of classical music sharing time with a common bird!

Mozart’s Starling struck me because it mixed the genius (the composer and his natural talent) with something so normal that we can relate to him: adopting a pet to inspire us.

In short, Mozart bought a pet starling from a pet shop. He was not planning to bring home a pet that day; the strange thing about Star which no one can work out to this day is that she had been in the shop singing a bit from his latest work in progress—a piece that no human had heard yet, so imagine his shock when he heard this starling!

He had met a kindred spirit in a bird. He grew to love her so much that, when her short life ended, he arranged an impressive funeral, complete with original music, to see her off—but he did not go to his father’s funeral. You choose your family, I suppose!

The author of this book, Lyanda Haupt, told as much of the story as she knew. I wish there had been more about Mozart and the bird herself, but if few records exist, the only thing to be done would be making things up. I would rather have a bite of delicious truth than pages of lies.

The truth is, not much is known about Mozart’s starling except that he had one.

I enjoyed learning Lyanda’s story, as well; in order to write this book, she adopted a homeless starling and allowed her to live practically cage-free in her home. Her starling is called Carmen, and Haupt’s tales of how Carmen learned to talk and imitate the sounds of the coffee maker or the vacuum made me smile. What precious memories to make, and I am grateful that she shared them.

Side view of a Common Starling, Sturnus vulgaris, isolated on white

I learned that starlings are generally a hated species of bird, called invasive, and some people come up with cruel ways to rid the world of them. I’m not a birdwatcher, so I don’t know how much damage that entails; all I know is that Mozart had a starling, and all of a sudden his story is more interesting to me than it was.

If you know other tales like this, of historical figures being human and relatable, please share the titles; I can’t get enough of these stories. What a joy we have in history!

Review – Crave the Rose: Anne Brontë at 200


During my adventures reading books I have become aware of the fact that, when a story is timeless, it’s in part because of the person who wrote it.

I have decided to learn more about the authors behind those stories which have survived over the centuries, which our grandparents and great-grandparents enjoyed. Anne Brontë’s biography was the first I read.

Called Crave the Rose, I believe the biography to be an elegant tribute to the youngest Brontë sister. Though I knew that many people in Anne’s family had written books, I did not know how very literary the Brontës were; indeed, until I read Crave the Rose, I didn’t even know they had a brother, Branwell.

I also did not know that there had been two older sisters who had died. Named Maria and Elizabeth, death took them before Anne was old enough to remember them.

Anne Brontë was said by many to be the prettiest of her sisters.

The Brontës were stalked by death. Beginning with their mother, Maria, who expired when Anne was a baby, death took their family one by one; finally, only their father, Patrick remained. How deep his grief must have been after seeing all of his family depart this world.

It is a good length. I say this because I did not once skim the chapter or think “there’s too much filler.” On the contrary, I lamented that Anne didn’t live long enough to have a thicker biography. I suppose we readers add to her literary legacy by reading and loving her work.

I was first struck by Anne’s talent at poetry in the verses that the author shared at the beginning of every chapter. Her words could start a heart racing with joy, or make it share in her great despair. She felt each emotion so deeply that it bounced off the page.

There are moments in literature when you find connections between two authors you admire and must stop to think of the magnitude. I learned in Crave the Rose that Elizabeth Gaskell, whose work I also enjoy, wrote a controversial biography of the Brontë family painting a glum picture of them, depicting the father as abusive.

As I read about this part of their story, I couldn’t be angry with Mrs Gaskell. I was instead excited that greatness connects with greatness. North and South by Mrs Gaskell is one of my favorite books.

Learning that the Brontës were in this way connected to Elizabeth Gaskell made me feel like a historian uncovering a gem in the words of a page. It seems that the Brontës were a favorite subject of criticism; there is a biography of Branwell Brontë by Daphne du Maurier, whose work I have yet to read, which also supposedly gives him a bad light.

But he that dares not grasp the thorn
Should never crave the rose.

Anne Brontë

I did not realize until reading Crave the Rose how dedicated to the written word this family was. Their story is tragic and empowering.

I pictured Anne and Charlotte on their one trip to London, two small and meek women, determined to prove to their publisher that there were indeed three authors in the famous Bell literary trio, with nothing to support their claim but correspondence with the publisher. It must have been frightening, but they were determined to defend their work–as they should have been.

The Brontë sisters

Then I pictured Anne falling ill shortly after this trip. She succumbed to the consumption soon after it took her sister, Emily. I admire the recorded courage with which she lived her final days, courage I cannot fathom. I have a fear of death, myself; accounts like these challenge my perspective.

If you want to find hope in this world again, begin searching history for people like Anne Brontë. Their small acts of bravery will be lost in time if we do not keep their memories alive. I can only hope that I will one day be as determined a writer as Anne Brontë, and that I will not be afraid when facing death.

Anne, despite being the youngest daydreamer of the family, seems to me to have been the bravest of them all.

I would not send a poor girl into the world, ignorant of the snares that beset her path; nor would I watch and guard her, till, deprived of self-respect and self-reliance, she lost the power or the will to watch and guard herself.

Anne Brontë