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!

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