In the case of Paul Johnson's short, brilliant biography of Mozart, it's Mozart's father that piqued my interest. The endless renditions of concertos, operas and symphonies went over my head. But the dotted references to Leopold Mozart, WolfGang Mozart's father, humanises both the story and Mozart himself.
"Leopold Mozart... the son of a bookbinder, was a well-educated man with a degree in philosophy who had come to Salzburg in his late teens and joined its musical fraternity as a valet instrumentalist.
He loved music and became one of the most learned musicologists of his day. He specialised in the violin, and his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, published the year of Mozart's birth, is not only a handbook of instruction but a theoretical work that made him well known in musical circles throughout Europe."
Mozart didn't suddenly appear, fully formed. He might have been phenomenally gifted from an early age, but that had to be nurtured by someone with time, passion and knowhow.
Unfortunately, its these stories that often get lost. We value and laud the individual, not the village. Leopold Mozart was well known by his peers, but how many know him now?
When you listen to Mozart's music, if that is your wont, do you appreciate the wider sacrifice that went into the prodigy?
"Leopold Mozart's ability as a composer in addition to his work as a violin expert should not be underrated. But about 1760, according to Nannerl, he "abandoned violin teaching and composing music to devote himself to educating his two children"...
After 1762 he composed rarely and never after 1770-71. He is often seen as a tyrant toward his children, but the fact is, he surrendered his own future as a musician for their sake, and their progress justified his sacrifice."
Definitely recommend Mozart by Paul Johnson. Even if you are a musical philistine (as I am), you'll smash it out in a couple of hours and learn a lot along the way.