The story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart begins with the “miracle of January 24, 1761.” This is Jan Swafford’s apt phrase, found in his new biography, Mozart: The Reign of Love, for what happened one night in Salzburg when a four-year-old boy sat down at the harpsichord in his parents’ house and began to play. His sister Nannerl, age nine, had been practicing a scherzo, and he was taken with its lively rhythms. When she finished, he wanted to give it a try. Their father, Leopold, a composer, violinist, and music pedagogue, was astounded by what happened next: the boy immediately caught the gist of the piece. Within half an hour, despite being unable to read music and having had no previous harpsichord instruction, he had learned it by heart.

Swafford, a composer and veteran biographer, capably guides classical music enthusiasts through...


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