Mozart &
Material Culture


Though not officially the capital of France in the eighteenth century — Louis XIV had moved the court to Versailles in 1682 — Paris was nevertheless the intellectual and cultural heart of the country and from mid-century the centre of eighteenth-century Enlightenment thought; Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers was published there between 1751 and 1772 (with supplemental volumes and indexes to 1780). The chief intellectual and cultural institutions were the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture (founded 1648), the Académie Royale de Danse (1661), the Académie des Sciences (1666), the Académie Royale de Musique (for opera, 1669), the Académie Royale d'Architecture (1671) and the Comédie-Française (1680). Concerts were mainly — though not exclusively — given by the Concert Spirituel (founded 1725). A distinguishing feature of Parisian musical life from the 1750s through the 1770s was the ongoing controversy, both polemically and in performance, between adherents of French opera and those of Italian opera.

Meunier, Performance at the Comédie-Française, eighteenth century

Meunier, Performance at the Comédie-Française, eighteenth century

Mozart Relevance

During the ‘Grand Tour’ of 1763-1766, the Mozarts were in Paris from 18 November-24 December 1763, from 8 January to 9 April 1764 and from 10-17 May and 2 June-8 July 1766; their chief sponsor was the expatriate German diplomat and writer Friedrich Melchior Grimm. On Christmas Eve 1763, they traveled to Versailles and on New Year’s Day attended a gala court evening; on 10 March and 9 April 1764, Wolfgang and Nannerl gave concerts at the theatre of M. Félix in the rue et porte St.-Honoré.  Two sets of accompanied sonatas by Mozart, K6-7 and K8-9, were published that spring as his opuses I and II. In 1777, Mozart quit Salzburg courts service and traveled with his mother first to Mannheim and then to Paris, seeking gainful employment. He arrived at Paris on 23 March 1778. Joseph Legros, director of the Concert Spirituel, commissioned a symphony (K297) from him that was first performed on 18 June and, according to Mozart, a sinfonia concertante for winds (K297B) that is now lost and apparently was not performed. He wrote a concerto flute and harp (K299) for Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, Duc de Guines, as well as ballet music (K299b) for J.-G. Noverre’s Les petits riens, which was performed at Académie Royal de Musique on 11 June, and eight movements for a Miserere by Ignaz Holzbauer (K297a, lost). 

Mozart claimed in a letter of 14 May 1778 to have been offered the organist’s position at Versailles: 

  1. Rodolphe [Jean Joseph Rodolphe (1730-1812), horn player] . . . is in the royal service here and is a very good friend of mine; he understands composition thoroughly and writes well. He has offered me the post of organist at Versailles, if I will accept it. The salary is 2000 livres a year, but I should have to spend six months at Versailles and the other six in Paris, or wherever I like. I do not think that I shall accept it, but I have yet to hear the advice of some good friends on the subject. After all, 2000 livres is not such a big sum. It would be so in German money, I admit, but here it is not.

Nothing came of this proposal and no other post was forthcoming. Mozart’s mother died in Paris on 3 July and he left the city on 26 September. Other works by him composed there include the keyboard sonata K310 and the accompanied sonatas K304 and K306; the accompanied sonatas were published in Paris later that year, after Mozart had left the city.

Michel-Barthélémy Ollivier, Afternoon Tea at the Temple, 1766 (Musée National du Château, Versailles)

Michel-Barthélémy Ollivier, Afternoon Tea at the Temple, 1766 (Musée National du Château, Versailles)


Pages referencing Paris:

Surviving Souvenirs 1: Engravings of London purchased by, or given to, the Mozarts, 1764-5

W. A. Mozart, God is our Refuge K20

1763-1778: The Louvre colonnade

Souvenirs purchased or acquired by the Mozarts that are lost

A Portrait of Mozart, his sister Nannerl and Leopold Mozart Performing