Mozart &
Material Culture


Founded in Paris in 1725 to provide entertainment at times of the year, Lent in particular, when theatres were closed, the Concert Spirituel counts among the earliest public concert series. The repertory typically consisted of a mix of sacred choral works and instrumental music, including both symphonies and concertos. Until 1790, the concerts were held in the Salle des Cent Suisses at the Tuileries (from 1784 in the Salle des Machines).

Concert spirituel-2.jpg

Concert Spirituel at the Tuileries palace, eighteenth-century

Mozart Relevance

There is no evidence Mozart attended the Concert Spirituel during his first two visits to Paris, in 1763-1764 and 1766. On his return there in the spring of 1778, however, he was commissioned to compose a symphony – the ‘Paris’ symphony K297 – that was performed on 18 June 1778 and again, with a revised second movement on 8 September. The Courier de l’Europe for 26 June 1778 reported that ‘The Concert Spirituel on Corpus Christi Day began with a symphony by M. Mozart. This artist, who from the tenderest age made a name for himself among keyboard players, may today be ranked among the most able composers.’ For his part, Mozart was both anxious and annoyed by the commission and its performance, writing to his father on 3 July 1778:

  1. I’ve had to write a symphony to open the Concert Spirituel. It was performed to general acclaim on Corpus Christi; I also hear that there was a report on it in the Courrier de l’Europe. – Without exception, people liked it. I was very afraid at the rehearsal as I’ve never in all my life heard anything worse; you can’t imagine how twice in succession they bungled and scraped their way through it. – I was really very afraid – I’d have liked to rehearse it again, but there are always so many things to rehearse and so there was no more time; and so I had to go to bed with a fearful heart and in a discontented and angry frame of mind. The next day I decided not to go to the concert at all; but in the evening the weather was fine and so I decided to go, determined that if it went as badly as it had done during the rehearsal, I’d go into the orchestra, take the fiddle from the hands of the first violin, Herr Lahoussaye, and conduct myself. I prayed to God that it would go well because everything is to His greater glory and honour; and behold, the symphony started, Raaff was standing next to me, and in the middle of the opening allegro there was a passage that I knew very well people were bound to like, the whole audience was carried away by it – and there was loud applause – but as I knew when I wrote it what effect it would produce, I introduced it again at the end – now people wanted to have it encored. They liked the andante, too, but especially the final allegro – I’d heard that all the final allegros and opening ones too begin here with all the instruments playing together and generally in unison, and so I began mine with 2 violins only, playing piano for 8 whole bars, followed at once by a forte – the audience, as I expected, went ‘shush’ at the piano – then came the forte – and as soon as they heard it, they started to clap – I was so happy that as soon as the symphony was over I went to the Palais Royal – had a large ice – said the rosary, as I’d promised – and went home.

According to Mozart’s letters, he was asked by the impresario of the Concert Spirituel, Joseph Legros, to compose a sinfonia concertante for winds K297B, but this was either never written or lost. It is possible, as well, that an aria by Mozart was performed at an earlier concert, on 12 April 1778. According to an advertisement in the Journal de Paris for that date, ‘Today, Concert Spirituel at the Château des Tuileries. . . M. Savoy will sing an Italian air by Signor Mezart [sic for Mozart?]’. Symphonies and concertos by Mozart continued to be performed at the Concert Spirituel through the 1780s and he is listed among the ‘personnel of the Concert Spirituel’ in Les Spectacles de Paris, ou Calendrier Historique & Chronologique des Théâtres for the years 1780 to 1783.