Mozart &
Material Culture


Music historian and composer. His notable published writings included The Present State of Music in France and Italy (London, 1771); The Present State of Music in Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Provinces (London, 1773); A General History of Music (3 vols., London 1776-1789); and An account of the Musical Performances in Westminster Abbey... In Commemoration of Handel (London, 1785)

Joshua Reynolds, Burney.jpg

Joshua Reynolds, Charles Burney, 1781 (London, National Portrait Gallery)

Mozart Relevance

Burney apparently first met Mozart in London in 1764 or 1765, as recorded in one of his notebooks. The entry, however, is not contemporaneous with the meeting but probably dates from c1773:

  1. Mozart. See Mr. D. Barrington's acct. of him. Phil. Trans. Vol.60. p.54. & MS. Journal. wth original Certificate of his Birth, & Letter from Baron Haslang to Lc Barrington. relate what I saw & heard myself at his Lodgings on his first Arrival in England & at Mr Frank's — Extemporary & sight Playing, Composing a Treble to a given Base & a Base to a Treble, as well as both on a given Subject, & finishing a Composition began by another. his fondness for Manzoli — his imitations of the several Styles of Singing of each of the then Opera Singers, as well as of their Songs in an Extemporary opera to nonsense words — to which were [added] an overture of 3 Movemts Recitative — Graziosa, Bravura & Pathetic Airs together with Several accompd Recitatives, all full of Taste imagination, with good Harmony, Melody & Modulation. after wch he played at Marbles, in the true Childish Way of one who knows Nothing. [added later] He's engaged to compose a 2d opera for Milan next Carnaval {Lucio Silla K135] (Vienna intelligence Sept? 1772.)

The postscript refers to a letter of 30 November 1772 written to Burney from Munich by Louis de Vismes. Burney met the Mozarts again in Bologna on 30 August 1770 at the festivities honouring St Anthony of Padua at St Giovanni in Monte. See his The Present State of Music in France and Italy: or, the Journal of a Tour through those Countries, undertaken to collect Materials for A General History of Music (London, 1771), 228: 

  1. I must acquaint my musical reader, that at the performance just mentioned, I met with M. Mozart and his son, the little German, whose premature and almost supernatural talents astonished us in London a few years ago, when he had scarce quitted his infant state. Since his arrival in Italy he has been much admired at Rome and Naples; has been honoured with the order of the Speron d’Oro, or Golden Spur, by his Holiness [Clement XIV], and was engaged to compose an opera at Milan for the next Carnival. 

Burney’s notebooks include a more detailed description of the meeting: 

  1. Thurs. Aug. 30 . . . After seeing a Church or two on my way, I went to S. Giovanni in Monte to hear the Philharmonic performances. There was a great deal of Company . . . and among the rest who should I meet but the celebrated little German, Mozart, who in 1766 astonished all hearers in London by his premature musical talent. I had a long conversation with his father. I find they are inmates of the Palace of Prince Palaviccini. The little man is grown considerably, but is still a little man. He has been at Rome and Naples, where he was much admired. At Rome the Pope has conferred on him the Order of the Speron d'Oro, or Gold Spur, the only civil or military order in the gift of his Holiness. He astonished the Italian musicians wherever he stopt. He is now at the age of 12, ingaged to compose an Opera for Milan, on occasion of the marriage of the Principessina of Modena, with one of the Arch-Dukes of Austria. There are to be 3 new Operas composed on this occasion[1]. I know not yet who are his concurrents; but shall be curious to know how this extraordinary boy acquits himself in setting words in a language not his own. But there is no musical excellence I do not expect from the extraordinary quickness and talents, under the guidance of so able a musician and intelligent a man as his father, who, I was informed, had been ill five or six weeks at Bologna

See Scholes, The Great Doctor Burney, i.170, and MDB, 125. Mozart is mentioned again in Burney’s The Present State of Music in France and Italy, 246-7, in connection with Thomas Linley:

  1. I heard likewise in this city [Florence] a good performer on the double harp, Signora Anna Fond, from Vienna, who is in the service of the court; and my little countryman, Linley, who had been two years under Signor Nardini, was at Florence when I arrived there, and was universally admired. The Tommasino, as he is called, and the little Mozart, are talked of all over Italy, as the most promising geniusses of this age.

And he is mentioned twice in Burney’s The Present State of Music in Germany (London, 1773), i.126 and ii.322-323: 

  1. The first singer in the serious opera here [Munich], is Signor Rauzzini, a young Roman performer, of singular merit, who has been six years in the service of this court; but is engaged to sing in an opera composed by young Mozart, at the next Carnival . . . The archbishop and sovereign of SALTZBURG is very magnificent in his support of music, having usually near a hundred performers, vocal and instrumental, in his service. This prince is himself a dilettante, and good performer on the violin; he has lately been at great pains to reform his band, which has been- accused of being more remarkable for coarseness and noise, than delicacy and high-finishing. Signor Fischietti, author of several comic operas, is at present the director of this band. The Mozart family were all at Saltzburg last summer; the father has long been in the service of that court, and the son is now one of the band; he composed an opera at Milan, for the marriage of the arch-duke, with the princess of Modena, and was to compose another at the same place for the carnival of this year[2], though he is now but sixteen years of age. By a letter from Saltzburg, dated last November, I am informed, that this young man, who has so, much astonished all Europe by his premature knowledge and performance during infancy, is still a great master of his instrument; my correspondent went to his father's house to hear him and his sister play duets on the same harpsichord; but she is now at her summit, which is not marvellous; "and", says the writer of the letter, "if I may judge of the music which I heard of his composition, in the orchestra, he is one further instance of early fruit being more extraordinary than excellent."

Burney’s correspondent was the English diplomat Louis de Vismes (1720-1776, naturalized as Lewis Devisme), who had written to him on 30 November 1772: 

  1. I passed lately some days at Salsburg and had a great deal of Musick at the Archbishop's, as he is a Dilettante & plays well on the Fiddle. He takes pains to reform his Band, which, like others, is too harsh. He has put Fischietti at the head of it, Composer of it Mercato di Malmantile & it Dottore &c. There is among them an excellent Composer for the Bassoon & other wind Musick. Secchi & Raineri (for so Reiner is to be called for the future by my direction) are to go there on purpose to play before him, that he may learn their stile & write for them. Young Mozhart is too of the band, you remember this prodigy in England. He composed an Opera at Milan for the marriage of the Archduke & he is now to do the same this Carnaval tho' but sixteen years of age. He is [a] great master of his Instrument; for I went to his Father's house to hear him. He and his Sister can play together on the same Harpsicord, but she is at her summit which is not marvellous, and if I may judge by the Musick I heard of his composition in the Orchestra, he is one further instance of early Fruit, which is more extraordinary than excellent.

[1] Only two theatrical works were composed for this occasion, Hasse’s Ruggiero and Mozart’s Ascanio in alba

[2] Ascanio in alba, composed for the wedding of Beatrice d’Este and Ferdinand of Austria, and Lucio Silla; see above.

Date 1
1726-04-07 Shrewsbury
Date 2
1814-04-12 London
Bibliographic Reference
‘Charles Burney and Louis De Visme’.