Mozart &
Material Culture


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Mozart Biography

Child prodigy, composer, virtuoso performer. 

According to a possibly apocryphal story, when the conductor Otto Klemperer was asked to list his favourite composers, Mozart was not among them. On being taxed with his, Klemperer is said to have replied, 'Oh, I thought you meant the others'. This anecdote illustrates how Mozart is often regarded, almost as a matter of course: as a pre-eminent (some would say 'the' pre-eminent) composer of operas, concertos, symphonies and chamber music.[1] His life and works can conveniently be divided into three distinct periods: 1756-1773 when, as a child prodigy, he toured much of Western Europe and composed his first works; 1773-1780, when he was largely based in Salzburg in the employ of the Salzburg court (with a significant interruption from September 1777 to January 1779, when he quit service in search of a position at either Mannheim or Paris); and 1781-1791, when he was permanently resident in Vienna and during which time he composed the works for which he is best remembered. Most Mozart biographers see in this three-fold division a pattern that, even if its dates do not exactly correspond with the traditional, Rousseauian model of a creative life - apprenticeship (which for Mozart is said to extend from 1763 to the late 1770s), maturity (the late 1770s to about 1788), and decline (about 1788-1791) - is nevertheless more or less consistent with how other composers' lives, including Palestrina, Beethoven and Rossini, are usually represented. The one significant difference, perhaps, is that Mozart's alleged decline is 'redeemed' by the composition, in his final year, of two transcendent works: the sacred Requiem and the secular The Magic Flute

This biographical construction, however, hardly does justice to the life Mozart must have experienced, not least in its music-centricity: more often than not, the facts of Mozart's everyday life, his education, his travels, and the social and cultural constructs and currents of his time, remain unconnected to his music, except in obvious instances such as commissions and works demonstrably composed for special occasions or his early works, usually said to repre4sent his assimilation of local models, wherever he happened to be at their time of composition. Yet the traditional three-part model need not be abandoned, only refined, for each of these distinct periods in his life corresponds fairly closely with a fundamental response, in part through his music, to the places he traveled, the conditions of his employment, and, during the last decade of his life, his navigation of an independent personal life, and partly-independent, partly-court- bound musical career in Vienna.

1756-1773: [Anchor name: toc_item_one] Early tours

1773-1780: [Anchor name: toc_item_two] Mozart and Salzburg

1781-1791: [Anchor name: toc_item_three] Mozart in Vienna

[Anchor name: section_one] 1756-1773 : Early Tours

Mozart – his baptismal name was Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus – was born at Salzburg, then an independent archdiocese ruled by a prince-archbishop, on 27 January 1756. He was the seventh and last child of Leopold Mozart (1719–1787) and his wife Maria Anna née Pertl (1720–1778) and only the second, after his sister Maria Anna, known as ‘Nannerl’ (1751–1829), to survive. Leopold, who in 1737 had left his native Augsburg to study at the Salzburg Benedictine University but was expelled for insubordination and for failing to complete his studies, married Maria Anna on 21 November 1747, while employed as a violinist in the Salzburg court music establishment. A composer and theorist as well as an accomplished violinist, he was well-known throughout parts of German-speaking Europe even before Wolfgang’s birth and the publication of his important Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, also in 1756. His duties at court included not only performing but also teaching violin, arranging for the purchase of music and music instruments, composing and, on a regular, rotating basis, directing the court music.

The Mozart family rented an apartment on the third floor of the house at Getreidegasse 9, which was owned by Johann Lorenz Hagenauer, who ran a thriving spice and grocery business with connections throughout western Europe. The Getreidegasse itself was home to home to nearly twenty percent of Salzburg’s population at the time, including court offices, bakers, goldsmiths, grocers, musicians, hotels and drinking establishments. Almost directly across the street from the Mozarts was the Rathaus or town hall, the central locus for much of the public activity in the city such as concerts, balls and town meetings. From his earliest years, then, Mozart was surrounded by the hustle and bustle of a small but prosperous metropolitan centre that, as the leading independent church state north of the Alps, offered considerable scope for social and cultural activity even if, size-wise, it paled by comparison with the major cities he was to visit later.

Anon, Löchlplatz (now the Hagenauerplatz) directly across from Mozart’s birthplace, Getreidegasse 9. The fountain was removed in 1858 (original: Salzburg Museum)

Anon, Löchlplatz (now the Hagenauerplatz) directly across from Mozart’s birthplace, Getreidegasse 9. The fountain was removed in 1858 (original: Salzburg Museum)

As far as is known, Leopold was entirely responsible for the education of his children, which included not only music, but also mathematics, reading, writing, literature, languages, dancing and moral and religious training. Mozart’s musical talent was apparent early on. In 1759, Leopold started to compile a music notebook with lessons, at first mainly short minuets and trios, that he used to teach Mozart’s older sister Nannerl. By the time he was four, Mozart had learned several pieces in the book: Leopold wrote below a scherzo by Wagenseil that ‘Wolfgangerl learned this piece between 9 and 9.30 on the evening of 24 January 1761, 3 days before his fifth birthday‘ and below one of the first works entered in it, an anonymous minuet and trio, ‘Wolfgangerl learned this minuet and trio in a half hour at half past 10 on the evening of 26 January 1761, a day before his 5th birthday’. Shortly afterwards it became ‘home’ to his earliest compositions, including the andante K1a and the allegros K1b and K1c which, according to Leopold, Mozart composed ‘in the first three months after his 5th birthday.’ 

Although there is no record of public keyboard performances by Mozart or his sister in Salzburg at this time, by the end of 1761 Leopold had decided that the children were sufficiently accomplished to tour both Munich and Vienna. He took them to the Bavarian capital in January 1762 (there is no documentation for this trip other than a later reminiscence of Nannerl Mozart’s), where they played for Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria, and in late September to Vienna, where they appeared twice before Maria Theresa and her consort, Francis I, as well as at the homes of various nobles and ambassadors. On 16 October Leopold wrote to his Salzburg landlord, Lorenz Hagenauer:  '. . . we have already attended a concert at Count Collalto’s, also Countess Sinzendorf introduced us to Count Wilczek and on the 11th to His Excellency the imperial vice-chancellor Count Colloredo, where we had the privilege of seeing and speaking to the leading ministers and ladies of the imperial court. I received orders to go to Schönbrunn on the 12th. . . We were received with such extraordinary kindness by their majesties that if ever I tell them about it, people will say I have made it all up. Suffice it to say that Wolferl jumped up into the empress’s lap, grabbed her round the neck and kissed her right and proper.'

During their stay in Vienna, the French ambassador, Florent-Louis-Marie, Count of Châtelet-Lomont, extended to them an invitation to perform at Versailles, and this may have been the inspiration for an even grander venture: a tour of Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, England and Switzerland that began in June 1763 and lasted nearly three-and-a-half years. Among the family’s chief destinations was Paris, where the family arrived on 18 November 1763; they had traveled by way of Munich, Augsburg, Ludwigsburg, Mainz, Frankfurt, Coblenz, Aachen and Brussels, giving public concerts, performing privately for local monarchs and nobility, visiting churches and other landmarks, and generally laying the groundwork for the next leg of their journey. In Paris they played before Louis XV on New Year’s day 1764, and they gave public concerts on 10 March and 9 April at the private theatre of a M. Félix in the rue et porte Saint-Honoré. Their most important patron was the German expatriate journalist and diplomat Friedrich Melchior Grimm, who shortly after the family’s arrival in Paris wrote about the children in his widely-distributed Correspondance Littéraire: “True prodigies are sufficiently rare to be worth speaking of when you have had occasion to see one. A Kapellmeister of Salzburg, Mozart by name, has just arrived here with two children who cut the prettiest figure in the world. His daughter, eleven years of age, plays the harpsichord in the most brilliant manner; she performs the longest and most difficult pieces with an astonishing precision. Her brother, who will be seven years old next February, is such an extraordinary phenomenon that one is hard put to believe what one sees with one's eyes and hears with one's ears. I cannot be sure that this child will not turn my head if I go on hearing him often; he makes me realize that it is difficult to guard against madness on seeing prodigies. I am no longer surprised that Saint Paul should have lost his head after his strange vision.”

In early 1764 Leopold arranged to have four sonatas for keyboard and violin by Wolfgang published with dedications to Princess Victoire of France, Louise XV’s second daughter (K6-7), and to Adrienne-Catherine, Comtesse de Tessé, lady-in-waiting to the Dauphine, Princess Maria Josepha of Saxony (K8-9). As Leopold described it in a letter of 3 December 1764, he wanted the public to know they were the work of a prodigy and accordingly accepted some trivial mistakes in the sonatas: ‘I regret that a few mistakes have remained in the engraving, even after the corrections were made. . . That is the reason why especially in opus II in the last trio you will find three consecutive fifths in the violin part, which my young gentleman perpetrated and which, although I corrected them, old Madame Vendôme left in. On the other hand, they are proof that our little Wolfgang composed them himself, which, perhaps quite naturally, not everyone will not believe.’ He also arranged for a family portrait to be executed by the painter Louis Carrogis (known as Carmontelle), showing Wolfgang at the keyboard, Leopold standing behind him playing the violin, and Nannerl singing. At least four copies of the portrait were made but more importantly, it was engraved as a ‘souvenir’ of the family and sold together with Wolfgang’s earliest sonatas. Widely distributed – not just in Paris but also in London and throughout western Europe as late as 1778 – it was the dominant public image of Mozart at least until his move to Vienna in early 1781.

It was not Leopold’s original intention to travel from Paris to London. On 28 May 1764 he wrote to Hagenauer, ‘When I left Salzburg, I was only half resolved to go to England: but as everyone, even in Paris, urged us to go to London, I made up my mind to do so; and now, with God’s help, we are here.’ Within days of their arrival they played for George III, in June they gave a concert for their own benefit at the Great Room in Spring Garden, and later that month Wolfgang performed ‘several fine select Pieces of his own Composition on the Harpsichord and on the Organ’ at Ranelagh Gardens during breaks in a performance of Handel’s Acis and Galatea. Further benefit concerts (possibly including Wolfgang’s earliest symphonies, K16 and K19) were given the next season, on 21 February and 13 May 1765. After nearly fifteen successful months in London, including the publication of keyboard and violin sonatas dedicated to Queen Charlotte (K10-15), the family left in July 1765. It was a visit that left a lasting impression on both the Mozarts and eighteenth-century Londoners – on the Mozarts because they collected engravings of the London sites they had visited, and for Londoners because of the novelty of some of Wolfgang’s performances at the time; as late as 1784 the European Magazine and London Review recalled that ‘the first instance of two persons performing on one instrument in this kingdom, was exhibited in the year 1765, by little Mozart and his sister.’

From London the family intended to return to Paris, but as Leopold Mozart wrote in a letter of 19 September 1765: ‘The Dutch envoy in London repeatedly urged us to visit the Prince of Orange in The Hague but I let this go in one ear and out the other. . . On the day of our departure the Dutch envoy drove to our lodgings and discovered that we had gone to Canterbury for the races, after which we would be leaving England. He was with us in a trice and begged me to go to The Hague, saying that the Princess of Weilburg – the sister of the Prince of Orange – was extraordinarily anxious to see this child, about whom she had heard and read so much. . .’ The Mozarts played for Caroline, Princess of Nassau-Weilburg (to whom Mozart later dedicated the sonatas K26-31), on 12 and 19 September and gave at least six public concerts, at The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht, between September 1765 and April 1766. In March they attended the installation of Wilhelm V as Prince of Orange, for which Mozart composed the Galimathias musicum K32 (his other works from this time include the symphony K22, the aria Conservati fedele K23, and two sets of variations for keyboard K24 and K25, on the song ‘Willem van Nassu’). 

The family returned to Paris on 10 May 1766, staying for two months before setting out on the last leg of their journey, traveling to Salzburg circuitously by way of Dijon, Lyons, Lausanne, Zurich, Donaueschingen, Dillingen, Augsburg and Munich. They arrived home on 29 November 1766, an event noted in the diary of Beda Hübner, a family friend and librarian at the monastery of St. Peter’s in Salzburg: 'I cannot forbear to remark here also that today the world-famous Herr Leopold Mozart, deputy Kapellmeister here, with his wife and two children, a boy aged ten and his little daughter of 13, have arrived to the solace and joy of the whole town. . . There is a strong rumour that the Mozart family will again not long remain here, but will soon visit the whole of Scandinavia and the whole of Russia, and perhaps even travel to China, which would be a far greater journey and bigger undertaking still: de facto, I believe it to be certain that nobody is more celebrated in Europe than Herr Mozart and his two children.'

The Mozarts remained in Salzburg for barely nine months, during which time Wolfgang wrote the Latin comedy Apollo et Hyacinthus, the first part of the oratorio Die Schuldigkeit des ersten und fürnehmsten Gebots and the Grabmusik K42. They set out – not for Scandinavia, Russia or China but for Vienna - in September 1767. Presumably Leopold timed this visit to coincide with the festivities planned for the marriage of the sixteen-year-old Archduchess Josepha to King Ferdinand IV of Naples. Josepha, however, contracted smallpox and died the day after the wedding was to have taken place. While the court was in mourning, and in order to protect his children from the outbreak, Leopold took his family first to Brünn (now Brno) and the Olmütz (now Olomouc), where both Nannerl and Wolfgang nevertheless had mild attacks.

Shortly after their return to Vienna in January 1768, Leopold conceived the idea of securing for Wolfgang an opera commission, La finta semplice. But court intrigues conspired against its performance and after several months of frustration and mistreatment at the hands of the court musicians – so Leopold claimed – he wrote the Emperor a petition, asking for redress: ‘[Were these intrigues] to be the reward that my son was to be offered for the great labour of writing an opera and for the waste of time and the expenses we have incurred? And ultimately, what of my son’s honor and fame now that I no longer dare insist on a performance of the opera, since I have been given to understand plainly enough that no effort will be spared in performing it as wretchedly as possible; and since, futhermore, they are claiming now that the work is unsingable, now that it is untheatrical, now that it does not fit the words, now that he is incapable of writing such music (and all manner of foolish and self-contradictory nonsense, all of which would vanish like smoke to the shame of our envious and perfidious slanderers if, as I most urgently and humbly entreat Your Majesty for my honor’s sake, the musical powers of my child were to be properly examined, so that everyone would then be convinced that the only aim of these people is to stamp on and destroy the happiness of an innocent creature to whom God has granted an extraordinary talent and whom other nations have admired and encouraged, and to do this, moreover, in the capital of his German fatherland.’ As a result of Leopold’s petition, Joseph II ordered an investigation but nothing came of it and La finta semplice was not performed. Presumably as compensation, Wolfgang was asked to compose a trumpet concerto (K47c, lost), an offertory (K47b, lost) and a mass (K139) that were given on 7 December at the dedication of the orphanage church Mariae Geburt in the Renweg. During his time in Vienna Mozart also composed two symphonies (K45 and K48), the German singspiel Bastien und Bastienne (K50) and in December he published two songs, An die Freude and Daphne, deine Rosenwangen (K52 and K53), in the Neue Sammlung zum Vergnügen und Unterricht, a periodical for children.

The Mozarts returned to Salzburg in January 1769 where La finta semplice may have been given to celebrate the nameday of Archbishop Schrattenbach in May and Wolfgang apparently composed three substantial orchestral serenades (K63, K99 and K100) – documents show that two such works were performed in August to mark the end-of-year celebrations of the logicians and physicians at the Salzburg Benedictine University – as well as the so-called ‘Dominicus’ mass (K66), which was performed at St Peter’s in recognition of the first mass celebrated by Lorenz Hagenauer’s son Kajetan Rupert, who had taken the name Father Dominicus. Presumably in recognition of his reputation as a composer and performer, in November Mozart was appointed to the Salzburg court music as third violinist on an unpaid basis, with the promise of a paid position on his return from an upcoming trip to Italy that was subsidized in part by the Archbishop.

In December, father and son set out for Italy – where they would travel two more times before the end of 1773 – traveling by way of Innsbruck and Rovereto to Verona, where they arrived on 27 December and where Mozart gave a public concert on 5 January that was reviewed in the Gazzetta di Mantova on 12 January: 'This city cannot do otherwise than declare the amazing prowess in music possessed, at an age still under 13 years, by the little German boy Sig. Amadeo Wolfango Motzart, a native of Salzburg and son of the present maestro di cappella to His Highness the Prince-Archbishop of that city. On this and other occasions, subject to the most arduous trials, he overcame them all with an inexpressible skill, and thus to universal admiration, especially among the music-lovers; among them were the Signori Lugiati, who, after enjoying and allowing others to enjoy yet finer proofs of this youth's ability, in the end wished to have him painted from life for a lasting memorial.'

The reference to Lugiati and the portrait he commissioned of Mozart is another example, after the Carmontelle family portrait, of the importance in the eighteenth-century of visual images as both keepsakes and inspiration, a point Lugiati himself made in a letter of 22 April 1770 to Mozart’s mother, Anna Maria: ‘Since the beginning of the present year this our city has been admiring the most highly prized person of Signor Amadeo Volfango Mozart, your son, who may be said to be a miracle of nature in music, since Art could not so soon have performed her mission through him, were it not that she had taken his tender age into account. I have conceived such a regard for him that I had him painted from life . . . This charming likeness of him is my solace, and serves moreover as incitement to return to his music now and again, so far as my public and private occupation will permit.’

?Giambettino Cignaroli, Portrait of Mozart, Verona 1770 (original: privately owned)

Giambettino Cignaroli, Portrait of Mozart, Verona 1770 (original: privately owned)

After a brief stop in Mantua, where he gave a concert on 16 January that was described by the local newspaper as ‘a brilliant success’, Mozart and his father arrived at Milan on 23 January. There they were patronized by Count Karl Joseph Firmian, the Austrian minister plenipontentiary, and it was presumably as a result of his performances for Firmian, and in particular a grand concert on 12 March for which he composed several arias (possibly K77 and versions of K71 and K83), that Wolfgang was commissioned to write an opera for the 1770-71 Milan season, Mitridate, re di Ponto

From Milan the Mozarts traveled via Lodi, Piacenza, Parma, Modena and Bologna to Florence, where they were received by Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, met the famous contrapuntist Eugenio Marquis de Ligniville, and renewed their acquaintance with the famous castrato Giovanni Manzuoli, whom they had met in London. Mozart also struck up a friendship with the young English violin prodigy Thomas Linley, a pupil of Pietro Nardini, who according to Leopold’s letter to his wife of 21 April 1770, ‘plays most beautifully and who is the same age and the same size as Wolfgang. . . The two boys performed one after the other throughout the whole evening, constantly embracing each other. On the following day the little Englishman, a most charming boy, had his violin brought to our rooms and played the whole afternoon, not like boys, but like men! Little Tommaso accompanied us home and wept bitter tears, because we were leaving the following day.’

From Florence Mozart and his father traveled to Rome, where they arrived on 10 April, in time for Holy Week. Mozart famously made a clandestine copy of Allegri’s Miserere and may have composed two or three symphonies (a reference in Mozart’s letter of 25 April is ambiguous: ‘When I have finished this letter I will finish a symphony which I have begun. . . A[nother] symphony is being copied’) as well as the aria Se ardire, e speranza K82. On 5 July Clemens XIV created Mozart a Knight of the Golden Spur, a personal honour bestowed by the Pope for special services. In the meantime, Wolfgang and Leopold had traveled to Naples where they met William Hamilton and his wife Catherine, attended Niccolò Jommelli’s opera Armida, and visited the local sites: 'On the 13th - St Anthony`s Day - you`d have found us at sea. We took a carriage and drove out to Pozzuoli at 5 in the morning, arriving there before 7 and taking a boat to Baia, where we saw the baths of Nero, the underground grotto of Sybilla Cumana, the Lago d’Averno, Tempio di Venere, Tempio di Diana, il Sepolchro d’Agripina, the Elysian Fields or Campi Elisi, the Dead Sea, where the ferryman was Charon, la Piscina Mirabile and the Cente Camerelle etc., on the return journey many old baths, temples, underground rooms etc., il Monte Nuovo, il Monte Gauro, il Molo di Pozzoli, the Coliseum, the Solfatara, the Astroni, the Gotta del Cane, the Lago di Agnano etc., but above all the Grotto di Pozzuoli and Virgil’s grave.' Most of the summer was spent in Bologna (where with help from the renowned contrapuntist Padre Martini Mozart was admitted to the local Accademia Filarmonica after composing the antiphon Quaerite primum regnum Dei K86) at the summer home of the renowned Field Marshall Giovanni Luca Pallavicini. He returned to Milan in October, and began to work in earnest on Mitridate, re di Ponto, which was premiered at the Regio Ducal Teatro on 26 December; including the ballets, it lasted six hours. Leopold had not been confident that the opera would be a success but it was, running to twenty-two performances.

Pietrto Fabris, Vesuvius seen from the grounds of William Hamilton's estate, 1767 (privately owned)

Pietro Fabris, Vesuvius seen from the grounds of William Hamilton's estate, 1767 (privately owned)

The Mozarts left Milan on 14 January 1771, stopping at Turin, Venice, Padua and Verona before returning to Salzburg at the end of March. All in all the trip was a notable success, garnering not only praise for Wolfgang but also further Milanese commissions, including the serenata Ascanio in Alba for the wedding the following October of Archduke Ferdinand and Princess Maria Beatrice Ricciarda of Modena, and the first carnival opera of 1773, Lucio Silla. Accordingly, Leopold and Wolfgang spent barely five months at home in 1771, during which time Mozart composed the Regina Coeli K108, the litany K109 and the symphony K110. Father and son set out again on 13 August, arriving at Milan on 21 August. Mozart received the libretto for Ascanio at the end of that month, the serenata went into rehearsal on 27 September, and the premiere took place on 17 October. Hasse’s Metastasian opera Ruggiero, also commissioned for the wedding, had its first performance the day before; according to the Florentine Notizie del mondo for 26 October, ‘The opera has not met with success. . . The serenata, however, has met with great applause, both for the text and the music.’ Leopold may have angled for employment at Ferdinand’s court about this time but his application was effectively rejected by Ferdinand’s mother, Maria Theresia, who in a letter of 12 December advised her son against burdening himself with ‘useless people’ who ‘go about the world like beggars’, an ill-conceived and inaccurate slight against the Mozarts.

The third and last Italian journey, for the composition and performance of Lucio Silla, began on 24 October 1772; the opera, premièred on 26 December, had a mixed success, chiefly because of its uneven cast. Although there was little reason to delay their departure from Milan, they did not leave until March; Leopold claimed to be ill but may have applied for a position with Archduke Leopold of Tuscany, to whom he had sent a copy of the opera. Nothing came of this, however, and Wolfgang and his father set out for Salzburg about 4 March, traveling by way of Verona, Ala, Trento, Brixen and Innsbruck, arriving home on 13 March 1773.

Both the western European tour of 1763-66 and the three trips to Italy between late 1769 and 1773 were largely managed through a network of financial and social contacts. For the western European tour, it was the Mozart’s Salzburg landlord Hagenauer who arranged letters of credit and put Leopold in contact with bankers and other merchants who could execute bills of exchange for him. And aside from Munich and Leopold’s native Augsburg, where he already had extensive social contacts, it was word of mouth, newspaper articles and correspondence among the nobility, diplomats and intellectuals that paved the way for the family as they moved from place to place. Shortly after the family’s arrival in London, the French philosopher Claude Adrien Helvetius wrote to Francis, 10th Earl of Huntingdon, ‘Allow me to ask your protection for one of the most singular beings in existence. He is a little German prodigy who has arrived in London the last few days. He plays and composes on the the spot the most difficult and the most agreeable pieces for the harpsichord. He is the most eloquent and the most profound composer in this kind. . . All Paris and the whole French court were enchanted with this little boy.’ Often such high-powered recommendations were unnecessary; Pierre-Michel Hennin, the French resident ambassador in Geneva wrote to Grimm on 20 September 1765 that ‘I was honored to receive from M. Mozart the letter of recommendation you wrote for him. His children’s reputation was already so well-known here that they had no need of recommendations.’

In Italy, by contrast, the Mozarts had a ready-made social network: the southern branches of prominent Salzburgers and their extended families and acquaintances.  Shortly before their departure from Salzburg in December 1769, Franz Lactanz von Firmian, Obersthofmeister (the equivalent of Lord Chamberlain) in Salzburg and nephew of the first Archbishop for whom Leopold had worked, Leopold Anton Eleutherius von Firmian, wrote a letter of recommendation for the Mozarts to his cousin Karl Joseph von Firmian, Governor-General of Lombardy. Karl Joseph, in turn, wrote to Bologna, to Count Giovanni Luca Pallavicini-Centurione, a distinguished military man and former Governor-General of Lombardy. The upshot of this chain of recommendations, a chance encounter in Rome with Pallavicini’s cousin Cardinal Lazzaro Opizio Pallavicini, the Vatican secretary of state, was described by Leopold Mozart in a letter to his wife of 14 April 1770:

After arriving here on the 11th, we went to St Peter’s after lunch and then to mass, on the 12th we attended the Functiones and found ourselves very close to the pope while he was serving the poor at table, as we were standing beside him at the top of the table. But our fine clothes, the German language, and my usual freedom in telling my servant to speak to the Swiss Guards in German and make way for us soon helped us through everywhere. They thought Wolfg. was a German gentleman, others even took him for a prince, and our servant let them believe this; I was taken for his tutor. And so we made our way to the cardinals’ table. There it chanced that Wolfg. ended up between the chairs of two cardinals, one of whom was Cardinal Pallavicini.The latter beckoned to Wolfg. and said to him: Would you be good enough to tell me in confidence who you are? Wolfg. told him everything. The cardinal replied with the greatest surprise and said: Oh, so you’re the famous boy about whom so many things have been written? To this, Wolfg. asked: Aren’t you Cardinal Pallavicini? – – The cardinal answered: Yes, I am, why? – – Wolfg. then said to him that we’d got letters for His Eminence and were going to pay him our respects. The cardinal was very pleased by this and said that Wolfg. spoke very good Italian, saying, among other things: ik kann auck ein benig deutsch sprecken etc. etc.

But patrons could also be difficult: some, like Charles Alexandre of Lorraine, Governor of the Austrian Netherlands, made the Mozarts wait more than three weeks without hearing them; Leopold wrote to Hagenauer on 4 November 1763 that ‘Prince Karl has spoken to me himself and has said that he will hear my children in a few days, yet nothing has happened. Yes, it looks as if nothing will come of it, for the Prince spends his time hunting, eating and drinking. . .’. Performers, especially singers, could be difficult as well. The tenor Guglielmo d’Ettore, who sang the title role in Mitridate, insisted that Mozart rewrite his arias multiple times and in the end managed to smuggle one of his trunk arias into the production at the expense of one of Mozart’s. Lucio Silla hardly fared better. Leopold wrote to his wife on 2 January 1773 that its première was nearly ruined by the tenor Bassano Morgnoni: '. . . you need to know that the tenor, whom we’ve had to take faute de mieux, is a church singer from Lodi and had never performed in such a prestigious theatre and had appeared as primo tenore only about twice before in Lodi, and was signed up only about a week before the opening night. He has to gesture angrily at the prima donna in her first aria, but his gesture was so exaggerated that it looked as though he was going to box her ears and knock off her nose with his fist, causing the audience to laugh. Fired by her singing, Sgra De Amicis didn’t immediately understand why the audience was laughing and was badly affected by it, not knowing initially who was being laughed at, so that she didn’t sing well for the whole of the first night, in addition to which she was jealous because the archduchess clapped as soon as the primo uomo came onstage. This was a typical castrato’s trick, as he’d ensured that the archduchess had been told that he’d be too afraid to sing in order that the court would encourage and applaud him.'

The bare facts of Mozart’s tours, however — where and when he played, who he met, what patrons or performers were helpful or difficult — hardly do justice to their importance, and not just musically. The prevailing view of them, that as far as Leopold Mozart was concerned they were chiefly engineered to exploit Mozart and make money, is belied by Leopold’s repeated assertions of their educational importance, his vivid and extended descriptions of the cultures they encountered — social, technological, and with respect to local business practices, architecture, fashion and food — and by his enlightened religiosity. He sincerely believed, as he wrote to Hagenauer from Vienna on 30 July 1768, that Wolgang was a miracle that ‘God let be born in Salzburg.’ At the same time, however, he understood that his obligation as a devout Catholic was to educate Wolfgang not only to believe, but also to be rational, to understand the world around him. As late as 1777, when Mozart was in Mannheim, Leopold wrote to him: ‘I often pointed out to you that — even if you were to remain in Salzburg until a couple of years after you’d turned twenty — you’d lose nothing because in the meantime you’d have a chance to get a taste of other useful sciences, to develop your intellect by reading good books in various languages and to practice foreign tongues.’ This idea of education, broadly conceived, was as strong a motivation for the early tours as any musical goals Leopold might have had for his children. And it was an idea he had learned as a student at the Salzburg Benedictine University in the late 1730s, where he was acquainted with Anselm Desing, a prominent philosopher and historian. Leopold owned at least one of Desing’s books, the Hinlängliche Schul-Geographie vor Junge Leuthe first published in 1750. Desing was clear why travel was a necessary, modern undertaking: it served both to educate and it allowed one to learn man’s place in God’s creation. 

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Title page of Desing’s Hinlängliche Schul-Geographie vor Junge Leuthe (1750)

There is no mistaking the palpable excitement in Leopold’s descriptions of the people he met, of the places he and his family visited, and of the novelty of travel. ‘To see English people in Germany is nothing to write home about’, he wrote on 28 April 1764, shortly after the family’s arrival in London. ‘But to see them in their own country and by choice is very different.  The sea and especially the ebb and flow of the tide in the harbor at Calais and Dover, then the ships and, in their wake, the fish that are called porpoises rising up and down in the sea, then – as soon as we left Dover – to be driven by the finest English horses that run so fast that the servants on the coach seat could scarcely breathe from the force of the air – all this was something entirely strange and agreeable. . . our arrival overwhelmed me with so many new things.’

Observing local customs was important to Leopold, especially as they served to challenge received wisdom. When he was in Paris he wrote to Salzburg: ‘In Germany people believe mistakenly that the French are unable to withstand the cold; but this is a mistake that is revealed as such the moment you see all the shops open all winter. Not just the businessmen etc. but the tailor, shoemaker, saddler, cutler, goldsmith etc. in a word, all kinds of trades work in open shops and before the eyes of the world . . . year in, year out, whether it’s hot or cold. . . Here the women have nothing but chauffrettes under their feet: these are small wooden boxes lined with lead and full of holes, with a red-hot brick or hot ashes inside, or little earthenware boxes filled with coal.’ As for fashion, in a letter from London, Leopold wrote: ‘No woman goes out into the street without wearing a hat on her head, but these hats are very varied; some are completely round, others are tied together at the back and may be made of satin, straw, taffeta etc. All are decorated with ribbons and trimmed with lace. . . Men never go out bare headed, and a few are powdered. Whenever the street urchins see anyone decked out and dressed in a vaguely French way, they immediately call out: Bugger French! French bugger! The best policy is then to say nothing and pretend you haven’t heard. Were it to enter your head to object, the rabble would send in reinforcements and you’d be lucky to escape with only a few holes in your head. For our own part, we look entirely English.’

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Jean Charles, La Chauffrette

One of the recurring themes in Leopold letters, a theme that made him reflect not only on differences between Salzburg and the world at large but also how he might himself be an agent of modernity, is engineering, especially as it related to urban geography. In a letter of 8 December 1763 from Paris he wrote to Hagenauer how struck he was that the city had no walls. So when, in 1766, it was decided to cut a tunnel through the Salzburg Mönchsberg that would ease access in and out of the city, Leopold put forward his own ideas, ideas clearly influenced by what he had observed while on tour:  ‘According to the description I had, the entrance to the new gate from the town cannot be big because the entire wall in the fountain square, on which the horses are painted, is left standing. I imagine something entirely different: namely, I picture to myself that the entire wall is removed and the gate constructed in such a way that when one enters the city, the fountain is directly in front of him and he goes around it, left or right. This seems to me freer, more open, easier to navigate, more attractive and more impressive.’ A slightly later engraving shows that the original design – not Leopold’s inventive re-imagining based on his experience of urban architecture in Paris – was the one adopted. 

Anon, Neutor Salzburg, c1816

Anon, Neutor Salzburg, c1816

In any case, science and engineering occupy a prominent place in Leopold’s letters. In London he made special note of the Chelsea waterworks, incorporated in 1723 and by the time of the Mozarts’ visit to London, supplying water to Hyde Park, St James’s Park, throughout Westminster and, from 1755, to near the Buckingham House garden wall. He also purchased an achromatic telescope by Dollond (the achromatic telescope, which eliminates chromatic aberration by using a combination of two lenses made of differing kinds of glass, thereby correcting differences in the refractive indexes for different wavelengths of light, was first patented in the late 1750s). Elsewhere in the letters he describes watches and watch mechanisms (including horizontal clocks, a novelty in London (Leopold would have bought one but was concerned that the clock-maker in Salzburg, where horizontal clocks were unknown, could not fix it if it broke), the building of military fortifications and the mechanics of new French toilets as well as modes of transportation. 

Mozart’s sister Nannerl was clearly influenced by their father with respect to these encounters with the modern world; in her diary from London she described in detail much of what the family saw and in particular the recently-founded British Museum, which the Mozarts visited in July 1765: 'I saw the park and a baby elephant, a donkey with white and coffee-brown stripes, so even that they couldn’t have been painted [on] better. . . the Royal Chelsea Hospital, Westminster Bridge, Westminster Abbey, Vauxhall, Ranelagh, the Tower, Richmond, from which there is a very beautiful view, and the Royal [Botanical] Garden, Kew, and Fulham Bridge; the waterworks and a camel; Westminster Hall, the trial of Lord Byron, Marylebone; Kensington, where I saw the royal garden, the British Museum, where I saw the library, antiquities, all sorts of birds, fish. . . and plants; a particular kind of bird called a bassoon, a rattlesnake. . .; Chinese shoes, a model of the Grave of Jerusalem; all kinds of things that live in the sea, minerals, Indian balsam, terrestrial and celestial globes and all kinds of other things; I saw Greenwich . . . the Queen’s yacht, the park, where there was a very lovely view, London Bridge, St Paul’s, Southwark, Monument, the Foundling Hospital. Exchange, Lincoln’s Inn Fields Garden, Templebar, Somerset House.'

Some of the objects admired by Nannerl either survive or are known from contemporaneous pictures. The 'donkey with white and coffee-brown stripes, so even that they couldn’t have been painted [on] better' — a zebra recently brought from South Africa that was part of Queen Charlottes’s menagerie at Buckingham House — was painted by George Stubbs in 1763. It was the first zebra seen in England and, to judge by Nannerl’s description, an animal entirely unknown, except in books, to Salzburgers. The ‘model of the Grave of Jerusalem’ was almost certainly one of two models still surviving from the original collection in the British Museum of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.  

Although Mozart was too young at the time to write down his impressions, it is probably safe to assume that he was similarly impressed by the world around him, an assumption reinforced by his later engagements with modernity. He took it upon himself to visit the famous Mannheim Observatory in 1778 and in Vienna he was friendly with the well-known scientist Ignaz von Born, head of the Masonic lodge Zu wahren Eintracht. Mozart even worked contemporaneous science into two of his operas: Despina in Così fan tutte parodies current theories of animal magnetism while the three boys in Die Zauberflöte descend to the stage in a balloon, a topical reference to the flights in Vienna in 1791 of the French balloonist Jean-Pierre Blanchard. 

The idea that Mozart was disengaged from the modern world, and oblivious to anything other than music, is an enduring — if false — biographical trope that became common in the mid-nineteenth century. The evidence of Leopold’s letters, however, including his encouragement that Mozart learn ‘other useful sciences . . . develop your intellect by reading good books in various languages and . . . practice foreign tongues’, as well as Mozart’s own engagement with literature, technology and current affairs, suggests otherwise.  

 [Anchor name: section_two] 1773-1780 : Mozart and Salzburg

With his return to Salzburg in March 1773 from the third Italian trip, Mozart’s time as a child prodigy was effectively over: he was now third concertmaster in the Salzburg court music establishment and more or less settled into the daily routine, both musical and social, of his native town. Although he was to travel three more times in the next eight years — to Vienna in 1773, to Munich in 1775 and, most significantly, to Mannheim and Paris in 1777-1778 — the mid- to late-1770s can justifiably be thought of as his ‘short’ Salzburg decade, not least because it was his return and later departure from there that bookended what were among the most significant times in his life, both biographically and with respect to his future career and music.

The Salzburg court music was a sprawling institution and when Leopold joined as fourth violinist in 1743, its organization was much the same as it had been at the time of its founding in 1591.  In general, it was divided into four distinct and independent groups:  the court music proper, which performed in the cathedral, at the Benedictine university and at court; the court- and field-trumpeters, together with the timpanists (normally ten trumpeters and two timpanists), who played in the cathedral, at court and provided special fanfares before meals and at important civic functions; the cathedral music (Dommusik), which consisted of the choral deacons (Domchorvikaren) and choristers (Choralisten) and performed in the cathedral; and the choirboys of the Chapel House (Kapellhaus), who also performed at the cathedral and who were instructed by the court musicians. The chief duty of the court music proper, together with the Dommusik and choirboys, was to perform at the cathedral.  For elaborate performances, the musicians numbered about forty, sometimes more; on less important occasions the performing forces were reduced.  Occasionally musicians did double duty: because the woodwind players, trumpeters and timpanists played less frequently than the strings and vocalists, they were often expected to perform on the violin and when needed, they filled out the ranks of the orchestra both at the cathedral and at court. The trumpeters and timpanists were under the control of the Oberststallmeister (the Master of the Stable); according to a court memo of 1803: ‘Their official duties are divided as follows: 'each day, two [trumpeters] sound the morning signal at court and at the court table where another plays the pieces and fanfares; accordingly, each day three [trumpeters] are in service and they are rotated every 8 days. . .  For the so-called Festi palli, all the trumpeters and two timpanists are divided into two choirs, and play various fanfares in the courtyard before the court table . . .  Every 3 years the trumpeters receive a uniform of black cloth with velvet trim, as well as red waistcoats with wide gold borders as well as ornamental tassles for the trumpets and gold-rimmed hats.  They receive [new] trumpets every 6 years, but on festive occasions, the silversmith delivers to them silver trumpets.' The boys of the chapel house usually consisted of ten sopranos and four altos.  Aside from their duties at the Cathedral, where they sang on Sundays and feast days, they also performed at the university, at local churches and occasionally as instrumentalists at court as well as receiving musical training from the court musicians: the theorist Johann Baptist Samber, Johann Ernst Eberlin, Anton Cajetan Adlgasser, Leopold Mozart and Michael Haydn all taught the choirboys. They also provided compositional opportunities: the Unschuldigen Kindleintag (Feast of the Holy Innocents) on 28 December was traditionally marked by music composed especially for the choir boys: Michael Haydn’s Missa Sancti Aloysii (for two sopranos and alto, two violins and organ) of 1777 is one example.

In addition to their service at court and at the cathedral, the court musicians performed at the Benedictine university, where school dramas were regularly given. These belonged to a long tradition of spoken pedagogical Benedictine plays which during the seventeenth century developed into an opera-like art form. Salzburg University, the most important educational institution in south Germany at the time, played a leading role in this development. At first, music in the dramas was restricted to choruses which marked the beginnings and ends of acts.  By the 1760s, however, the works consisted of a succession of recitatives and arias, based at least in part on the model of Italian opera.  A description from 1670 of the anonymous Corona laboriosae heroum virtuti shows the extent to which Salzburg school dramas represented a fusion of dramatic genres: ‘The poem was Latin but the stage machinery was Italian. . . .  The work could be described as an opera.  The production costs must have been exceptionally great.  It drew a huge crowd.  Part of the action was declaimed, part was sung.  Gentlemen of the court performed the dances, which in part were inserted in the action as entr’actes.  It was a delightful muddle and a wonderful pastime for the audience.’ Mozart’s sole contribution to the genre was Apollo et Hyacinthus, performed in 1767 between the acts of Rufinius Widl’s Latin tragedy Clementia Croesi.

The university also gave rise to an orchestral genre unique to Salzburg: the orchestral serenade. Every year in August, in connection with the university’s graduation ceremonies, the students had a substantial orchestral work performed for their professors.  Typically these serenades consisted of an opening and closing march and eight or nine other movements, among them two or three concerto-like movements for various instruments.   Although the origin of this tradition is not known, it was certainly established as a regular fixture of the academic year by the mid-1740s.  Leopold Mozart, who composed more than thirty such works by 1757, was the most important early exponent of the genre.  Wolfgang followed in his steps: K203, 204 and the so-called ‘Posthorn’ serenade K320 were all apparently written for the university.  Other serenades, similar in style and substance to those for the university, were composed for name-days or, as in the case of the so-called ‘Haffner’ serenade, K250, for local weddings.

Aside from the court, Salzburg was home to several important religious institutions closely tied to, but still independent of, the state church establishment.  Foremost among them was the Archabbey of St Peter’s where the music chapel consisted largely of students; only a few musicians at the abbey were professionals, among them the chori figuralis inspector, who was responsible for the music archive.  Nevertheless, St Peter’s offered the court musicians numerous opportunities for both performance and composition.  In 1753, Leopold Mozart composed an Applausus to celebrate the anniversary of the ordination of three fathers and some years later, in 1769, Wolfgang wrote the mass K66 for Cajetan Hagenauer, son of the Mozart’s landlord Johann Lorenz Hagenauer.  Cajetan, who took the name Dominicus, was also the dedicatee of two of Michael Haydn’s works, the Missa S Dominici and a Te Deum, both composed to celebrate his election as abbot of St Peter’s in 1786. 

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St. Peter's, Salzburg

In addition to St Peter’s, Salzburg also boasted the important convent Nonnberg, founded by St Rupert c712-4. Although strict cloistering was in effect from the late 1500s – access to the church and other external areas was walled off – some court musicians were excepted: Franz Ignaz Lipp, a contemporary of Leopold Mozart, was music teacher there and the court music copyist Maximilian Raab was cantor.  The court music frequently appeared at Nonnberg for special occasions, such as the election of a new Abbess: when M. Scholastika, Gräfin von Wicka, was elected in 1766, the Archbishop celebrated her installation with a grand feast at which the court music played instrumental works and performed a cantata by Michael Haydn (Rebekka als Braut).  For the most part, however, the nuns performed themselves, not only at mass, but also the fanfares traditionally given on festive occasions or to welcome guests. Perhaps the chief musical distinction of Nonnberg and other local churches was the performance of German sacred songs.  Such works were composed and printed in Salzburg as early as the first decade of the eighteenth century, including the anonymous Dreyssig Geistliche Lieder (Hallein, 1710) and Gotthard Wagner's Cygnus Marianus, Das ist: Marianischer Schwane (Hallein, 1710).  These songs, frequently performed instead of an offertory, continued to be written throughout the century, some of them by Salzburg's most important composers, including Eberlin and Leopold Mozart.  More importantly, the cultivation at Nonnberg of German sacred songs provided opportunities for women composers since aside from singing at court, women in Salzburg had little opportunity to shine musically, no matter how exceptional they may have been.  

Numerous religious institutions near Salzburg also maintained close contact with the court and other music establishments within the city. These included the Benedictine monastery at Michaelbeuern, four of whose abbots were rectors at the Salzburg University, and some of whose musicians, among them Andreas Brunmayer, studied in Salzburg and remained there as part of the court music; and the Benedictine monastery at Lambach, which purchased music and musical instruments from Salzburg and maintained close ties with the Salzburg court and the Salzburg court musicians: both Michael Haydn and Leopold Mozart were welcome guests at Lambach.  Other institutions allied with Salzburg stretched up the Salzach, along what is now the border with Bavaria, among them Landshut, Tittmoning, Frauenwörth, Wasserburg am Inn and Beuerberg.  All of these institutions relied heavily on the city for both music and musicians. 

Finally, civic music making played an important part in Salzburg’s musical life.  Watchmen blew fanfares from the tower of the town hall and were sometimes leased out to play for weddings, while military bands provided marches for the city garrisons. Often there was a close connection with the court: it was the watchmen, not the court music, that played trombones in the cathedral during service. And private citizens, including court musicians off duty, were active musically as well.  Concerts to celebrate name-days and serenades to celebrate weddings were common, as was domestic music-making generally.  In a letter of 12 April 1778, Leopold Mozart wrote: ‘on evenings when there is no grand concert, he [the soprano Francesco Ceccarelli] comes over with an aria and a motet, I play the violin and Nannerl accompanies, playing the solos for viola or for wind instruments.  Then we play keyboard concertos or a violin trio, with Ceccarelli taking the second violin.’  In the same letter, Leopold reports to Mozart that a member of the local nobility, Johann Rudolf Czernin, had started up a private orchestra.


Carl Schneeweiß, Military Parade on the Residenzplatz, Salzburg, 1756

Little is known about Mozart’s day-to-day life in Salzburg, especially during the years immediately following his return from the third Italian trip. Hieronymus Colloredo had been elected prince-archbishop of Salzburg on 14 March 1772 — Mozart’s Il sogno di Scipione was probably performed as part of the celebrations celebrating his accession — and on 21 August 1772 Wolfgang was appointed paid third concertmaster in the Salzburg court music. Financially, the family prospered: in late 1773 they moved from their apartment in the Getreidegasse, where they had rented from the Hagenauers, to a larger one, the so-called Tanzmeisterhaus in the Hannibalplatz (now the Makartplatz). But even before their move, in July 1773, Leopold had taken Wolfgang to Vienna, where there were rumours of a possible opening at the imperial court. Nothing came of this but the trip, which lasted four months, was a productive one: Mozart composed the serenade K185, probably intended for the Salzburg university graduation of a family friend, Judas Thaddäus von Antretter, and six quartets K168-K173, possibly in reaction to Haydn’s latest quartets, opp. 9, 17 and 20, and the prevailing fashion for quartets in Vienna at the time, especially those with a Sturm und Drang element and more elaborate contrapuntal writing than had been usual up to that time.

Quartets were not much cultivated in Salzburg, but other kinds of works were and Mozart composed prolifically during the years 1772-1774 in genres that were either popular or required locally: the masses K167, K192 and K194; the litanties K125 and K195 together with the the Regina coeli K127; and more than a dozen symphonies (K124, 128, 129, 130,132, 133, 134, 161+163, 162, 181, 182, 183, 184, 199, 200, 201 and 202) as well as the keyboard concerto K175, the concertone for two solo violins K190, the serenade K203, the divertimentos K131, K166 and K205 and the string quintet K174. He may also have composed an organ concerto, since according to a contemporaneous account from 1774 of the celebrations surrounding the one hundredth anniversary of the pilgrimage church Maria Plain, just outside Salzburg as a contemporaneous diary reports: ‘Today there was particularly beautiful and agreeable music the the high mass at Maria Plain; primarily because it was produced almost exclusively by the princely court musicians, and especially by the older and younger, both famous, Mozarts. The young Herr Mozart played an organ and a violin concerto, to everyone’s amazement and astonishment.’ Later that year, in December, he traveled to Munich for the composition and première (on 13 January 1775) of his opera buffa La finta giardiniera and probably composed the six keyboard sonatas K279-K284. The following April he wrote the serenata Il re pastore K208 for the visit to Salzburg of Archduke Maximilian Franz on 23 April. 

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Melchior Küsel, Consecration of the Maria Plain Pilgrimage Basilica, Salzburg 1674 (original: Salzburg Museum)

With some exceptions – among them the keyboard concertos K242 and K246, written for the Lodron and Lützow families, respectively, and the “Haffner” serenade K250 – it is not entirely clear for whom Mozart composed much of his instrumental music or when it was performed.  Almost certainly, though, much of it was written for family and friends, for dances or for special occasions such as weddings and namedays, as several entries from the diary of the family friend Johann Baptist Joseph Joachim Ferdinand von  Schiedenhofen show:

18 February 1776: In the evening I again went to the ball, where there were 320 masqueraders. I went at first as a Tyrolean girl. Among the curiousities was an operetta by Mozart, and a peasant’s wedding. I remained until 4.30 and dancing continued until 5.30.

18 June 1776: After dinner to the music composed by Mozart for Countess Ernst Lodron. K247?

7 July 1776: We went together to the music-making at Frau von Antretter’s. Thence I went home in the company of the Mozarts.

21 July 1776: After dinner I went to the bridal music which young Herr Haffner had made for his sister Liserl. It was by Mozart and was performed in the summer house at Loretto. K250

22 August 1776: I went  . . . for a walk with Carl Agliardi and others, and there was also music at Mozart’s.

Mozart continued to compose prolifically during the period 1775-177 — his works from that time include the masses K220, 257-259, 262 and 275, the litany K243 and the offertory K277, the violin concertos K211, 216, 218 and 219, the keyboard concertos K238, 242, 246 and 271, the serenades K204 and 250 and numerous divertimentos, among them K188, 240, 247 and 252 — but his rejection of court musical life was transparent. Not only does much of his instrumental music appear to have been written for family and friends, but his output of church music, while significant in quality, was meagre compared to that of his colleague Michael Haydn. The root cause of the Mozarts’ dissatisfaction in Salzburg remains unclear, even if Leopold Mozart’s letters document his frustrating inability to find suitable positions for both of them and he was annoyed that Italian musicians at court, chiefly the Kapellmeisters and singers, were better paid, and more favoured, than local talent. (Even before Colloredo’s reign, Leopold had lamented the power and influence of Italian musicians throughout Germany: in 1763 he attributed his failure to secure an audience with Duke Carl Eugen of Württemberg to the intrigues of his Kapellmeister Jomelli, and in 1764 he wrote to Hagenauer from Paris, ‘If I had one single wish that I could see fulfilled in the course of time, it would be to see Salzburg become a court which made a tremendous sensation in Germany it is own local people.’) And while some changes introduced by Colloredo after his election, including educational reforms and the establishment of a public theatre in the Hannibalplatz for both spoken drama and opera, favoured cultural life in the city by attracting prominent writers and scientists, others eliminated some traditional opportunities for music-making both at court and at the cathedral. The university theatre, where school dramas had been performed regularly since the seventeenth century, was closed in 1778, the mass was generally shortened and restrictions were placed on the performance of purely instrumental music as well as some instrumentally accompanied sacred vocal music at the cathedral and other churches. Concerts at court were curtailed. 

The Mozarts’ grievances notwithstanding, there is no compelling evidence that Colloredo mistreated the Mozarts, at least early in his reign. Wolfgang’s Il sogno di Scipione was performed as part of the festivities surrounding Colloredo’s enthronment; Mozart had been formally taken into paid employment at court; Leopold continued to run the court music on a periodic basis and was entrusted with hiring musicians and purchasing both music and musical instruments; and father and son had been allowed to travel to Italy, Vienna and Munich. Nevertheless, matters came to a boiling point in the summer of 1777 and in August Mozart wrote a petition asking the archbishop for release from his employment:

Your Serene Highness

most worthy Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, most gracious Ruler and


I have no need to importune Your Serene Highness with a circumstantial description of our sad situation: my father, in all honour and conscience, and with every ground of truth, has declared this in a petition most submissively placed before Your Serene Highness on 14 March last. Since however Your Highness's favourable decision did not ensue, as we had hoped, my father would have submissively begged Your Serene Highness as early as June graciously to allow us a journey of several months, in order somewhat to rehabilitate us, had not Your Highness been pleased to command that all members of his Music hold themselves in readiness for the impending visit of His Majesty the Emperor. My father again humbly asked for this permission later; but Your Serene Highness refused him this and graciously observed that I, being in any case only on part-time service, might travel alone. Our circumstances are pressing: my father decided to send me off by myself. But to this too Your Serene Highness made some gracious objections. Most gracious Sovereign Prince and Lord! Parents takes pains to enable their children to earn their own bread, and this they owe both to their own interest and to that of the state. The more of talent that children have received from God, the greater is the obligation to make use thereof, in order to ameliorate their own and their parents' circumstances, to assist their parents, and to take care of their own advancement and future. To profit from our talents is taught us by the Gospel. I therefore owe it before God and in my conscience to my father, who indefatigably employs all his time in my upbringing, to be grateful to him with all my strength, to lighten his burden, and to take care not only of myself, but of my sister also, with whom I should be bound to commiserate for spending so many hours at the harpsichord without being able to make profitable use of it.

May Your Serene Highness graciously permit me, therefore, to beg most submissively to be released from service, as I am obliged to make the best use of the coming September, so as not to be exposed to the bad weather of the ensuing cold months. Your Serene Highness will not take this most submissive request amiss, since already three years ago, when I begged for permission to travel to Vienna, Your Highness was graciously pleased to declare that I had nothing to hope for and would do better to seek my fortune elsewhere. I thank Your Serene Highness in the profoundest devotion for all high favours received, and with the most flattering hope that I may serve Your Serene Highness with greater success in the years of my manhood, I commend myself to your continuing grace and favour as

Your Serene Highness's

my most gracious Sovereign Prince and


most humble and obedient Wolfgang Amade Mozart.

In what can only be described as spitefulness — and at the same time at least some evidence of the archbishop’s part in the breakdown of Mozart’s relationship with Salzburg — Colloredo dismissed both father and son. Leopold, however, felt he could not afford to leave Salzburg and so Mozart set out with his mother on 23 September. The purpose of the trip was for Mozart to secure well-paid employment, preferably at Mannheim, which Leopold described in a letter of 13 November 1777 as 'that famous court, whose rays, like those of the sun, illuminate the whole of Germany.'

Mozart called first at Munich, where he offered his services to the elector but met with a polite refusal. In Augsburg he embarked on a relationship with his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla (the "Bäsle"), with whom he later engaged in a scatological correspondence, and gave a concert including several of his recent works that was reviewed in the Augsburgische Staats- und Gelehrten Zeitung for 28 October 1777:

The evening of Wednesday last was one of the most agreeable for music-lovers. Herr Chevalier Mozart, a son of the famous Salzburg musician, who is a native of Augsburg, gave a concert on the fortepiano in the hall of Count Fugger. As Herr Stein happened to have three instruments of the kind ready, there was an opportunity to include a fine concerto for three fortepianos, in which Herr Demler, the cathedral organist, and Herr Stein himself played the other two keyboard parts. Apart from this the Chevalier played a sonata and a fugued fantasy without accompaniment, and a concerto with one, and the opening and closing symphonies were of his composition as well. Everything was extraordinary, tasteful and admirable. The composition is thorough, fiery, manifold and simple; the harmony so full, so strong, so unexpected, so elevating; the melody, so agreeable, so playful, and everything so new; the rendering on the fortepiano so neat, so clean, so full of expression, and yet at the same time extraordinarily rapid, so that one hardly knew what to give attention to first, and all the hearers were enraptured. One found here mastery in the thought, mastery in the performance, mastery in the instruments, all at the same time. One thing always gave relief to another, so that the numerous assembly was displeased with nothing but the fact that pleasure was not prolonged still further. Those patriotically minded had the especial satisfaction of concluding from the stillness and the general applause of the listeners that we know here how to appreciate true beauty—to hear a virtuoso who may place himself side by side with the great masters of our nation, and yet is at least half our own. . .'.

From Augsburg Mozart and his mother moved on to Mannheim where they remained until the middle of March 1778. Wolfgang became friendly with the concert master Christian Cannabich, the Kapellmeister Ignaz Holzbauer and the flautist Johann Baptist Wendling, and he recommended himself to the elector but without success. Ferdinand Dejean, an employee of the Dutch East India company, asked him to compose three flute concertos and two flute quartets. Mozart failed to fulfil the commission and may have written only a single quartet (K285). But he was not compositionally idle: his works from Mannheim include the piano sonatas K309 and K311, five unaccompanied sonatas (K296, K301-303 and K305), and two arias, Alcandro lo confesso–Non sò d’onde viene K294, composed for Aloysia Lange, the daughter of the Mannheim copyist Fridolin Weber, and Se al labbro mio non credi–Il cor dolente K295. Mozart was in love with Aloysia and wrote to Leopold of his idea to take her to Italy to become a prima donna, but this proposal infuriated his father, who accused him of irresponsibility and family disloyalty.

Mozart and his mother arrived at Paris on 23 March 1778. There he composed additional music, mainly choruses (now lost) for a performance of a Miserere by Holzbauer and, according to his letters home, a sinfonia concertante, K297B, for flute, oboe, bassoon and horn; both works are lost. He had a symphony, K297, performed at the Concert Spirituel on 18 June (for a later performance Mozart rewrote the slow movement) and wrote part of a ballet, Les petits riens, for the ballet master Jean-Georges Noverre that was given with Niccolò Piccinni’s opera Le finte gemelle. But Mozart was unhappy in Paris. He claimed to have been offered, but to have refused, the post of organist at Versailles and his letter of 1 May, concerning the unperformed sinfonia concertante, makes it clear that, justified or not, he suspected malicious intrigues against him:  

There’s another snag with the sinfonia concertante . . . and [I think] that I again have my enemies here. Where haven’t I had them? – But it’s a good sign. I had to write the sinfonia in the greatest haste but I worked very hard, and the 4 soloists were and still are head over heels in love with it. Legros kept it for 4 days in order to have it copied, but I always found it lying in the same place. Finally – the day before yesterday – I couldn’t find it but had a good look among the music and found it hidden away. I feigned ignorance and asked Legros: By the way, have you already given the sinf. concertante to the copyist? – No – I forgot. I can’t, of course, order him to have it copied and performed, so I said nothing. I went to the concert on the 2 days when it should have been played. Ramm and Punto came over to me, snorting with rage, and asked why my sinfonia concert. wasn’t being given. – I don’t know. That’s the first I’ve heard about it. No one ever tells me anything. Ramm flew into a rage and cursed Legros in the green room in French, saying that it wasn’t nice of him etc. What annoys me most of all about the whole affair is that Legros never said a word to me about it, I wasn’t allowed to know what was going on – if he’d offered me some excuse, saying that there wasn’t enough time or something similar, but to say nothing at all – but I think that Cambini, one of the Italian maestri here, is the cause because in all innocence I made him look foolish in Legros’ eyes at our first meeting.

Mozart’s mother fell ill about mid-June and despite attempts to secure proper medical treatment died on 3 July. Wolfgang took up residence with Grimm, the family’s patron from their two earlier stays in Paris, and on 31 August Leopld wrote to Wolfgang to inform him that following the death of the Anton Cajetan Adlgasser, a post was open to him in Salzburg as court organist with accompanying duties rather than as a violinist; Colloredo had offered Mozart an increase in salary and generous leave. Mozart set out on 26 September and traveling circuitously by way of Nancy, Strasbourg and Mannheim (where he was received coolly by Aloysia Weber, who was now singing in the court opera), he arrived home in the third week of January 1779. His new duties in Salzburg included playing in the cathedral and at court, and instructing the choirboys. He composed the ‘Coronation’ mass K317, the missa solemnis K337, two vespers settings, K321 and K339 and the Regina coeli K276 as well as several instrumental works including the concerto for two pianos K365, the sonata for piano and violin K378, three symphonies (K318, K319 and K338), the ‘Posthorn’ serenade K320, a sinfonia concertante for violin and viola K364, and incidental music for Thamos, König in Ägypten and Zaide.

Anon Aloysia_weber c1780.jpg

Anonymous, Aloysia Weber, c1780

In the summer of 1780, Mozart received a commission to compose a serious opera for Munich and engaged the Salzburg cleric Giovanni Battista Varesco to prepare a libretto based on Antoine Danchet’s Idomenée of 1712. He began to set the text in Salzburg since he already knew several of the singers from Mannheim and left for Munich only in early November. The opera was given on 29 January 1781 to considerable success and both Leopold and Mozart’s sister, Nannerl, who had traveled from Salzburg, were in attendance. The family remained in Munich until mid-March, during which time Mozart also composed the recitative and aria Misera! dove son–Ah! non son’ io che parlo K369, the oboe quartet K370. The three piano sonatas K330-332 may also date from this time, or from a few months later.

The death of Mozart’s mother in Paris on 3 July 1778 and the ensuing, sometimes-recriminatory letters between father and son — Leopold accused Mozart of lying and improper attention his mother — is generally taken to represent the first and most compelling evidence of an irreparable family rupture that had its roots in Leopold’s alleged exploitation of Wolfgang as a child both for profit and for his own self-aggrandisement. There is no evidence, however, that anyone at the time thought Leopold to be less than a loving, intelligent parent whose only fault, perhaps, was to overindulge Wolfgang. Johann Adam Hiller wrote in his Wochentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend, published at Leipzig on 25 November 1766, that ‘Such precocious virtuosi certainly do much honour to their father, since they have attained to all this through his instruction; and since he knew how to discover easy ways and means of making a matter comprehensible and easy for children which at times is not readily grasped by older and adult persons’ while the composer Johann Adolph Hasse wrote to the Venetian composer and philosopher Giovanni Maria Ortes on 30 September 1769 that ‘The said Sig. Mozard is a very polished and civil man, and the children are very well brought up. . . I am sure that if his [Wolfgang’s] development keeps due pace with his years, he will be a prodigy, provided that his father does not perhaps pamper him too much or spoil him by means of excessive eulogies; that is the only thing I fear.’ Similarly, the music historian Charles Burney, who met the family in Bologna in August 1770 while Mozart was working on Mitridate, noted that ‘[I] 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. . .’ 

Certainly Leopold was sometimes given to insensitivity, even harshness. On 24 November 1777, when Mozart and his mother were in Mannheim, Leopold wrote to them: ‘A journey like this is no joke, you’ve no experience of this sort of thing, you need to have other, more important thoughts on your mind than foolish games, you have to try to anticipate a hundred different things, otherwise you’ll suddenly find yourself in the shit without any money, – – and where you’ve no money you’ll have no friends either, even if you give a hundred lessons for nothing, and even if you write sonatas and spend every night fooling around from 10 till 12 instead of devoting yourself to more important matters. Then try asking for credit! – That’ll wipe the smile off your face. I’m not blaming you for a moment for placing the Cannabichs Cannabichs under an obligation to you by your acts of kindness, that was well done: but you should have devoted a few of your otherwise idle hours each evening to your father, who is so concerned about you, and sent him not simply a mishmash tossed off in a hurry but a proper, confidential and detailed account of the expenses incurred on your journey, of the money you still have left, of the journey you plan to take in future and of your intentions in Mannheim etc. etc. In short, you should have sought my advice; I hope you’ll be sensible enough to see this, for who has to shoulder this whole burden if not your poor old father?’ And he was could be manipulative, writing to Wolfgang on 19 October 1778: ‘The main thing is that you return to Salzburg now. I don’t want to know about the 40 louis d’or that you may perhaps be able to earn. Your whole plan seems to be to drive me to ruin, simply in order to build your castles in the air. . . In short, I have absolutely no intention of dying a shameful death, deep in debt, on your account; still less do I intend to leave your poor sister destitute. . . Until now I’ve written to you not only as a father but as a friend; I hope that on receiving this letter you will immediately expedite your journey home and conduct yourself in such a way that I can receive you with joy and not have to greet your with reproaches. Indeed, I hope that, after your mother died so inopportunely in Paris, you’ll not have it on your conscience that you contributed to your father’s death, too.’

But these are not the only letters that passed between father and son and they were written under trying circumstances: the first significant separation of Leopold and Wolfgang, Mozart’s awkward attempts to succeed on his own, and a shared, intense dislike of Salzburg exacerbated by their failure to find employment elsewhere, all at a time when Leopold, for the first time, must have felt himself an ineffectual bystander to Wolfgang’s life. Under different, less fraught circumstances — but no less telling of the relationship between them for that — Mozart and his father exchanged letters of a profoundly intimate and loving cast. On 25 September 1777, Leopold wrote to Wolfgang and Maria Anna about the day they had left for Mannheim and Paris:

My dears, After you’d left, I came upstairs very wearily and threw myself into an armchair. I made every effort to curb my feelings when we said goodbye, in order not to make our farewell even more painful, and in my daze forgot to give my son a father’s blessing. I ran to the window and called after you but couldn’t see you driving out through the gates, so we thought you’d already left as I’d been sitting for a long time, not thinking of anything. Nannerl was astonishingly tearful and it required every effort to comfort her. She complained of a headache and terrible stomach pains, finally she started to be sick, vomiting good and proper, after which she covered her head, went to bed and had the shutters closed, with poor Pimpes beside her. I went to my own room, said my morning prayers, went back to bed at half past 8, read a book, felt calmer and fell asleep. The dog came and I woke up. He made it clear that he wanted me to talk him for a walk, from which I realized that it must be nearly 12 o’clock and that he wanted to be let out. I got up, found my fur and saw that Nannerl was fast asleep and, looking at the clock, saw that it was half past 12. When I got back with the dog, I woke Nannerl and sent for lunch. Nannerl had no appetite at all; she ate nothing, went back to bed after lunch and, once Herr Bullinger had left, I spent the time praying and reading in bed. By the evening Nannerl felt better and was hungry, we played piquet, then ate in my room and played a few more rounds after supper and then, in God’s name, went to bed. And so this sad day came to an end, a day I never thought I’d have to endure.’

To celebrate Leopold’s name day, on 8 November 1777 Mozart wrote to his father from Mannheim: 

Dearest Papa, I can’t write poetry, as I’m no poet. I can’t arrange figures of speech with the artistry needed to produce light and shade; I’m no painter. I can’t even express my thoughts and ideas by mime and gesture as I’m no dancer. But I can do so through sounds; I’m a musician. Tomorrow at Cannabich’s I’ll play a whole piece on the clavier congratulating you on your name day and your birthday. For today I can do no more than wish you, Mon très cher Père, from the bottom of my heart all that I wish you every day, morning and night: health, a long life and a cheerful disposition. I also hope that you now have less reason to be annoyed than you did when I was still in Salzburg; for I must admit that I was the sole cause of it. They treated me badly; I didn’t deserve it. You naturally took my part – – but too much. So, you see, that was the biggest and most important reason why I left Salzburg in such a hurry. I hope too that my wishes come true. I must end now with a musical congratulation. I hope that you live for as many years as it needs for nothing new to be produced any more in music. Now farewell; I beg you most humbly to go on loving me just a little and to make do with these poor congratulations until I get some new drawers made for my small and narrow brainbox in which I can keep the brains that I still intend to acquire. I kiss my father’s hands 1000 times and remain until death, Mon très cher Père, your most obedient son, Wolfgang Amadé Mozart.

Mozart’s letter recognizes, as Hasse had already written to Ortes, that his father was prepared to defend and support him blindly and without reservation. And he recognizes that he himself was responsible for at least some of the family’s problems in Salzburg. Yet devotion did not blind either of them to the other’s faults. Mozart wrote to his father from Mannheim on 29 November 1777, ‘I’m not thoughtless but am prepared for anything and as a result can wait patiently for whatever the future holds in store . . . But I must ask you at the outset not to rejoice or grieve prematurely.’ For his part, some years later, after Mozart had settled in Vienna, Leopold wrote on 22 August 1782 one of Wolfgang’s patronesses there, Baroness Martha Elisabeth von Waldstätten: ‘I have detected in my son a serious failing, which is that he is far too patient or sleepy, too easy-going, perhaps sometimes too proud and whatever else you want to call all those qualities that render a person inactive: or else he is too impatient, too hot-headed, and can’t wait. Two opposing principles rule in him – too much or too little, and no golden mean. If he’s not short of something, he’s immediately satisfied and becomes lazy and inactive. If he has to act, he feels his own worth and immediately wants to make his fortune. Nothing is then allowed to stand in his way: and yet it is unfortunately the cleverest people and those who possess real genius who find the greatest obstacles placed in their way. Who will prevent him from making his way in Vienna if only he shows a little patience?’

It is ironic that each accuses the other of failing to steer a middle course, for Leopold’s chief legacy to Wolfgang was not to prevent him from becoming an independent adult but, rather, to instill in him values that mirrored his own, whether an inquisitiveness about the world around him, attitudes toward authority, or jingoistic prejudices. Wolfgang was his father’s son. When the Mozarts were in Paris in 1764, Leopold wrote to Maria Theresia Hagenauer on 1 February: ‘Whether the women in Paris are fair, I can’t say, and for good reason; for they are painted so unnaturally, like the dolls of Berchtesgaden, that thanks to this revolting affectation even a naturally beautifully woman becomes unbearable in the eyes of an honest German. . . I heard good and bad music there. Everything that was intended to be sung by single voices and to resemble an aria was empty, cold and wretched ( in a word, French . . . the whole of French music isn’t worth a sou.’ For his part, Mozart wrote to his father on 5 April 1778: ‘What annoys me most of all in this business is that our French gentlemen have only improved their goût to the extent that they can now listen to good stuff as well. But to expect them to realize that their own music is bad or at least to notice the difference – heaven preserve us!’ And similarly on 9 July the same year: ‘If I’m asked to write an opera, it’ll not doubt be a source of considerable annoyance, but I don’t mind too much as I’m used to it – if only the confounded French language weren’t such a dastardly enemy of music! – It’s pitiful – German is divine in comparison. – And then there are the singers – – they simply don’t deserve the name as they don’t sing but scream and howl at the tops of their voices, a nasal, throaty sound.’

More importantly, Mozart also took to heart his father’s negative opinions about Salzburg, repeating them almost verbatim in his letters of the late 1770s and early 1780s. Writing from Schwetzingen on 19 July 1763, Leopold described the Mannheim orchestra as ‘undeniably the best in Germany. It consists altogether of people who are young and of good character, not drunkards, gamblers or dissolute fellows.’ Mozart, from Paris, wrote to his father some fifteen years later, on 9 July 1778: ‘. . . one of my chief reasons for detesting Salzburg is the coarse, slovenly, dissolute court musicians. Why, no honest man, of good breeding, could possibly live with them! Indeed, instead of wanting to associate with them, he would feel ashamed of them. . . [The Mannheim musicians] certainly behave quite differently from ours. They have good manners, are well dressed and do not go to public houses and swill.’

 In many respects, Mozart’s personality mirrored his father’s: Leopold, it will be remembered, was expelled from university for insubordination and in 1753 he was made to apologize publicly for circulating a pamphlet critical of one of the cathedral canons, Count Thurn und Taxis, and a priest named Egglstainer (the pamphlet does not survive). Despite his family’s wish that he pursue a career in law, he struck out on his own as a musician. While Wolfgang was never expected to pursue a career other than music, he nevertheless insisted at numerous times in his career on following his own path, including, in the spring of 1781, his rash standing up to the archbishop in Vienna. And he could be as scathing of his colleagues as Leopold was of his university professors and fellow Salzburg musicians. Both valued personal honour highly: in the midst of his quarrels with Colloredo, Mozart wrote to his father, ‘Listen, my honour means more to me than anything else, and I know that it’s the same with you.’ 

Wolfgang’s and Leopold’s specifically musical careers were similar too, at least in broad outline: not only did Leopold move from the musically less sophisticated Augsburg to Salzburg, just as Mozart eventually left Salzburg for Vienna, but like his father before him, Mozart established his reputation in Salzburg chiefly as a composer of instrumental music, albeit in his case, primarily for a small circle of family and friends. This in itself did not violate local performing traditions since there was considerable demand in the city for private music. But it did violate the expectations the court had for its musicians, even if these were not always spelled out in detail.

The primary obligation of Salzburg composers to write works for the cathedral.  And while Mozart appears to have fulfilled this obligation — his church compositions during the 1760s and 1770s amounted to some thirty works, including masses, litanies and offertories — he was, in fact, one of the least productive of the major Salzburg composers.  During those same decades, Michael Haydn, who had come to Salzburg in 1763, composed at least eleven masses, fifteen litanies and vespers and more than ninety other sacred works.   Several aspects of Mozart’s church music fall in line with Salzburg traditions, including frequent word-painting, Credos with changes of tempo and fugues at ‘Et vitam venturi’. In other respects, however, he stands outside Salzburg traditions.  His sacred works are sometimes more Italian in style than those of other local composer (possibly a legacy of his contact in the early 1770s with Padre Martini in Bologna and Eugène, Marquis of Ligniville, in Florence, but also, no doubt, influenced by his father, who sometimes included Italian opera-like da capo arias in his masses of the 1750s) and the disruptive and disjunctive elements that inform his instrumental music of the Vienna period are often adumbrated in the Salzburg church music.

Instrumental music, on the other hand, appears to have been of only secondary and occasional importance, especially during Colloredo’s reign. The historian Corbinian Gärtner, an observer well disposed towards the archbishop, paints a picture of court life that left little room for entertainment, even if he does mention Colloredo’s occasional violin playing: ‘Social gatherings began after 6 o’clock, during which [the Archbishop] often discussed business with his civic officials; otherwise he entertained foreign visitors, or played cards, or mingled with the court musicians and played the violin with them.  Afterwards he had his evening meal, said his prayers, and went to bed at about 10 o’clock.’

If the court itself did not particularly encourage the composition and performance of instrumental music, numerous other institutions in Salzburg, to say nothing of private citizens, did.  The university not only mounted performances by the court music of serenades at its August graduation exercises, but the students themselves performed informally in the public squares: the university diary for 1769 records a performance of a Platzmusik in May while a similar event is documented by Nannerl Mozart’s diary for 24 September 1779, on which occasion Mozart’s “Haffner” serenade K250 was given.  And Salzburg’s citizens required music for their entertainment. Some of Mozart’s best-known works of the 1770s were demonstrably written for private performance, including not only the “Haffner” serenade but also the three-piano concerto K242 for Countess Lodron and her daughters as well as the divertimento K247 for the Countess’s name day, the piano concerto K246 for Countess Lützow and the divertimento K334 probably for the Robinig family. 

It appears, then, that most of Mozart’s compositional and performing activity was directed at music making away from the court, an impression confirmed by Nannerl Mozart’s diary. Of the 151 entries for the period from 26 March 1779 to 30 September 1780, only two explicitly describe Mozart’s official duties and both state only ‘my brother had to play at court.’ The rest describe the Mozarts’ social life and the kinds of musical activity that occupied him most. The period 16-28 September 1779,  for which Mozart wrote most of the entries, referring to himself in the third person, is typical:

16th. To church at 8 o’clock. Afternoon with Lodron. At 4 o’clock visit from Feigele. Played tarot. Changeable weather, just like April. And very cool.

17th. To church at half past 7. With Lodron and the Mayrs. At half past 2 Fräulein Nannerl, Therese and Luise Barisani called. From 5 to 6 the 2 Mlles Hartensteiner called. At 6 Fräulein Josepha came. Feigele was also there. We played cards. At half past 7 Mölk came, but left straightaway. At 9 my brother took the girls home. Weather changeable like yesterday.1

18th. To cathedral at 9 o’clock.

Katherl and Paris had lunch with me, as Papa and my brother were lunching at Holy Trinity. Feigele provided the prizes. Wirtenstätter won. Played tarot. At 6 Papa, I, Feigele, Wirtenstätter and Pimperl went for a walk. Back home by half 7. Fine weather.

19th. Mass at the University Church at half past 9. Afterwards called on Mayr and assistant riding master. At 2 at Lodron’s. Visit from Feigele. Played tarot. At 6 Papa, Feigele, my brother, I and Pimperl to the Robinigs’. Back at half 8. Very beautiful weather.

20th. To church at half past 7. Called on Lodron and the Mayrs. Visit from Feigele during the afternoon. Played tarot. Weather changeable; rained heavily. A fine evening.

21st. To church at half past 7, then called in at the Barisanis to congratulate them. Afternoon at Lodron’s. Visit from Katherl and Feigele. Played tarot. Heavy showers alternating with sunny spells all day.

22nd. At Lodron’s; then Mass at Holy Trinity at half past 10. Then to the Mayrs. At 2 my brother and I called on Frau von Antretter. Papa joined us there. Returned home at 4 with Feigele. Played tarot. Then went for a all. At half past 8 Herr Heydecker, the ropemaker from Ischl, called. The valet Angerbauer returned from court with my brother. Rain. Stopped. Beautiful evening later on.

23rd. To Mass at 7 o’clock. Called on Mayr and assistant riding master. Bite to eat at Lodron’s. Katherl and Schachtner called. Played tarot. At half past 4 the couple from Ischl. Rained and didn’t rain. In the evening a thunderstorm and not a thunderstorm.

[in Nannerl Mozart’s hand:]

24th. To Mass at Holy Trinity at 10 and half past 10. In the afternoon Messrs Ferrari, Fiala, Schachtner and Brindl called, rehearsed a concerto, afterwards at Katherl’s the

[in Mozart’s hand:]

Mezgers there. Half past 11 played. At 4 my father and brother joined us. At 5 we all went bowling in the Mezgers’ courtyard. At 9 a serenade in the street outside Herr Dehl’s on the Kollegienplatz. The march from the last graduation music. . . And the Haffner music. Rained during the morning. Cleared up during the afternoon.

25th. Mass at half past 9. Target practice in the afternoon. Feiner provided the prizes. Katherl and Wirtenstätter won as a team.

Played tarot. Fine weather in the morning. Rained during the afternoon.

26th. Massed at 7 o’clock. Later lost patience with Regine, the assistant riding master’s daughter, and at the Mayrs. Lodronned on in the afternoon and Lodronned off at 3. At 4 we were Feigeled and then demoneyed at tarot. The sky dewatered itself nearly all day and we were badly winded.

27th. At Lodron’s. Mass at half past 10. Then home. My brother went to Lodron’s instead of Papa, who has rheumatism. Schachtner afternoon till 5 Feigele and Katherl called. Played tarot.

Weather same as yesterday.

28th. Mass at 7. At the Mayrs and assistant riding master’s. Afternoon Mlle Braunhofer called. Katherl, Feigele – played tarot. Weather changeable. But the evening delightful. 

If the court was primarily interested in church music, and not particularly concerned with orchestral and other instrumental works, then Mozart’s output from the 1770s — the number of his symphonies alone almost exceed his entire output of masses, litanies, offertories and shorter sacred works — seems like more than a curiousity: it seems like a provocation. And a deliberate provocation as well since while the composition of church music was expected of Salzburg musicians, even that was not a contractual obligation. When Mozart returned to Salzburg in 1779, his letter of appointment stated only that ‘he shall . . . carry out his appointed duties with diligence assiduity and irreproachably, in the Cathedral as well as at court and in the chapel, and shall as far as possible serve the court and the church with new compositions made by him’ — which in Mozart’s case, was not far at all.

Mozart's appointment.jpeg

Mozart's appointment as court and cathedral organist at Salzburg, 1779 (original: Landesarchiv, Salzburg)

It is possible that much of Mozart’s music (the church music excepted), was not heard at court, especially since the choice of music to be performed there was strictly ad hoc. According to a description of the Salzburg court music establishment from 1757, ‘the three court composers play their instruments in the church as well as in the chamber and in rotation with the Kapellmeister, each has the direction of the court music for a week at a time.  All the musical arrangements depend solely upon whoever is in charge each week as he, at his pleasure, can perform his own or other persons’ pieces.’ This sort of decentralized organization explains a passage in Leopold Mozart’s letter of 28 May 1778: ‘The Archbishop of Olmütz was consecrated on the 17th.  If you had not had so much to do for other people at Mannheim, you might have finished your mass and sent it to me.  For at our practices Brunetti was chattering about who should compose the consecration mass and was hoping to arrange for Haydn to get the commission from the Archbishop.  But the latter never replied; nor did Counts Czernin and Starhemberg who were approached by Brunetti and Frau Haydn.  I therefore produced Wolfgang’s mass with the organ solo, taking the Kyrie from the Spaur mass.’

All in all then, it may have seemed to Colloredo that Wolfgang, given the opportunity, was slacking off.  Certainly Mozart gave him plenty of ammunition, not only during the mid-1770s but also after his return from Mannheim and Paris when he was reinstated at Salzburg under favourable conditions as court and cathedral organist.  For although in 1779 and 1780 he composed the ‘Coronation’ mass K317 and the Missa solemnis K337, the vespers K321 and K339 and the Regina coeli K276, Colloredo was apparently not satisfied.  In an ambiguously worded document appointing Michael Haydn to replace Mozart in 1782 he wrote: ‘. . . we accordingly appoint [Johann Michael Haydn] as our court and cathedral organist, in the same fashion as young Mozart was obligated, with the additional stipulation that he show more diligence . . . and compose more often for our cathedral and chamber music, and, in such cases, himself direct in the cathedral on every occasion.’

Colloredo may, in any case, have been perplexed by Mozart’s daring, sophisticated and sometimes opaque compositions, different from those of other composers at court. And he was not the only one who found Mozart’s Salzburg music difficult or unsatisfactory.  When Charles Burney’s correspondent Louis de Visme visited Salzburg in 1772, shortly after the composition of the symphony K133, he wrote: ‘Young Mozhard, too, is of the band, you remember this prodigy in England . . . 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.’  Possibly it was reactions such as these that led Mozart to write to his father: ‘I confess that in Salzburg work was a burden to me and that I could hardly ever settle down to it.  Why?  Because I was never happy . . . there is no stimulus [there] for my talent!  When I play or when any of my compositions is performed, it is just as if the audience were all tables and chairs.’ 

Even leaving aside the possibly exaggerated complaints of the Mozarts, there is no question Colloredo was a difficult employer. Perhaps his greatest failing with respect to the court music may have been a blind trust in foreign born musicians, Italians in particular, whom he frequently promoted over the heads of better qualified local talent. At the same time, however, the Mozarts were not good employees.  Mozart and his father made no bones about their dissatisfaction. And as their descriptions of the Mannheim orchestra make clear, they considered themselves to be men of good breeding. Accordingly, they withdrew as much as possible from the court music, Leopold by engaging himself with literature and Mozart by deliberately cultivating non-institutional music making of a sort foreign to his court obligations and in a style that challenged local taste. The Mozarts saw themselves as moderns: Leopold said as much when in 1755 he described one of his symphonies as ‘composed in the most up-to-date fashion’ and especially after their trips across Europe, father and son felt trapped in Salzburg.  Certainly they felt unappreciated, a view that was held by some of their friends as well. When Leopold Mozart died in 1787, Dominicus Hagenauer, by then abbot at St Peter’s, wrote in his diary: ‘On Whit Monday the 28th, in the year 1787, early, died our Vice Kapellmeister Leopold Mozart, who did especial honour to Salzburg with his two children some 20 years ago, by taking his boy Wolfgang and his daughter Anna, the former aged 7 and the latter 10, all over Germany, France, Holland, England, Switzerland and Italy as far as Rome, as great virtuosi on the clavier, finding applause and praise everywhere, and also bringing back an abundance of presents. The son is now one of the most famous composers in Vienna and the daughter is married to Herr von Sonnenburg, prefect at St. Gilgen in the Province of Salzburg. The mother died in Paris during her second visit there with her son. The father who died to-day was a man of much wit and sagacity, who would have been capable of rendering good service to the State even apart from music. He was the most correct violinist of his time, to which his twice-published violin school bears witness. He was born at Augsburg and spent most of the days of his life in the service of the Court here, but had the misfortune of being always persecuted here and was not as much favoured by a long way as in other, larger places in Europe.’

True as this may have been, the Mozarts reaction to Colloredo and to their professional colleagues — haughtiness, withdrawal and seemingly deliberate musical provocation — was bound to cause friction. If blame is to be apportioned for the breakdown of Wolfgang’s relationship with his native city, then it is clear that both sides were at fault.

[Anchor name: section_three] 1781-1791 : Mozart in Vienna

In early March 1781, Archbishop Colloredo, in Vienna for the celebrations surrounding the accession of Emperor Joseph II, summoned Mozart to the imperial capital; he arrived on 16 March and lodged with the archbishop’s entourage. Fresh from his triumph in Munich with Idomeneo, Mozart was offended at being treated like a servant and his letters home over the next three months reflect his increasing irritation and resentment.  Matters came to a head on 9 May at a stormy interview with Colloredo:

Mon très cher Père,

I’m still seething with rage! – And you, my most beloved and dearest father, will surely be as well. – My patience has been tried for so long that it’s finally given out. I’m no longer so unfortunate as to be in the service of the Salzburg court – today has been a happy day for me; listen; –

That – I really don’t know what to call him – has twice said to my face the stupidest and most insolent things, which I’ve not told you about in my letters as I wanted to spare your feelings, and it was only because I kept thinking of you, my dearest father, that I didn’t avenge them there and then. – He called me a knave and a rake – and told me I should clear off – and I – I put up with it all – although I felt that not only my own honour but yours as well was under attack – but – you wanted it so – so I said nothing; – now listen; – a week ago the footman arrived unexpectedly and told me to leave that instant; – the others had all been given their date of departure, but not me; – so I quickly shoved everything into my trunk and – old Madame Weber was kind enough to offer me her house, where I now have a nice room and where I’m with obliging people who’ve provided me with all the things that you often need in a hurry and that you can’t have when you’re on your own. –

I arranged to return home by the ordinaire on Wednesday the 9th, in other words, today – but I didn’t have time to collect the money still due to me, so I delayed by journey till Saturday – when I turned up today, the valets told me that the archbishop wanted me to take a parcel for him – I asked if it was urgent; they said yes, it was of great importance. – Then I’m sorry that I can’t have the privilege of serving His Grace as I can’t leave before Saturday – for the reason given above; – I’m no longer staying here but have to live at my own expense – so I naturally can’t leave until I’m in a position to do so – no one will expect me to ruin myself. – Kleinmayr Moll, Bönike and the 2 valets agreed with me. – When I went in to see him – by the way, I should have said that Schlauka advised me to make the excuse that the ordinaire was already full – he said this would carry more weight; – well, when I went in to see him, the first thing he said was: arch: Well, my lad, when are you leaving? – I: I wanted to leave tonight but there’s no room. He didn’t stop to draw breath. – I was the most dissolute lad that he knew – no one served him as badly as I did – he advised me to leave today, otherwise he’d write home and have my pay stopped – it was impossible to get a word in edgeways, it was like a fire out of control – I listened to it all calmly – he lied to my face that I was on 500 florins – he called me a scoundrel, a scurvy rogue and a cretin – oh, I’d prefer not to tell you all he said – finally, my blood began to boil, so I said – so Your Grace isn’t satisfied with me? – What, are you threatening me, you cretin, O you cretin! – Look, there’s the door, I want nothing more to do with such a miserable knave – finally I said – Nor I with you – Well, go then – and I, as I was leaving – so be it; you’ll have it in writing tomorrow. 

Initially, at least, the archbishop refused Mozart’s requests to be discharged, but at a meeting with Colloredo’s chief steward Karl Joseph Felix von Arco on 8 June, he was finally and decisively released from Salzburg service:

The scene took place in the antechamber. . . the archbishop’s departure was fixed for the following day. I could not let him leave thus and, as I had heard from Arco (or so at least he had told me) that the Prince knew nothing about it, I realized how angry he would be with me for staying on so long and then at the very last moment appearing with a petition of this kind. I therefore wrote another memorandum, in which I explained to the Archbishop that it was now four weeks since I had drawn up a petition but, finding myself for some unknown reason always put off, I was now obliged to present it to him in person, though at the very last moment. This memorandum procured me my dismissal from his service. . . I sent a message to Count Arco saying that I had nothing more to say to him for he went for me so rudely when I first saw him and treated me as if I were a rogue, which he had no right to do. . . if he was really so well disposed toward me, he ought to have reasoned quietly with me – or have let things take their course, rather than throw such words about as “clown” and “knave” and hoof a fellow out of the room with kick on his arse. 

Mozart’s letters reflect not only his growing dissatisfaction with Salzburg service but also an increasing enthusiasm for his chances in Vienna: keyboard playing, he told Leopold, was so well appreciated there that he would have little trouble making his way in the imperial capital. But it was not just keyboard playing that was appreciated in Vienna: the city offered a large number of social and musical opportunities, virtually all of which Mozart successfully exploited during his decade there. Some of them can be directly attributed to Joseph II’s enlightened policies; others resulted from Mozart’s own initiatives.

The court offered Mozart one possibility, for despite his financial austerity and numerous reforms, Joseph II never abandoned either the court chapel or opera, both of which required composers. Mozart was eventually appointed director of the emperor’s chamber music, in December 1787, an appointment seen by some biographers as a disappointment: his predecessor, Gluck, had been paid 2000 gulden, Mozart only 800. But in fact, Gluck’s appointment was both honorific and extraordinary and Wolfgang’s appointment, especially after the pensioning off of the Kapellmeister Giuseppe Bonno, made him one of only two composers at court along with Antonio Salieri. His duties were minimal, chiefly restricted to composing dances for court balls. The appointment also reflected Mozart’s high standing as a composer of opera: he had been commissioned to write Die Entführung aus dem Serail in 1781 (the opera was premiered on 16 July 1782), Der Schauspieldirektor in 1786, and Le nozze di Figaro in 1785 (premiered on 1 May 1786); other opera commissions and performances followed including Don Giovanni (Viennese premiere on 7 May 1788) and Così fan tutte (26 January 1790). All of these productions made Mozart the second most frequently commissioned opera composer in Vienna during the 1780s – he was bested only by Salieri – and they do not include La clemenza di Tito, composed for the Prague coronation of Leopold II or Die Zauberflöte, written for Emanuel Schikaneder’s suburban Freihaus-Theater auf der Wieden, both in 1791. To some extent, Mozart’s opera commissions reflect changing practices in Vienna at the time: Joseph had founded a German National Theater in 1776, including Singspiele from 1778, abandoned the venture in 1783, and reinstated Italian opera; his successor, Leopold II was more inclined to opera seria.

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Original playbill for Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Vienna 1782

Mozart was eventually to succeed at these as well. Unlike Salzburg, where church composition was the chief responsibility of court composers, the Viennese court maintained a low profile with respect to sacred music. Joseph’s church reforms – including the regularization of services throughout the country and the curtailment or elimination of excessive ceremonies, including the performance of music and employment opportunities for musicians – further restricted Mozart’s chances for advancement. The one exception was St Stephen’s Cathedral, which was run by the city magistrate and independent of the court. And it was to St Stephen’s that Mozart was appointed deputy music director in 1791; had he not predeceased the incumbent, the considerably older Leopold Hoffmann, Wolfgang would have succeeded to the music directorship here as well.

If the court and the church represented institutionalized music-making in Vienna – and Mozart achieved significant appointments at both within 10 years of establishing himself there – they were, nevertheless, not the only opportunities open to him. Keyboard playing, as he himself knew, was his greatest asset, at least in the years immediately following his dismissal from Salzburg service. And it was keyboard playing that first opened doors to him in Vienna. By the summer of 1781 he had taken on two pupils, Countess Marie Karoline Thiennes de Rumbecke and Josepha von Auernahmmer; later he would teach piano to Therese von Trattner, Countess Zichy, Countess Palffy, Barbara Ployer and the young virtuoso Johann Nepomuk Hummel, as well as composition to Franz Jakob Freystädtler and the English musician Thomas Attwood. 

Mozart first appeared at a public concert in December 1781, a charity event intended to raise money for the widows and orphans of Viennese musicians (the so-called Tonkünstler-Sozietät). And from 1782 (if not earlier), he gave private and public concerts at the homes of the nobility or at one of the few public spaces (the opera houses aside) that could accommodate a decent crowd, including the Mehlgrube, the Trattnerhof and Jahn’s Hall. Use of the much larger court theatres, the Burgtheater and the Kärntnertortheater, was restricted to Lent when operas and plays were not allowed to be given; this explains why virtually all of Mozart’s academies (as concerts at the time were called) took place in the spring, including concerts at the Burgtheater on 22 March 1783, 1 April 1784 and 10 March 1785. Typically these concerts included a mix of symphonies, concertos and arias though on occasion Mozart either improvised or performed an ersatz concerto such as the quintet for piano and winds K452.

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Ticket for one of Mozart's concerts, Vienna, 1780s (with Mozart's seal)

These grand concerts furthered Mozart’s reputation not only in the imperial capital but across German-speaking Europe since many were reviewed in the musical press; on 9 May 1783 the Hamburg Magazin der Musik reported that ‘. . . the famous Herr Chevalier Mozart held a musical concert in the National Theatre, at which pieces of his already highly admired composition were performed. The concert was honoured with an exceptionally large crowd, and the two new concertos and other fantasies which Herr M. played on the fortepiano were received with the loudest applause. Our monarch, who against his habit, attended the whole of the concert, as well as the entire audience, accorded him such unanimous applause as has never been heard here.’ Positive notices appeared in the mainstream press as well: virtually the same review was published in the Hamburg Staats- und gelehrte Zeitung for 4 April and the Münchner Zeitung for 14 April. The number of Mozart’s private appearances was considerable. In the spring of 1784 alone he performed for Count Johann Esterházy, the finance minister Count Károly Zichy, the chancellor of state Prince Wenzel Kaunitz and at least twelve times for the Russian ambassador Prince Dimitri Galitsin.

Finally, publishing was a potentially lucrative source of income for Mozart throughout the 1780s. Within months of his arrival in Vienna he had made arrangements with the publisher Artaria to sell six sonatas for keyboard with violin accompaniment (K376-380 and K296); Artaria remained his chief publisher throughout the decade, producing editions of the six string quartets dedicated to Haydn (K387, K421, K428, K458, K464 and K465), the fantasy and sonata in C minor (K475, K457) and the so-called “Prussian” quartets (K575, K589, K590) among others. He was not the only publisher interested in Mozart. Franz Anton Hoffmeister produced editions of the piano quartet K478, the string quartet K499, the sonata for keyboard with violin accompaniment K526, and the sonata K533+K494. On occasion, Mozart attempted to publish his works in handwritten copies (the normal mode for the distribution of much music in Vienna at the time) by public subscription, but these apparently failed.

About the time of his dismissal from Salzburg service, Mozart moved to the house of the Webers, his former Mannheim friends, who had relocated to Vienna after Aloysia’s marriage to the court actor Joseph Lange. But rumours linking him with Aloysia’s younger sister Constanze forced him to relocate and in August he moved to the Graben, a fashionable promenade (and former market street) that runs from the Stock-am-Eisen Platz to the Kohlmarkt. In February 1782 he described for his sister his daily life in Vienna:

My hair is always done by 6 in the morning. – By 7 I’m fully dressed. – I then write till 9. From 9 till 1 I teach. – I then eat, unless I’m invited out to a place where people lunch at 2 or even 3, as is the case today and tomorrow, for example, at Countess Zichy’s and Countess Thun’s. – I can’t work before 5 or 6 in the evening, and often I’m prevented from doing so by a concert; if not, I compose till 9. – I then go to see my dear Konstanz [Constanze] – where the pleasure of seeing each other is, however, generally spoilt by her mother’s embittered remarks – I’ll explain all this in my next letter to my father – hence my wish to free her and rescue her as soon as possible. – I return home at half past 10 or 11 – this depends on her mother’s barbed remarks and my resilience in enduring them. – As I can’t rely on being able to compose in the evening because of the concerts that often take place and also because of the uncertainty of being summoned hither and thither, I tend to write some more before going to bed – especially if I get home early. – I then often go on writing until 1 – and then I’m up again at 6. 

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Stock-am-Eisen Platz, Vienna (engraving, c1780)

In the spring of 1782 Mozart had a symphony performed at one of the annual Lent concerts sponsored by the Tonkünstler-Sozietät, a charitable organization for musicians’ widows and orphans, and he participated in a series of concerts promoted by Philipp Jakob Martin. At the first of these, on 26 May, he played the two-piano concerto K365 with his pupil Josepha Auernahmmer. Earlier, on 3 March, he gave the first of his own grand public academies at the Burgtheater; the programme included the concertos K175 (with the newly composed finale K382) and K415, arias from Lucio Silla and Idomeneo, and a free fantasy. He also performed regularly at the home of the imperial librarian Gottfried van Swieten, where Bach and Handel were staples of the repertory.

The most important composition of this period was the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail, the libretto of which was given to Mozart as early as the end of July 1781. Originally planned for that September, the première was postponed until the summer of 1782. The postponement notwithstanding, the opera was a resounding success: Gluck requested an extra performance, the theatrical troupe run by Emanuel Schikaneder mounted an independent production in September 1784, and performances were soon given in cities throughout German-speaking Europe, almost always to universal approval. ‘Die Entführung aus dem Serail has been received with very notable applause in Vienna,’ wrote Gottfried Schink in his Dramaturgische Fragmente. ‘Applause it owes not to itself [however], but to the excellent music of Herr Mozart and the very good performance by the singers of the National Theatre. I am not real connoisseur of music . . . I judge music merely by the general principles of all the fine arts, by the principles of truth and nature. Music which affects the human heart and the human passions, which stirs joy, sorrow and in short every kind of sentiment, which is something more than ear-tickling, namely nourishment for the soul: such music has excellence in my eyes and is the undeniable product of musical genius. Judged by these principles, then, Herr Mozart’s music has my entire approval and I confess with pleasure that Benda and Gluck alone are capable of touching and moving my heart more strongly than Herr Mozart has done with his lovely music.’

Shortly after the première of Die Entführung on 16 July 1782, Mozart decided to go forward with his marriage to Constanze Weber, which he had first mooted to his father the previous December. Events may have given him little choice: probably through his future mother-in-law’s scheming, he was put in the position where, because of his alleged intimacy with Constanze, he was required to marry her or to compensate her. Mozart wrote to his father on 31 July, on 2 August the couple took communion together, on 3 August the contract was signed and on 4 August they were married at St Stephen’s cathedral. Leopold’s grudging consent did not arrive until the next day.

Mozart’s departure from Salzburg service and his wedding to Constanze set off an acrimonious exchange with Leopold (whose letters from this period are lost although their contents can be inferred from Mozart’s). Leopold accused Wolfgang of concealing his affair with Constanze and, worse, of being a dupe, while Mozart defended his honour against reproaches of improper behavior and his alleged failure to attend to his religious duties. He chastised Leopold for withholding consent to his marriage and for his lukewarm reaction to the success of Die Entführung. Presumably in order to heal the rift with family, Mozart determined to take Constanze to Salzburg to meet his father and sister, although the visit was postponed several times due to Mozart’s many obligations in Vienna: he conducted Die Entführung on 8 October in the presence of the Russian Grand Duke Paul Petrovich, he played at concerts sponsored by Joseph Auernhammer, the Russian prince Dmitry Golitsïn, Philipp Jakob Martin, his sister-in-law Aloysia Lange, Count Esterházy and the singer Therese Teyber, and on 23 March gave his own academy at the Burgtheater. Mozart composed new works for several of these academies, including the piano concertos K413-K415. He also began work on the so-called “Haydn” quartets: the first, K387, was complete in December 1782 and the second, K421, in June 1783, while Constanze was giving birth to their first child, Raimund Leopold, born on 17 June.

Mozart and Constanze finally set out for Salzburg in July (Raimund Leopold, who was left behind, died in their absence, on 9 August) and they remained there for about three months. Details of the visit are lacking although hints in some later letters suggest the visit may not have been entirely happy. While he was in Salzburg Mozart probably composed two duets for violin and viola for Michael Haydn, who was behindhand with a commission from the archbishop, and possibly parts of the unfinished mass in C minor, K427.  They left Salzburg on 27 October, stopped at Linz, where Mozart composed the symphony K425, and arrived back at Vienna at the end of November.

1784 and 1785 probably count as the busiest years of Mozart’s life. Aside from numerous private performances at the homes of the nobility, in March 1784, Mozart gave three subscription concerts in the private hall of the Trattnerhof, the wind serenade K361 was performed by the clarinetist Anton Stadler, and together with the violinist Regina Strinasacchi he played the sonata K454 at her benefit concert on April 29. Mozart’s own grand academy at the Burgtheater took place on 1 April. The 1785 season was similar: six subscription concerts at the Mehlgrube beginning on 11 February, another grand academy at the Burgtheater on 10 March and a performance by the Tonkünstler-Sozietät of the cantata Davidde penitente K469, also in March. Leopold Mozart, who visited Wolfgang in Vienna in February and March, attended at least one of the Mehlgrube concerts wrote to Nannerl:

At 6 o’clock . . . we drove to his first subscription concert, which was attended by a great gathering of persons of rank. Everyone pays a gold sovereign or 3 ducats for these Lenten concerts. They’re at the Mehlgrube, he pays only half a gold sovereign each time he uses the hall. The concert was incomparable, the orchestra admirable, apart from the symphonies a soprano from the Italian theatre sang 2 arias. There was then an admirable new keyboard concerto by Wolfgang [K466] on which the copyist was still working when we arrived, your brother didn’t even have time to play through the rondeau as he had to oversee the copying. As you can imagine, I met many acquaintances there, all of whom came over to speak to me: but I was also introduced to some other people. On Saturday evening Herr Joseph Haydn and the 2 Barons Tinti came round and the new quartets were played, but only the 3 new ones [K458, K464 and K465] that he’s written to go with the 3 we already knew, they’re a bit easier but admirably composed. Herr Haydn said to me: I say to you before God and as an honest man, your son is the greatest composer known to me in person or by name: he has taste and, what’s more, the greatest knowledge of composition. On Sunday evening the Italian soprano, Signora Laschi, who’s now leaving for Italy, gave a concert at the theatre. She sang 2 arias, there was a cello concerto, a tenor and a bass each sang an aria and your brother played a wonderful concerto that he’d written for Mlle Paradis in Paris [K456]. I was sitting at the back only 2 boxes away from the very beautiful Princess of Württemberg and had the pleasure of hearing the interplay between the instruments so clearly that it brought tears of pleasure to my eyes.

Many of these works, as well as some earlier ones, were published about this time, including the sonatas K333, K284 and K454 and, in manuscript, six piano concertos. The most significant, though, were the three concertos K413-415, and, in September 1785, the six quartets dedicated to Haydn.

Opera remained central to Mozart’s ambitions throughout this period but there was little opportunity to build on the success of Die Entführung: by late 1782 Joseph II had decided to close down the Nationaltheater and re-establish Italian opera. Mozart was unable to capitalize at first and left incomplete two false starts, L’oca del Cairo and Lo sposo deluso. The one-act comedy Der Schauspieldirektor was given in early 1786 in the Orangerie at Schloss Schönbrunn together with Salieri’s Prima la musica e poi le parole, both commissioned for the visit to Vienna of Duke Albert of Sachsen-Teschen, Governor General of the Austrian Netherlands, and Idomeneo was given at the private theatre of Prince Karl Auersperg. In the meantime, Mozart had started work with Lorenzo da Ponte on Le nozze di Figaro, probably as early as October or November 1785. Based on Beaumarchais’s play La folle journée, ou Le marriage de Figaro, the text had been printed in German translation in Vienna in 1785 although banned from the stage, at least in its spoken form. Mozart and Da Ponte were familiar with its operatic predecessor, however, Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, ovvero La precauzione inutile, which had been given at Vienna in May 1784 with great success.

Figaro premièred at the Burgtheater on 1 May 1786. The initial run was a success: several items were applauded and encored at the first three performances, prompting the emperor to restrict encores at later performances to the arias only. But letters from Leopold to Nannerl make it clear that there was considerable intrigue against the work, as does an article in the Wiener Zeitung for 11 July 1786:

Herr Mozart’s music was generally admired by connoisseurs already at the first performance, if I except those whose self-love and conceit will not allow them to find merit in anything not written by themselves. The public, however (and this often happens to the public) did not realluy know on the first day where it stood. It heard many a bravo from unbiased connoisseurs, but obstreperous louts in the uppermost storey exerted their hired lungs with all their might to deafen singers and audiences alike with the St! and Pst! And consequently opinions were divided at the end of the piece. . . But now, after several performances, one would be subscribing either to the cabal or to tastelessness if one were to maintain that Herr Mozart’s music is anything but a masterpiece of art.

The alleged seditious politics of the opera may be overstated. Da Ponte removed the more inflammatory elements of Beaumarchais’s play and the characters and events of the opera fit well with commedia dell’arte traditions. Some social tensions remain, as in Figaro’s 'Se vuol ballare,' and individual arias reflect the social standing of the different characters: the Count’s 'Vendrò, mentr’io sospiro' is authoritative and menacing while the Countess’s style has a breadth and smoothness of nobility that is mostly lacking from Susanna’s buffa arias. 

The presumed political implications of Mozart’s masonic activities may also be overstated. His lodge in 1786 – 'Zur neugekrönten Hoffnung' ('New Crowned Hope') – was led by the well-known scientist Ignaz von Born and the society was essentially one of liberal intellectuals, concerned less with political ideas than with the philosophical ones of the Enlightenment, including nature, reason and the brotherhood of man. Although the Vatican perceived it as a threat — as it did all ‘secret’ organizations — it was not anti-religious and membership was compatible with faith. Mozart composed several works for masonic meetings including the cantata Die Maurerfreude K471, written to honour Born, the Maurerische Trauermusik K477, and several songs, including Gesellenreise K468, composed on 26 March 1786 to celebrate Leopold Mozart’s elevation to second grade at the lodge ‘Zur wahren Eintracht’ (‘True Concord’). Mozart’s masonic style is not restricted to music composed for the lodges but appears elsewhere among his works, both generally, as in Die Zauberflöte, and in specific musical constructions: Sarastro’s ‘O Isis und Osiris’, with its strophic, antiphonal structure, is virtually identical in form to other Viennese Masonic songs of the 1780s.

In part through his work on Figaro, Mozart had made a number of English friends and acquaintances — Nancy Storace, the first Susanna, and Michael Kelly (in fact Irish), the first Don Curzio, as well as his composition pupil Thomas Attwood —and their departure from Vienna in the spring of 1787 led Mozart to consider a journey to London.  The idea foundered when Leopold refused to look after Wolfgang’s children.  (Of Mozart and Constanze’s six children, only two survived to adulthood: Carl Thomas (1784-1858) and Franz Xaver (1791-1844); the others were Raimund Leopold, 1783; Johann Thomas Leopold, 1786; Theresia, 1787-1788; and Anna Maria, 1789). He did, however, accept an invitation to Prague, where Figaro had been a great success. He spent about four weeks there in January 1787; he gave a concert on 19 January, for which he composed a new symphony, K504, and he directed a performance of Figaro on 22 January. It was probably about this time that the Prague impresario Pasquale Bondini commissioned him to write an opera for the following autumn. Don Giovanni was premièred on 29 October, to great success. The Prager Oberpostamtszeitung for 3 November reported that, ‘On Monday the 29th the Italian opera company gave the ardently awaited opera by Maestro Mozart, Don Giovanni oder das steinerne Gastmahl. Connoisseurs and musicians say that Prague had never yet heard the like. Herr Mozart conducted in person; when he entered the orchestra he was received with threefold cheers, which again happened when he left it. The opera is, moreover, extremely difficult to perform and every one admired the good performance given in spite of this after such a short period of study. . . The unusually large attendance testifies to a unanimous approbation.’

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Hans Hansen, Carl Thomas and Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, Vienna c1798

The two Da Ponte operas, the increasing success of his publications and his appointment in December 1787 as court chamber musician to Joseph II — for which Mozart was required to do little more than write dances for court balls — initiated a new phase in Mozart’s career. He gave fewer concerts (at least insofar as these are documented) and genres other than concertos came to the fore in his output, including the symphony. The final trilogy — K543, the G minor K550 and the ‘Jupiter’ K551 — were composed between June and August 1788. But these are anomalous works for the time: the death of Leopold Mozart in May 1787 appears to have initiated a fallow period for Mozart, albeit at some month’s distance. The symphonies aside, he completed relatively few substantial works at this time, mainly dances, piano music, songs and arias. Leopold’s death also marked a decisive break with his sister, who in 1784 had married the magistrate Johann Baptist Franz von Berchtold zu Sonnenburg and moved to St Gilgen, but more through benign neglect than intention. Except for settling their father’s estate, Mozart failed to keep in touch with her; his last known letter to Nannerl dates from 2 August 1788. Nannerl was apparently hurt by Mozart’s lack of attention. When she was approached in 1792 to describe his life in Vienna, she pleaded ignorance, despite the fact that she had become personally acquainted with Constanze in 1783 and still had in her possession numerous letters from her father detailing Mozart’s activities at the time.

Mozart’s appointment as court chamber musician notwithstanding, his financial circumstances were difficult between 1788 and 1790, at least in part because of the depressed Viennese economy, a result of Joseph II’s war with Turkey. Collaterally, there was a general decline in musical patronage, with fewer concerts and other musical opportunities than there had been earlier in the 1780s. It is from this time that a dismal series of begging letters to his fellow freemason Michael Puchberg survives. One refers to the poor response to his string quintet subscription, another to embarrassing debts to a former landlord, and a third to dealings with a pawnbroker. Van Swieten contributed to Mozart’s welfare by commissioning him to arrange several works by Handel, including Acis and Galatea, Messiah, Alexander’s Feast and the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day. And the war did provide Mozart with topical compositional opportunities, including the war song Ich möchte wohl der Kaiser sein K539 and the works for mechanical organ, K594, K608 and K616, some of them probably composed for performance at a mausoleum established in memory of Field Marshal Gideon Laudon, hero of the Siege of Belgrade.

In the late spring of 1789, possibly in an attempt to bolster his earning, Mozart undertook a concert tour to Leizpig, Dresden and Berlin. Details of the journey are scarce. At Dresden he played chamber music privately and performed at court, while at Leipzig he reportedly improvised at the Thomaskirche organ. He made have sold some of his compositions at Potsdam and Berlin (where he attended a performance of Die Entführung) but on the whole the trip was unsuccessful, as he wrote to Constanze from Berlin on 23 May, ‘My dearest little wife, when I return you must look forward to seeing me, rather than to any money. . . the concert in Leipzig turned out badly, as I always said it would, so that I went 32 miles – plus the return journey – for virtually nothing . . . here, there is, 1st, not much to be made from a concert and, 2nd, the king wouldn’t be keen on it. – You must be content, as I am, with the fact that I’m fortunate to enjoy the king’s favour. . .’. Nevertheless, the journey was not without its musical rewards: in Leipzig Mozart renewed his acquaintance with Bach’s music, obtaining a score of the motet Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied! BWV 225 (the impact of which is evident in the chorale of the Armed Men in Die Zauberflöte) and he was probably invited by King Friedrich Wilhelm II, an amateur cellist, to compose quartets and keyboard sonatas. Almost certainly he started work on these commissions during the return journey to Vienna, although when they were published by Artaria in 1791, they lacked a dedication. 

Mozart’s professional circumstances improved in 1789. Figaro was revived at the Burgtheater on 29 August and he was asked to compose replacement arias for productions of Cimarosa’s I due baroni, a German-language version of Paisiello’s Il barbiere di Siviglia and Martín y Soler’s Il burbero di buon cuore; in a sign of his international reputation, the poet Friedrich Wilhelm Gotter intended to offer Mozart his opera libretto Die Geisterinsel. His main energies, though, were given to the composition of Così fan tutte, his third collaboration with Da Ponte and the only Mozart-Da Ponte opera for which there is no direct literary source. The libretto may be original to Da Ponte although the subject is sometimes claimed to have been suggested by Joseph II. It is unlikely that the idea was Mozart’s: the text was originally offered to Salieri, who set some early numbers but then abandoned it. Otherwise, little is known concerning the opera’s genesis. It was rehearsed at Mozart’s home on 31 December and at the theatre on 21 January 1790; the première was on 26 January. There were four further performances by mid-February and five more in the summer; the hiatus was due to the death of Joseph II on 20 February.

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Anonymous, The Last Morning of Joseph II (engraving), Vienna 1790 (original: Vienna Museum)

Joseph was succeeded by his brother Leopold II, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who within two years transformed Viennese musical theatre, reviving opera seria and reforming comic opera (although these changes were seemingly reactionary, they established a theatrical culture that gave rise, at least in part, to both Die Zauberflöte  and La clemenza di Tito). Mozart had no official role in the coronation ceremonies but nevertheless traveled to Frankfurt in September 1790 for the festivities. He gave a public concerto on 15 October that was a musical success but a financial failure; on the return journey he gave a concert at Mainz, heard Figaro in Mannheim, and played before the King of Naples in Munich. He reached home about 10 November.

Mozart’s last year — 1791 — marked a return to prolific composition, extensive publications (Viennese dealers produced nearly a dozen editions of his works), public appearances and significant new appointments and commissions.  He composed the piano concerto K595 in January and the string quintet K614 in April (the quintet K593 dates from December 1790). He played at a concert organized by the clarinetist Josef Bähr in March and an aria and symphony of his were given at the Tonkünstler-Sozietät concerts in April. That same month Mozart secured from the Vienna city council the reversion to the important and remunerative post of Kapellmeister at St Stephen’s cathedral; the incumbent, Leopold Hoffmann, was aged and ill but in the end outlived Mozart.

La clemenza di Tito was written for Leopold II’s coronation in Prague. The impresario Domenico Guardasoni signed a contract with the Bohemian Estates on 8 July and his first choice to compose the coronation opera, either on a subject suggested by the Grand Burgrave of Bohemia or, if time did not permit, on Metastasio’s 1734 La clemenza di Tito, was Salieri, who refused the commission. Possibly this was mid-July: the fact that Guardasoni’s contract included an escape clause, allowing him to engage a different composer, suggest that he may already have expected Salieri to decline and discussed with Mozart the possibility of composing the opera. The text was arranged by Caterino Mazzolà, who cut much of the dialogue and eighteen arias, while adding four new ones, as well as two duets, three trios and finale ensembles. In the catalogue of his works that Mozart kept beginning in February 1784, he described Tito as 'ridotto a vera opera.' He conducted the première on 6 September. 

Mozart returned to Vienna in mid-September and over the next two months composed the clarinet concerto K622, the Masonic cantata Laut verkünde unsre Freude K623, the aria Per questa bella mano K612, the piano variations on Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding K626 and the motet Ave verum corpus K618. His most immediate concern, however, was the impending premère of Die Zauberflöte, written for Emanuel Schikaneder’s suburban Theater auf der Wieden. Mozart’s letters show that work on the opera was well under way by the previous June and it may have been complete as early as July, before the Tito commission, except for three vocal numbers, the overture and the march. First given on 30 September, the opera was universally praised for its music but roundly criticized for its text. 

Probably in mid-July, when work on Die Zauberflöte was well advanced and the commission for Tito in the works, Mozart was commissioned by Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach to compose a requiem for his wife, who had died on 14 February 1791. According to Constanze Mozart’s earliest account of the commission, published in Franz Xaver Niemetschek’s 1798 biography of the composer, Mozart ‘told her of this remarkable request, and at the same time expressed a wish to try his hand at this type of composition, the more so as the higher forms of church music had always appealed to his genius.’ Early press reports describing Mozart’s feverish work on the mass and his premonitions of death are hard to reconcile with the high spirits of his letters from much of October and there is no direct evidence from November or December 1791 to suggest the work was a burden to him. It is possible, too, that Walsegg’s identity was known to Mozart: his friend Puchberg lived in Walsegg’s Vienna villa and the inclusion in the score of basset horns – of which there were only a few practitioners in Vienna – suggests that Mozart could count on the participation of specific players who would have been booked far in advance for a specific date at a venue – Walsegg’s private chapel at Stuppach - a good day’s travel from Vienna.

It is likely that Mozart did not begin serious work on the Requiem until after the première of Die Zauberflöte and he probably took ill about 20 November (his last surviving letter, to his wife, dated 14 October, describes his attendance at a performance of Die Zauberflöte with his son Karl and Salieri: ‘Salieri listened and watched most attentively and from the overture to the last chorus, there wasn’t a single number that didn’t call forth from him a bravo! or bello!’). He was attended by two leading Viennese doctors, Closset and Sallaba, and his condition seemed to improve in early December. According to one account he was visited by friends on 4 December, with whom he sang through parts of the Requiem. That evening, however, he took a turn for the worse and Closset, summoned from the theatre, applied cold compresses which sent Mozart into shock. Apparently he never regained consciousness and died at 12.55am on 5 December. The cause of death registered with the Viennese authorities was ‘severe miliary fever’ (so-called because it produces a rash resembling millet-seeds) although it is now generally thought he died of renal failure or possibly some sort of edema brought on by a streptococcal infection – an analysis of medical records in Vienna shows that deaths from edema among younger men dramatically increased in November and December 1791. He was buried on 7 December in a common grave (as was customary at the time) at St Marx cemetery, outside the city walls. One legend has it that the day was stormy and snowy but contemporaneous weather reports suggest it was calm and mild.

Traditional ideas about Mozart’s sorry end — his supposed unpopularity and ill health, his alleged remoteness from the world around him — are convenient biographical tropes. And together with the idea of a disengaged 'late style,' as opposed to a vibrant, forward-looking aesthetic re-evaluation, they seem to account for the numerous slight dances and other works composed by him between 1788 and 1791 as well as the relatively slighter popularity, historically, of the ‘Prussian’ quartets and last two quintets. They also provide a convenient launching pad for asserting a phoenix-like – or Christ-like -  resurrection (not dissimilar to the Transfiguration of Raphael, to whom Mozart was sometimes compared in the early nineteenth-century) in the Requiem and Die Zauberflöte, a view put forward, among others, by Hermann Abert in his monumental Mozart biography of 1919: ‘Even as a boy he had felt powerfully drawn to mysticism, and this tendency now emerged with increasing clarity during the last five years of his life, with the idea of death and the afterlife preoccupying his thoughts to a much greater extent than before, as the once hedonistic composer became increasingly conscious of the existence of a metaphysical world whose terrors he had first felt in Don Giovanni, before revealing its purifying and elevating force to him in Die Zauberflöte, a work that proclaims this force as the highest goal of human aspirations, while the Requiem addresses it from its metaphysical aspect as a power which, remote from all temporal concerns, arouses man’s feelings of guilt and need for redemption.’

The immediate trigger for this view of Mozart was stories about the Requiem that began circulating within weeks of his death. As early as 27 December the Munich-published Der Baierische Landbot reported that, ‘Some months before his death he received an unsigned letter, asking him to write a Requiem and to ask for it what he wanted.  Because this work did not at all appeal to him, he thought, I will ask for so much that the patron will certainly leave me alone.  A servant came the next day for his answer -- Mozart wrote to the unknown patron that he could not write it for less than 60 ducats and then not before 2 or 3 months.  The servant returned immediately with 30 ducats and said he would ask again in 3 months and if the mass were ready he would immediately hand over the other half of the money.  So Mozart had to write it, which he did, often with tears in his eyes, constantly saying: I fear that I am writing a Requiem for myself.’ And the grander biographical narrative that stories like these gave rise to was firmly in place – at least in its outlines – by the end of the eighteenth century:

‘Among the illustrious individuals’ Thomas Busby wrote in the Gentlemen’s Magazine for 1798, ‘who by their superior abilities have ornamented and improved the world, how few have dared to defy the obstacles which envy, arrogance and contending meanness opposed to their progress! Or indignantly to break the shackles which indigence imposes, and dart through that obscurity too well calculated to scatter and quench the rays of genius!  To how small a number have their own country proved [a] beneficent protectress. . . . This has formed the complaint of every age, and will continue to excite the murmurs of suffering merit, till minds of the superior class seize, by independancy of spirit, that ascendency in the scale of worldly power which gives weight and force to human movements, and which can only spring from conscious importance and dignified self-assertion.  The shade of the great Mozart, whose sublime productions have astonished and still continue to delight, all Europe, awakens these reflections - accompanies me in my progress - revives the complaints of neglected genius .’

This was a powerful story, one that in both its details and its broad sweep appealed to a burgeoning Romantic imagination. It dovetailed neatly with contemporaneous sensibilities about art and artists and reinforced the impression that a relatively few well-known documents seem to give, not least the letter Mozart wrote to his father on 4 April 1787, when he first learned that Leopold was, as it turned out, terminally ill:

I’ve just this minute received news that has come as a great blow – not least because I’d assumed from your last letter that, praise be to God, you were feeling well; – but now I hear that you’re very ill! I don’t need to tell you how much I long to receive some reassuring news from you; and I’m sure that I shall – even though I’ve made a habit of always imagining the worst in all things – when looked at closely, death is the true goal of our lives, and so for a number of years I’ve familiarized myself with this true friend of man to such an extent that his image is not only no longer a source of terror to me but is comforting and consoling! And I give thanks to my God that He has given me the good fortune of finding an opportunity – you understand what I mean – of realizing that death is the key to our true happiness. – I never go to bed without thinking that – young as I am – I may no longer be alive the next morning – and yet no one who knows me can say that I’m sullen or sad in my dealings with them – and for this blessing I give daily thanks to my creator and with all my heart wish that all my fellow creatures may feel the same.’

The essentializing nature of these anecdotes and readings runs counter to what is known of Mozart’s life and works. ‘Ich bin ein Mensch wie Du,’ the bird catcher Papageno in Die Zauberflöte says to a startled Tamino, who at first look does not know what to make of the apparently exotic creature he sees. Mozart himself might say the same to us. 

By all accounts his domestic life was generally a happy one. In a letter of 15 December 1781 (by different standards a bit patronizing and prosaic, but perhaps typically of the times and in the end genuinely affectionate), he says of Constanze, ‘Her whole beauty consists in two dark little eyes and a beautiful figure. She has no wit but enough sound common sense to be able to fulfill her duties as a wife and mother. She’s not inclined to extravagance – it’s completely wrong to claim otherwise. – Quite the opposite . . . It’s true that she’d like to dress neatly and cleanly, but not nattily. – And most of the things that a woman needs she can make herself. And she also does her own hair every day. – She understands all about housekeeping and has the kindest heart in the world – I love her, and she loves me with all her heart. – Tell me if I could wish for a better wife?’ And in August 1788, when the Danish actor Joachim Daniel Preisler visited Vienna, he wrote in his diary: ‘In the afternoon Jünger, Lange and Werner came to fetch us to go to Kapellmeister Mozart's. There I had the happiest hour of music that has ever fallen to my lot. This small man and great master twice extemporized on a pedal pianoforte, so wonderfully! so wonderfully that I quite lost myself. He intertwined the most difficult passages with the most lovely themes.—His wife cut quill-pens for the copyist, a pupil composed, a little boy aged four walked about in the garden and sang recitatives—in short, everything that surrounded this splendid man was musical!’

Even in the midst of exceptional musical activities — 1791, when he was engaged in the composition and performance of La clemenza di Tito and Die Zauberflöte as well as writing the Requiem, is only one example — his daily life appears on the whole to have been satisfyingly prosaic, domestic and family-oriented. On 8/9 October he wrote to Constanze, then taking the cure at Baden, ‘I went out by the Stubentor at half past 5 and took my favourite walk along the glacis to the theatre – what do I see? – What do I smell? – – Don Primus with the pork cutlets! – Che gusto! – I’m now eating to your health. . .’ and ‘You should have seen me at supper yesterday! – I couldn’t find the old tableware, so I got out a white one decorated with snowdrops – and placed the double candlestick with wax candles in front of me! . . . I’ve just eaten a delicious piece of sturgeon that my faithful valet Don Primus brought – and as I’m feeling fairly hungry today, I’ve sent him out for some more, if he can find it. – Meanwhile I’ll continue writing to you.’ A few days later, on 14 October, he wrote to her: ‘Yesterday, Thursday the 13th, Hofer drove out with me to see [our son] Carl [at his boarding school], we had lunch out there, then drove home, at 6 I picked up Salieri and Mme Cavalieri in my carriage and drove them to my box – I then hurried off to collect Mama and Carl. . . After the show [Die Zauberflöte] I drove them home and had supper with Carl at Hofer’s. – I then drove home with him and we both had a good night’s sleep. It was no small treat for Carl to be taken to the opera. – He’s looking splendid – in terms of his health he couldn’t be in a better place, but everything else there is unfortunately wretched! – No doubt they can turn out good peasants! – But enough of this, his serious studies – God have mercy on him! – don’t start till Monday and so I’ve asked to keep him till after lunch on Sunday; I said you’d like to see him. . .’. 

Beyond saying something about Mozart’s personal life and happy domesticity, these letters also suggest that, whatever the reasons for his begging letters to Puchberg,  his finances may not have been as perilous as he made out, although it remains difficult to account for them over the course of the decade: he was never forced to do without a maid or other luxuries typical of a person of his standing (including, for a while, his own horse and carriage) but his income was unstable and estimates of his earning are at best incomplete and unreliable. Relatively few specific payments to him, or earnings from concerts and other musical activities, are known: Joseph II gave him 50 ducats for his contest with Clementi, his subscription concerts in 1784 attracted well over 100 patrons at 6 gulden each, his Burgtheater concert on 10 March 1785 netted 559 gulden and his annual salary as court chamber musician, from 1788, was 800 gulden. Teaching provided less, although Mozart enterprisingly formulated a scheme to ensure at least some regularity of payment: ‘I no longer charge for 12 lessons,’ he wrote to his father on 23 January 1782, ‘but monthly. I learnt to my cost that my pupils often dropped out for weeks at a time. So now, whether they learn or not, each of them must pay me 6 ducats.’ Publications may also have brought in substantial sums, although the 450 gulden he received from Artaria for the six quartets dedicated to Haydn was exceptional; for symphonies, sonatas, quintets and other chamber works he probably earned less. In 1791 he may have sold copies of Die Zauberflöte for 100 gulden each and for the composition of an opera he generally received 450 gulden (payments of this amount are documented for Die Entführung, Figaro and La clemenza di Tito). At the same time, Mozart probably had considerable day-to-day expenses. In addition to rent and food, his income had to cover substantial medical bills, child-rearing expenses and a costly wardrobe (only one of the prices he paid for maintaining his standing in Viennese society, though gladly it seems). By all accounts he was generous with his friends, sometimes lending them money. Other expenses must be taken into account too, among them transportation, books, musical instruments, music and manuscript paper, as well as any expenses he may have incurred with local music copyists.

Mozart’s estate documents are difficult to interpret. He was in debt at the time of his death but not excessively, about 300 gulden, less than half his annual salary as court chamber musician, exclusive of his other income for composing, performing and publication. This does not take into account a judgment of more than 1400 gulden awarded by the imperial court in November 1791 to Prince Karl Lichnowsky, who had sued Mozart for unknown reasons (details of the affair are only summarily recorded in the Viennese archives). Nevertheless, Constanze was able not only to pay off Mozart’s debts but also to collect the value of the estate. It may be that she was provided for by Mozart’s friends and patrons, chief among them van Swieten, or that her finances – and Mozart’s had he lived – were secured though the sale of copies of Die Zauberflöte (for which Mozart is reported to have received 100 gulden each) and other music published that year, included the 'Prussian' string quartets (K575, 589 and 590), which appeared only days after Mozart’s death on 5 December.

Not only does Mozart’s domestic life appear to have been both successful and satisfying — in addition to his family he had cultivated a wide circle of friends including the local nobility, the Viennese intelligentsia, his fellow Masons and many of the city’s musicians, actors and impresarios — but his performances and compositions were also well-received, and on the whole better received than the works of any other living composer except Haydn, not only in Vienna but across Europe. Some critics, many of them based in northern Germany where a different style prevailed well into the 1780s, complained that his music was too complicated or too extravagant and sometimes lacking in feeling. A review of Die Entführung in Adolf Knigge’s Dramaturgische Blätter for 1788 noted that

. . . strange harmonies betray the great master, but they are not suitable for the theatre. Herr Weber has frequently remarked in the theatre that, if the fourth in a minor key is unexpectedly heard with the minor third and seventh, or inverted with the augmented sixth, this harmony excited a great sensation, but failed to please most of the listeners on being often repeated, and lost all its effect. For many of the reasons just mentioned, half the beauties of the admirably worked quartet at the end of the second act, for example, go for nothing. This quartet is a veritable masterpiece for the connoisseur, but how few will feel the value of the art that went to its making! Lastly, the vocal line in this opera is too much syncopated in many places, especially in duets, quartets, &c. The singer is not given time to breathe, to give new strength to his voice, and it becomes dull and lame. One fine idea jostles the next and removes it from the listener's admiration.

Similarly, a correspondent for Carl Friedrich Cramer’s Magazin der Musik wrote in 1787 that ‘He is the most skillful and best keyboard player I have ever heard; the pity is only that he aims too high in his artful and truly beautiful compositions in order to become a new creator, whereby it must be said that feeling and heart profit little; his new quartets for 2 violins, viola and bass, which he has dedicated to Haydn, may well be called too highly seasoned – and whose palate can endure this for long? Forgive this simile from the cookery book. . .”. And the Musikalische Real-Zeitung, published at Speier on 13 August 1788, said of the sonata K481, “It were to be wished . . . that Herr M. did not allow himself to be captivated so much by the modish taste of our time . . .’, complaining about hackneyed broken chords and structural imbalance.

However, these voices were the minority. Johann Friedrich Schink, in his Dramaturgische Blätter, wrote that Mozart is ‘great and original in his compositions . . . One swims away with him unresistingly on the stream of his emotions’ while the Wiener Zeitung, reviewing the 1785 Advent Tonkünstler-Sozietät concerts, reported that ‘On the second day Herr Wolfgang Amade Mozart made a change with a concerto of his own composition for the pianoforte, the favourable reception of which we forebear to mention since our praise is superfluous in view of the deserved fame of this master, as well known as he is universally valued.’ Goethe wrote that ‘All our endeavor . . . to confine ourselves to what is simple and limited was lost when Mozart appeared. Die Entführung aus dem Serail conquered all. . .’ and Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart described Mozart as ‘a star of the first magnitude in the present musical firmament.’ A reviewer of Don Giovanni at Hamburg in 1789 says that ‘Mozart is no ordinary composer. He is not content with light, pleasing melodies written down at random. His music is carefully planned, profoundly felt . . .’ and when Figaro was produced at Hanover in 1789, Adolf Knigge’s Dramaturgische Blätter noted that,

It is what was to be expected of Mozart: great and beautiful, full of new ideas and unexpected turns, full of art, fire and genius. Now we are enchanted by beautiful, charming song; now we are made to smile at subtle, comic wit and fancy, now we admire the naturally conceived and superbly executed planning; now the magnificence and greatness of Art takes us by surprise. Where all this is united, it is bound to make its effect and to satisfy the sensitive hearer as well as the experienced and practised expert. Mozart is gifted with the happy genius that can blend art with nature and song with grace. Again he ventures on impetuous and fiery sallies, and how bold are his harmonies! In this opera, too, he shows that he possesses a true talent for the comic-dramatic style, just as his pianoforte things, because they suit the instrument, are acknowledged and admired as masterpieces by the German public and by foreign nations.

The narrative arc of Mozart’s life, then, was not one of childhood brilliance, servitude, an assertion of independence, short-lived acclaim and terminal decline. He was not a victim of his father, an unappreciative archbishop or a fickle Viennese public. Nor was he unhappy in his domestic life, disengaged from the world around him or in chronic financial crisis. In many respects his was a life like many other exemplary lives, in the end and on the whole a successful negotiation — both professionally and personally — of the complex eighteenth-century world. Within days of his death on 5 December 1791, obituaries appeared in newspapers across Europe, something that had not been the case with any previous composer. ‘Mozart . . . is no more’ wrote the Auszug aller europäischen Zeitungen, ‘Mozart . . . whose name will always be celebrated by music lovers’ reported the Frankfurt Freytägigen Frankfurter kaiserlicher Reichs-Ober-Post-Amts-Zeitung, ‘Mozart . . . [who] was considered as the greatest genius, as a Composer, that we ever possessed. . .’ said the Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, and — in the Musikalischen Korrespondenz der teutschen filarmonischen Gesellschaft — ‘All Vienna, and with the imperial capital the whole musical world, mourns the early loss of this immortal man.’

WZ 31 Dec 91 Anhang epitaph - Copy.jpg

Wiener Zeitung, 31 December 1791 (Anhang)


Who rests here, As a child swelled the world's wonders with the strings of his lyre; As a man, he surpassed Orpheus himself.

Go hence! And pray earnestly for his soul! K.

[1] Adapted from Cliff Eisen and Stanley Sadie, Mozart. The New Grove Mozart (London, 2002), 1.

Mozart Relevance
Date 1
1756-01-27, Salzburg
Date 2
1791-12-05, Vienna