Mozart &
Material Culture


1770-04-14 : Letter from Leopold Mozart to Anna Maria Mozart

The full text of this letter reads:

                                                                                                                                                                            Rome 14 April 1770

We arrived here safely at midday on the 11th. I could more easily have been persuaded to return to Salz. than come to Rome as we spent 5 days travelling from Florence to Rome in the most appalling rain and cold wind. In Rome itself I heard that it`s been raining constantly for the last 4 months, and we certainly got a taste of this when we went to the Sistine Chapel to hear the Miserere[1] during Mass on the Wednesday and Thursday, setting off on both occasions in fine weather, only to be caught in such a terrible downpour on our way home that our coats have never been as wet as they were on that occasion. But I won`t bore you with a long description of our appalling journey here. Imagine only a largely uncultivated country and the most appalling inns, filth everywhere, nothing to eat except - if we were lucky - the occasional meal of eggs and broccoli: and sometimes they even made a fuss about giving us eggs on fast days. Fortunately we got a decent supper and slept well in Viterbo. While there we saw St Rosa of Viterbo |: like St Catherine of Bologna in Bologna[2] |: she  can be seen in a perfectly preserved state. From the former we took away an ague powder and some relics as a souvenir, from the latter a belt.[3]

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[4] 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. This is all the more surprising in that we had to pass through two doors patrolled by Swiss Guards in armour and force our way through several 100 people - and remember that as yet we`d made no acquaintances. 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 helped us through everywhere. They thought that 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 two cardinals, one of whom was Cardinal Pallavicini. The latter beckoned to Wolfg., saying: 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 me. To this, Wolfg. asked: Aren`t you Cardinal Pallavicini? - - The cardinal answered: Yes, I am, why? - - So Wolfg. told 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.[6]

As we were leaving, Wolfg. kissed his hand, and the cardinal removed his biretta and bowed very politely. You`ll often have heard of the famous Miserere in Rome, which is held in such high regard that the chapel musicians are forbidden on pain of excommunication to remove even a single part from the chapel, still less to copy it out or to give it to anyone else. But we already have it. Wolfg. has already written it down, and we`d have sent it to Salzb. with this letter except that it would require our presence to perform it; the manner of its performance must play a greater role than the work itself, and so we`ll bring it home with us, and as it`s one of Rome`s secrets, we don`t want it to fall into the wrong hands, ut non incurremus mediate vel immediate in Censuram Ecclesiæ.[7]

We`ve already explored St Peter’s, and I`ve no doubt that none of the local sights will be overlooked. Tomorrow |: God willing :| we`ll see His Holiness preach. You simply can`t imagine how arrogant the local clergy are. Any abbate who has even so much as the slightest contact with a cardinal thinks himself as good as the cardinal himself. And whenever he`s on papal business, every cardinal drives with a corteggio of 3 or 4 carriages, each of them crammed full of chaplains, secretaries and valets, each taking up as much space as he can, and so I`m already looking forward to tomorrow when I shall walk straight past all these proud gentlemen and leave them guessing who we are, as we`ve not yet presented ourselves anywhere on account of the foot-washing ceremony. On Monday we`ll make a start delivering our 20 letters of recommendation. Pleased though I am that the two of you didn`t come with us on this trip, I`m sorry that you`re not able to see all the towns and cities of Italy, but especially Rome. It`s unnecessary, indeed impossible, to describe it in only a few words. Once again I advise you to read Keyssler’s `s account of his travels. I wrote to you from Bologna and Florence. 2 hours after our arrival we called at the German College and found Herr von Mölk in excellent health, as were all our other acquaintances there. Out of regard for Herr von Mölk  I intend to get Wolfg. to perform for the whole college as they`d very much like to hear him. Abbate Marcobruni has already sorted out our lodgings in a private house: but there`s only one room here and we need 2 to receive people who call on us, so we`ll be moving this evening to more spacious accommodation. Today and yesterday I`ve been something of an invalid as I took 3 digestive powders, but I now feel well again |: thank God :|. Wolfg. also feels well and is sending you a contredanse.[8]

He`d like Herr Cirillus Hofmann to compose the steps for it; when the 2 violins play as leaders, he wants only 2 people to lead the dance, but each time that the full orchestra comes in with all the instruments, the whole company should then dance together. It would be best if it were danced by 5 couples. The first couple starts the first solo. The 2nd dances the 2nd and so on, as there are 5 solos and 5 tuttis. The season is fast approaching that causes me the greatest anxiety as it will soon be getting hot; but everyone tells me that Naples has much better air and that it`s far healthier than Rome. And so I`ll need to take all possible precautions to ensure that we can set off on our return journey with no risk to our lives, especially from the bad air and malaria. But since everything depends on the weather and especially on the heavy rain and wind, I can neither decide nor write. Herr Meisner is in Naples, we hope to see him there in 3 or 4 weeks` time. Pray diligently to dear God for our health: we`ll be all right, for I can assure you that we`re taking every possible care and that Wolfg. pays as much attention to his health as if he were the most grown up of people. May God keep you, too, in good health. Remember us to all our good friends, I am your old

Wolfg. and I kiss you and Nannerl 1000 times.

[Mozart’s postscript:]
Praise and thanks be to God, I and my wretched pen are well, and I kiss Mama and Nannerl a thousand or 1000 times. I only wish my sister were in Rome, she`d certainly like the city, as St Peter’s is regular, and many other things in Rome are regular too. The most beautiful flowers are just being carried past, Papa has just this moment told me so. I`m a fool, as everyone knows. Oh, I`m having a hard time, there`s only one bed in our lodgings, Mama can easily imagine that I get no sleep with Papa, I`m looking forward to our new rooms: I`ve just drawn a picture of St Peter with his keys, St Paul with his sword and St Luke with my sister etc. etc., I had the honour of kissing St Peter`s foot in St Peter’s, and as I`m unfortunate enough to be so small, it was necessary for me, that same old fool
Wolfgang Mozart,
to be lifted up.


[1] Miserere mei, Deus (Have mercy on me, O God'), a setting of Psalm 51 (50) by Gregorio Allegri. Probably composed during the 1630s, it was sung in the Sistine Chapel during matins as part of the Tenebrae service on Holy Wednesday and Good Friday.

[2] The body of St Catherine Vigrì is today preserved at the Convento del Corpus Dominici di Bologna, where she was abbess from 1456-1463.

[3] It is possible, though by no means certain, that some relics acquired by Leopold Mozart survive in a collection of artifacts once owned by the Hagenauer family; see Eisen, ‘A New Mozart Portrait?’

[4] The functiones of Holy Thursday focus on the ritual washing of the feet which is associated with the Mass celebrating the Last Supper, when Jesus washed the feet of the twelve apostles.

[5] Apparently only one of these letters survives in draft, from Count Gian Luca Pallavicini, dated 28 March: 'Bologna, 28 March 1770. Count Firmian has most assiduously recommended to me Sig. Leopoldo Mozart, chapel master in the service of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, and his son, a boy of such uncommon merit in music that at his tender age he not only equals the masters of the art, but perhaps even exceeds them in readiness of invention. To make this singular merit of his known to the Cardinal-Legate and to the nobility here I held a conversazione at my house on Monday evening, where to great admiration he was pronounced a prodigy, and as such was judged by the celebrated master Padre Martini, who was present. The said professors are now leaving for Tuscany, where they will stay only a few days, in order to find themselves in Rome for Holy Week, and I urgently recommend them to Your Eminence, begging you to honour them with your protection during their sojourn there. Since I recognize in the boy Mozart a truly extraordinary merit, I beg to suggest to Your Eminence that you let him be heard by our Lord, the more so because without the noise of instruments and in the presence of a single chapel master, who may examine him at the harpsichord, he will be able to give such proofs of his prowess that I flatter myself he will meet with His Holiness’s entire satisfaction. I shall be greatly beholden to Your Eminence if you will extend these favours to Messrs. Mozart, of which you will find them very worthy, and also give them your attention as being recommended by me; and with constant, cordial and unwavering devotion I subscribe myself Your Eminence’s Most devoted and most obliged servant and cousin C. P.' Bologna, Archivio di Stato; see Deutsch, Mozart. A Documentary Biography, 113-114. Lazzaro Oppizio Pallavicini replied on 21 April: 'Your Excellency, I reckon as my particular good fortune any occurrence which brings me your valued commands, since the devotion which I owe you always equals the pleasure I experience in obeying you. You may thus understand the satisfaction I have had in acting upon your praiseworthy request on behalf of Sig. Leopoldo Mozart, chapel master in the service of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, and of his son. The testimonial which your most sensitive discernment procured me about the latter’s extraordinary talent for music only enhanced the interest I shall take on all occasions in everything that is of advantage to you and which makes me hope that I may deserve the honour of further commands from you; in expectation of which, and with the accustomed respectful and unvarying regard, I kiss your hands from my very heart. Your Excellency’s ... Rome, 21 April 1770. [autograph postscript:] It is certainly not often the case that Pontiffs hear musical virtuosi in their chambers; however, I addressed myself to the gentlemen amateurs, and last night, at my instigation, Prince Chigi engaged the one recommended by you to play. I was present, and no less than all the others there assembled admired the incomparable singularity of the enormous progress this boy has made a such a tender age in the difficult science and performance of music. The said youth is truly amazing. May Your Excellency continue to love me and to believe me when I truthfully declare myself Your true servant and most affectionate cousin, Lazzaro, Cardinal Pallavicini.' Bologna, Archivio di Stato; see Deutsch, Mozart. A Documentary Biography, 117-118.

[6] 'I too can speak a little German'.

[7] 'so that we shall not incur the Church`s censure, either now or later.'

[8] Almost certainly K123.

Mozart, Leopold (1719-1787)
Mozart, Anna Maria (1720-1778)
Date 1
Date (Mozart)
Location (Mozart)
Bibliographic Reference
Mozart-L, 17700414