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13 January, 2012
Among the Great Masters of Music: Scenes in the Lives of Famous Musicians|
by Walter Rowlands
|It was in 1762 that Leopold Mozart, father of the two musical prodigies, Maria Anna and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, first began to turn to account his children's talent. Wolfgang was then six years old, and his sister between four and five years older. By easy stages the family journeyed to Vienna in the month of September, and it is told that upon their arrival the wonderful boy-musician saved his father the payment of customs duties. He made friends with the custom-house officer, showed him his harpsichord, played him a minuet on his little fiddle, and the thing was done, - "Pass - free of duty."
The imperial family were sincere lovers of music. Charles VI., the father of Maria Theresa, had two passions, hunting and music, and was an accomplished musician. He used to accompany operatic or other performances at court upon the clavier, and also composed pieces. At one time he wrote an opera, which was performed with great splendour in the theatre of his palace. On this occasion the emperor led the orchestra, and his two daughters, Maria Theresa and Maria Anne, danced in the ballet. Lady Mary Wortley Montagu speaks of an opera which she saw at Vienna in 1716, the decorations and dresses of which cost the emperor thirty thousand pounds. He called Metastasio from Italy to compose the operas for his court. Maria Theresa inherited this love of music, and in 1725, when only seven years old, sang in an opera by Fux, at a fête given in honour of her mother, the Empress Elizabeth. Alluding to this, she once said in a joking way to the celebrated singer, Faustina Hasse, that she believed herself to be the first of living vocalists. In 1739 she sang a duet with Senesino so beautifully that the famous old singer was melted to tears. Her husband, Francis I., was also a lover of music, and her daughters were carefully instructed in singing, and often appeared in operatic performances at court. Maria Theresa's son, afterward the Emperor Joseph, also sang well, and played both the harpsichord and the violoncello.
"With a court so favourably disposed toward music, it is not surprising that Leopold, a few days only after his arrival, should have received a command to bring his children on the 13th of October to Schönbrunn, an imperial palace near Vienna, and this without any solicitation on his part. The children remained three hours with the court, and were then obliged to repeat their performance. The Emperor Francis I., the husband of Maria Theresa, took a peculiar interest in the little 'sorcerer.'
"He made the little fellow play with only one finger, in which he perfectly succeeded. An attempt which little Mozart made at the special request of the emperor, to play with the keys covered by a piece of cloth, was also a brilliant success. It was, perhaps, owing to the imperial fancy that this species of artistic trick obtained considerable celebrity, and played a not unimportant part in the little 'sorcerer's' repertoire on all his long journeys. Wolfgang entered readily into any joke that was made with him, but sometimes he could be very serious, as, for instance, when he called for the court composer, Georg Christoph Wagenseil, a thorough connoisseur of the harpsichord, and himself a performer. The emperor stepped back and made Wagenseil come forward, to whom Mozart said, quite seriously, 'I play a concerto by you: you must turn over the pages for me.' The emperor ordered a hundred ducats to be paid to his father. The empress was very kind to the Mozarts, and sent them costly dresses. 'Would you like to know,' writes Leopold to Hagenauer, his host at Salzburg, 'what Wolferl's (a pet name for Wolfgang) dress is like? It is of the finest cloth, lilac-coloured, the vest of moire of the same colour. Coat and top-coat with a double broad border of gold. It was made for the Hereditary Duke Maximilian Franz.' In the picture which is preserved in the Mozart collection at Salzburg, Mozart is painted in this dress. Wolfgang never showed the least embarrassment in the society of the great."
"At court, as elsewhere, Mozart was a bright, happy child. He would spring on the empress's lap, throw his arms around her neck, and kiss her, and play with the princesses on a footing of equality. He was especially devoted to the Archduchess Marie Antoinette. Once, when he fell on the polished floor, she lifted him from the ground and consoled him, while one of her sisters stood by. 'You are good,' said Wolfgang, I will marry you.' The empress asked him why. 'From gratitude,' answered he; 'she was good to me, but her sister stood by and did nothing.'"
Nor was he shy with the Crown Prince Joseph, who, in after years, when emperor, reminded him of his playing duets with Wagenseil, and of Mozart's standing in the audience and calling out, "Fie!" or "That was false!" or "Bravo!" as the case might be.
As was to be expected, the children became the rage in society, and all the ladies fell in love with little Mozart. No musical entertainments could be given without him and Maria Anna, and they appeared in company with the most celebrated performers, being everywhere petted, feasted, and flattered, and receiving many costly gifts.
Their successes induced Leopold Mozart to plan a more extended tour, and in the summer of the next year he and his children set out on a journey which was intended to include visits to Paris and London. The trio arrived in Paris in November, and were greatly befriended by their countryman, Grimm, the encyclopaedist, secretary to the Duke of Orleans. Leopold wrote home thus, about the help this powerful friend had been to them: "He has done everything; he has introduced the matter at court, and arranged the first concert. He, alone, paid me eighty louis-d'ors, then sold three hundred and twenty tickets, and, moreover, bore the expense of lighting with wax. We burnt more than sixty candles. It was he who obtained permission for the concert, and now he is getting up a second, for which a hundred tickets have already been distributed. You see what one man can do, who possesses sense and a kind heart. He is a native of Ratisbon, but has been more than fifteen years in Paris, and knows how to guide everything in the right direction, so that all must happen as he intends."
Little Wolfgang had played before Maria Theresa; now he performed before her ally, Madame de Pompadour, then within a few months of her end, for the all-powerful favourite of Louis XV. died in the following April. Leopold Mozart, writing home to Salzburg, speaks thus of the Pompadour; "She must have been very beautiful, for she is still comely. She is tall and stately; stout, but well proportioned, with some likeness to her Imperial Majesty about the eyes. She is proud, and has a remarkable mind." Mozart's sister remembered in after days how she placed little Wolfgang on the table before her, but pushed him aside when he bent forward to kiss her, on which he indignantly asked: "Who is this that does not want to kiss me? The empress kissed me." The king's daughters were much more friendly, and, contrary to all etiquette, kissed and played with the children, both in their own apartments and in the public corridors.
As before at Vienna and afterward in London, the little Mozarts made a great hit in Paris, and performed before the most distinguished audiences. Grimm relates in his correspondence "a truly astonishing instance of the boy's genius." Wolfgang accompanied a lady in an Italian air without seeing the music, supplying the harmony for the passage which was to follow from that which he had just heard. This could not be done without some mistakes, but when the song was ended he begged the lady to sing it again, played the accompaniment and the melody itself with perfect correctness, and repeated it ten times, altering the character of the accompaniment for each. On a melody being dictated to him, he supplied the bass and the parts without using the clavier at all; he showed himself in all ways so accomplished that his father was convinced he would obtain service at court on his return home. Leopold Mozart now thought the time was come for introducing the boy as a composer, and he printed four sonatas for the piano and violin, rejoicing at the idea of the noise which they would make in the world, appearing with the announcement on the title-page that they were the work of a child of seven years old. He thought well of these sonatas, independently of their childish authorship; one andante especially "shows remarkable taste." When it happened that, in the last trio of Opus 2, a mistake of the young master, which his father had corrected (consisting of three consecutive fifths for the violin), was printed, he consoled himself by reflecting that "they can serve as a proof that Wolfgangerlf wrote the sonatas himself, which, naturally, not everyone would believe."
Less than thirty years had passed since these triumphant days in the life of the child Mozart, when there came the end of that wonderful career. In the summer of Mozart's last year, - 1791, - he was at work on the concluding portions of "The Magic Flute," when one day he received a visit from a stranger. This man, tall, gaunt, and solemn in manner, clad all in gray, handed the composer an anonymous letter, sealed in black, requesting him to write a "Requiem" as quickly as possible, and asking the price. Mozart agreed to do the work and received from the messenger fifty (some say a hundred) ducats, with a promise of more upon completion of the piece, he agreeing to make no effort to discover who his patron was. The unknown messenger then went away, saying, "I shall return when it is time."
It is known now that this mysterious go-between was Leutgeb, the steward of Count Franz von Walsegg of Stuppach, who often obtained musical compositions in this way, copied them, and had them performed as his own. The count desired the "Requiem" for his wife, who had died in the preceding February, and it was sung as his own production and under his direction on the 15th of December, 1793.
But Mozart knew nothing of patron or steward; his spirits were depressed by trouble, and he grew superstitious over the strange affair. Near the end of August, he was about to set out for Prague to attend the coronation of Leopold II., upon which occasion the composer's music to Metastasio's festival opera was to be performed. Just as he was stepping into the carriage the mysterious messenger appeared suddenly and inquired as to the "Requiem," to which Mozart answered by excuses. "When will it be ready?" "I will work on it without ceasing on my return." "Good," said the stranger, "I shall rely on your promise." True to his word, upon again reaching home, Mozart, though feeling melancholy and far from well, worked steadily upon the "Requiem." Always cheerful until now, his low spirits increased, and he imagined that he was writing his own death-mass. In November, his illness grew alarming, and a consultation of physicians was held. "Mozart's only consolation during his suffering was to hear of the repeated performances of 'Die Zauberflöte.' He would follow the representations in spirit, laying his watch beside him, and saying, 'Now the first act is over. Now they are come to the place, "The great Queen of Night,"' etc. Only the day before his death he expressed a wish that he might hear 'Die Zauberflöte' once more. He hummed to himself the song, 'Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja.' Capellmeister Roser, who happened to be with him, went to the harpsichord and played and sang the song, which appeared greatly to cheer Mozart. Nevertheless, the 'Requiem' occupied him continually. As soon as he had finished a piece, he had it rehearsed by the friends who happened to be present. At two o'clock in the afternoon of the day before his death, Schack, who was the first 'Tamino,' sang soprano, Mozart himself contralto, Hofer, his brother-in-law, tenor, and Geri, who was the first 'Sarastro,' bass. At the 'Lacrymosa' Mozart began to weep violently, and laid down the score. Toward evening, when his sister-in-law, Sophie Haibl, came in, Mozart begged her to remain and help Constance, as he felt death approaching. She went out again just to tell her mother and to fetch a priest. When she returned she found Mozart in lively conversation with Süssmayer. 'Did I not say that I was writing the "Requiem" for myself?' he said; and then, with a sure presentiment of approaching death, he charged his wife instantly to inform Albrechtsberger, on whom his post at St. Stephen's would devolve. Late in the evening he lost consciousness. But the 'Requiem' still seemed to occupy him, and he puffed out his cheeks as if he would imitate a wind instrument, the 'Tuba mirum spar gens sonum.' Toward midnight his eyes became fixed. Then he appeared to fall into slumber, and about one o'clock in the morning of the 5th of December he died."
The "Requiem" was left incomplete, and Mozart's widow entrusted to Süssmayer the task of finishing the imperfect portions. But the greatest part of it is the work of Mozart.