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13 January, 2012
The Loves of Great Composers|
Mozart and his Constance
by Gustav Kobbé
|Nearly eight years after Mozart's death his widow, in response to a request from a famous publishing house for relics of the composer, sent, among other Mozartiana, a packet of letters written to her by her husband. In transmitting these she wrote:
"Especially characteristic is his great love for me, which breathes through all the letters. Is it not true - those from the last year of his life are just as tender as those written during the first year of our marriage?" She added that she would like to have this fact especially mentioned "to his honor" in any biography in which the data she sent were to be used. This request was not prompted by vanity, but by a just pride in the love her husband had borne her and which she still cherished. The love of his Constance was the solace of Mozart's life.
The wonder-child, born in Salzburg in 1756, and taken by his father from court to court, where he and his sister played to admiring audiences, did not, like so many wonder-children, fade from public view, but with manhood fulfilled the promise of his early years and became one of the world's great masters of music. But his genius was not appreciated until too late. The world of to-day sees in Mozart the type of the brilliant, careless Bohemian, whom it loves to associate with art, and long since has taken him to its heart. But the world of his own day, when he asked for bread, offered him a stone.
Mozart died young; he was only thirty-five. His sufferings were crowded into a few years, but throughout these years there stood by his side one whose love soothed his trials and brightened his life, - the Constance whom he adored. What she wrote to the publishers was strictly true. His last letters to her breathed a love as fervent as the first.
Some six months before he died, she was obliged to go to Baden for her health. "You hardly will believe," he writes to her, "how heavily time hangs on my hands without you. I cannot exactly explain my feelings. There is a void that pains me; a certain longing that cannot be satisfied, hence never ceases, continues ever, aye, grows from day to day. When I think how happy and childlike we would be together in Baden and what sad, tedious hours I pass here! I take no pleasure in my work, because I cannot break it off now and then for a few words with you, as I am accustomed to. When I go to the piano and sing something from the opera ["The Magic Flute"], I have to stop right away, it affects me so. Basta! - if this very hour I could see my way clear to you, the next hour wouldn't find me here." In another letter written at this time he kisses her "in thought two thousand times."
When Mozart first met Constance, she was too young to attract his notice. He had stopped at Mannheim on his way to Paris, whither he was going with his mother on a concert tour. Requiring the services of a music copyist, he was recommended to Fridolin Weber, who eked out a livelihood by copying music and by acting as prompter at the theatre. His brother was the father of Weber, the famous composer, and his own family, which consisted of four daughters, was musical. Mozart's visit to Mannheim occurred in 1777, when Constance Weber was only fourteen.
[Illustration: Mozart at the age of eleven. From a painting by Van der Smissen in the Mozarteum, Salzburg.]
Of her two older sisters the second, Aloysia, had a beautiful voice and no mean looks, and the young genius was greatly taken with her from the first. He induced his mother to linger in Mannheim much longer than was necessary. Aloysia became his pupil; and under his tuition her voice improved wonderfully. She achieved brilliant success in public, and her father, delighted, watched with pleasure the sentimental attachment that was springing up between her and Mozart. Meanwhile Leopold Mozart was in Salzburg wondering why his wife and son were so long delaying their further journey to Paris.
When he received from Wolfgang letters full of enthusiasm over his pupil, coupled with a proposal that instead of going to Paris, he and his mother should change their destination to Italy and take the Weber family along, in order that Aloysia might further develop her talents there, he got an inkling of the true state of affairs and was furious. He had large plans for his son, knew Weber to be shiftless and the family poor, and concluded that, for their own advantage, they were endeavoring to trap Wolfgang into a matrimonial alliance. Peremptory letters sent wife and son on their way to Paris, and the elder Mozart was greatly relieved when he knew them safely beyond the confines of Mannheim.
Mozart's stay in Paris was tragically brought to an end by his mother's death. He set out for his return to Salzburg, intending, however, to stop at Mannheim, for he still remembered Aloysia affectionately. Finding that the Weber family had moved to Munich, he went there. But as soon as he came into the presence of the beautiful young singer her manner showed that her feelings toward him had cooled. Thereupon, his ardor was likewise chilled, and he continued on his way to Salzburg, where he arrived, much to his father's relief, still "unattached."
When Mozart departed from Munich, he probably thought that he was leaving behind him forever, not only the fickle Aloysia, but the rest of the Weber family as well. How slight our premonition of fate! For, if ever the inscrutable ways of Providence brought two people together, those two were Mozart and Constance Weber. Nor was Aloysia without further influence on his career. She married an actor named Lange, with whom she went to Vienna, where she became a singer at the opera. There Mozart composed for her the rôle of Constance in his opera, "The Elopement from the Seraglio." For the eldest Weber girl, Josepha, who had a high, flexible soprano, he wrote one of his most brilliant rôles, that of the Queen of the Night in "The Magic Flute." I am anticipating somewhat in the order of events that I may correct an erroneous impression regarding Mozart's marriage, which I find frequently obtains. He composed the rôle of Constance for Aloysia shortly before he married the real Constance; and this has led many people to believe that he took the younger sister out of pique, because he had been rejected by Aloysia. Whoever believes this has a very superficial acquaintance with Mozart's biography. Five years had passed since he had parted from Aloysia at Munich. The youthful affair had blown over; and when they met again in Vienna she was Frau Lange. Mozart's marriage with Constance was a genuine love-match. It was bitterly opposed by his father, who never became wholly reconciled to the woman of his son's choice, and met with no favor from her mother. Fridolin Weber had died. Altogether the omens were unfavorable, and there were obstacles enough to have discouraged any but the most ardent couple. So much for the pique story.
Mozart went to Vienna in 1781 with the Archbishop of Salzburg, by whom, however, he was treated with such indignity that he left his service. Whom should he find in Vienna but his old friends the Webers! Frau Weber was glad enough of the opportunity to let lodgings to Mozart, for, as in Mannheim and Munich, the family was in straitened circumstances. As soon as the composer's father heard of this arrangement, he began to expostulate. Finally Mozart changed his lodgings; but this step had the very opposite effect hoped for by Leopold Mozart, for separation only increased the love that had sprung up between the young people since they had met again in Vienna, and Mozart had found the little fourteen-year-old girl of his Mannheim visit grown to young womanhood.
There seems little doubt that the Webers, with the exception of Constance, were a shiftless lot. They had drifted from place to place and had finally come to Vienna, because Aloysia had moved there with her husband. When Mozart finally decided to marry Constance, come what might, he wrote his father a letter which shows that his eyes were wide open to the faults of the family, and by the calm, almost judicial, manner in which he refers to the virtues of his future wife, that his was no hastily formed attachment, based merely on superficial attractions.
He does not spare the family in his analysis of their traits. If he seems ungallant in his references to his future Queen of the Night and to the prima donna of his "Elopement from the Seraglio," to say nothing of his former attachment for her, one must remember that this is a letter from a son to a father, in which frankness is permissible. He admits the intemperance and shrewishness of the mother; characterizes Josepha as lazy and vulgar; calls Aloysia a malicious person and coquette; dismisses the youngest, Sophie, as too young to be anything but simply a good though thoughtless creature. Surely not an attractive picture and not a family one would enter lightly.
What drew him to Constance? Let him answer that question himself. "But the middle one, my good, dear Constance," he writes to his father, "is a martyr among them, and for that reason, perhaps, the best hearted, cleverest, and, in a word, the best among them.... She is neither homely nor beautiful. Her whole beauty lies in two small, dark eyes and in a fine figure. She is not brilliant, but has common sense enough to perform her duties as wife and mother. She is not extravagant; on the contrary, she is accustomed to go poorly dressed, because what little her mother can do for her children she does for the others, but never for her. It is true that she would like to be tastefully and becomingly dressed, but never expensively; and most of the things a woman needs she can make for herself. She does her own coiffure every day [head-dress must have been something appalling in those days]; understands housekeeping; has the best disposition in the world. We love each other with all our hearts. Tell me if I could ask a better wife for myself?"
The letter is so touchingly frank and simple that whoever reads it must feel that the portrait Mozart draws of his Constance is absolutely true to life. He makes no attempt to paint her as a paragon of beauty and intellect. It is a picture of the neglected member of a household - neglected because of her homely virtues, the one fair flower blooming in the dark crevice of this shiftless menage. And at the end of the letter is the one cry which, since the world was young, has defied and brought to naught the doubting counsels of wiser heads: "We love each other with all our hearts."
The elder Mozart, fearful for his son's future, had kept himself informed of what was going on in Vienna. He knew that when his son's attentions to Constance became marked, her guardian had compelled him to sign a promise of marriage. In this the father again saw a trap laid for his son, who in worldly matters was as unversed as a child. But Leopold Mozart did not know how the episode ended, and little suspected that future generations would see in it one of the most charming incidents in the love affairs of great men. For, when her guardian had left the house, Constance asked her mother for the paper, and as soon as she had it in her hands, tore it up, exclaiming: "Dear Mozart, I do not need a written promise from you. I trust your words."
Frau Weber saw in Mozart, the suitor, a possible contributor to the household expenses, and as soon as she learned that he and Constance intended to set up for themselves, she became bitterly opposed to the match. Finally a titled lady, Baroness von Waldstadter, took the young people under her protection, and Constance went to live with her to escape her mother's nagging. Frau Weber then planned to force her daughter to return to her by legal process. Immediate marriage was the only method of escape from the scandal this would entail; and so, August 4, 1782, Mozart and his Constance were married in the Church of St. Stephen, Vienna. When at last they had all obstacles behind them and stood at the altar as one, they were so overcome by their feelings that they began to cry; and the few bystanders, including the priest, were so deeply affected by their happiness that they too were moved to tears.
[Illustration: Constance, wife of Mozart. From an engraving by Nissen.]
Although poor, Mozart, through his music, had become acquainted with titled personages and was known at court. He and Constance, shortly after their wedding, were walking in the Prater with their pet dog. To make the dog bark, Mozart playfully pretended to strike Constance with his cane. At that moment the Emperor, chancing to come out of a summer house and seeing Mozart's action, which he misinterpreted, began chiding him for abusing his wife so shortly after they had been married. When his mistake was explained to him, he was highly amused. Later he could not fail to hear of the couple's devotion. "Vienna was witness to these relations," wrote a contemporary of Mozart's and Constance's love for each other; and when Aloysia and her husband quarrelled and separated, the Emperor, meeting Constance and referring to her sister's troubles, said, "What a difference it makes to have a good husband."
In spite of poverty and its attendant struggles, Mozart's marriage was a happy one, because it was a marriage of love. Like every child of genius, he had his moods, but Constance adapted herself to them and thereby won his confidence and gained an influence over him which, however, she brought into play only when the occasion demanded. When he was thinking out a work, he was absent-minded, and at such times she always was ready to humor him, and even cut his meat for him at table, as he was apt during such periods of abstraction to injure himself. But when he had a composition well in mind, to put it on paper seemed little more to him than copying; and then he loved to have her sit by him and tell him stories - yes, regular fairy tales and children's stories, as if he himself still were a child. He would write and listen, drop his pen and laugh, and then go on with work again. The day before the first performance of "Don Giovanni," when the final rehearsal already had been held, the overture still remained unwritten. It had to be written overnight, and it was she who sat by him and relieved the rush and strain of work with her cheerful prattle. It is said that, among other things, she read to him the story of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp." Be that as it may; - she rubbed the lamp, and the overture to "Don Giovanni" appeared.
Would that their life could be portrayed in a series of such charming pictures! but grinding poverty was there also, and the bitterness of disappointed hopes. His sensitive nature could not withstand the repeated material shocks to which it was subjected. And the pity is, that it gave way just when there seemed a prospect of a change. "The Magic Flute" had been produced with great success, and that in the face of relentless opposition from envious rivals; and orders from new sources and on better terms were coming to him. But the turn of the tide was too late. When he received an order for a Requiem from a person who wished his identity to remain unknown - he was subsequently discovered to be a nobleman, who wanted to produce the work as his own - Mozart already felt the hand of death upon him and declared that he was composing the Requiem for his own obsequies. Even after he was obliged to take to his bed, he worked at it, saying it was to be his Requiem and must be ready in time. The afternoon before he died, he went over the completed portions with three friends, and at the Lachrymosa burst into tears. In the evening he lost consciousness, and early the following morning, December 5, 1791, he passed away. The immediate cause of death was rheumatic fever with typhoid complications, and his distracted widow, hoping to catch the same disease and be carried away by it, threw herself upon his bed. She was too prostrated to attend his funeral, which, be it said to the shame of his friends, was a shabby affair. The day was stormy, and after the service indoors they left before the actual burial, which was in one of the "common graves," holding ten or twelve bodies and intended to be worked over every few years for new interments. When, as soon as Constance was strong enough, she visited the cemetery there was a new grave-digger, who upon being questioned could not locate her husband's grave, and to this day Mozart's last resting-place is unknown.
It must not be reckoned against Constance that, eighteen years after Mozart's death, she married again. For she did not forget the man on whom her heart first was set. Her second husband, Nissen, formerly Danish chargé d'affaires in Vienna, is best known by the biography of Mozart which he wrote under her guidance. They removed to Mozart's birthplace, Salzburg, where Nissen died in 1826. Constance's death was strangely associated with Mozart's memory. It was as if in her last moments she must go back to him who was her first love. For she died in Salzburg, on March 6, 1842, a few hours after the model for the Mozart monument, which adorns one of the spacious squares of the city where the composer was born, was received there. She had been the life-love of a child of genius and, without being singularly gifted herself, had understood how to humor his whims and adapt herself to his moods in which sunshine often was succeeded by shadow. It was singularly appropriate that, surviving him many years, she yet died under circumstances which formed a new link between her and his memory.