The greatest stranger to Mozart was Mozart himself. The greatest gifts he made were given to those who never helped him. More than any other light in music he needed a true friend; he never found one. His heart overflowed with the most tender and ideal love that imagination can create, but it never was appreciated as long as it burned. When a boy of five or six he astounded Europe by his magnificent concert-playing; thirty years later his coffin was piled upon others in a potter’s-field trench. Such, in brief, is the history of Wolfgang Mozart.
Of Mozart’s early boyhood little is known beyond the traditionary folk-lore that lurks about the early history of most of the great musicians of a century and more ago.
His most prominent characteristics were his best, and, for that matter, he never had any bad traits. He showed early that his delicate sensitiveness was second only to a generous, unaffected and kind disposition. All through life he was thus. It might be said that he was born a gentleman. He was an extremely affectionate child, and was deferential to his mates and to his elders. So classically pure was his mind and so instinctively ideal were his likes that he could not see the imperfect nor bear to view pain or distress without experiencing an emotion so physically active as to reflect in counterpart the pain or distress that he noticed. Such a supersensitiveness naturally reacted unfavorably, and thus it came that, because his mind was so superior to his body, his body suffered and was easy prey to the subsequent life of irregularity, exposure, and deprivation.
None the less, Mozart was a boy in the fullest sense of the word. Though he romped and spun somersaults in laces and velvet, he was just as boyish and whole-souled about it as Wagner in his madcap pranks with butcher’s boys, or Schubert in his beduck pond village. As a boy Mozart was full of humor. He liked a good joke hugely and never failed to perpetrate one on others when chance offered. In this, however, he was never boisterous or untimely. His humor, like his music was the outgrowth of an irrepressible love for the beautiful and joyous.
Mozart’s incomprehensible precocity is elsewhere dilated upon. At the age of three years he had composed a minuet so perfect in its simplicity that one is in despair for words of comment At six he was traveling with his father, giving concerts all over Europe and composing almost constantly. At that age his piano-playing was marvelous, besides which he was an excellent violinist. He was petted by the highest in lands and courts into which his fame preceded him. Far from being the inscrutable genius one would think, Mozart was fresh, naïve, unspoiled, and full of life and spring.
Enjoy this Rondo-Allegro from Mozart's Violin and Piano Sonata in B Flat Major performed by Solenne Paidassi, violin and Valentina Lisitsa, piano:
The high-water mark in Mozart’s musical career was reached during the two years he spent in Italy. He was in his thirteenth and fourteenth years, and had been concertizing for a long time prior to that. His life had been spent in courts and palaces, and his articles, childish affection had made him the favorite of the court ladies wherever he appeared.
He slipped from the laps of princesses to compose grand operas. At the age of nine he melted the Empress Maria Theresa to tears by his beautiful violin-playing only to mischievously paraphrase his tender music into a grotesque “barn-yard” impromptu that began with the bray of a donkey and ended with a terrific cat-fight three inches from the bridge on his instrument. Then he threw his arms around the good lady’s neck and begged her pardon for the prank.
Five years later he was commissioned to write an opera for the Christmas festivities at Milan and at the age of fourteen conducted his opera at La Scala before a delirious multitude of nobles and folk who swayed under the boy’s enchantment as a field of golden grain bends beneath the breezes of summer.
“’Evviva the Little Master—Evviva the Little Master!’ cried the audience. ‘It is music for the stars,’ and, against all precedent, aria after aria had to be repeated. The boy, always rather small for his age, stood on a chair to wield his baton, and the flowers that were rained upon him nearly covered the lad from view.” (Elbert Hubbard, in “Little Journeys.”)
As may well be imagined, Mozart’s money came and went with a perpetual motion that increased with his years. He was an easy mark for hungry and thirsty mendicants, and the most improbable tale of woe would as surely attract money out of his pocket (if he had any at the time) as a lodestone a needle.
His father, Leopold Mozart, was to blame for this improvidence. He had been the traveling guardian of his marvelous son during all of the concert-trips and was a man easily satisfied. “But what must we pay you, Herr Mozart?” he was once asked. Said the elder man with delightful abandon: “Oh, give us a special carriage and a good hotel; that will do. And don’t forget that I like ‘Johannesberger.’” Is it little wonder then that Wolfgang never knew the value of money? As was the case with many great musicians, his first impulse was to give and give unthinkingly. He lacked, moreover, diplomacy. He would give a beggar a gold piece to dine on and himself eat for a few kreutzers. Rightly might he be likened to the man who, when “held up” by a midnight prowler, said briskly: “Hello, old scout! Say, you take everything I’ve got and give me the rest, and I’ll be satisfied.”
Mozart’s heart was on his sleeve until he married. His wife was the sister of his first “great passion.” He was like Browning’s “Last Dutchess”: he “liked whate’er he looked on.” But if his loves were promiscuous they were pure and always tinged with idealism. Like the music which he wrote, his heart was a ceaseless flow of love’s melody. Like an ethereal Aeolian harp, its strings were sensitive to every passing breeze. His heart was ever responding to what it believed to be its chosen mate. Alas! that mate was never found save the ideal within it, and when Mozart married he married himself.
Mozart was scarcely twenty when he met Aloysia Weber. She was a good singer, but a woman of whims, thoroughly selfish, and utterly heartless. Well, they made promises—Mozart was in heaven, and Aloysia thought he “was a nice little man” (a’nettes, Kleines Kerlschen). For once in his life old Leopold Mozart showed common sense and hurried his son to Paris. The lovers had met in Vienna. But Mozart’s Lochinvarian instincts had been aroused. Back to Vienna he would, and back to Vienna he went. When he appeared before his mistress, however, she tapped her large foot impatiently. She had meanwhile transferred her affections to another. She could not love both, she was sorry for Herr Mozart, but, well the best thing they could do was to part.
Broken-hearted, Mozart became sick, and a serious spell of illness followed. Aloysia had a younger sister, Constanze Weber, who was as gentle, meek, and sympathetic as her more accomplished sister was superciliously superior and merciless. She wept oceans of tears over Mozart’s bed, and nursed him back to strength. Of course, Mozart’s affections rallied, and naturally transferred themselves to his nurse. I say naturally, for he would have married a charcoal burner’s grandmother if she had begged him to, and cried a few tears.
Their housekeeping was queer; in fact, it was scarcely to be spoken of with any degree of seriousness. To begin with Constance was as much a child as her husband, and it is shrewdly questioned whether she ever used a broom or a dish-rag. When money was plentiful she would buy silk parasols and confectionery—then borrow flour and coffee from a neighbor for their dinner, and promenade with one shoe run down at the heel.
The borrowed provisions she invariably forgot to return, and the frequent failure to pay the rent kept what few clothes they did have constantly packed and ready for a move.
They mostly slept on straw, and lived on a gust of wind, with occasional flights into an expensive restaurant or a few days’ sojourn in elegant rooms ridiculously beyond their means. Yet amidst all the irregularity of living they loved one another devotedly, albeit Constance showed her solicitude more by buying Mozart useless gifts than by darning his socks.
Mozart’s love for her, on the contrary, was beautifully pathetic. If he rose early to fasten on paper some immortal melody his dreams had inspired, he would leave a tender love-letter by his sleeping wife’s bedside. A biographer has given us one such: “Guten Morgen liebes Frauschen,” it runs.
Immeasurable power of genius! From a pallet a swain would scorn, overburdened and underfed, this young man, buoyed with hope and goldened by love, could arise to a new day and could not be discouraged. To him life was full of promise, and riches untold beckoned him onward. But Constance became sick and her continued illness gave him man a heart-throb of miserable pain. He was constantly working and slaving for the selfish and unappreciative.
His creditors hounded him, and from those who owed him he could get no justice. At the age of thirty-five his vitality, sapped and undermined by years of exposure and semi-starvation, gave way suddenly, and in a short while rapidly declined.
Enjoy the Diana Damrau’s performance of the “Queen of the Night Aria” in a Royal Opera House production of Mozart’s, Magic Flute:
The Death and Burial.
A mere skeleton of his formal self, wasted by lack of suitable nourishment, Mozart died as quietly and simply as a brief glow from a dying sunset is succeeded by the purple shadows of twilight. He died penniless as far as the world goes, but in his works he left a legacy behind him that the whole world can never consume. Through a silent lane of costly tombs and followed only by a few friends, his body was borne in a pine coffin to a pauper’s grave. A bleak winter day in December, 1791, it was when the burial occurred, and the only dirge that played for the passed musician was the blustering wind that howled through the naked branches of the trees. And it was full of significance, this farewell of Nature, who in the spring of his love and life and promise sent her birds to welcome Mozart into a new day of warmth and joy, only to mourn over his untimely descent into her bosom with the garb of death. He left nine hundred and twenty-two compositions behind him. Each one of them is a monument to his genius.
Enjoy Mozart’s Symphony No. 41 in C major (“Jupiter”) performed by The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Nikolaus Harnoncourt conducting: