Mozart’s World: Early Travels and Influences
This lesson summarizes the trips that Mozart made as a young child prodigy and through his teenage years. Prompted by his father, Mozart demonstrated his amazing skills for rulers and courts throughout Europe.
Josef and Amadeus
Solomon’s Mozart does an excellent job of portraying Joseph II. Now would be a great time to peruse the general index at the back of the book in order to find the passages in which Solomon mentions him. After reading the relevant pages, what is your opinion of this man? Do you think that he might have been one of the reasons why Mozart relocated to Vienna?
The World in Turn-around
Lesson 2 traced the outlines of Mozart’s early career. Today’s lesson will look at life in Vienna, and the historical, political and cultural context in which Mozart lived and worked. Let’s start with an overview of the Enlightenment.
The 18th century Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, saw a revolution in the way people across the Western world thought about themselves and their world. As intellectuals including Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire railed against class divisions, the aristocracy, and prejudice, Europeans actively embraced notions of reason, equality and individualism. They craved education and actively pursued it. In religion, the individual came to be valued over the institution; in art, the natural began to be valued over the artificial. Humanism supplanted nationalism as an overarching value.
Voltaire, 1694-1778, was one of the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. (From ‘The Hundred Greatest Men.’ New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1885.)
At the same time, the industrial economy was taking hold, changing the ways people worked and interacted with their communities. By the end of the century, revolutions had rocked America and France. In the rest of Europe, traditional power structures were being radically altered, as a growing European middle class began to emerge.
Once accessible only to the aristocracy, concerts opened to the public. Suddenly, musical performances were mass events that were supposed to maintain the interest of large crowds, rather than small intimate groups. At the same time as music became a mass medium, it also began to reflect the notion of individualism. Franz Joseph Haydn, one of Mozart’s greatest influences, invented the quartet — a musical form in which four instruments seem to be engaged in a quiet chat.
Mozart’s own career — his start as a servant of the Archbishop and his eventual attempts to support himself as a freelance composer — reflect the changing mores of the time. No longer content to be a cog in the wheel after his travels across Europe, Mozart strove after independence as a free agent in Vienna, even as his music increasingly began to reflect the humanistic philosophies of his time. For instance, Mozart’s operatic masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro (which we’ll be discussing in Lesson 4,) reflects Enlightenment philosophies in that it casts servants in central roles.
Emperor Joseph II
Joseph II’s reign over the Habsburg Empire (and consequently Vienna) was brief but influential. Joseph II ruled from 1780 up until his death in 1790, a period closely parallel to Mozart’s time in the city. Like Mozart, the emperor embraced Enlightenment notions of equality and individualism. During his brief rule, he implemented a program of radical reform which:
- Suppressed rich monasteries
- Curtailed clerical privilege
- Ended discrimination against Lutherans, Calvinists, and Greek Orthodox churches
- Provided relief for the poor
- Abolished child labor
- Laid the foundations of public education in Austria
- Established land reforms that threatened the livelihood of the rich landowners by allowing the peasants to keep 50% of their income.
Joseph II’s personal style reflected his political actions: He preferred a modest existence and plain dress. Michael Kelly, an Irish tenor who was in the original cast of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro described him as:
. . . an enemy to pomp and parade, [he] avoided them as much as possible; indeed, hardly any private gentleman requires so little attention as he did. He had a seat for his servant behind his carriage, and when he went abroad in it he made him sit there — His desire was never to have any fuss made about him, or to give any trouble, which was all mighty amiable . . . (Quoted in Steptoe, 21-22).
The More Things Change
Even in the Enlightenment period, there remained a large gap between nobility and the lower classes. Mozart’s patrons largely belonged to the “new” nobility — those who were able to rise either because of their innate ability or simply their ability to buy a title.
Vienna in the Late 18th Century
Eighteenth century Vienna was one of the cosmopolitan centers of the Enlightenment. (From ‘A Handbook for Travellers in Southern Germany’, Eighth Edition. London: John Murray. 1858.)
During the eighteenth century, Vienna was an international center. At different points, it had a French emperor, an Italian imperial poet, an Italian court composer, and a popular French ballet composer. Out of this emerged the so-called “Viennese” Classical style, to which Mozart was a major contributor.
By the 1780s, Vienna’s population had exploded to about 250,000. Because the city was still girdled by the old medieval fortification wall, life in the central city was claustrophobic. In 1786 a visitor from England described it as follows:
The streets of Vienna are not pretty at all, God knows; so narrow, so ill built, so crowded . . . I have no notion that Vienna can be a very wholesome place to live in; the double windows, double feather-beds etc. in a room shut without a chimney is surely ill contrived. All external air is shut out in such a manner that I am frightened . . . while the wind whirls one about in such a manner that it is displeasing to put out one’s head (Quoted in Steptoe, The Mozart-Da Ponte Operas. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1988).
But while the city may have seemed unpleasant from some perspectives, economic and social ferment resulted in significant cultural growth. A massive growth in commerce and industry in the 1770’s and 1780’s gave rise to a true middle class, which began wielding real financial power. During this period, Mozart performed in the home of Johann von Trattner, an upper-middle class paper merchant. He even briefly lived there and taught Trattner’s wife.
Daily Life in Vienna
Johann Pezzl (1756-1823) chronicled daily life and events in Vienna during the time that Mozart lived there. His Skizze von Wien (Sketches of Vienna) describes just about everything, from how people dressed and the cost of food to how prostitutes operated and why the Viennese liked both beer and wine (unusual since Austria was, and remains, a wine-producing country). His writings allow us to see Vienna much as Mozart must have saw it.
In Mozart: The Golden Years 1781-1791 (New York: Schirmer, 1989), H. C. Robbins Landon quotes selected paragraphs from Pezzl’s writings, including the following:
If there is a new opera or play, the racket of the carriages, the stamping of the horses’ hooves and the barkings of the coachmen as they cross the Graben and the Kohlmarkt (two important commercial streets in Vienna) combine to make a hellish concert. You cross St. Michael’s Square at your peril, for carriages come from all four sides . . .
The Viennese love banquets, dancing, shows, distractions. On holidays they love to walk in the Prater and Augarten (large parks that Joseph II opened to the entire population of the city), to attend animal baitings and fireworks displays, to go into the country with their families and sit down to a well-appointed table . . .
Like Joseph II and musical contemporary and close friend Haydn, Mozart found intellectual satisfaction as a Freemason. Freemasonry, which espoused humanitarian ideals and a belief in universal brotherhood, had a wide following in Europe. Mozart joined a Masonic lodge in 1784, and was a devoted Mason until his death. In fact, his last completed composition, finished less than a month before he died, was a short cantata to accompany a Masonic ceremony.
Mozart in the City
Mozart’s Vienna years (1781 – 1791) began with two important events. The first was a 1782 commission from Joseph II to compose The Abduction from the Seraglio, his first opera for Vienna, and a distinct departure from the familiar Italian models he had generally relied on. The second major event was his marriage to Constanze Weber that same year. (He had earlier proposed to her sister.) Mozart wrote to his father, describing Constanze and seeking his father’s blessing on the marriage:
My good, dear Konstanze, she is the Martyr of the family, and probably because of it the most kindhearted, the most skilled, in one word, the best of them all. — She takes care of everything in the household . . . she is not ugly, but also not really beautiful; — her whole beauty consists of two little black eyes and a graceful figure. She has no great wit but enough common sense to fulfill her duties as a wife and mother. She is not extravagant in her appearance, rumors to that effect are totally false; — to the contrary, she is in the habit of dressing very simply . . . I love her and she loves me with all her heart — now tell me whether I could wish for a better wife? (from a letter of 15 December 1781; Spaethling, p. 296).
During their marriage, Mozart and Constanze had eight children, only two of whom survived.
Growing Fame and Artistry
By 1783 Mozart had achieved the pinnacle of artistic success in Vienna. He performed as a pianist in concert halls and private homes. On March 29 he wrote the following to his father:
It’s probably not necessary to tell you much about the success of my concert; you may well have heard it already. It’s enough to say that the theater couldn’t have been fuller, and all the loges were occupied — But what pleased me most was that His Majesty, the Emperor [Joseph II], was there as well; and how delighted he was and how vociferously he applauded me . . . (Spaethling, p. 346).
Mozart also gained recognition for his compositions — works for solo piano and concertos for piano, chamber music and symphonies, and especially the three operas he composed to libretti by court poet Lorenzo Da Ponte. (We’ll be studying these operas in more detail in Lesson 4.)
In Vienna, the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, 1685-1750, became one of Mozart’s greatest influences. (Image from ‘The Hundred Greatest Men,’ New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1885.)
Indeed, most of the works that sealed Mozart’s reputation as a genius — most of the works we know today — were composed in his Vienna years, when he was influenced by other contemporary composing greats including Joseph Haydn and J.S. Bach (who had died in 1750.) In Vienna, Mozart created works that set new standards for comic opera, surpassing his contemporaries and creating timeless masterpieces. In addition to the Haydn Quartets, the Jupiter symphony, and other works, Mozart also wrote operas including The Marriage of Figaro and Don Giovanni during this period.
Musical Life in Vienna
In the mid-1780’s, at the height of his popularity in Vienna, Mozart’s performance schedule was unbelievably demanding. For example, on 3 March 3 1784 he wrote to his father and listed 22 performances — 17 in private homes, three “private” concerts that he organized, and two additional public concerts in theaters — all within five-weeks! “Don’t you think I have plenty to do?,” he asked. “I don’t think I can get out of practice this way” (Spaethling, p. 365). His next letter, written on March 30, lists the subscribers who committed their support for his concerts — 174 in all, a veritable “Who’s Who” of Vienna’s nobility and leading citizens.
Mozart’s concerts were long and always included new music, often music specifically written for the performance. He always played during these concerts — either solos, often improvised, and/or a new concerto. On 29 March 1783, he lists the music from a concert that he had just performed (my notes about each piece are in brackets):
- The New Hafner Simphonie; [The first three movements of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony, K. 385. Unlike our practice today, in Mozart’s time it was not necessary to play all the movements of a symphony in succession.]
- Mad.me Lange sang the aria se il padre perdei, from my Munich opera, accompanied by four instruments; [Ilia’s aria in Act II of Idomeneo.]
- The third of my Subscription Concertos; [The Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 415]
- Adamberger sang the scena I wrote for Countess Baumgarten; [“Misera, dove son!,” K. 369. A scena is a concert vocal work similar to a scene from an opera.]
- The little concertante Simphonie from my most recent Final Musique; [Serenade in D, K. 320]
- I played the Concerto in D, which is so favored here; I sent you the Rondeau with variations from it; [K. 175, with a new third movement, the Rondo, K. 382. The rondo, a form with a recurring refrain, was often favored for the final movement of symphonies and concertos.]
- Mad.selle Tauber sang the szena Parto m’affretto, from my last Milano opera; [7 The aria, No. 16, from Lucio Silla.]
- I played a short fugue because the emperor was present and did some variations on an aria from an opera called “The Philosophers” — which I had to repeat; then I did variations on the aria “unser dummer Pöbel meint,” etc. from the Pilgrim of Mecka; [Six Variations on “Salve tu, Domine,” from Paisiello’s opera Il filosofi immaginari, K. 398; Ten Variations of “unser dummer Pöbel meint,” K. 455, from Gluck’s opera Pilgrimme von Mecka. Joseph II was especially fond of fugues, a composition based upon a single theme. Fugues were often used in church music; there are several in the unfinished Requiem, which we’ll study in Lesson 7. Mozart also wrote fugues in his orchestral and keyboard music; an example is the Finale to the “Jupiter” Symphony, which we’ll study in Lesson 6.]
- Mad.me Lange sang the New Rondeau I composed; [Mia speranza adorata, K. 416]
- The last movement of the first Simphonie. [The Finale to the “Haffner” Symphony, which began the program, was played separately at the end of the program.]
In Lesson 3’s assignment I’ll be giving you a list of suggested recordings of most of the music that was included in this concert so that you can pretend that you’re in the audience and that Mozart himself is performing. And don’t forget to listen to first set of piano variations (No. 8 above) twice. When Mozart’s audiences expressed their special appreciation, the music was immediately repeated — a true “encore.”
Mozart’s orchestras were much smaller than today’s symphonies — but so were the concert halls. For example, the orchestra at the Burgtheater consisted of 35 players, which was large for that time. There were six first violins, six second violins, four violas, and three each of cellos and double basses, along with wind instruments in pairs — flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets as well as a timpani player.
There were two official Imperial theatres in Vienna: the Burgtheater and the Kärtnertortheater. Situated about 100 yards apart in central Vienna, they were both in close proximity to the Hofburg, or Imperial palace. Although both theatres presented German-language plays and operas, the most popular form of entertainment were operas composed by Italians in their native language.
The Burgtheater, or “court” theater, was built in 1741. It had two sections of seating on the main floor and four levels of boxes in a horseshoe pattern circling around the theater. Both upper and middle classes could attend, but the first two levels of boxes were rented only to the nobility, who frequently used them as places for socializing. The main floor, or parquet, was also divided into two separate areas, one for the nobility and the other for the middle class.
Less information is available on the second theater, the Kärtnertortheater, which could accommodate seating for approximately 670, about 100 less than the Burgtheater. Including space for standing room, the Kärtnertortheater might have held up to 1,000.
How Poor Was Mozart?
Although 19th- and early 20th-century biographers assumed that Mozart was penniless in his last years, a number of scholars have tried to reconstruct his earnings, including Solomon (see Mozart’s Appendix). While his income was moderately high on Vienna’s economic scale, Constanze’s illnesses stretched the family resources in the late 1780’s. The inventory at Mozart’s death shows that he had a large wardrobe, instruments and books in addition to an array of other belongings.
Poverty and Death
Mozart struggled with money throughout his last years. Thanks in part to his wife’s ill health throughout their marriage, Mozart remained mired in poverty until his premature death in 1791. Moreover, he continually failed to receive steady employment, except for a low paying court position in 1787 (see sidebar).
Mozart’s popularity with the Viennese public began fading in the closing years of the decade, and he was forced to write a series of pathetic, loan-seeking letters to his friend and Freemason brother Michael Puchberg. One of the most desperate letters was written on 12 July 12 1789:
Oh God! The situation I am in, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy; and if you, my best friend and [Masonic] brother, forsake me, I hapless and blameless as I am, will be lost together with my poor, sick wife and child — I had wished to pour out my heart to you last time I was at your house — but didn’t have the heart to do it! . . .If you can see into my heart, you know how anguished I am about this . . . Oh God! — I can hardly make up my mind to send this letter! — but I must! (Spaethling, pp. 412-13).
Puchberg responded generously, but there was little he could do to stop the composer’s decline.
In Mozart’s last year, his hopes for success renewed. He received commissions for his unfinished Requiem (which we’ll explore in Lesson 7) and completed two operas — The Clemency of Titus for the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia, and the immensely popular German opera The Magic Flute, written for a Viennese suburban theater.
A Pauper’s Grave
On 20 November 1791 Mozart contracted a fatal illness — probably acute rheumatic fever complicated by streptococcal infection. According to a description in a recent story in the Washington Post, “Mozart’s illness began suddenly with fever and headache, as well as swelling of the hands and feet, which, over the course of several days, progressed to tissue swelling so severe he had difficulty turning in bed. By the second week of his illness, he complained of foul taste and was suffering bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. On the 14th day of his illness, his condition deteriorated markedly, and he began to show signs of delirium.”
The composer died on the 15th day of his illness at the age of thirty-five. Constanze, her sister Sophie, and the attending physician, Dr. Thomas Closset, were at his bedside. Two days later, on December 7, the leading Viennese newspaper printed this obituary, acknowledging not only Mozart’s native genius but also the development of his natural talent:
During the night of the 4th and 5th of this month Imperial Court Chamber Composer Wolfgang Mozart died here. Known from his childhood on as the possessor of the finest musical talent in all Europe, through the fortunate development of his exceptional natural gifts and through persistent application he rose to the level of the greatest masters; his works, loved and admired by all, bear witness to this, and are the measure of the irreplaceable loss that the noble art of music has suffered by his death (Quoted in Solomon, Mozart, p. xiv).
To the shame of his Emperor and of all Vienna, Mozart was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the St. Marx Cemetery in the outskirts of Vienna.
Lesson 4 will examine Mozart’s developing craft as an opera composer, beginning with his earliest works through what is considered his operatic masterpiece, The Marriage of Figaro.
Assignment : Recreating Mozart’s “Academy”
A great way to gain a greater appreciation of classical music is to begin recreating some of the performances of your favorite musicians or composers. If you’d like to recreate Mozart’s “Academy” of 29 March 1783, here are some suggested CD’s (the numbers here match the numbers in list of pieces in the lesson):
1. The New Hafner Simphonie; [The first three movements of Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony, K. 385.]
2. Mad.me Lange sang the aria se il padre perdei, from my Munich opera, accompanied by four instruments; [Ilia’s aria in Act II of Idomeneo.]
3. The third of my Subscription Concertos; [The Piano Concerto in C Major, K. 415]
- Piano Concerto No. 13, K. 415, Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Mozart: Piano Concertos Nos. 11-13
4. Adamberger sang the scena I wrote for Countess Baumgarten; [“Misera, dove son!,” K. 369.]
- “Misera, dove son!”, Ruth Ann Swenson, soprano, Sir Charles Mackerras, conductor, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment; Mozart: Entführung aus dem Serail K384
5. The little concertante Simphonie from my most recent Final Musique; [Serenade in D, K. 320]
- Serenade in D, K. 320, Capella Coloniensis, Joshua Rifkin, conductor; Mozart: 100 Masterpieces, Vol. 3
6. I played the Concerto in D, which is so favored here; I sent you the Rondeau with variations from it; [K. 175, with a new third movement, the Rondo, K. 382.]
- Piano Concerto No. 5 in D, K. 175, Daniel Barenboim and the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra; Mozart: Concertos for piano No8
7. Mad.selle Tauber sang the szena Parto m’affretto, from my last Milano opera; [7 The aria, No. 16, from Lucio Silla.]
- Aria from Lucio Silla, Schulman, piano; Russian Compact Disc 30006
8. I played a short fugue because the emperor was present and did some variations on an aria from an opera called “The Philosophers” — which I had to repeat; then I did variations on the aria “unser dummer Pöbel meint,” etc. from the Pilgrim of Mecka; [Six Variations on “Salve tu, Domine,” from Paisiello’s opera Il filosofi immaginari, K. 398; Ten Variations of “unser dummer Pöbel meint,” K. 455, from Gluck’s opera Pilgrimme von Mecka.]
- Variations on “Salve tu, Domine”, Schulman, piano; Russian Compact Disc 30006
- Variations on “Unser dummer Pöbel meint”, Andreas Schiff, piano; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Variations in C
9. Mad.me Lange sang the New Rondeau I composed; [Mia speranza adorata, K. 416]
- Mozart mentions that he played a short fugue for the Emperor, but doesn’t identify it. Perhaps he improvised it; in any case, we can’t listen to it today:
10. The last movement of the first Simphonie. [The Finale to the “Haffner” Symphony, which began the program, was played separately at the end of the program.]