MUSIC - MOZART'S LETTERS - REVIEW
LETTERS, MOZART’S LIFE
misspellings (e.g. “thancked”) and poor orthography never blocked
the playfulness in his correspondence. Visiting Prague, he created a
would have had field day with his penning “seduction” for
“abduction”, but most slips were conscious jokes.
Robert Spaethling’s translation has brought
out Mozart’s epistolary vivaciousness which his own editorial comments
sorely lack. How did Faber’s editors let him get away with
“accidentally drown in a boating accident”?
The letters are rich in details of the time,
such as public executions. We learn about Mozart’s routine, or lack of
one. By six each morning he had finished doing his hair. He claimed to
eat very little and to drink mostly water purified by ice or a splash of
wine. He disliked the smell of tobacco and could not sleep in coaches.
With so many contemporaries predeceasing him, he was lucky to reach 36.
To convince his father, Leopold, of the
wisdom of his marriage to Constanze Weber, he confided that, although
the “voice of nature speaks in me as loud as in any man, louder
perhaps than in some big, robust brute of a fellow”, his dread of
damnation and fear of disease had kept him from the whores. He concluded
his plea with a reminder that because he had “never had to attend to
any of my daily needs, such as linen, clothes, etc., from my very youth
– I cannot think of anything more essential to me than a wife”. On
this practical basis he selected one, “not ugly, but also not really
beautiful – her whole beauty consists of two little black eyes and a
Mozart repeatedly chastised his wife for
flirting which he claimed he was “too bashful” to do. Within the
holy state of matrimony, however, he was frank: “Just imagine that
little sneak, while I am writing he has secretly crept up on the table
and looks at me questioningly; but I, without much ado, give him a
little slap -–but now he is even more…; well, he is almost out of
control – the scoundrel”.
Even at their most risque, such passages are
tame compared with his delight at bums and poo exchanges with his young
Augsburg cousin Maria to whom he promised a ‘shit on your nose, so it
runs down your chin”. He addressed no one else in this tone. If his
scatology were ungovernable, why did he not use it to the Archbishop of
Salzburg, who he hated “to the point of madness”?
Mozart became adept at “finesse and
cunning”, telling his father what he wanted to hear; signing off,
“Forever you most obedient son”, became the biggest lie of all. The
boy eventually broke out of his father’s control but not without cost.
Leopold blamed Wolfgang for his mother’s death in Paris. He replied to
a more than usually vicious shaft of abuse: “I must confess that there
is not a single sign in your letter by which I can recognise my father!
A father perhaps, but not the Best, the most loving father”.
snippets and insights would be no more than tittle-tattle had they not
concerned a musical genius. The letters are a diamond field of details
on particular works. But again, those particulars pale beside the
revelation of his precepts. Above all, he was entranced at the thought
of becoming a great opera composer, sometimes founding a school of
German stage works. As a performer, his passion was for the organ,
“the king of all instruments”. We find him agog at the “marvellous
effects of flutes, oboes, and clarinetti” in orchestras, which had
been loaded with strings.
Although he could weep at hearing his own
sonata played, he accepted that, apart from his health, nothing was
“more important than money”. To this end, he gave his Paris symphony
a loud opening to meet Parisian taste and ended the first act of The
Abduction from the Harem very
noisily –“so the audience won’t cool off in its applause”. He
rewrote to match the talents of his singers. Yet when music-making was
unprofitable, he treated his Masonic Lodge as a credit union.
In Vienna, during the 1780s, Mozart saw
Antonio Salieri ever intriguing against him, but was won over by the
court composer’s “bravos” for a late opera.
Mozart rarely composed as effortlessly as we
have been led to believe: “hard work” was his phrase. When
melancholic, he could not always make himself
creative so that the Requiem
was far from the only commission left incomplete. When he had no time to
put pen to paper, he composed in his head.
Mozart’s account of how he wrote letters
echoes through his music: “You can see now that I am able to write any
I want to, beautifully and wild, straight and crooked. The other day, I
was in a bad humor, so my writing was beautiful, straight, and serious;
today I’m in a good mood, and my writing is wild, crooked, and jolly.
Now it all depends on what you would rather have – you must make a
choice between the two because I have nothing in between; it can be only
beautiful or wild, straight or crooked, serious or jolly”.
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