“Mozart’s Eroica,” and a 225-year-old mystery finally solved!

It was Alfred Einstein in his 1944 “Mozart: His Character, His Work” who first described K. 271 as Mozart’s “Eroica.” “This concerto,” said Einstein, “is one of Mozart’s monumental works, those works in which he is entirely himself, seeking not to ingratiate himself with his public but rather to win them through originality and boldness.  He never surpassed it.” Like so many other Mozart biographers, Einstein called the piece “the Jeunehomme Concerto.”

The Mystery Solved!

About K.271 there has long been a mystery.  Who was this Mlle. Jeunehomme for whom Mozart purportedly wrote the work, and who – judging especially from the last movement of K. 271 – must have been a terrific pianist? Despite having no idea of who she was, scholars, biographers, and program note writers have been calling the piece “the Jeunehomme Concerto” for almost a century.

It was actually Mozart’s 1912 French biographers Théodore Wyzewa and Georges de Saint-Foix who decided that “die Jenomy,” (for whom Mozart said in a letter to his father Leopold that he wrote the piece), must have been some unknown woman named “Jeunehomme,” and that Mozart simply had attempted to provide his own idea of a phonetic spelling of a French name.  No one seems ever to have noted that Mozart had spent time in France, knew the language, and that no scholar could ever find any evidence that such a Mlle. Jeunehomme ever existed. Still, it was what we all continued to call the piece.

In 2003 a Viennese musicologist named Michael Lorenz discovered the true identity of “die Jenomy.”  That was in fact her name! She was the daughter of a dancer employed at the court in Vienna and a friend of the Mozart family. Louise Victoire Noverre, born 1749 in Strasbourg, had come to Vienna with her father in 1767.  In 1768 she had married a wealthy merchant named Joseph Jenomy.  During a trip in 1776 or early 1777 from Vienna to Paris, she stopped by Salzburg, and Mozart encountered her there.  In 1778 Mozart again met “die Jenomy” in Paris where her father was now employed.  Michael Lorenz believes the beautiful minuet that suddenly emerges seemingly from nowhere in the middle of the last movement of K. 271, may even be an allusion to her father, the dancer.
As to Jenomy’s pianistic skills, we know that in 1773 she played a benefit concert for her father, as reported in the “Realzeitung,” and was praised for her “artistry and ease.”

The concerto is, as Einstein says, a remarkable “break through” for Mozart as composer. “It is surprising and unique among Mozart’s works.  Nothing in the products of the year 1776 leads us to expect it.”  All three movements contain extraordinary elements, though it is the middle movement that is perhaps most astonishing – an Andantino that seems to evoke operatic tragedy with a depth and maturity that Mozart had never before brought to life.  When he played his own concertos, Mozart usually improvised the cadenzas.  In the case of this concerto, however, he wrote out the improvisatory passages for “die Jenomy,” and they are almost as remarkable – for the time and for this composer – as is the piece as a whole.

Many belated thanks, Frau Jenomy, for this miraculous masterpiece which we now can call with your name: the “Jenomy Concerto.”

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