A STORY OF HIGH HOPES, LOVE, TRAGEDY, AND FINALLY ARTISTIC FREEDOM
Salzburg to Munich
In September of 1777, Mozart left behind his hometown of Salzburg (and his position as violinist in the court’s orchestra) to find a new position as court composer, or Kapellmeister, at one of western Europe’s cultural centers. He was accompanied on this journey by his mother, apparently more to keep him out of trouble than to provide any special assistance. Mozart was 21 years old.
Thanks to the voluminous correspondence during this trip between Mozart and his father Leopold who remained in Salzburg in order to fulfill his own musical duties, we know a great deal about the events, the itinerary, and the emotions of this trip.
The first stop for Mozart and his mother was Munich. He hoped, but eventually failed, to win a position at the electoral court. The enormous difference between Munich’s whirlwind of musical activities, however, and provincial Salzburg began to fuel his growing disdain for his hometown and his reluctance ever to return. After having been turned down by the electoral court because he was too young, he seems for the first time to have hatched the idea of being a free-lance composer, unattached to any court. Leopold quickly wrote to squelch that idea completely. His son’s trip, he said, was designed to find for him a respectable court position. In Leopold’s mind there was clearly something disreputable about a composer without a court position. Wolfgang, a good son and always obedient to his dominating father at this time, acquiesced immediately.
The next stop was Augsburg where Mozart began a strange dalliance with his cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, the daughter of Leopold’s brother. Their surviving correspondence, now famous for its whimsy, scatological jokes, and constant sexual innuendos, reveals an intimacy of a kind that, as far as we know, was new to Mozart. Was it his first love? Perhaps.
Pressed to continue on with this journey by his father, Mozart and mother then traveled to Mannheim, one of the great centers of music in Europe, where once again he hoped to win a position at court. And once again he was turned down. Mozart, however, quickly made friends with many of the musicians and was happily enjoying himself in their company. He now proposed that his mother return to Salzburg and that he go on alone to Paris, accompanied by some of his Mannheim friends. Leopold would have none of that. The plan was quickly scuttled. Frau Mozart would continue on with Wolfgang to Paris.
The Mannheim orchestra was widely regarded as the foremost orchestra in all of Europe. It was famed for its precision, its remarkable contrasting dynamics, and for providing the basis for a whole school of composers. Nothing like it existed in Salzburg, and Mozart was once again much aware of Salzburg’s limitations.
The K. 313 Flute Concerto and Aloysia Weber
Among his new acquaintances in the Mannheim orchestra was the flutist Johann Baptist Wendling who probably played the first performance of K. 313. The piece was commissioned by a Dutch amateur, Ferdinand DeJean, who asked for several flute concertos and flute quartets from Mozart. While in Mannheim. Mozart managed to complete two concertos, K. 313 in G and K. 314 in D (which he arranged for flute from an earlier oboe concerto in C), two flute quartets (K. 285 and 285a), and an Andante for flute and orchestra (K. 315). It has often been suggested that the Andante might have been intended as a possible replacement for the middle movement of K. 313.
The G Major Concerto, K. 313, on this evening’s program, reflects Mozart at his very best at this time in his life. Full of exuberance, with a sparkling and virtuosic first movement, an elegant Adagio, and a sprightly concluding Menuetto, the concerto belies Mozart’s oft-quoted letter to his father in which he says he has no use for the flute as an instrument. The piece seems more to reflect the composer’s elation at being among good friends and excellent musicians, at being away from Salzburg, and at finding himself for the first time free to write what and when he wished.
It may also reflect the fact that he was in love. Soon after arriving in Mannheim, Mozart met Aloysia Weber, a gifted 16-year-old soprano, and clearly fell under both her charms and the influence of the entire Weber family. (Years later, after moving to Vienna in 1781, he would marry Aloysia’s sister Constanza.) He now devised a plan of accompanying Aloysia on a concert tour of Italy. In letters to his father of February 1778 he went so far as to consider the possibility of marriage. Leopold’s reaction was instantaneous. “I have read your letter of the 4th with amazement and horror. . . . Off with you to Paris! And that soon! Find your place among great people.”
Paris and Tragedy
Off he went to Paris, with mother still in tow. Unfortunately, there were no offers of a position in Paris. At Versailles he was offered the position of court organist, but turned it down, probably feeling that he deserved something more significant, and that if accepted, it would almost certainly mean bringing the entire Mozart family to Versailles.
And then the tragedy. His mother fell ill and died. Mozart was clearly devastated. He wrote first to a friend in Salzburg, asking him to tell Leopold that his mother was ill, in order to prepare the father as gently as possible for the next letter, which would contain the complete story. Mozart then wrote apologetically, “ I could not indeed bring myself suddenly to shock you with this dreadful news.” Leopold was anything but understanding of his son’s own grief. “I told you in May that she ought not to postpone being bled,” he wrote. “You had your engagements. You were away all day, and as she didn’t make a fuss, you treated her condition lightly. All this time her illness became more serious, in fact mortal – and only then was a doctor called in, when of course it was too late.” There is no evidence at all that Mozart was in any way responsible for his mother’s death. He wrote to his father saying, “No doctor in the world could have saved her – for it was clearly the will of God; her time had come, and God wanted to take her to Himself.” We can only imagine the agony Mozart must have felt: his mother had died in his charge, and his father blamed him for her death.
He left Paris for good in October 1778, finally arriving back in Salzburg in January 1779. Stopping at Mannheim on the way, he found that Aloysia’s interest in him had completely vanished. He then met his cousin Maria Anna Thekla in Munich and possibly traveled with her back to Salzburg, the town he now detested. But that affair apparently had also faded.
In 1781 the 25-year-old Mozart left Salzburg for Vienna. He had already acrimoniously resigned his position in Salzburg, despite his father’s vehement opposition. He lived in Vienna for the remaining ten years of his life, largely as an independent composer, unattached to the court. In 1783 he and his new wife Constanza made a brief trip to Salzburg to attempt a reconciliation with his father and sister. But Leopold and Nannerl apparently openly rejected Constanza. Despite a later visit by Leopold to Vienna, during which the father witnessed the height of his son’s impressive success as a free-lance composer, Mozart’s estrangement from his family – previously always a central part of his life – was now palpable on both sides. The early artistic success he had at first experienced in Vienna, especially with the profusion of piano concertos, then faded. And at the end, Mozart may have felt that his father’s declaration that an important court position should be the goal for his son, had not been entirely mistaken.
Leopold died in Salzburg in 1787 at age 67, never really having forgiven his illustrious son for leaving Salzburg and for the independence Wolfgang had found in Vienna. Wolfgang died four years later in 1791 in Vienna at age 35.
(All translations of the Mozart family’s letters are taken from Maynard Soloman’s 1995 masterful book Mozart: A Life.)