What has Mozart to do with the WWW project?

Mozart with other members of his family and network wrote letters, some 1400 of which are extant, so this is of interest in itself. In addition, in working out his ideas about the relationship between the individual person and collectivities and social structures, Elias wrote some extended essays on cultural production, of both art and music. In the latter case he was intending to finalise a book on how the phenomenon that was Mozart came about in sociological terms. Although never finished, this project was embarked on, and number of sections were completed – and in what remains he makes reference to Mozart letters. This too is of interest for WWW because of the Elias connection, for WWW draws on his work.

But what are the Mozart letters? This is not as easy to answer as it might seem.

In fact Elias makes reference to two related but rather different published sources for the letters. One is a seven volume complete (to that date) edition in German, produced in the 1960s and 70s; the other is a selection of some 600 letters translated into English by Emily Anderson, containing the complete letters by Mozart himself but selected and edited extracts of the others in his network.This English edition of 1938 also translates the idiomatic and colloquial originals into formalised versions including by removing things seen as risque. However, a third edition has re-translated and provided previously excised passages.

Most subsequent English language editions, of which there are many, contain (bigger or smaller) selections from the total number. Also some provide just the letters of Mozart himself rather than also those of the network. Some provide complete letters, others extracts. Most of them rely on the Anderson translations rather than going back to the German complete letters, let alone the manuscript originals.

There are also some more recent developments of note. The first is that at least one new English-language translation of selected letters by Mozart himself, by Robert Spaethling, has been published. This retains suitable approximations for the down to earth phrasing and vocabulary as well as phonetic spellings, but in doing so has returned, not to the manuscripts, but to the seven volume German edition. Nonetheless, this gives a different feel from the 1938 Anderson or Anderson-derived versions, much livelier and interesting, although the downside is that the sense of Mozart as a player in a much larger ensemble gets lost. On balance, I prefer the re-translated Anderson single volume at around 1100 pages.

The second is that the complete letters in new translations in Italian and in French have been published in paper-and-print editions, although there is not yet an English parallel.

And the third is that there is an impressive online project involved in re-translating the entire corpus into English and providing these electronically, doing so by releasing a number of tranches of letters in chronological sequence. This currently includes just 114 family letters, although it is clearly a development to keep an eye on for anyone interested in letters in general and those of Mozart and his network in particular. While extensive and innovative in many ways, this project has still departed in some ways from the ‘actual letters’ in manuscript, signalled in the Reference section.

To finished with the key question here, what exactly are ‘the Mozart letters’? Even returning to the manuscripts does not entirely answer this question, for these feature more letters and longer letters from other people than from Mozart himself. But the manuscripts are surely the place to start in exploring the question.


Emily Anderson ed. 1938. The Letters of Mozart and his Family 3 volumes. London: Macmillan.

Emily Anderson 3rd ed. 1989. The Letters of Mozart and his Family 1 volume. London: Faber.

Wilhelm Bauer. Otto Erich Deutsch and Joseph Heinz Eibl eds. 1962-75. Mozart: Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. 7 volumes. Basle: Kassel.

Robert Spaethling ed. 2000. Mozart’s Letters, Mozart’s Life Selected, edited and translated by Robert Spaethling. London: Faber and Fall ber.

In Mozart’s Words “…At any time, a letter can be compared with the original holographs, duly accompanied by a diplomatic transcription and by the innovative, educational tool of a German version transcribed with modern spelling, provided by the Stiftung Mozarteum, Salzburg… … While the Italian publisher, for example, chose to respect the original spelling / wording, even when clearly wrong, the French publisher chose always to use the correct, normalised, current spelling / wording. We thought it preferable to mantain a strict correspondence between the published, printed versions of the letters and their digital versions, to allow their parallel use…”

Last updated:  23 June 2018