Mozart has just died!

Mozart has just died!

I have just completed reading the Mozart family letters – his final letter while still well is followed by a much later letter from a relative describing his last few days and death. Nominally there are around 600 of these letters, but many of them are indeed family letters, and sometimes consist of a letter by Mozart’s mother, with a PS from him, a PPS from her, and a comment written on the letter’s cover by him. So once these often quite lengthy additions are taken into account, there are probably around 700 of them.

The first comment to make is to reiterate this point, that many of these letters are indeed family ones, written by two or three family members, and were expected to be read by two or three or even more others. ‘Personal address’ in this situation becomes very complicated, for while a letter might have one person’s name at the head, other addressees are named later in the text, and ditto with the sometimes layers of signatures at the end.

The second comment is that while Mozart comes across up until his mid-20s as somewhat immature, this is by no means unexpected for someone who had been reared as a hothouse child prodigy from being around four years old, with his life being completely regimented by his father Leopold. Once he escaped his father’s leading-reins, when he went to Paris with his mother when he was about 21, it is not surprising that having to take responsibility eluded him at first and was difficult for him to learn. Many of the family letters from Leopold Mozart were written in this context, and come across as his private civilising process, his epistolary attempt to make his son conform to his image  of who and what Wolfgang should be. He failed by letter, but had earlier succeeded in ensuring outward conformity when they were in face-to-face contact and Wolfgang was a child then adolescent.

A third point is that, contra Elias writing about Mozart throwing off the controls of court musicianship and wanting complete independence from this, right until the end he was still seeking a court appointment at a high level. Certainly composition as well as opera became his passion, and certainly he did not joyfully take pupils, but there is nowhere the sense that he was unwilling to contemplate working for imperial, royal or aristocratic patrons, rather the reverse. And ironically, it was the very fact of his quite extraordinary gifts together with his realistic sense of his own musical worth that seems to have put potential employers off.

Fourthly, wherever did the bizarre idea of Mozart as a giggling monstrosity as portrayed in the film Amadeus come from? And similarly with the idea that he might have had Tourette’s syndrome? It’s difficult to figure out where these ideas came from originally, although now they are multiplying repeated, with many people seeing them as fact and as confirmed by the film version. In fact Mozart seems to have been treated as an ordinary person albeit with extraordinary gifts by those who knew him, with none of his behaviours including his fondness for scatological terms being unusual in the family and social circle he moved in apart from when hobnobbing with the aristocracy.

And lastly, what remains is the strong sense of family connections and bonds and the importance of letter-writer and letter-reading to the maintenance of loving relationships. Who having read all of them could forget how many expressions of love and affection they contain, including for the family dog Bimperl aka Pimperl.

Last updated:  9 May 2019


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