THE early December dusk was closing in over the quaint old city of Salzburg. Up on the heights above the town the battlements of the great castle caught a reflection of the last gleams of light in the sky. But the narrow streets below were quite in shadow.
In one of the substantial looking houses on a principal thoroughfare, called the Getreide Gasse, lights gleamed from windows on the third floor. Within, all was arranged as if for some special occasion. The larger room, with its three windows looking on the street, was immaculate in its neatness. The brass candlesticks shone like gold, the mahogany table was polished like a mirror, the simple furniture likewise. For today was Father Mozart’s birthday and the little household was to celebrate the event.
Mother Mozart had been busy all day putting everything in order while Nannerl, the seven year old daughter, had been helping. Little Wolfgang, now three years old, in his childish eagerness to be as busy as the others, had only hindered, and had to be reprimanded once in a while. One could never be vexed with the little elf, even if he turned somersaults in new clean clothes, or made chalk figures all over the living-room chairs. He never meant to do any harm, and was always so tenderhearted and lovable, it was hard to scold him.
And this was the Father’s birthday, about the most important of all the family celebrations. Already the roast on the spit was nearing perfection, while in the oven a fine cake was browning.
When all was ready and Leopold Mozart had received the good wishes of the little household, baby Wolfgang was mounted on a footstool to recite a poem in honor of the occasion. When he had finished it he stood quietly a moment then reaching out his tiny arms, clasped them tightly about his father’s neck, and said :
“Dear papa, I love you very, very much; after God, next comes my papa.”
Leopold Mozart was a musician and held the post of Vice-Capellmeister. Music was honored in this simple home, and when two of the Court musicians, friends of Father Mozart, came in to join the festivities on this birthday night, a toast was drunk to the honor of Musica, the divine goddess of tones.
“I wonder if even a little of my own musical knowledge and love for the art will overflow upon the two dear children,” remarked Father Mozart, gazing down tenderly on the little ones.
“Why not,” answered the mother; “you long ago promised to begin lessons with Nannerl can she not start this very night?”
“Yes, indeed, Papachen, may I not learn to play the piano? I promise to work very hard.”
“Very well,” answered the father ; “you shall see I am grateful for all the love you have showed me tonight, and I will begin to teach Nannerl at once.”
“I want to learn music too,” broke in little Wolfgang, looking at his father with beaming eyes.
Every one laughed at this, while the father said baby Wolfgang would have to grow some inches before he could reach the keys.
The lesson began, and the little girl showed both quickness and patience to grasp the ideas. No one at first noticed the tiny child who planted himself at his sister’s elbow, the light of the candles falling on his delicate, sensitive features and bright brown hair. His glance never left Nannerl’s fingers as they felt hesitatingly among the white and black keys, while his ear easily understood the intervals she tried to play.
When the little girl left the piano, or the harpsichord, as it was called in those days, Wolfgang slipped into her place and began to repeat with his tiny fingers what his father had taught her.
He sought the different intervals, and when at last he found them, his little face beamed with joy. In a short time he was able to play all the simple exercises that had been given his sister.
The parents listened to their wonder-child with ever increasing astonishment, mingled with tears of emotion. It was plain to be seen that Wolfgang must have lessons as well as Nannerl. And what joy it would be to teach them both.
It was a happy household that retired that night. Nannerl was happy because she at last had the chance to take piano lessons. Wolf-gang, little “Starbeam,” dreamed of the wonderful Goddess of Music, who carried him away to fairyland which was filled with beautiful music. The parents were filled with joy that heaven had granted them such blessings in their children.
The musical progress of the children was quite remarkable. Marianne, which was Nannerl’s real name, soon began to play very well indeed, while little Wolfgang hardly had to be told anything in music, for he seemed to know it already. The father would write Minuets for the little. girl to study; her tiny brother would learn them in half an hour. Soon Wolfgang was able to compose his own Minuets. Several have come down to us which he wrote when he was five years old; and they are quite perfect in form and style.
One day Father Mozart brought home Schachtner, the Court trumpeter, to dinner. Coming suddenly into the living-room, they found the tiny elf busily writing at his father’s desk.
“Whatever are you doing, Wolferl?” cried his father, gazing at the ink stained fingers of his little son and then at the paper covered with blots.
“Oh, Papa, a piano sonata, but it isn’t finished yet.”
“Never mind that,” said Leopold Mozart, “let us see it, it must be something very fine.” Taking up the paper the father and his friend looked at it curiously. The sheets were bedaubed with ink stains that almost concealed the notes. For the child had thrust his pen each time to the bottom of the ink well, so that frequent blots on the paper were the result. These did not trouble him in the least, for he merely rubbed his hand over the offending blot and proceeded with his writing.
At first the two friends laughed heartily to see how the little composer had written the notes over smudges, but soon the father’s eyes filled with happy tears.
“Look, my dear Schachtner!” he cried. “See how correct and orderly it all is, all written according to rule. Only one could never play it for it seems to be too difficult.”
“But it’s a sonata, Papa, and one must practice it first, of course, but this is the way it should go.”
He sprang to the piano and began to play. The small fingers could not master the more intricate parts, but gave sufficient idea of how he intended the piece to sound.
They stood in speechless astonishment at this proof of the child’s powers ; then Leopold Mozart caught up the little composer and kissing him cried, “My Wolfgang, you will become a great musician.”
Wolfgang, not content with merely learning the piano, begged to study the violin also. His violin lessons had hardly begun when one evening his father and two friends were about to play a set of six trios, composed by Wentzl, one of the players. Wolfgang begged to be allowed to play the second violin. Needless to say his request was refused. At last he was told he might sit next to Schachtner and make believe play, though he must make no sound.
The playing began, when before long it was seen the boy was actually playing the second violin part and doing it correctly. The second violin ceased bowing in amazement and allowed Wolfgang to go on alone. After this he was permitted to play all the second violin part of the whole six pieces. Emboldened by this success, he volunteered to attempt the first violin part, an offer which was greeted with laughter; but nothing daunted, he took up his violin and began.
There were mistakes here and there, of course, but he persisted to the end, to the astonishment of all.
Three years had passed swiftly by since little Wolfgang Mozart began to study music the night of his father’s fortieth birthday. He had made marvelous progress and already the fame of his powers had passed beyond the narrow limits of his native town. Leopold Mozart had no means other than the salary which he received from the Court. His children’s musical gifts induced the father to turn them to advantage, both to supply the family needs and to provide the children a broad education in music. He determined to travel with the children. A first experiment in January, 1762, had proved so successful that the following September they set out for Vienna. Wolfgang was now six years old and Marianne eleven.
At Linz they gave a successful concert and every one was delighted with the playing of the children. From here they continued their journey as far as the monastery of Ips, where they expected to stay for the night. It had been a wonderful day, spent in sailing down the majestic Danube, till they reached the grey old building with its battlemented walls. Soon after they arrived, Father Mozart took Wolfgang into the chapel to see the organ.
The child gazed with awe at the great pipes, the keyboard and the pedals. He begged his father to explain their working, and then as the father filled the great bellows the tiny organist pushed aside the organ bench, stood upon the pedals and trod them, as though he had always known how. The monks in the monastery hastened to the chapel, holding their breath as one pointed to the figure of a tiny child in the organ loft. Was it possible, they asked them-selves, that a child could produce such beautiful music? They remained rooted to the spot, till Wolfgang happened to see them and crept meekly down from his perch.
All the rest of the journey to Vienna, Wolf-gang was the life of the party, eager to know the name and history of everything they met. At the custom-house on the frontier, he made friends with the officials by playing for them on his violin, and thus secured an easy pass for the party.
Arrived at Vienna, Leopold Mozart found the fame of the children’s playing had preceded them. A kind and gracious welcome awaited the little party when they went to the palace of Schönbrunn. The Emperor Franz Josef took to Wolfgang at once, was delighted with his playing and called him his “little magician.” The boy’s powers were tested by being required to read difficult pieces at sight, and playing with one finger, as the Emperor jestingly asked him to do. Next, the keyboard was covered with a cloth, as a final test, but little Wolfgang played as finely as before, to the great delight of the company who applauded heartily. The little magician was so pleased with the kindness of both the Emperor and Empress that he returned it in his own childish way, by climbing into the lap of the Empress and giving her a hug and a kiss, just as though she were his own mother. He was also greatly attracted by the little Princess Marie Antoinette, a beautiful child of about his own age, with long fair curls and laughing blue eyes. The two struck up an immediate friendship.
After the favor shown them at Court, the gifted children became the rage in Vienna society. Invitations poured in from every side, and many gifts. Those bestowed by the royal family were perhaps the most valued. Wolfgang’s present was a violet colored suit, trimmed with broad gold braid, while Nannerl received a pretty white silk dress. Each of the children also received a beautiful diamond ring from the Emperor. A portrait of the boy in his gala suit, which was painted at the time, is still preserved.
The following year the Mozarts took the children on a longer journey, this time with Paris in view. They stopped at many towns and cities on the way. At Frankfort the first performance was so successful that three more were given.
A newspaper of the time says “little Mozart is able to name all notes played at a distance, whether single or in chords, whether played on the piano, or any other instrument, bell, glass or clock.” The father offered as an additional at-traction that Wolfgang would play with the keyboard covered.
The family stayed five months in Paris; the children played before the Court at Versailles, exciting surprise and enthusiasm there and wherever they appeared. From Paris they traveled to London, in April, 1764.
Leopold Mozart’s first care on reaching the great English metropolis was to obtain an introduction at Court. King George III and the Queen were very fond of music, and it was not long before an invitation came for the children to attend at the Palace. The King showed the greatest interest in Wolfgang, asking him to play at sight difficult pieces by Bach and Handel. Then the boy, after accompanying the Queen in a song, selected the bass part in a piece by Handel, and improvised a charming melody to it. The King was so impressed that he wished him to play the organ, in the playing of which Wolfgang won a further triumph.
The King’s birthday was to be celebrated on June 4 and London was crowded with people from all parts of the country. Leopold Mozart had chosen June 5 as the date for his first public concert. The hall was filled to overflowing; one hundred guineas being taken in. Many of the assisting performers would take no fee for their services, which added to the father’s gratitude and happiness.
Not long after this Leopold Mozart fell ill, and the little family moved to Chelsea, for the quiet and good air. Later they were given another reception at Court, where, after Wolfgang’s wonderful performances, the children won much applause by playing some piano duets composed by the boya style of composition then quite new.
In July, 1765, the family left London and traveled in Holland, after which came a second visit to Paris, where they added to their former triumphs, in addition to playing in many towns on the way back. Finally the long tour was brought to a close by the return to Salzburg in November, 1766.
At the period of musical history in which the gifted boy lived, a musician’s education was not complete unless he went to Italy, for this country stood first as the home of music. Leopold Mozart had made a couple of trips to Vienna with his children, the account of which need not detain us here. He had decided that Wolfgang must go to Italy, and breathe in the atmosphere of that land of song. And so in December, 1769, father and son set out for the sunny south, with high hopes for success.
Mozart’s happy nature was jubilant over the journey. He watched eagerly the peasants as they danced on the vine-clad terraces, over-looking the deep blue lakes,or listened as they sang at their work in the sunny fields. He gazed at the wonderful processions of priests through narrow streets of the towns, but above all there was the grand music in the cathedrals.
The young musician had plenty of work to do, more than most boys of thirteen. For, besides the concerts he had to give, he was set difficult problems by the various professors who wished to test his powers. The fame of his playing constantly spread, so the further he traveled into Italy there were more demands to hear him. At Roveredo, where it was announced he would play the organ in St. Thomas’s Church, the crowd was so great he could scarcely get to the organ-loft. The vast audience listened spell-bound, and then refused to disperse till they had caught a glimpse of the boy player. At Verona he had another triumph ; one of his symphonies was performed, and his portrait was ordered to be painted.
When they reached Milan the Chief musician of the city subjected the boy to severe tests, all of which he accomplished to the astonishment and delight of everybody. It was at Bologna however, where he met the most flattering reception. Here was the home of the famous Padre Martini, the aged composer of church music. Father Martini was almost worshiped by the Italians; he was a most lovable man and looked up to as a great composer. He had long ago given up at-tending concerts, so that every one was astonished when he was present in the brilliant audience gathered at Count Pallavicini’s mansion to listen to the boy’s playing. Wolfgang did his best, for he realized the importance of the event. Father Martini took the boy to his heart at once, invited him to visit him as often as possible during his stay, and gave him several fugue subjects to work out. These the boy accomplished with ease, and the Padre declared he was perfectly satisfied with his knowledge of composition.
The journey to Rome was now continued, and for Wolfgang it was a succession of triumphs. At Florence he played before the Court of the Archduke Leopold, and solved every problem put to him by the Court music director as easily as though he were eating a bit of bread.
It was Holy Week when young Mozart and his father entered Rome, and the city lay under the spell of the great festival of the year. They soon joined the throngs that filled the vast temple of St. Peter’s, to which all turn during this solemn season. After attending a service and viewing the treasures of the Cathedral, they turned their steps to the Sistine Chapel, which contains the wonderful painting of the Last Judgment by Michael Angelo. It was here that the celebrated Miserere by Allegri was per-formed. Wolfgang had been looking forward to this moment all through the latter part of his journey. His father had told him how jealously guarded this music was ; it could never be per-formed in any other place, and the singers could never take their parts out of the chapel. He was intensely eager to hear this work. And in-deed it would be difficult to imagine anything more beautiful and impressive than the singing of the Miserere, which means “Have Mercy.” It follows the solemn service called Tenebrae, (Darkness) during which the six tall candles on the altar are extinguished one by one, till but one is left, which is removed to a space behind the altar. Then in almost complete darkness the Miserere begins. A single voice is heard singing the antiphon, or short introduction,-and then comes silence, a silence so profound that the listener scarcely dares to breathe for fear of disturbing it. At length the first sad notes of the supplication are heard, like the softest wailing of an anguished spirit; they gradually gain force till the whole building seems to throb with the thrilling intensity of the music.
The young musician was profoundly moved ; the father too, was much affected by the solemn service. Neither spoke as they left the chapel and sought their lodgings. After they had retired the boy could not sleep ; his thoughts were filled with the wonderful music he had heard. He arose, lit the lamp, and got out pens and music paper. He worked industriously the long night through. When morning dawned the boy sat with his beautiful head upon his folded arms, asleep, while before him on the table lay a score of the Miserere of Allegri, entirely written from memory.
The next day, Good Friday, the Miserere was performed for the second time. Wolfgang, the boy of fourteen, who had performed the wonderful feat of writing this work out after one hearing, again attended the service, keeping the score in his hat, and found his work was nearly perfect, needing but a couple of trifling corrections.
The news of this startling feat gained for the young musician a cordial welcome into the houses of the great in Rome; during their stay father and son were feted to their hearts’ content.
At Naples, their next stopping place, Wolf-gang played before a brilliant company, and excited so much astonishment, that people declared his power in playing came from a ring he wore on his finger. “He wears a charm,” they cried. Mozart smiled, took off the ring and played more brilliantly than ever. Then the enthusiasm was redoubled. The Neapolitans showed them every attention and honor. A carriage was provided for their use, and we have an account of how they drove through the best streets, the father wearing a maroon-colored coat with light blue facings, and Wolfgang in one of apple green, with rose-colored facings and silver buttons.
It was indeed a wonderful tour which they made in Italy, though there is not time to tell of many things that happened. On their return to Rome, the Pope gave him the order of the Golden Spur, which made him Chevalier de Mozart. Arriving at Bologna the young musician was made a member of the Accademia Filharmonica. The test for this admission was setting an antiphon in four parts. Wolfgang was locked in a room till the task should be finished. To the astonishment of everybody he asked to be let out at the end of half an hour, having completed the work.
The travelers now proceeded to Milan, where Mozart was to work on his first opera, for which he had received a commission. It was a great task for a boy to accomplish and we find the young composer writing to his mother and sister to pray for his success. The opera was called “Mitridate,” and was finished after three months’ hard work. The first performance was given in Milan, December 26, 1770, and was conducted by Wolfgang himself. It was a proud, happy day for the father, indeed for the whole family. “Mitridate” succeeded beyond their hopes; it was given twenty times before crowded houses and its success brought an election to the Accademia, and also a commission to write a dramatic Serenata for an approaching royal wedding. This work also was a great success. The Empress who had commissioned Mozart to compose the work was so pleased, that besides the promised fee, she gave the composer a gold watch with her portrait set in diamonds on the back.
Sunshine and success had followed the gifted boy through all his travels; but now shadows and disappointments were to come, due to jealousy, intrigue and indifference of those in power who might have helped him but failed to recognize his genius. Shortly after the return of the father and son to their home town of Salzburg, their protector and friend, the good Archbishop of Salzburg, died. His successor was indifferent to art and held in contempt those who followed it as a profession. He persistently refused to appoint the young musician to any office worthy his talent or to recognize his gifts in any way. While Mozart remained at home in Salzburg, hoping his prospects would improve, he worked at composing with untiring diligence. By the time he was twenty-one he had accumulated a mass of music that embraced every branch of the art. He had a growing reputation as a composer but no settled future. He had the post of concertmaster, it is true, but the salary was but a trifle and he was often pressed for money. Leopold therefore decided to undertake another professional tour with his son. The Archbishop however prevented the father leaving Salzburg. So the only course left open was to allow Wolf-gang and his mother to travel together. They set out on the morning of September 23, 1777. Wolfgang’s spirits rose as the town of Salzburg faded into the haze of that September morning; the sense of freedom was exhilarating; he had escaped the place associated in his mind with tyranny and oppression, to seek his fortune in new and wider fields.
At Munich where they first halted, Wolfgang sought an engagement at the Elector’s Court. He had an audience at the Nymphenburg, a magnificent palace on the outskirts of the city. The Elector said there was no vacancy ; he did not know but later it might be possible to make one, after Mozart had been to Italy and had made a name for himself. With these words the Elector turned away. Mozart stood as if stunned. To Italy, when he had concertized there for about seven years, and had been showered with honors ! It was too much. He shook off the dust of Munich and he and his mother went on to Mannheim. Here was a more congenial atmosphere. The Elector maintained a fine orchestra, and with the conductor, Cannabich, Mozart became great friends, giving music lessons to his daughter. But he could not seem to secure a permanent appointment at Court, worthy his genius and ability. Money became more scarce and the father and sister must make many sacri flees at home to send money to maintain mother and son. With the best of intentions Wolfgang failed to make his way except as a piano teacher. The father had resorted to the same means of securing the extra sums required, and wrote quite sharply to the son to bestir himself and get something settled for the future.
For the young genius, Mannheim possessed a special attraction of which the father knew nothing. Shortly after their arrival in the city, Wolfgang became acquainted with the Weber family. The two oldest daughters, Aloysia, fifteen, and Constanza, fourteen, were charming girls just budding into womanhood. Aloysia had a sweet, pure voice, and was studying for the stage; indeed she had already made her début in opera. It was not at all strange that young Mozart, who often joined the family circle, should fall in ‘love with the girl’s fair beauty and fresh voice, should write songs for her and teach her to sing them as he wished. They were much together and their early attraction fast ripened into love. Wolfgang formed a project for helping the Webers, who were in rather straitened circumstances, by undertaking a journey to Italy in company with Aloysia and her father; he would write an opera in which Aloysia should appear as prima donna. Of this brilliant plan he wrote his father, saying they could stop in Salzburg on the way, when the father and Nannerl could meet the fair young singer, whom they would be sure to love.
Leopold Mozart was distracted at news of this project. He at once wrote, advising his son to go to Paris and try there to make a name and fame for himself. The son dutifully yielded at once. With a heavy heart he prepared to leave Mannheim, where he had spent such a happy winter, and his love dream came to an end. It was a sad parting with the Weber household, for they regarded Wolfgang as their greatest benefactor. ‘
The hopes Leopold Mozart had built on Wolfgang’s success in Paris were not to be realized. The enthusiasm he had aroused as a child prodigy was not awarded to the matured musician. Three months passed away in more or less fruit-less endeavor. Then the mother, who had been his constant companion in these trials and travels, fell seriously ill. On July 3, 1778, she passed away in her son’s arms.
Mozart prepared to leave Paris at once, and his father was the more willing, since the Archbishop of Salzburg offered Wolfgang the position of Court organist, at a salary of 500 florins, with permission to absent himself whenever he might be called upon to conduct his own operas. Leo pold urged Wolfgang’s acceptance, as their joint income would amount to one thousand florins a yeara sum that would enable them to pay their debts and live in comparative comfort.
To Mozart the thought of settling down in Salzburg under the conditions stated in his father’s letter was distasteful, but he had not the heart to withstand his father’s appeal. He set out from Paris at once, promising himself just one indulgence before entering the bondage which lay before him, a visit to his friends the Webers at Mannheim. When he arrived there he found they had gone to Munich to live. Therefore he pushed on to Munich. The Weber family received him as warmly as of old, but in Aloysia’s eyes there was only a friendly greeting, nothing more. A few short months had cooled her fickle attachment for the young composer. This discovery was a bitter trial to Wolfgang and he returned to his Salzburg home saddened by disappointed love and ambition.
Here in his old home he was cheered by a rapturous welcome ; it was little short of a triumph, this greeting and homage showered on him by father, sister and friends. In their eyes his success was unshadowed by failure ; to them he was Mozart the great composer, the genius among musicians. He was very grateful for these proofs of affection and esteem, but he had still the same aversion to Salzburg and his Court duties. So it was with new-kindled joy that he set out once more for Munich, in November, 1780, to complete and produce the opera he had been commissioned to write for the carnival the following year.
The new opera, “Idomeneo,” fulfilled the high expectations his Munich friends had formed of the composer’s genius. Its reception at the rehearsals proved success was certain, and the Elector who was present, joined the performers in expressing his unqualified approval. At home the progress of the work was followed with deepest interest. The first performance of “Idomeneo” took place on January 29, 1781. Leopold and Marianne journeyed to Munich to witness Wolfgang’s triumph. It was a proud, happy moment for all three; the enthusiastic acclaim which shook the theater seemed to the old father, who watched with swimming eyes the sea of waving hands around him, to set the seal of greatness on his son’s career.
The Archbishop, under whom Mozart held the meager office we have spoken of, grew more overbearing in his treatment; he was undoubtedly jealous that great people of Vienna were so deferential to one of his servants, as he chose to call him. At last the rupture came; after a stormy scene Mozart was dismissed from his service, and was free.
Father Mozart was alarmed when he heard the news of the break, and endeavored to induce Wolfgang to reconsider his decision and return to Salzburg. But the son took a firm stand for his independence. “Do not ask me to return to Salzburg,” he wrote his father; “ask me anything but that.”
And now came a time of struggling for Mozart. His small salary was cut off and he had but one pupil. He had numerous friends, however, and soon his fortunes began to mend. He was lodging with his old friends the Webers. Aloysia, his former beloved, had married; Madame Weber and her two unmarried daughters were now in Vienna and in reduced circumstances. Mozart’s latest opera, “The Elopement,” had brought him fame both in Vienna and Prague, and he had the patronage of many distinguished persons, as well as that of Emperor Josef.
Mozart had now decided to make a home for himself, and chose as his bride Constanza Weber, a younger sister of Aloysia, his first love. In spite of Leopold Mozart’s remonstrance, the young people were married August 18, 1782.
Constanza, though a devoted wife, was inexperienced in home keeping. The young couple were soon involved in many financial troubles from which there seemed no way out, except by means of some Court appointment. This the Emperor in spite of his sincere interest in the composer, seemed disinclined to give.
Mozart now thought seriously of a journey to London and Paris, but his father’s urgent appeal that he would wait and exercise patience, delayed him. Meanwhile he carried out an ardent desire to pay a visit to his father and sister in Salzburg, to present to them his bride. It was a very happy visit, and later on, when Mozart and his wife were again settled in Vienna, they welcomed the father on a return visit. Leopold found his son immersed in work, and it gladdened his heart to see the appreciation in which his playing and compositions were held. One happy evening they spent with Josef Haydn who, after hearing some of Mozart’s quartets played, took the father aside, saying: “I declare before God, as a man of honor, that your son is the greatest composer I know, either personally or by reputation. He has taste, but more than that the most consummate knowledge of the art of composition.”
This happy time was to be the last meeting between father and son. Soon after Leopold’s return to Salzburg, he was stricken with illness, and passed away May 28, 1787. The news reached the composer shortly after he had achieved one of the greatest successes of his life.
The performances of his latest opera, “The Mar riage of Figaro,” had been hailed with delight by enthusiastic crowds in Vienna and Prague; its songs were heard at every street corner, and village ale house. “Never was anything more complete than the triumph of Mozart and his ‘ Nozze di Figaro,’ ” wrote a singer and friend. ”And for Mozart himself, I shall never for-get his face when lighted up with the glowing rays of genius ; it is as impossible to describe as to paint sunbeams.”
Despite the success of Figaro, Mozart was still a poor man, and must earn his bread by giving music lessons. Finally the Emperor, hoping to keep him in Germany, appointed him Chamber-composer at a salary of about eighty pounds a year. It must have seemed to Mozart and his friends a beggarly sum for the value his Majesty professed to set upon the composer’s services to art. “Too much for the little I am asked to produce, too little for what I could produce,” were the bitter words he penned on the official return stating the amount of his salary.
Mozart was inclined to be somewhat extravagant in dress and household expenditure, also very generous to any one who needed assistance. These trials, added to the fact that his wife was frequently in ill health, and not very economical, served to keep the family in continual straits.
Occasionally they were even without fire or food, though friends always assisted such dire distress.
Mozart’s father had declared procrastination was his son’s besetting sin. Yet the son was a tireless worker, never idle. In September, 1787, he was at Prague, writing the score of his greatest opera, “Don Giovanni”; the time was short, as the work was to be produced October 29. On the evening of the 28th it was found he had not yet written the overture. It only had to be writ ten down, for this wonderful genius had the music quite complete in his head. He set to work, while his wife read fairy tales aloud to keep him awake, and gave him strong punch at intervals. By seven o’clock next morning the score was ready for the copyist. It was played in the evening without rehearsal, with the ink scarcely dry on the paper.
Even the successes of “Don Giovanni,” which was received with thunders of applause, failed to remedy his desperate financial straits. Shortly after this his pupil and patron, Prince Karl Lichnowsky, proposed he should accompany him to Berlin. Mozart gladly consented, hoping for some betterment to his fortunes. The King of Prussia received him with honor and respect and offered him the post of Capellmeister, at a salary equal to about three thousand dollars.
This sum would have liberated him from all his financial embarrassments, and he was strongly tempted to accept. But loyalty to his good Emperor Josef caused him to decline the offer.
The month of July, 1791, found Mozart at home in Vienna at work on a magic opera to help his friend Salieri, who had taken a little theater in the suburb of Wieden. One day he was visited by a stranger, a tall man, who said he came to commission Mozart to compose a Requiem. He would neither give his own name nor that of the person who had sent him.
Mozart was somewhat depressed by this mysterious commission; however he set to work on the Requiem at once. The composing of both this and the fairy opera was suddenly interrupted by a pressing request that he would write an opera for the coronation of Leopold II at Prague. The ceremony was fixed for September 6, so no time was to be lost. Mozart set out at once for Prague. The traveling carriage was at the door. As he was about to enter it, the mysterious stranger suddenly appeared and enquired for the Requiem. The composer could only promise to finish on his return, when hastily entering his carriage, he drove away.
The new opera, “La Clemenza di Tito,” was finished in time and performed, but was received somewhat indifferently. Mozart returned to Vienna with spirits depressed and body exhausted by overwork. However, he braced himself anew, and on September 30th, the new fairy opera, the “Magic Flute,” was produced, and its success increased with each performance.
The Requiem was not yet finished and to this work Mozart now turned. But the strain and excitement he had undergone for the past few months had done their work: a succession of fainting spells overcame him, and the marvelous powers which had always been his seemed no longer at his command. He feared he would not live to complete the work. “It is for myself I am writing the Requiem,” he said sadly to Constanza, one day.
On the evening of December 4, friends who had gathered at his bedside, handed him, at his desire, the score of the Requiem, and, propped up by pillows he tried to sing one of the passages. The effort was too great; the manuscript slipped from his nerveless hand and he fell back speechless with emotion. A few hours later, on the morning of December 5, 1791, this great master of whom it was prophesied that he would cause all others to be forgotten, passed from the scene of his many struggles and greater triumphs.