SALZBURG, like Prague and Pressburg and Esterháza, was a musical outpost of Vienna. It had its own character, partly from the salt mines that explain its name, partly from its environing mountains and its bisecting Salzach River, partly from having grown up around the monastery and episcopal see founded there about A.D. 700 by St. Rupert of Worms. The archbishop had been made an Imperial prince in 1278, and from that time till 1802 he was the civic as well as the ecclesiastical ruler of the city. In 1731-32 some thirty thousand Protestants had been forced to migrate, leaving Salzburg thoroughly and theocratically Catholic. Otherwise the archiepiscopal rule rested lightly on an orthodox population which, assured of eternal certainties, devoted itself to epidermal contacts and other worldly joys. Sigismund von Schrattenbach, archbishop during Mozart’s youth, was especially genial and kindly, except to heretics.
To this lovely town Leopold Mozart had come in 1737, aged eighteen, from his native Augsburg, presumably to study theology and become a priest. But he lost his heart to music, served for three years as musician and valet in a patrician’s home, and in 1743 became fourth violinist in the Archbishop’s orchestra. When he married Anna Maria Pertl (1747) he and she were rated the handsomest couple in Salzburg. He composed concertos, Masses, symphonies, and wrote a long-honored textbook of violin technique. In 1757 he was appointed court composer to the Archbishop. Of his seven children only two survived childhood: Maria Anna (Marianna, “Nannerl”), born 1751, and Wolfgang Amadeus, born January 27, 1756. (The boy’s full name—soliciting the intercession of several saints—was Joannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart; Theophilus was translated from Greek into Latin as Amadeus, Lover of God.) Leopold was a good husband and father, devoted and industrious. His letters to his son are warm with love, and not wanting in wisdom. The Mozart home—allowing for a little obscenity—was a haven of mutual affection, parental piety, childish pranks, and music without end.
Every German child was expected to become in some measure, on some instrument, a musician. Leopold taught his children music with their ABC’s. Marianna was already at eleven a virtuoso at the clavichord. Wolfgang, stimulated by her lead, took eagerly to the clavier: at three he picked out chords; at four he played several pieces from memory; at five he invented compositions which the father put on paper as they were played. Leopold refrained, at some cost, from taking other pupils, wishing to give full attention to his children. He did not send “Wolf” to school, for he proposed to be his teacher in everything. Presumably some German discipline was used, but not much was needed in this case; the boy would of his own accord remain at the keyboard for hours on end till forced away.1 Years later Leopold wrote to him:
Both as a child and as a boy you were serious rather than childlike; and when you were at the clavier, or otherwise engaged with music, you would not suffer the least joking to go on with you. Your very countenance was so serious that many observant persons prophesied your early death, on the ground of your precocious talent and earnest mien.2
In January, 1762, while Germany was still torn with war, Leopold took daughter and son to Munich to display their artistry before the Elector Maximilian Joseph; and in September he led them to Vienna. They were invited to Schönbrunn; Maria Theresa and Francis I were delighted with the children; Wolfgang leaped into the Empress’ lap, hugged and kissed her; challenged by the Emperor, he played the violin with one finger, and played the clavichord unerringly though the keys were covered with a cloth. Romping with the princesses, Wolfgang stumbled and fell; the Archduchess Maria Antonia, seven years old, picked him up and comforted him. “You are good,” he said, and gratefully added, “I will marry you.”3 A dozen aristocrats opened their homes to the Mozarts, marveled at the music they heard, and rewarded the trio with money and gifts. Then the boy was bedded for a fortnight with scarlet fever—the first of many illnesses that were to mar his travels. In January, 1763, the troupe returned to Salzburg.
The indulgent Archbishop overlooked the fact that Leopold had exceeded his leave of absence; indeed, he promoted him to be Vize-Kapellmeister. But on June 9, forfeiting further promotion, Leopold took to the road again, this time with his wife, to show his brood to Europe; after all, they could not remain child prodigies forever. At Mainz the children gave two concerts, at Frankfurt four; sixty years later Goethe recalled that he had heard one of these, and how he had marveled at “the little man with wig and sword”—for so Leopold had accoutered his son. Wolfgang was exploited by his father as almost a circus wonder. An announcement in a Frankfurt newspaper of August 30, 1763, promised that in the concert of that evening
the little girl, who is in her twelfth year, will play the most difficult compositions of the greatest masters; the boy, who is not yet seven, will perform on the clavichord or harpsichord; he will also play a concerto for the violin, and will accompany symphonies on the clavier, the keyboard being covered with a cloth, with as much facility as if he could see the keys. He will instantly name all notes played at a distance, whether singly or in chords, on the clavier or on any other instrument—bell, glass, or clock. He will finally, both on the harpsichord and the organ, improvise as long as may be desired, and in any key.4
Such demands upon the boy’s talents may have done some damage to his health or nerves, but he seems to have enjoyed the applause as much as his father enjoyed the florins.
They played at Coblenz, were disappointed at Bonn and Cologne, but had a concert at Aachen. At Brussels they expected that the governor-general, Prince Charles of Lorraine, would honor their performance with his presence, but he was busy. Leopold angrily reported:
We have now been nearly three weeks in Brussels … and nothing has happened. … His Highness does nothing but hunt, gobble, and swill, and we may in the end discover that he has no money.... I own that we have received sundry presents here, but we do not wish to convert them into cash. … What with snuffboxes and leather cases and such-like gewgaws, we shall soon be able to open a stall.5
The Prince finally agreed to attend; a concert was given, florins were collected, and the troupe encoached for Paris.
On November 15, 1763, they arrived in Paris after tumbling three days on rough and rutted roads. They had letters of introduction to many notables, but none proved so valuable as the one to Melchior Grimm. He arranged to have the Mozarts received by Mme. de Pompadour, by the royal family, finally by Louis XV and Queen Marie Leszczinska. Now the most lordly homes were opened to the visitors, private and public concerts went off well, and Grimm wrote enthusiastically to his clientele:
True miracles are rare, but how wonderful it is when we have the opportunity to see one! A Salzburg Kapellmeister by the name of Mozart has just come here with two of the prettiest children in the world. His daughter, aged eleven, plays the piano in the most brilliant fashion, performs the longest and most difficult pieces with astounding precision. Her brother, who will be seven next February, is such an extraordinary phenomenon that you can hardly believe what you see with your own eyes. … His hands are hardly big enough to take a sixth. … He improvises for an hour, yielding himself to the inspiration of his genius, with a wealth of delightful ideas. … The most consummate Kapellmeister cannot possibly have so deep a knowledge of harmony and modulation as this child.... It is nothing for him to decipher whatever you put before him. He writes and composes with marvelous ease, and does not find it necessary to go to the piano and look for his chords. I wrote out a minuet for him and asked him to put a bass to it. He seized a pen, and without going to the piano he wrote the bass. … The child will turn my head if I listen to him much more. … What a pity that so little is understood of music in this country!6
After many triumphs in Paris the family departed for Calais (April 10, 1764). In London they were received by George III. For four hours, on May 19, before King and court, Wolfgang played Handel and Bach and other masters at sight; he accompanied Queen Charlotte’s singing, and improvised a new melody to the bass of a Handel aria. Johann Christian Bach, who had settled in London in 1762, placed the boy on his knee and played a sonata with him, each playing a bar in turn, “with so much precision that no one would have suspected two performers.”7 Bach began a fugue, Wolfgang pursued it, again as if the two geniuses were one. Thereafter, for several years, Mozart’s compositions showed the influence of Johann Christian Bach. On June 5 the children gave a concert which gladdened Leopold with a hundred guineas net. But the father was afflicted with severe inflammation of the throat, and the family retired to Chelsea for seven weeks’ rest, during which Wolfgang, now eight, composed two symphonies (K. 16 and 19).
On July 24, 1765, they left London for Holland, but at Lille both father and son took sick, and the tour was halted for a month, though Archbishop von Schrattenbach had long ago called for Leopold’s return. They reached The Hague on September 11, but on the next day Marianna fell ill in her turn, and soon worsened so that on October 21 she received the last sacrament. On September 30 Wolfgang gave a concert without his sister’s aid. She had scarcely recovered when he was seized with a fever, and the family had to live in costly idleness till January, 1766. On January 29 and February 26 they gave concerts at Amsterdam; now for the first time a Mozart symphony (K. 22) was publicly performed. During these months the boy composed furiously. In May they returned to Paris, where much of their baggage had been left; Grimm secured comfortable lodgings for them; they again performed at Versailles and in public; not till July 9 did they tear themselves away from the fascinating capital.
They dallied at Dijon as guests of the Prince de Condé; they spent four weeks at Lyons, three at Geneva, one in Lausanne, another in Bern, two in Zurich, twelve days at Donaueschingen; then brief stops at Biberach, Ulm, and Augsburg; a longer stay at Munich, where Wolfgang again took sick. At last, toward the end of November, 1766, after an absence of three and a half years, the family regained Salzburg. The old Archbishop forgave them, and they could now appreciate the comforts of home. All seemed well, but Mozart was never quite healthy again.