Leopold was an unrelenting taskmaster. He put his son through a hard course of instruction in counterpoint, thorough bass, and such other elements of composition as had come down to him from German and Italian music. When the Archbishop heard that Wolfgang composed, he wondered was not the father co-operating. To settle the question he invited the boy to stay with him for a week; he isolated him from all outside help, gave him paper, pencil, and harpsichord, and bade him compose part of an oratorio on the First Commandment. At the close of the week Mozart presented the result; the Archbishop was told that it merited praise; he commissioned his Konzertmeister, Michael (brother of Joseph) Haydn, to compose a second part, and his organist to compose a third; the whole was performed at the archiepiscopal court on March 12, 1767, and was judged worthy of repetition on April 2. Mozart’s part is now included as No. 35 in Köchel’s catalogue.*
Learning that the Archduchess Maria Josepha was soon to marry King Ferdinand of Naples, Leopold thought the ceremonies to be held at the Imperial court would offer a new opportunity for his children. On September 11, 1767, the family left for Vienna. They were admitted to the court, with the result that both Wolfgang and Marianna caught smallpox from the bride. The unhappy parents took their prodigies to Olmütz in Moravia, where Count Podstatsky gave them shelter and care. Mozart was blind for nine days. On January 10, 1768, the family was back in Vienna; both the Empress and Joseph II received them cordially, but the court was mourning the death of the bride, and concerts were out of the question.
After a long and unprofitable absence the family returned to Salzburg (January 5, 1769). Mozart continued his studies with his father, but toward the end of the year Leopold decided that he had taught the boy all that he could, and that what Wolfgang needed now was acquaintance with the musical life of Italy. Having secured letters of introduction to Italian maestri from Johann Hasse and others, father and son set out on December 13, 1769, leaving Marianna and mother to keep a footing in Salzburg. On the next evening Mozart gave a concert at Innsbruck; he played at sight an unfamiliar concerto placed before him as a test of his skill; the local press acclaimed his “extraordinary musical attainments.”8 At Milan they met Sammartini, Hasse, and Piccini, and Count von Firmian secured for Wolfgang a commission for an opera; this meant a hundred ducats for the family coffers. At Bologna they heard the still marvelous voice of Farinelli, who had returned from his triumphs in Spain, and they arranged with Padre Martini that Wolfgang should return to take the tests for the coveted diploma of the Accademia Filarmonica. At Florence, at the court of the Grand Duke Leopold, Mozart played the harpsichord to Nardini’s violin. Then father and son hurried on to Rome for the Holy Week music.
They arrived on April 11, 1770, in a storm of thunder and lightning, so that Leopold could report that they had been “received like grand people with a discharge of artillery.”9 They were just in time to go to the Sistine Chapel and hear the “Miserere” of Gregorio Allegri, which was sung there annually. Copies of this famous chorale, written for four, five, or nine parts, were hard to get; Mozart listened to it twice and wrote it out from memory. They stayed four weeks in Rome, giving concerts in the homes of the civil or ecclesiastical nobility. On May 8 they undertook the journey to Naples; robbers made the road perilous; the Mozarts traveled with four Augustinian monks to secure divine protection or an emergency viaticum. Naples held them for a full month, for the aristocracy, from Tanucci downward, invited them to soirees and placed lordly equipages at their disposal. When Wolfgang played at the Conservatorio della Pietà the superstitious audience ascribed his prowess to some magic in the ring he wore; they were amazed when, having discarded the ring, he played as brilliantly as before.
After enjoying Rome again they crossed the Apennines to worship the Virgin in her Santa Casa at Loretto; then they turned north to spend three months at Bologna. Almost daily Mozart received instruction from Padre Martini in the arcana of composition. Then he took the test for admission to the Accademia Filarmonica: he was given a piece of Gregorian plain chant, to which, while he was shut up alone in a room, he was required to add three upper parts in stile osservato—strict traditional style. He failed, but the good padre corrected his work, and the revised form was accepted by the jury “in view of the special circumstances”—presumably Mozart’s youth.
On October 18 father and son were in Milan. There Wolfgang had his first triumph as a composer, but after hard work and much tribulation. The subject for his commissioned opera was Mitridate, re di Ponto; the libretto was taken from Racine. The fourteen-year-old youth toiled so hard in composing, playing, and rewriting that his fingers ached; his enthusiasm became a fever, and his father had to restrict his hours of work and cool his agitation with an occasional walk. Mozart felt that this, his first opera seria, was a far more critical test than that antiquarian trial at Bologna; his career as an operatic composer might depend upon the outcome. Now, though not much inclined to piety, he begged his mother and sister to pray for the success of this venture, “so that we may all live happily together again.”10 At last, when he was near exhaustion with rehearsals, the opera was presented to the public (December 26, 1770); the composer conducted, and his triumph was complete. Every important aria was received with wild applause, some with cries of “Evviva il maestro! Evviva il maestrino!” The opera was repeated twenty times. “We see by this,” wrote the proud and pious father, “how the power of God works in us when we do not bury the talents that He has graciously bestowed upon us.”11
Now they could go home with their heads high. On March 28, 1771, they reached Salzburg. They had hardly arrived when they received a request from Count von Firmian, in the name of the Empress, that Wolfgang write a serenata or cantata, and come to Milan in October to conduct it as part of the ceremonies that were to celebrate the marriage of Archduke Ferdinand to the Princess of Modena. Archbishop Sigismund consented to another absence of Leopold from his duties; and on August 13 pater et filius set out again for Italy. Arrived in Milan, they found that Hasse was there, preparing an opera for the same ceremonies; perhaps without intending it so, the managers had arranged a battle of genius between the most renowned living composer of Italian opera, who was in his seventy-third year, and the fifteen-year-old lad who had barely tried his operatic wings. Hasse’s Ruggiero was performed to great applause on October 16. On the next day Mozart’s cantata, Ascanio in Alba, was sung under his baton, and “the applause was extraordinary.” “I am sorry,” wrote Leopold to his wife, “that Wolfgang’s serenata should have so entirely eclipsed Hasse’s opera.”12 Hasse was generous; he joined in the praise of Mozart, and made a famous prophecy: “Questo ragazzo ci farà dimenticar tutti”(This boy will throw us all into oblivion).13
Father and son returned to Salzburg (December 11, 1771). Five days later the good Sigismund died. His successor as archbishop, Hieronymus von Paula, Count von Colloredo, was a man of intellectual culture, an admirer of Rousseau and Voltaire, an enlightened despot eager to carry out the reforms that Joseph II was preparing. But even more than Joseph he was despotic as well as enlightened, demanding discipline and obedience, and intolerant of opposition. For his ceremonial installation on April 29, 1772, he asked nothing less than an opera from Mozart. The now famous youth responded hastily with Il sogno di Scipione (The Dream of Scipio) ; it served its turn and is forgotten. Colloredo forgave it, and appointed Wolfgang concertmaster with a yearly salary of 150 florins. The youth busied himself for some months with composing symphonies, quartets, and religious music, but also he worked on an opera, Lucio Silla, which Milan had ordered for 1773.
By November 4, 1772, Leopold and his moneymaker were again in the Lombard capital, and soon Wolf was laboring to find compromises between his musical ideas and the caprices and capacities of the singers. The prima donna began by being imperious and hard to satisfy; the maestrino was patient with her; she ended by loving him, and declared herself “enchanted by the incomparable way Mozart had served her.”14 The première (February 26, 1772) was not so certain a success as Mitridate two years before; the tenor fell ill during rehearsals, and had to be replaced by a singer with no stage experience; nevertheless the opera bore nineteen repetitions. The music was difficult; the arias were strung too high with passion; perhaps some strain of Germany’s Sturm und Drang had made here an incongruous entry into Italian opera.15 In exchange, Mozart brought back with him the bel canto clarity of Italian song, and his naturally happy spirit was further brightened by Italian skies and plein-air life. He learned in Italy that opera buff a,as he heard it in the works of Piccini and Paisiello, could be high art; he studied the form, and in Figaro and Don Giovanni he perfected it. To his alert mind and ears every experience was education.
March 13, 1773, saw père et fils again in Salzburg. The new Archbishop was not as tolerant of their long absences as Sigismund had been. He saw no reason for rewarding Leopold with promotion, and treated Wolfgang as merely one of his household retinue. He expected the Mozarts to supply his choir and his orchestra with music prompt, new, and good; and for two years they labored to satisfy him. But Leopold wondered how he could support his family without additional tours, and Wolfgang, accustomed to applause, could not adjust himself to being a musical servant. Besides, he wanted to write operas, and Salzburg had too small a stage, too small a choir, orchestra, and audience, to let the bright fledgling flap his expanding wings.
The clouds broke for a while when Elector Maximilian Joseph of Bavaria commissioned Mozart to write an opera buff a for the Munich Carnival of 1775, and secured the Archbishop’s consent to a leave of absence for the composer and his father. They left Salzburg on December 6, 1774. Wolfgang suffered from the severe cold, which brought on a toothache more severe than either music or philosophy could mitigate. But the première of La finta giardiniera (The Pretended Garden Girl), January 13, 1775, led Christian Schubart, a prominent composer, to predict: “If Mozart does not turn out to be a hothouse plant [too rapidly developed by intensive domestic care], he will undoubtedly be one of the greatest composers that ever lived.”16 His head swirling with success, Mozart returned to Salzburg to serve what he felt to be an unworthy vassalage.
The Archbishop ordered a music drama to celebrate the expected visit of Maria Theresa’s youngest son, the Archduke Maximilian; Mozart took an old libretto by Metastasio and composed Il re pastore (The Shepherd King). It was performed on April 23, 1775. The story is silly, the music is excellent; excerpts from it still show up in the concert repertoire. Meanwhile Mozart was pouring forth sonatas, symphonies, concertos, serenades, Masses; and some of the compositions of these unhappy years—e.g., the Piano Concerto in E Flat (K. 271) and the Serenade in B (K. 250)—are among his enduring masterpieces. The Archbishop, however, told him that he knew nothing of the composer’s art, and should go to study at the Naples Conservatory.17
Unable to bear the situation longer, Leopold asked permission to take his son on a tour; Colloredo refused, saying he would not have members of his staff go on “begging expeditions.” When Leopold asked again the Archbishop dismissed him and his son from their employment. Wolfgang rejoiced, but his father was frightened at the prospect of being flung, aged fifty-six, upon the indiscriminate world. The Archbishop relented and reinstated him, but would not hear of any absence from his work. Who now would go with Wolfgang upon the extensive foray that had been planned? Mozart was twenty-one, just the age for sexual adventure and marital imprisonment; more than ever he needed guidance. So it was deci4ed that his mother should accompany him. Marianna, trying to forget that she too had been a genius, remained to give her father the most loving care. On September 23, 1777, mother and son left Salzburg to conquer Germany and France.