From Munich, on September 26, Mozart wrote to his father a paean of liberation: “I am in my very best spirits, for my head has been as light as a feather ever since I got away from all that humbug; and what is more, I have become fatter.”18 That letter must have crossed one from Leopold, whose emotion may remind us again that the events of history were written upon human flesh:
After you both had left, I walked up our steps very wearily, and threw myself down on a chair. When we said good-by I made great efforts to retain myself in order not to make our parting too painful, and in the rush and flurry I forgot to give my son a father’s blessing. I ran to the window and sent my blessing after you, but I did not see you. … Nannerl wept bitterly. … She and I send greetings to Mamma, and we kiss you and her millions of times.19
Munich taught Wolfgang that he was no longer a prodigy, but just one musician in a land where the supply of composers and performers was outrunning the demand. He had hoped to secure a good place in the Elector’s musical retinue, but all places were filled. Mother and son passed on to Augsburg, where they wore themselves out with visiting, at Leopold’s urging, the friends of Leopold’s youth; but the survivors were now mostly fat and stodgy, and Wolfgang found no interest in them except with a merry cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, whom he was to immortalize with obscenities. More to his purpose was Johann Andreas Stein, maker of pianofortes; here for the first time Mozart, who had hitherto used the harpsichord, began to appreciate the possibilities of the new instrument; by the time he reached Paris he had made his transition to the piano. At a concert in Augsburg he played both the piano and the violin, to great applause but little profit.
On October 26 mother and son moved on to Mannheim. There Mozart enjoyed the company and stimulus of skilled musicians, but the Elector Karl Theodor could find no opening for him, and rewarded his performance at court with only a gold watch. Mozart wrote to his father: “Ten carolins would have suited me better. … What one needs on a journey is money; and, let me tell you, I now have five watches.... I am seriously thinking of having a watch pocket on each leg of my trousers; when I visit some great lord I shall wear both watches, … so that it will not occur to him to give me another.”20 Leopold advised him to hurry on to Paris, where Grimm and Mme. d’Épinay would help him; but Wolfgang persuaded his mother that the trip would be too arduous for her in the winter months. Assuming that they were soon leaving for Paris, Leopold warned Wolfgang to beware of the women and the musicians there, and reminded him that he was now the financial hope of the family. Leopold had gone into debt for seven hundred gulden; he was taking pupils in his old age,
and that, too, in a town where this heavy work is wretchedly paid. … Our future depends upon your abundant good sense.... I know that you love me, not merely as your father, but also as your truest and surest friend; and that you understand and realize that our happiness and unhappiness, and, what is more, my long life or my speedy death, are, … apart from God, in your hands. If I have read you aright, I have nothing but joy to expect from you, and this alone must console me when I am robbed by your absence of a father’s delight in hearing you, seeing you, and folding you in my arms. … From my heart I give you my paternal blessing.21
To one of Leopold’s letters (February 9, 1778) “Nannerl,” now twenty-six, dowerless and facing spinsterhood, added a note that rounds out the picture of this loving family:
Papa never leaves me room enough to write to Mamma and yourself.... I beg her not to forget me.... I wish you a pleasant journey to Paris, and the best of health. I do hope, however, that I shall be able to embrace you soon. God alone knows when that will happen. We are both longing for you to make your fortune, for that, I know for certain, will mean happiness for us all. I kiss Mamma’s hands and embrace you, and trust that you will always remember us and think of us. But you must do so only when you have time, say for a quarter of an hour when you are neither composing nor teaching.22
It was in this mood of great expectations and loving trust that Leopold received a letter written by Wolfgang on February 4, announcing the arrival of Cupid. Among the minor musicians at Mannheim was Fridolin Weber, who was blessed and burdened with a wife, five daughters, and a son. Frau Weber was casting nets to snare husbands, especially for the oldest daughter, Josefa, nineteen and nervously nubile. Mozart, however, fancied Aloysia, sixteen, whose angelic voice and swelling charms made her a young musician’s dream. He hardly noticed Constanze, fourteen, who was to be his wife. For Aloysia he composed some of his tenderest songs. When she sang them he forgot his own ambitions, and thought of accompanying her—and Josefa and their father—to Italy, where she could get vocal instruction and operatic opportunities, while he would help to support them by giving concerts and writing operas. All this the brave young lover explained to his father:
I have become so fond of this unfortunate family that my dearest wish is to make them happy. … My advice is that they should go to Italy. So now I should like you to write to our good friend Lugiati, and the sooner the better, and inquire what are the highest terms given to a prima donna in Verona. … As far as Aloysia’s singing is concerned, I would wager my life that she will bring me renown.... If our plan succeeds, we—Herr Weber, his two daughters, and I—will have the honor of visiting my dear sister for a fortnight on our way through Salzburg.... I will gladly write an opera for Verona for fifty zecchini ($650?), if only in order that she may make her name. … The eldest daughter will be very useful to us, for we could have our own ménage, as she can cook. Apropos, you must not be too much surprised when you learn that I have only forty-two gulden left out of seventy-seven. This is merely the result of my delight at being again in the company of honest and like-minded people. . . .
Send me an answer soon. Do not forget how much I desire to write operas. I envy anyone who is composing one. I could really weep for vexation when I hear … an aria. But Italian, not German; seria, not buffa! … I have now written all that is weighing on my heart. My mother is quite satisfied with my ideas. … The thought of helping a poor family, without injury to myself, delights my very soul. I kiss your hands a thousand times and remain until death your most obedient son.23
Leopold replied on February 11:
My dear son! I have read your letter of the 4th with amazement and horror. … For the whole night I have been unable to sleep. … Merciful God! … Those happy moments are gone when, as a child or a boy, you never went to bed without standing on a chair and singing to me, … and kissing me again and again on the tip of my nose, and telling me that when I grew old you would put me in a glass case and protect me from every breath of air, so that you might always have me with you and honor me. Listen to me, therefore, in patience! ...
He went on to say that he had hoped Wolfgang would defer marriage until he had made a secure place for himself in the musical world; then he would get a good wife, bring up a fine family, help his parents and his sister. But now, infatuated with a young siren, this son forgets his parents, and thinks only of following a girl to Italy, as part of her entourage. What incredible nonsense!
Off with you to Paris! and that soon! Find your place among great people. Aut Caesar aut nihil! … From Paris the name and fame of a man of great talent resounds through the whole world. There the nobility treat men of genius with the greatest deference, esteem, and courtesy; there you will see a refined manner of life, which forms an astonishing contrast to the coarseness of our German courtiers and their ladies; and there you may become proficient in the French tongue.24
Mozart answered humbly that he had not taken very seriously the plan to escort the Webers to Italy. He said a tearful goodbye to the Webers, and promised to see them on his way home. On March 14, 1778, he and his mother set off in the public coach for Paris.