IV. IN PARIS: 1778

They arrived on March 23, just in time to be engulfed in the apotheosis of Voltaire. They took simple lodgings, and Mozart ran about seeking commissions. Grimm and Mme d’Épinay bestirred themselves to draw some attention to the youth whom Paris had acclaimed as a prodigy fourteen years before. Versailles offered him the post of court organist at two thousand livres for six months’ service per year; Leopold advised him to take it; Grimm opposed; Mozart refused it as too poorly paid, and perhaps as uncongenial to his talent. Many homes were opened to him if he would play the piano for a meal, but even to get to those homes required an expensive cab ride through muddy streets. One noble, the Duc de Guiñes, looked promising; for him and his daughter Mozart composed the glorious Concerto in C for flute and harp (K. 299), and he gave the young lady lessons in composition at a good fee; but soon she married, and the Duke paid only three louis d’or ($75?) for a concerto that should have laid Paris at Mozart’s feet. For the first time in his life Mozart lost courage. “I am tolerably well,” he wrote to his father on May 29, “but I often wonder whether life is worth living.” His spirits revived when Le Gros, director of the Concerts Spirituels, engaged him to write a symphony (K. 297). It was performed on June 18 with success.

Then, on July 3, his mother died. She had begun by enjoying her vacation from Salzburg and housewifery; soon she was longing to return to her home and the daily tasks and contacts that had given substance and significance to her life. The nine days’ trip to Paris in a jolting coach and jarring company and drenching rain had broken her health; and the failure of her son to find a berth in Paris had cast a gloom over her usually buoyant spirit. Day after day she had sat solitary amid strange surroundings and unintelligible words, while her son went to pupils, concerts, operas … Now, seeing her fade quietly away, Mozart spent the last weeks at her side, caring for her tenderly, and hardly believing that she could die so soon.

Mme. d’Épinay offered him a room in her home with Grimm, a place at her table, and the use of her piano. He did not quite harmonize with Grimm so near; Grimm idolized Voltaire, Mozart despised him, and was shocked at the assumption of his hosts and their friends that Christianity was a myth useful in social control. Grimm wanted him to accept small commissions as a road to larger ones, and to play gratis for influential families; Mozart felt that such a procedure would sap his strength, which he preferred to give to composing. Grimm thought him indolent, and so informed Leopold, who agreed.25 The situation was made worse by Mozart’s repeated borrowing from Grimm, to a total of fifteen louis dor ($375?). Grimm told him that repayment could be indefinitely postponed; it was.26

The situation was resolved by a letter (August 31, 1778) from Mozart père that Archbishop Colloredo had offered to make the father Kapellmeister if Wolfgang would serve as organist and concertmaster, each to receive five hundred florins per year; moreover, “the Archbishop has declared himself prepared to let you travel where you will if you want to write an opera.” As irresistible bait Leopold added that Aloysia Weber would probably be invited to join the Salzburg choir, in which case “she must stay with us.”27Mozart replied (September 11): “When I read your letter I trembled with joy, for I felt myself already in your embrace. It is true, as you will acknowledge, that it is not much of a prospect for me; but when I look forward to seeing you, and embracing my very dear sister, I think of no other prospect.”

On September 26 he took the coach to Nancy. At Strasbourg he earned a few louis d’or with arduous concerts to almost empty houses. He dallied at Mannheim, hoping to be appointed conductor of German opera; this too failed. He went on to Munich, dreaming of Aloysia Weber. But she had found a place in the Elector’s choir, perhaps in his heart; she received Mozart with a calm that showed no desire to be his bride. He composed and sang a bitter song, and resigned himself to Salzburg.

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