Mozart was not physically attractive. He was short, his head was too large for his body, his nose was too large for his face, his upper lip overlapped the lower, his bushy brows darkened his restless eyes; only his abounding blond hair impressed. In later years he sought to offset the shortcomings of his stature and features by splendid dress: shirt of lace, blue coat with tails, gold buttons, knee breeches, and silver buckles on his shoes.56 Only when he performed at the piano was his physique forgotten; then his eyes burned with intense concentration, and every muscle of his body subordinated itself to the play of his mind and hands.
As a boy he was modest, good-natured, trustful, loving; but his early fame, and an almost daily diet of applause, developed some faults in his character. “My son,” Leopold warned him (1778), “you are hot-tempered and impulsive, … much too ready to retort in a bantering tone to the first challenge.”57 Mozart admitted this and more. “If anyone offends me,” he wrote, “I must revenge myself; unless I revenge myself with interest, I consider I have only repaid my enemy and not corrected him.”58 And he yielded to no one in appreciating his genius. “Prince Kaunitz told the Archduke that people like myself come into the world only once in a hundred years.”59
A sense of humor prevailed in his letters, and appeared in his music, till his dying year. Usually it was harmlessly playful; sometimes it became sharp satire; occasionally, in youth, it ran to obscenity. He passed through a stage of fascination with defecation. When he was twenty-one he wrote to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart nineteen letters of incredible vulgarity.60 A letter to his mother celebrated flatulence in prose and verse.61 She was not squeamish, for in a letter to her husband she counseled him, “Keep well, my love; into your mouth your arse you’ll shove.”62 Apparently such fundamental phrases were standard procedure in the Mozart family and their circle; they were probably an heirloom from a lustier generation. They did not prevent Mozart from writing to his parents and his sister letters of the tenderest affection.
He was, on his own word, a virgin bridegroom. Was he a faithful husband? His wife accused him of “servant gallantries.”63 According to his devoted biographer:
Rumor was busy among the public and in the press, and magnified solitary instances of weakness on his part into distinguishing features of his character. He was credited with intrigues with every pupil he had, and with every singer for whom he wrote a song; it was considered witty to designate him as the natural prototype of Don Juan.64
The frequent confinements of his wife, her repeated trips to health resorts, his own absence from her on concert tours, his sensitivity to all the charms of women, his association with bewitching singers and uninhibited actresses, created a situation in which some adventure was well-nigh inevitable. Constanze related how he had confessed such an “indiscretion” to her, and why she forgave him—“he was so good it was impossible to be angry with him”; but her sister reports violent outbreaks now and then.65 Mozart seems to have been very fond of his wife; he bore patiently her deficiencies as a housewife, and wrote to her, during their separations, letters of almost childish endearment.66
He was not a success socially. He judged some rivals harshly, “Clementi’s sonatas are worthless. … He is a charlatan, like all Italians.”67 “Yesterday I was fortunate enough to hear Herr Freyhold play a concerto of his own wretched composition. I found very little to admire.”68 On the other hand, he praised the quartets recently published by Ignaz Pleyel, though they competed with his own. His father reproached him for getting himself disliked because of his arrogance;69 Mozart denied the arrogance, but it cannot be denied that he had very few friends among Viennese musicians, and that his proud spirit raised obstacles to his advancement. In Austria and Germany a musician’s fate depended upon the aristocracy, and Mozart refused to give precedence to birth over genius.
He suffered another handicap in having never gone to school or university. His father had allowed him no time for general education. Mozart had among his few books some volumes of poetry by Gessner, Wieland, and Gellert, but he seems to have used them chiefly as a source of possible librettos. He cared little for art or literature. He was in Paris when Voltaire died; he could not understand why the city had made such a fuss over the old rebel’s visit and death. “That godless rascal Voltaire,” he wrote to his father, “has pegged out like a dog, like a beast! That is his reward.”70 He imbibed some anticlericalism from his Masonic confrères, but he took part, candle in hand, in a Corpus Christi procession.71
Perhaps it was the simplicity of his mind that made him lovable despite his faults. Those who were not his rivals in music found him sociable, cheerful, kind, and usually serene. “All my life,” his sister-in-law Sophie Weber wrote, “I have never seen Mozart in a temper, still less angry”;72 but there were contrary reports. He was the life of many a party, always willing to play, always ready for a joke or a game. He liked bowling, billiards, and the dance; at times he seemed prouder of his dancing than of his music.73 If he was not generous to his competitors, he was almost thoughtlessly liberal to everybody else. Beggars were seldom repulsed by him. A piano tuner repeatedly borrowed from him and failed to repay. Mozart talked frankly about his high regard for money, but that was because he had so little time or inclination to think of it that he often had none. Thrown upon his own moneymaking resources, and called upon to support a family by competing with a hundred jealous musicians, he neglected his finances, allowed his earnings to slip unheeded through his fingers, and fell into despondent destitution just when, in his last three symphonies and his last three operas, he was writing the finest music of his time.