The quaint old city of Salzburg, Austria, built into the mountain-side,
is a Mecca for all who love music, and admire the immortal Mozart. When
he was alive, his native city allowed him nearly to starve; when he was
dead, she built him a beautiful monument, and preserved his home, a
plain two-story, stuccoed building, for thousands of travellers to look
upon sadly and tenderly.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born Jan. 27, 1756, a delicate, sensitive
child, who would ask a dozen times a day whether his friends loved him,
and, if answered in the negative, would burst into tears. At three, he
began to show his passion for music. He would listen intensely as his
father taught his little sister, Nannerl, seven years old; would move
his playthings from one room to another, to the sound of the violin; and
at four, composed pieces which astonished his sire.
Two years later, the proud father took Wolfgang and his sister on a
concert tour to Vienna. So well did the boy play, that the Empress Maria
Theresa held him in her arms, and kissed him heartily. One day as he
was walking between two of her daughters, he slipped on the polished
floor and fell. Marie Antoinette, afterward Empress of France, raised
him up, whereupon he said, "You are very kind; I will marry you." The
father was alarmed at this seeming audacity; but the lovely Princess
playfully kissed him.
The next year he was taken to Paris, and here two sets of sonatas, the
works of a boy of seven, were brought out, dedicated to Marie
Antoinette. The children sat at the royal table, poems were written
about them, and everywhere they excited wonder and admiration; yet so
excessively modest was young Mozart, that he cried when praised too
much. In London, Bach took the boy between his knees, and alternately
they played his own great works and those of Handel at sight. Royalty
gave them "gold snuffboxes enough to set up a shop," wrote home the
father; "but in money I am poor." Wolfgang was now taken ill of
inflammatory fever; but he could not give up his music. A board was laid
across the bed, and on this he wrote out his thoughts in the notes.
Finally, with ardor dampened at their lack of pecuniary success, Leopold
Mozart took his dear ones back to quiet Salzburg.
Here the cold archbishop, discrediting the reports of the boy's genius,
shut him up alone for a week to compose an oratorio, the text furnished
by himself. Mozart, only ten years old, stood the test brilliantly. The
next year a second tour was taken to Vienna, to be present at the
marriage of the Archduchess Maria Josepha. The bride died from smallpox
shortly after their arrival: and poor Wolfgang took the disease, and was
blind for nine days. When he recovered, the musicians, moved by envy and
jealousy, would not be outdone by a boy of twelve, who was equally at
home in German or Italian opera, and determined to hiss off the stage
whatever he might compose. Sad at heart, and disappointed, again the
Mozarts went back to the old home.
Two years later, after much self-sacrifice, the father took his boy to
Italy for study. The first day in Passion Week they went to the Sistine
Chapel to hear the famous "Miserere" of Allegri, which was considered so
sacred, that the musicians were forbidden to take home any part of it,
or copy it out of the chapel, on pain of excommunication. Wolfgang, as
soon as he reached his lodgings, wrote it out from memory; which
remarkable feat for a boy of fourteen astonished all Rome. So
wonderfully did he play, that the audience at Naples declared there was
witchcraft in the ring which he wore on his left hand, and he was
obliged to remove it. At Milan, when he was nearly fifteen, he composed
the opera "Mithridate," conducting it himself, which was given twenty
nights in succession to enthusiastic audiences. After this came requests
for operas from Maria Theresa, Munich, and elsewhere. He was busy every
moment. Overworked, he was often ill; but the need for money to meet
heavy expenses made constant work a necessity. All this time he wrote
beautiful letters to his mother and sister. "Kiss mamma's hand for me a
thousand billion times," is the language of his loving heart. He could
scarcely be said to have had any childhood; but he kept his tenderness
and affection to the last of his life.
After their return to Salzburg, finding the new archbishop even less
cordial than the old--the former had allowed Wolfgang the munificent
salary of five dollars and a fourth yearly!--it was deemed wise to try
to find a new field for employment. The father, now sixty years of age,
must earn a pittance for the family by giving music-lessons, while the
mother accompanied the son to Paris. The separation was a hard one for
the devoted father, who could not say good-by to his idolized son, and
poor Nannerl wept the whole day long. Mozart, now twenty-one, and
famous, well repaid this affection by his pure character. He wrote: "I
have God always before me. Whatever is according to his will is also
according to mine; therefore I cannot fail to be happy and contented."
Stopping for a time at Mannheim, he attempted to gain the position of
tutor to the elector's children, but was disappointed. Here he fell in
love with Aloysia Weber, a pretty girl of fifteen, whose father, a
prompter at the National Theatre, earned only two hundred dollars yearly
for the support of his wife and six children. The girl had a fine
voice; and Mozart, blinded by love, asked no higher joy than to write
operas in which she might be the star. The good old father, who had
spent all his life in helping his son to win fame, was nearly
heart-broken when he learned of this foolish affection, and wrote him
tenderly but firmly: "Off with you to Paris; get the great folks on your
side; aut Caesar, aut nihil. From Paris, the name and fame of a man of
great talent goes through the whole world."
The young man, carrying out his childish motto, "God first, and then
papa," reluctantly started for Paris. Here he did not meet with great
success, for scores of applicants waited for every position. His loving
mother soon died, perhaps from over economy in her cold, dark lodgings;
and the young musician took his lonely way back to Salzburg, begging his
father's consent to his stopping at Mannheim to see the Webers. Finding
that Aloysia had gone upon the stage at Munich, he hastened to see her.
She had been offered a good salary. Meantime Mozart had won no new
laurels at Paris. He was small in stature, and poor; and the girl who
wept at his departure a few months previously professed now scarcely to
have seen his face before. The young lover, cut to the heart, yet proud,
seated himself at the piano, and played,
"I leave the girl gladly who cares not for me,"
and then hastened away to Salzburg. Aloysia married a comedian, and
lived a most unhappy life, gaining some fame from singing the music
which Mozart wrote for her.
He remained at home for a year and a half, till called to Munich to
write the opera "Idomeneo," and later to Vienna. Here, unfortunately, he
met the Webers again, and, their father having died, he boarded in their
house, and gave lessons to Constance, a younger sister of Aloysia. She
was a plain, good-hearted girl, without much energy, but with a great
appreciation of her gifted teacher. The result came naturally; he fell
in love with the penniless girl, and, despite the distress of his aged
father at his choice, married her when he was twenty-six and she
Henceforward there was no hope of any thing save the direst poverty. To
marry without love is a grave mistake; to marry simply for love is
sometimes a mistake equally grave. He could of course do nothing now for
his aged father or sister. Unsteady employment, a rapidly-increasing
family, and a wife ill most of the time, made the struggle for existence
ten times harder than before his marriage. Once when he had prepared to
visit his father for the first time after the wedding, and had waited
months for the necessary funds, he was arrested for a debt of fifteen
dollars, just as he was stepping into the carriage.
The Emperor Joseph said to him one day, "Why did you not marry a rich
wife?" With dignity Mozart at once replied, "Sire, I trust that my
genius will always enable me to support the woman I love"; but
unfortunately it did not. He wrote after his marriage: "The moment we
were made one, my wife as well as myself began to weep, which touched
every one, even the priest, and they all cried when they witnessed how
our hearts were moved." How little they dreamed that they should weep
more seriously when hunger stared their six children in the face!
From the time of his marriage till his death, nine years, says Rev. Mr.
Haweis, "his life can be compared to nothing but a torch burning out
rapidly in the wind." It was a period of incessant, astonishing labor.
He dedicated six quartets to his dear friend Joseph Haydn, who said,
"Mozart is the greatest composer who has ever lived"; wrote "Figaro"
when he was twenty-nine, which had the greatest popularity, "Don
Giovanni" at thirty-one, and the "Flauto Magico" gratis, for the benefit
of the theatre director, who was in want. The two latter creations were
hailed with delight. Goethe wrote to Schiller later of "Don Giovanni,"
"That piece stands entirely alone; and Mozart's death has rendered all
hope of any thing like it idle."
Whenever he appeared at the theatre, he was called upon the stage from
all parts of the house; yet all this time he could not earn enough to
live. He received only a hundred dollars from his "Don Giovanni," and
less for the others. He gave lessons every hour he could spare, concerts
in the open air, borrowed from his friends, scrimped himself, to send
money to his sick wife at Baden, pawned his silver plate to make one
more unsuccessful journey to win the aid of indifferent princes, and
fainted often at his tasks after midnight. Still he wrote to "the best
and dearest wife of my heart," "If I only had a letter from you, all
would be right," and promised her to work harder than ever to earn
When Constance was at home with him, if he left her in the morning
before she awakened, he would leave a note for her with the words,
"Good-morning, my darling wife. I shall be at home at -- o'clock
precisely." Once when she had been ill for eight months, and Mozart was
composing beside her as she slept, suddenly a noisy messenger entered.
Alarmed lest his wife should be disturbed, he rose hastily, when the
penknife in his hand fell, and buried itself in his foot. Without a word
escaping his lips, he left the room, a surgeon was called, and, though
lame for some time, the wife was not told of the accident.
His compositions found few purchasers, for the people generally could
not comprehend them. Publishers' shops were closed to him, unless he
would write in the popular style. "Then I can make no more by my pen,"
he said bitterly, "and I had better starve and go to destruction at
once." So poor had his family become, that, with no fuel in the house,
he and his wife were found by a friend, waltzing to keep warm.
About this time a sepulchral-looking man called to ask that a "Requiem"
be written on the death of the wife of an Austrian nobleman, who was to
be considered the author, and thus his intense grief be shown, though
manifested through a lie. Mozart consulted with his wife, as was his
custom, and, as she indorsed it, he accepted the commission for fifty
dollars. Overworked, harassed by debts which he could not pay, hurt at
the jealousies and intrigues of several musicians, disappointed at the
reception of his new opera at Prague, his hopeful nature forsook him,
and he told Constance that the "Requiem" would be written for himself.
In the midst of this wretchedness their sixth child was born. The poor
wife forgot her own sorrows, and prevailed upon him to give up work for
a time; but the active brain could not rest, and he wrote as he lay on
his sick-bed. On the day before he died, Dec. 4, 1791, at two o'clock,
he persisted in having a portion of the "Requiem" sung by the friends
who stood about his bed, and, joining with them in the alto, burst into
tears, saying, "Did I not say that I was writing the 'Requiem' for
myself?" Soon after he said, "Constance, oh that I could only hear my
'Flauto Magico!'" and a friend playing it, he was cheered.
A messenger now arrived to tell him that he was appointed organist at
St. Stephen's Cathedral, a position for which he had longed for years;
but it came too late. Death was unwelcome to him. "Now must I go," he
said, "just as I should be able to live in peace; I must leave my
family, my poor children, at the very instant in which I should have
been able to provide for their welfare." Cold applications were ordered
by the physicians for his burning head; he became delirious for two
hours, and died at midnight, only thirty-five years old. Constance was
utterly prostrated, and threw herself upon his bed, hoping to die also.
Mozart's body was laid beside his piano, and then, in a pouring rain,
buried in a "common grave," in the plainest manner possible, with nobody
present except the keepers of the cemetery. Weeks after, when the wife
visited the spot, she found a new grave-digger, who could not tell where
her beloved husband was buried, and to this day the author of fourteen
Italian operas, seventeen symphonies, and dozens of cantatas and
serenades, about eight hundred compositions in all, sleeps in an unknown
grave. The Emperor Leopold aided her in a concert to raise fifteen
hundred dollars to pay her husband's debts, and provide a little for
herself. Eighteen years afterward she married the Danish councillor,
Baron von Missen, who educated her two sons, four other children having
died. Salzburg waited a half-century before she erected a bronze statue
to her world-renowned genius, in the Square of St. Michael; and, seventy
years after his death, Vienna built him a monument in the Cemetery of
St. Mark. History scarcely furnishes a more pathetic life. He filled the
world with music, yet died in want and sorrow.