Book of da Week: Mozart’s A Life in Letters

Mozart A Life in Letters
Hello to you, Mr. Mozart.

It’s not often you get access to the mind of a genius, which is why this vast selection of Mozart’s letters (written during his lifetime, we believe… probably) is such an extraordinary read. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) was a child prodigy, genius, Romantic artist, and ultimately a rather tragic figure. With a sudden and mysterious death aged only 35, the man left behind over 600 works and he influences the world to this day.

This book offers his thoughts on life, love, and music as he travelled around Europe and spans 22 years of his life, from late childhood up to his sudden death. Thusly, it’s a 2-for-1 kind of deal: you get an insight into Mozart’s personality and you get something of a time capsule. It’s a historical record of a bygone era which is so distant to us here in 2016. Fascinating, non?

Mozart: A Life in Letters

First, some music to lighten the tone! Now, let’s take a look at the genius mind of Mr. Mozart. He certainly was an intriguing man. Apparently short and rather pale, his complex relationship with his father is spun out in terrific detail here; A Life in Letters is going on for 600 pages long. For most human beings this would be a terrible bore, but this is Mozart. He’s been dead for a long time, but his music lives on and we get a detailed look at who he was thanks to these letters.

It’s dozens of letters from Leopold Mozart before we arrive at Wolfgang’s first one – a letter to a female friend in 1769. His writing style is a bit all over the place, but he was capable of writing in Italian, French, and Latin. Mozart regularly ends his letters with “whom I kiss 1000” times, although the total varies wildly (see further below for 10,000 times).

Clearly, the man was an affectionate sort. His love letters to his wife Constance (full name, we kid you not, Maria Constanze Cacilia Josepha Johanna Aloysia Mozart – she died in 1842), are detailed and flamboyant and suggest a lively character. You can read one over on the fabulous Maria Popova’s website Brain Pickings.

For the rest of the time Mozart was travelling regularly, which might explain why he was such a prolific letter writer. Travelling was likely extremely dull in the past (it largely still is now, but we have iPads and toy action figures with which to amuse us), so why not write letters? Thanks to this, we get unprecedented access into his mind and his opinions on music – there are also numerous fantastic accounts of his performances. Which are a real treat to read.

Accounts of Mozart’s Final Days

Obviously, in such a short lifespan, his death looms large far too suddenly. What is possibly Mozart’s final letter is dated the 14th October 1791 in Vienna. At the end he writes to his wife:

“I hope I’ll have news from you today. And tomorrow I’ll speak to you in person and kiss you with all my heart. Farewell, ever your Mozart."

He died on December 5th likely of inflammatory fever. There’s a great deal of confusion about that, including suggestions his lifelong rival Antonio Salieri bumped him off (an idea further popularised by the Oscar winning 1984 film Amadeus). However, it’s apparent the two were (at the very least) respected peers, if not actual friends.

The final letter in the book, written by Sophie Haibel, is dated 34 years after he died and details Mozart’s final days. In this she makes the claim:

“The last thing he did was to try and mouth the sound of the timpani in his Requiem; I can still hear it now.”

The Unusual Stuff

Okay, and then there’s the notoriously childish stuff, which was hacked out of earlier editions and only began featuring in editions from 1985 onwards. In a letter sent on the 5th November 1777 to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, Mozart rants wildly about this and that:

“My dearest little cousin dozen, I’ve duly received retrieved your kind letter and see free from it that my uncle furuncle, aunt can’t and you strew are very well tell; we too, thank God, are in good health stealth. Today I got spot the letter better from my Papa haha. I hope you’ll have received aggrieved the letter wetter I sent you from Mannheim. All the better, better the all."

Now, you could argue this is simply a man sending a fun letter to his young cousin. However, further on in the discourse he states: “I’ll shit on your nose so it runs down your chin” and “Sleep sound as a log with your arse in your gob”. He goes on to rant a great deal more about “shit” and signs his letter off with “Goodbye now, I kiss you 10,000 times and remain as always your little old Piggy. Wolfgang Amade Rosary”.

There are many other letters in this vein, and for us it indicates a man who had access to a silly sense of humour (kind of like us) but (according to experts) he also likely had a wide range of psychological issues. If you join us again tomorrow we’re going to take a closer look at Mozart’s scatological nature as this has been a source of bemusement and unease for some people (most notably a certain Margaret Thatcher).

Verdict

Flamboyant, wild, weird, and a look back at an era which is long gone. Journeying into Mozart’s world is an unusual experience, but it’s also an absolutely vital one if you’re a fan of classical music.

Just be prepared for an onslaught of vulgarity at times. 10,000 kisses to the lot of you. Now, be gone!

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