As it turns out Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, genius extraordinaire and iconic music man, had a puerile streak about 10 miles wide. What was going on there?
Opening with Mozart’s Serenade For Winds; K 361; 3rd Movement here is important as this was composed by the great man who, also, had a penchant for remarkably childish behaviour.
Mozart could create something like the above, yet also took joy in writing depraved jokes about excrement. Well, the scholarly world isn’t happy about that.
Mozart and Scatology: What Was Going On?
This subject has been the centre of much debate for decades. Entire books and psychological studies have been conducted in the attempt to understand what was up with Mozart.
To understand what everyone is so worked up about, have a look at our review of Mozart: A Life in Letters.
As with many people during his era, the composer took to vast amounts of written communication.
Oddly, a significant proportion of his letters contain blatantly childish toilet humour and profanity. Not what the cultured world expected from a man of his creative genius.
And so, with much stern expressions no doubt, the intellectual world went about getting to the bottom of it all.
Benjamin Simkin, in a 1992 article for the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), headlines a piece Mozart’s scatological disorder. He begins:
“The surprising scatology found in Mozart’s letters has not yet been satisfactorily explained.”
Simkins highlights the 1938 publication of Mozart’s letters (earlier editions removed many of the crass remarks to protect the sensitivity of readers), in which an introduction from Emily Anderson states:
“It was not only when writing to his ‘Basle’ (little cousin) that Mozart indulged in this particular kind of coarseness, but … certainly his mother and very probably the whole family and indeed many of their Salzburg friends were given to these indelicate jests.”
Simkin compiled Mozart’s letters to determine how many times he used toilet humour with his nearest and dearest. The results are as follows:
- 20 times to his father Leopold.
- 6 to his wife Constanze.
- 6 to his cousin.
- 4 to his sister.
- 1 to his mother.
- A number of times to a selection of various acquaintances.
He also wrote several compositions (for recreational purposes) featuring his sense of humour. One such example has the verse, “lick me in the arse”.
Mozart’s Signs, Symptoms, and Symphonies
The hypothesising for what was up with Mozart is still in operation—for decades it has raged on.
Simkins was convinced it was Tourette’s syndrome. It’s a claim influenced directly by Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus (and later the 1984 film), which was developed based on Mozart’s letters.
Shaffer’s play was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1984. In that production, Mozart comes across as a happy-go-lucky, immature genius.
His brilliance as a musician is tempered by an incredibly irritating, intemperate personality.
Although his commitment to music is displayed as borderline infatuation, the film suggests he’s merely lucked into his situation.
Tom Hulce’s performance does develop into something more profound. Later in the film, as the composer becomes ill, Mozart shows far more dramatic and tragic (as the man’s story ultimately is) depth.
But Amadeus certainly didn’t impress the composer’s legion of fans. Was he really that annoying?
Again, we return to his many letters. From that, a myriad of other claims have emerged. For instance, some believe the composer had a hypomanic manifestation of a cyclothymic personality disorder (bipolar disorder).
Some suggest psychopathological tendencies. Obsessive-compulsive disorder has also been considered.
Regardless, it’s clear those researching Mozart’s condition consider his antics as:
“Coarse, immature characteristic[s] which Mozart retained in his adult life.”
The bickering in the medical field has raged for decades, with such great minds as Oliver Sacks stepping in to offer a considered opinion—he dismissed Simkin’s diagnosis.
Freud Look Into Mozart
Many other neurological experts have also waded into the Mozart mix, including the founding father of psychoanalytics.
Austrian writer Stefan Zweig (whose work influenced the fantastic film The Grand Budapest Hotel, if you’re interested to know) studied Mozart’s letters and got in touch with Sigmund Freud.
He suggested the letters pinpointed infantilism and coprophilia (an abnormal interest in excrement), although Freud didn’t agree—allegedly.
Has anyone agreed on anything? No. David Schroeder, however, took a lenient look at Mozart’s writings and has provided what’s possibly the most sensible analysis of the situation yet. He suggested the passage of time has:
“[Forced] us to misread his scatological letters even more drastically than his other letters. Very simply, these letters embarrass us, and we have tried to suppress them, trivialise them, or explain them out of the epistolary canon with pathological excuses.”
Thatcher’s Disdain For Mozart’s Crude Portrayal
Unfortunately, not many people have time for Schroeder’s appeal for calm, and Mozart’s behaviour has upset a number of high profile figures.
Perhaps most famously of all, the Iron Lady (a great admirer of Mozart’s work) was enormously displeased at the idea the composer had an immature streak.
The former Prime Minister of that island somewhere saw Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus in London. Its director, Peter Hall, later recalled in a preface to the published screenplay:
“She was not pleased. In her best headmistress style, she gave me a severe wigging for putting on a play that depicted Mozart as a scatological imp with a love of four-letter words. It was inconceivable, she said, that a man who wrote such exquisite and elegant music could be so foul-mouthed. I said that Mozart’s letters proved he was just that: he had an extraordinarily infantile sense of humour … ‘I don’t think you heard what I said’, replied the Prime Minister. ‘He couldn’t have been like that.’ I offered (and sent) a copy of Mozart’s letters to Number Ten the next day; I was even thanked by the appropriate Private Secretary. But it was useless: the Prime Minister said I was wrong, so wrong I was.”
The Mozart Mystery: Childish or With a Sense of Fun?
We’re not sure what some scholars expect from Mozart. Considering he’s deified, perhaps they believe he awoke at 5am each morning, headed to his bedroom window, and stared forlornly into the middle-distance in deep contemplation about the nature of being.
Dropping to his knees, Mozart must surely have let rip with an existential roar of anguish before heading off to make profound music.
Or, perhaps, give the guy a break. Whilst his letters are puerile (to quite an unusual streak, not in the silly Monty Python sense—just flat out childish) he did have two children and perhaps this brought out his silly side.
In addition, the vast gulf of time between our era and Mozart’s makes it difficult to determine what social attitudes were to this sort of thing.
Was it common to make crude jokes? In medieval times, the Royal court in London was home to professional flatulists.
In the 18th century, although a more advanced world, there’s no reason why puerility wasn’t still commonplace. After all, it still is in contemporary history.
Unfortunately, all we have with Mozart are a batch of letters and descriptions of his behaviour.
No recorded footage, no possibility of judging his body language, or having a first-hand account of who he really was.
In this respect, it’s a tad difficult to judge the man considering this may very well have been a minor part of his personality—he composed over 600 works in his lifetime and this suggests he spent most of his time hard at work creating music.
We can all be thankful for that, at least.