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AT SIXTEEN, MY big sister Aloysia looked like the painted goddesses who reclined voluptuously above our heads on the ceiling of the opera house. Like them, she was blonde, rosy, round breasted, and narrow waisted. Although she didn't fall in love with Mozart, as both he and my parents so ardently wished, I did.
It happened because Papa staunchly maintained that no matter how tight things were, we could, "Always spare a little beer and some of Jo's fine liver dumplings." He was forever bringing home traveling musicians from the court, absolutely certain that one of these fellows would be useful. Mama never believed his hospitality would yield anything to our advantage, but this peccadillo was the only one my father owned.
Some of our guests were famous, most were not. All, however, had exciting stories to tell about the great courts they'd seen and famous performers they'd heard. Besides, once they set eyes on Aloysia, they were glad to spend an evening giving impromptu lessons.
The most notable wanderer Papa brought home was Wolfgang Mozart. He had stopped at the Mannheim court on his way to Paris. After composing a piece for one of our noblemen, Herr Mozart had required a copyist.
He was, naturally, directed to my Papa, whose desperation was such that he took on every kind of odd job. Of course, Papa knew of him; this miracle of nature who'd been entertaining kings since his sixth year.
After the copying job was done, Papa took the pay he'd just been given and invited the famous Herr Mozart to The Ox. After downing a stein of our justly famous beer, they would harmonize on a familiar tune—the treachery ofthe nobility. It quickly became apparent that our families had much in common.
The story of Papa's fall, without the questionable details with which Mama liked to embellish it, was central. Years ago, as a bailiff for Baron Schonau, Papa had provided handsomely for his growing family.
His master, finding him compliant (what poor man with four daughters to dower is not?) involved him in a crooked business deal. When the deal went bad, Schonau had the perfect scapegoat. In the end, we had to flee the baron's lands in the middle of the night to escape arrest.
On horseback, Papa decoyed the pursuing politzei away, while Mama and the rest of us were driven across the border of the electorate in a farm wagon. Under the hay was hidden our klavier and a wardrobe; the latter stuffed with a random collection of whatever had come first to hand.
Mozart listened to this story of betrayal and ruin with great sympathy. He hated his master, Archbishop Colloredo, as thoroughly as Papa hated Baron Schonau. Mozart explained that his father, an educated man and an able musician, was constantly humiliated and bullied by the archbishop. In fact, Wolfgang was in Mannheim because he had resigned his commission and was traveling through the world looking for another.
Archbishop Colloredo was Mozart's devil and Baron Schonau was Papa's. They called for more beer and pondered the great question of the day: whether a talented, hardworking man could make his way in a world dominated by aristocratic privilege.
"Would you share my table some evening, Herr Mozart?" asked Papa. "Nothing special, of course. Only what a poor, unlucky German can offer. But my oldest girl cooks like an angel and my beautiful Aloysia, just sixteen, Herr Mozart, sings like one."
Papa had sized up his companion well. Such an invitation, a combination of earthly and musical pleasure, proved absolutely irresistible.
For days before the visit, Papa primed us. Herr Mozart was young, but he had already been commissioned to write operas for the most important Italian cities.
To honor his guest, Papa found copies of two arias from Lucio Silla, an opera Mozart had written five or six years earlier, and set Aloysia to practice them. Unfortunately for us, they were both bravura arias, written for a prima donna who loved to display not only the power of her voice, but a three-octave range. Aloysia was so diligent that our ears rang, and the neighbors kept coming around to complain.
On the day which was to prove so fateful for me, Josepha was excused from cooking and I from sewing; such was our division of labor. Fat Josepha cooked, beautiful Aloysia sang, and I, curly-headed, chubby Konstanze, sewed. Sophie, the baby, belonged to Mother, and waited only upon her.
In those days, I imagined my task the most rewarding. For what happened to the fruit of my sisters' long labor? The cook's delicious dinner disappeared into someone's gullet and the singer's aria vanished into thin air. On the other hand, a nicely embroidered petticoat or shirt gives pleasure again and again.
I've always had an impulse to practicality. As the third daughter, my life was full of hand-me-downs. How else to get clothes that fit?
"Herr Mozart mustn't see you doing servant's work," said Mama.
"Oh, Mama," I fretted."Why do we always have to pretend we're better off than we are?" That day I had been sewing a badly needed petticoat for myself.
"Why don't you do embroidery, darling? That always looks genteel."
Copyright © 2004 Juliet V. Waldron.