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Mozart: The Man and the Artist As Revealed in His Own Words

Mozart: The Man and the Artist As Revealed in His Own Words

by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Friedrich Kerst (Editor), Henry E. Krehbiel (Translator)

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Mozart's adult life was an almost unbroken succession of artistic triumphs and personal disappointments. This collection of excerpts from his letters and from other writings offers a unique opportunity for firsthand insights into the great composer's life and personality.
In his own words (as compiled by Friedrich Kerst and translated into English by Henry


Mozart's adult life was an almost unbroken succession of artistic triumphs and personal disappointments. This collection of excerpts from his letters and from other writings offers a unique opportunity for firsthand insights into the great composer's life and personality.
In his own words (as compiled by Friedrich Kerst and translated into English by Henry Edward Krehbiel), Mozart communicates his optimisms and anticipations, his recurrent hopes for a post with a fixed income and suitable prestige; his frequent discouragements when these hopes went unfulfilled and pecuniary difficulties ensued; his unhappiness at Salzburg and his maltreatment at the hands of Archbishop Hieronymus; and the circumstances of his love affair with Aloysia Weber and his subsequent marriage to her sister, Constanze. In all, the book contains 255 observations on such subjects as opera, musical pedagogics, love and friendship, religion and morals, composers and performers, the value of hard work, self-respect and honor, travel, and other matters. Extensive annotations provide background for each excerpt.

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Dover Publications
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Dover Books on Music Series
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5.40(w) x 8.47(h) x 0.34(d)

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The Man and the Artist Revealed in His Own Words

By Friedrich Kerst, Henry Edward Krehbiel

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-21316-3



Mozart! What a radiance streams from the name! Bright and pure as the light of the sun, Mozart's music greets us. We pronounce his name and behold! the youthful artist is before us, — the merry, lighthearted smile upon his features, which belongs only to true and naïve genius. It is impossible to imagine an aged Mozart, — an embittered and saddened Mozart, — glowering gloomily at a wicked world which is doing its best to make his lot still more burdensome; — a Mozart whose music should reflect such painful moods.

Mozart was a Child of the Sun. Filled with a humor truly divine, he strolled unconstrainedly through a multitude of cares like Prince Tamino through his fantastic trials. Music was his talisman, his magic flute with which he could exorcise all the petty terrors that beset him. Has such a man and artist — one who was completely resolved in his works, and therefore still stands bodily before us with all his glorious qualities after the lapse of a century — has Mozart still something to say to us who have just stepped timidly into a new century separated by another from that of the composer? Much; very much. Many prophets have arisen since Mozart's death; two of them have moved us profoundly with their evangel. One of them knew all the mysteries, and Nature took away his hearing lest he proclaim too much. We followed him into all the depths of the world of feeling. The other shook us awake and placed us in the hurly-burly of national life and striving; pointing to his own achievements, he said: "If you wish it, you have now a German art!" The one was Beethoven, — the other Wagner. Because their music demands of us that we share with it its experiences and struggles, they are the guiding spirits of a generation which has grown up in combat and is expecting an unknown world of combat beyond the morning mist of the new century.

But we are in the case of the man in the fairy tale who could not forget the merry tune of the forest bird which he had heard as a boy. We gladly permit ourselves to be led, occasionally, out of the rude realities that surround us, into a beautiful world that knows no care but lies forever bathed in the sunshine of cloudless happiness, — a world in which every loveliness of which fancy has dreamed has taken life and form. It is because of this that we make pilgrimages to the masterpieces of the plastic arts, that we give heed to the speech of Schiller, listen to the music of Mozart. When wearied by the stress of life we gladly hie to Mozart that he may tell us stories of that land of beauty, and convince us that there are other and better occupations than the worries and combats of the fleeting hour. This is what Mozart has to tell us to-day. In spite of Wagner he has an individual mission to fulfill which will keep him immortal. "That of which Lessing convinces us only with expenditure of many words sounds clear and irresistible in 'The Magic Flute': — the longing for light and day. Therefore there is something like the glory of daybreak in the tones of Mozart's opera; it is wafted towards us like the morning breeze which dispels the shadows and invokes the sun."

Mozart remains ever young; one reason is because death laid hold of him in the middle of his career. While all the world was still gazing expectantly upon him, he vanished from the earth and left no hope deceived. His was the enviable fate of a Raphael, Schiller and Körner. As the German ('tis Schumann's utterance) thinks of Beethoven when he speaks the word symphony, so the name of Mozart in his mind is associated with the conception of things youthful, bright and sunny. Schumann was fully conscious of a purpose when he called out, "Do not put Beethoven in the hands of young people too early; refresh and strengthen them with the fresh and lusty Mozart." Another time he writes: "Does it not seem as if Mozart's works become fresher and fresher the oftener we hear them?"

The more we realize that Wagner places a heavy and intoxieating draught before us, the more we shall appreciate the precious mountain spring which laves us in Mozart's music, and the less willing we shall be to permit any opportunity to pass unimproved which offers us the crystal cup. In the mind of Goethe genius was summed up in the name of Mozart. In a prophetic ecstasy he spoke the significant words: "What else is genius than that productive power through which deeds arise, worthy of standing in the presence of God and Nature, and which, for this reason, bear results and are lasting? All the creations of Mozart are of this class; within them there is a generative force which is transplanted from generation to generation, and is not likely soon to be exhausted or devoured."



1. If one has the talent it pushes for utterance and torments one; it will out; and then one is out with it without questioning. And, look you, there is nothing in this thing of learning out of books. Here, here and here [pointing to his ear, his head and his heart] is your school. If everything is right there, then take your pen and down with it; afterward ask the opinion of a man who knows his business.

To a musically talented boy who asked Mozart how one might learn to compose.

2. I can not write poetically; I am no poet. I can not divide and subdivide my phrases so as to produce light and shade; I am no painter. I can not even give expression to my sentiments and thoughts by gestures and pantomime; I am no dancer. But I can do it with tones; I am a musician. ... I wish you might live till there is nothing more to be said in music.

Mannheim, November 8, 1777, in a letter of congratulation to his father, who was born on November 14, 1719. Despite his assertion, Mozart was an admirable dancer and passionately devoted to the sport. [So says Herr Kerst, obviously misconceiving Mozart's words. It is plain to me that the composer had the classic definition of the dance in mind when he said that he was no dancer. The dance of which he was thinking was that described by Charles Kingsley. "A dance in which every motion was a word, and rest as eloquent as motion; in which every attitude was a fresh motive for a sculptor of the purest school, and the highest physical activity was manifested, not as in coarse pantomime, in fantastic bounds and unnatural distortions, but in perpetual delicate modulations of a stately and self-sustained grace." H. E. K.]

3. The poets almost remind me of the trumpeters with their tricks of handicraft. If we musicians were to stick as faithfully to our rules (which were very good as long as we had no better) we should make as worthless music as they make worthless books.

Vienna, October 13, 1781, to his father. He is writing about the libretto of "Die Entführung aus dem Serail," by Stephanie. The trumpeters at the time still made use of certain flourishes which had been traditionally preserved in their guild.

4. I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something excellent for Prague. Moreover it is a mistake to think that the practise of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.

A remark to Conductor Kucharz in Prague, who led the rehearsals for "Don Giovanni" in 1787.

5. They are, indeed, the fruit of long and painstaking labor; but the hope which some of my friends aroused in me, that my work would be rewarded at least in part, has given me courage and the flattering belief that these, my offspring, will some day bring me comfort.

From the dedication of the Six Quartets to Haydn in 1785. The quartets were sent back to the publisher, Artaria, from Italy, because "they contained so many misprints." The unfamiliar chords and dissonances were looked upon as printers' errors. Grassalkowitsch, a Hungarian prince, thought his musicians were playing faultily in some of these passages, and when he learned differently he tore the music in pieces.

6. I can not deny, but must confess that I shall be glad when I receive my release from this place. Giving lessons here is no fun; you must work yourself pretty tired, and if you don't give a good many lessons you will make but little money. You must not think that it is laziness; — no! — but it goes counter to my genius, counter to my mode of life. You know that, so to speak, I am wrapped up in music, — that I practise it all day long, — that I like to speculate, study, consider. All this is prevented by my mode of life here. I shall, of course, have some free hours, but they will be so few that they will be necessary more for recuperation than work.

Paris, July 31, 1778, to his father.

7. M. Le Gros bought the Sinfonia concertante of me. He thinks that he is the only one who has it; but that isn't so. It is still fresh in my head, and as soon as I get home I'll write it down again.

Paris, October 3, 1778, to his father. An evidence of the retentiveness of Mozart's memory. In this instance, however, he did not carry out his expressed intention. Le Gros was director of the Concerts spirituels.

8. Melody is the essence of music. I compare a good melodist to a fine racer, and counterpointists to hack post-horses; therefore be advised, let well alone and remember the old Italian proverb: Chi sa più, meno sa — "Who knows most, knows least."

To the English tenor Michael Kelly, about 1786, in answer to Kelly's question whether or not he should take up the study of counterpoint.

9. One of the priests gave me a theme. I took it on a promenade and in the middle [the fugue was in G minor] I began in the major, with something jocose but in the same tempo; finally the theme again, but backwards. Finally I wondered if I might not use the playful melody as a theme for a fugue. I did not question long, but made it at once, and it went as accurately as if Daser had measured it for the purpose. The dean was beside himself.

Augsburg, October 23, 1777, to his father. Daser was a tailor in Salzburg.

10. Above us is a violinist, below us another, next door a singing teacher who gives lessons, and in the last room opposite ours, a hautboyist. Merry conditions for composing! You get so many ideas!

Milan, August 23, 1771, to his "dearest sister."

11. If I but had the theme on paper, — worked out, of course. It is too silly that we have got to hatch out our work in a room.

A remark to his wife while driving through a beautiful bit of nature and humming all manner of ideas that came into his head.

12. I'd be willing to work forever and forever if I were permitted to write only such music as I want to write and can write — which I myself think good. Three weeks ago I made a symphony, and by tomorrow's post I shall write again to Hofmeister and offer him three pianoforte quartets, if he has the money.

Written in 1789 to a baron who was his friend and who had submitted a symphony for his judgment. F. A. Hofmeister was a composer and publisher in Vienna.

13. You can do a thing like this for the pianoforte, but not for the theatre. When I wrote this I was still too fond of hearing my own music, and never could make an end.

A remark to Rochlitz while revising and abbreviating the principal air in "Die Entführung."

14. You know that I had already finished the first Allegro on the second day after my arrival here, and consequently had seen Mademoiselle Cannabich only once. Then came young Danner and asked me how I intended to write the Andante. "I will make it fit the character of Mademoiselle Rose." When I played it it pleased immensely. ... I was right; she is just like the Andante.

Mannheim, December 6, 1777, to his father. Rose Cannabich was a pupil of Mozart's, aged thirteen and very talented. "She is very sensible for her age, has a staid manner, is serious, speaks little, but when she does speak it is with grace and amiability," writes Mozart in the same letter. It is also related of Beethoven that he sometimes delineated persons musically. [Also Schumann. H. E. K.]

15. I have composed a Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Pianoforte, which has been received with extraordinary favor [Köchel, No. 452]. I myself think it the best thing I ever wrote in my life.

Vienna, April 10, 1784, to his father.

16. As an exercise I have set the aria, Non so d'onde viene, which Bach composed so beautifully. I did it because I know Bach so well, and the aria pleases me so much that I can't get it out of my head. I wanted to see whether or not in spite of these things I was able to make an aria that should not be a bit like Bach's. It isn't a bit, not a bit like it.

Mannheim, February 28, 1778, to his father. The lovely aria is No. 294 in Köchel's catalogue. The Bach referred to was Johann Christian, the "London" Bach.

17. I haven't a single quiet hour here. I can not write except at night and consequently can not get up early. One is not always in the mood for writing. Of course I could scribble all day long, but these things go out into the world and I want not to be ashamed of myself when I see my name on them. And then, as you know, I become stupid as soon as I am obliged to write for an instrument that I can not endure. Occasionally for the sake of a change I have composed something else — pianoforte duets with the violin, and a bit of the mass.

Mannheim, February 14, 1778, to his father. Mozart was ill disposed toward the pianoforte at the time. His love for Aloysia Weber occupied the most of his attention and time.

18. Herewith I am sending you a Prelude and a three-voiced Fugue [Köchel, No. 394]. ... It is awkwardly written; the prelude must come first and the fugue follow. The reason for its appearance is because I had made the fugue and wrote it out while I was thinking out the prelude.

Vienna, April 20, 1782, to his sister Marianne. Here Mozart gives us evidence of his manner of composing; he worked out his compositions completely in his mind and was then able, even after considerable time had elapsed, to write them down, in which proceeding nothing could disturb him. In the case before us, while engaged in the more or less mechanical labor of transcription he thought out a new composition. Concerning the fugue and its origin he continues to gossip in the same letter.

19. The cause of this fugue seeing the light of this world is my dear Constanze. Baron von Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, let me carry home all the works of Händel and Sebastian Bach after I had played them through for him. Constanze fell in love with the fugues as soon as she had heard them; she doesn't want to hear anything but fugues, especially those of Händel and Bach. Having often heard me improvise fugues she asked me if I had never written any down, and when I said no, she gave me a good scolding, for not being willing to write the most beautiful things in music, and did not cease her begging until I had composed one for her, and so it came about. I purposely wrote the indication Andante maestoso, so that it should not be played too rapidly; — for unless a fugue is played slowly the entrance of the subject will not be distinctly and clearly heard and the piece will be ineffective. As soon as I find time and opportunity I shall write five more.

Vienna, April 20, 1782, to his sister Marianne. Cf. No. 93. [Mozart's remark that he carried home "all the works" of Händel and Bach, must, of course, be read as meaning all that were in print at the time. H. E. K.]

20. I have no small amount of work ahead of me. By Sunday week I must have my opera arranged for military band or somebody will be ahead of me and carry away the profits; and I must also write a new symphony. How will that be possible? You have no idea how difficult it is to make such an arrangement so that it shall be adapted to wind instruments and yet lose nothing of its effect. Well, well; — I shall have to do the work at night.

Vienna, July 20, 1782, to his father who had asked for a symphony for the Hafner family in Salzburg. The opera referred to is "Die Entführung aus dem Serail."


Excerpted from Mozart by Friedrich Kerst, Henry Edward Krehbiel. Copyright © 2016 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Meet the Author

A child prodigy who blossomed into the Classical era's most influential composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91) wrote more than 600 works in his brief life. His oeuvre encompasses a wide variety of genres, including symphonic, chamber, operatic, and choral music.

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