It falls to “The Department of Woman’s Work” to consider the influence of women upon Mozart. It is not pretended that the readers of these columns will be likely to bear the mental and moral responsibilities of exactly such a personage, but undoubtedly it is well to open their eyes to the gravity of their responsibilities as a sex. In a certain country village, where men are hard and sometimes reckless, the editor of these columns has sometimes inquired into the causes of their misdeeds and bad ends. The answer usually runs: “Waal, folks say he warn’t so much to blame neither! They that know his wife say he was druv to’t.” With a full consciousness of the turpitude of our sex when a man is “druv” the wrong way, let us review the life of Mozart, who has come down as a typical case of bad management on the part of women.
Parental Care and Training.
To begin, Mozart was born under the shadow of the Roman Catholic Church and trained to the strictest observance of its rites. His mother had been the ward of a convent and his father was theologically and practically religious. He started off with all the moral furniture, backed up by ritual observance, that his country and generation had at its command. He was trained in a loving home by a father who exacted strict obedience; and had obtained manners, education, and ideas of self-respect much above his station as a musician; the Pope had even granted him an order of nobility, the “Golden Spur.” He was an agreeable, merry young fellow with a consciousness of the value of his own talents and the use he should make of them; and he longed for social enjoyments.
In this state he was thrust out into the world. This was the period at which the French woman of experience takes hold of a youth and “forms him”; the German girl lays plots for him; the American frolics with and jilts him. Mozart’s parents lived too early for the influence of the last-named to be taken into account; but they were prepared for the French Dame and the German Fraülein. Mozart was twenty-one years old, and it was concluded best to send his mother with him to take care of him. She was to keep him in the way in which he should go and prevent his artlessness from being imposed upon.
Entry into the Social World.
Now, Mozart, like any other healthy-minded lad, always had a “best girl” and continued to be interested in her, to his credit be it said, long after the aura of his imagination had given place to matter-of-fact good-will. Immediately after he arrived in Mannheim he was surrounded by young people. Cannabich, the opera-conductor, had two daughters, to the younger of whom (aged thirteen) Mozart gave piano-lessons. Mozart’s cousin, watched with lynx-eyed care by Frau Mozart, lived on the way thither; a young girl in the house where they boarded and a rich pupil or two constituted the sum of the temptations to folly which the sex then offered him. There is a wild record of a mad spree in the form of two social evenings where he danced late and ate strawberry-ices with friends of the Cannabiches. He records these improprieties in a letter to his father; the strain is jesting, but he winds up with the statement that he craves absolution, for he intends to do so again. It would almost seem as if the young man began to weary of leading-strings, and to feel that he must get upon his own feet. He is not neglected by the woman of experience, however, for we read that after high mass he must go “to our illustrious Electress; she is resolved absolument to teach me to knit filée. I am very eager about this, for she and the Elector wish that I should knit in public next Thursday at the great gala concert. The young Princess, who is a child compared with the Electress, knits very prettily.” He soon met Nanette Streicher, the daughter of Stein, the piano-maker, who at eight years of age was a “wunderkind”; the daughter of Wendling the flutist, and—here is the gist of our indictment as a sex—the Webers.
Aloysia Weber, daughter of Fridolin Weber, prompter and copyist, attracted the attention of the young man by her talents and musical gifts; he offered to give her singing lessons, became interested in her, and finally proposed to take her to Italy and bring her out. The terror of Father Mozart was frightful; the mother writes dolefully that she had never liked Mozart’s being in the company of Wendling and Ramm, the artists with whom a Paris trip had been planned and given up; “but,” she continues, “I did not venture to object to it; nor would he have listened to me. In short, he prefers other people to me. I remonstrate with him sometimes; but that he does not like. I write this secretly while he is at dinner; I don’t wish him to know it.”
Then followed a letter from the dismayed sire, with reproaches for the best girl: “It rests with you, whether infatuated by a pretty face you one day breathe your last upon a straw-stack, your wife and children in a state of starvation, or, after a well-spent life, die peacefully in honor and independence, your family well provided for.”
Mozart responds: “The days when standing on a stool I sang Oragna fiagata, fà, and at the end kissed the tip of your nose are gone by. The bitter way in which you write about my merry and innocent intercourse with your brother’s daughter makes me justly indignant.” He abandons the idea of an Italian journey, but continues to recommend Miss Weber to his father’s interest as a sincere artist, which she was.
The French Aristocracy.
Mozart’s letters of this period are records of accompanying struggling artistes and composing pieces for them gratis, and of composing and playing for ladies of rank in the hope of receiving an honorarium. In all that he says or writes there is not a word that any father would not find clean, high-minded, and manly. The fears of his parents regarding Aloysia Weber, however, prevail; Mozart leaves Mannheim and proceeds to Paris, where he begins a new round of soliciting titled patronage and drudging at ill-paid composition. He gives an account of a call upon the Duchesse de Bourbon, who had asked him to wait upon her:
“I waited half an hour in a large room without any fire and as cold as ice. At last the Duchesse came in, and was very polite, begging me to make allowances for her piano, as none of her instruments were in good order. I said that I would gladly play something, but at this moment it was impossible as my fingers were quite benumbed with cold. ‘Oh! oui, Monsieur, vous avez raison’ was her answer. She then seated herself and drew for an hour in company with several gentlemen, all sitting in a circle round a large table, and during this time I had the honor to wait. The doors and windows were open, so that not only my hands, but my body and my feet were cold and my head began to ache. Moreover there was altum silentium, and I really did not know what to do from cold, headache, and weariness… . At last, to cut matters short, I played on the wretched, miserable piano. What, however, vexed me most of all was that the Duchesse and all the gentlemen did not cease drawing for a single minute, but coolly continued their occupations; so I was left to play to the chairs, tables, and walls.” Mozart rose desperate before the end of his piece. Then came eulogiums without end; the Duch esse would not allow him to leave; he was obliged to wait still longer until the Duke came in and sat down beside the mortified artist, who instantly forgot cold, hunger, and fatigue in the inspiration of one sympathetic listener. Decidedly aristocratic womanhood did not show herself alluring.
Death of his Mother; Aloysia Faithless.
In the midst of the struggle for existence Frau Mozart succumbed to the hardships of the situation and died in Mozart’s arms. Mozart loved his mother, but her loss did not change him. His letters to his father and his behavior were, however, thoroughly manly. Good principle and native piety speak in every line and act. Neither now nor ever is there any hint of effeminacy or weakness. The presence of death wakes no remorse for anxieties inflicted upon his parents by misconduct; he had respected himself. We find him writing in relation to a tipsy fit of Michael Haydn in church, however: “That is one of my chief reasons for detesting Salzburg—those coarse, dissipated, slovenly court musicians, with whom no man of good breeding could possibly live! Instead of being glad to associate with them, he must feel ashamed of them. It is probably from this very cause that musicians are neither loved nor respected with us.” … “In Mannheim Cannabich is both beloved and feared by his subordinates, who, as well as himself, are respected by the whole town.”
Mozart continues to recommend “my dear Miss Weber” to his father, in the same breath in which he acknowledges that were it not for Madame d’Epinay he would have had neither food nor lodging in Paris.
Presently he was recalled by the offer of a position at Salzburg; and hastened to renew his relations with the girl who had awakened such a sincere affection in his young heart. She had forgotten him! He seated himself at the piano and sang “I will gladly give up the girl who slights me”; wrote a grand aria with obbligato accompaniment for her concert-use; and with this noble token of his dignity as a man and musician closed the incident. Two years later he wrote to his father: “I did love her and still feel that I am not indifferent to her.”
Up to this point the readers of the “Department of Woman’s Work,” as a sex, may feel reasonably at rest in conscience; but now has arrived the time when we as a sex have done our possible to undo him. His mother dead; his love faithless; the round of titled dames in whose anterooms he waited, or from whom he received florins and fine speeches more and more inclined to take him to their intimacy: surely this is the appropriate time for the plastic and impressible character of the musician to deteriorate!
A letter dated Munich shortly after, evidently in response to more good advice from his father on the subject of Miss Weber, concludes: “What do you mean by dreams of pleasure? I do not mean to give up dreaming,—above all, dreams of pleasure, peaceful dreams; sweet, cheering dreams, if you will; dreams which, if realized, would have rendered my life (rather sad than pleasurable) more endurable.” It is evident that the elder Mozart was industriously making the fatal error of setting before his son an ideal of duty in conflict with his youth and temperament.
The Vienna Aristocracy.
Two years of drudgery at Salzburg are followed by the departure of the Archbishop for Vienna with Mozart in his train. Mozart eats with the cooks, but calls upon the Countess Thun, who with her husband remained Mozart’s unfailing friends throughout his life. “I have dined twice with her, and go to see her almost every day, and I do think she is the most charming and lovely person I ever saw in my life.” If it had not been for the moral support of this admirable woman and her sincere interest in Mozart’s affairs it would have gone hard with him. She got him pupils, lent him her piano, sold subscriptions to his concerts, and make him welcome in her home. The post with the Archbishop became insupportable; insult followed insult, and the high-spirited young man was at last literally kicked out of the archiepiscopal residence. On the other hand, Mozart had
every opportunity to become the pet of the petticoats. “I must go to the Countess Schönborn’s. After the concert was over yesterday the ladies detained me a whole hour at the piano; I believe that if I had not stolen away I should still be there!” But personal vanity had no place in him, for he concludes: “I thought I really had played quite enough for nothing.” No hint of the liaisons which have disgraced the lives of so many musicians of our century defiles the pages of Mozart’s career. He admired and respected the Countess of Thun, who showed him real kindness; wrote airs ad libitum for the wives and daughters of his professional friends; realized the immense gulf between the son of the poor musician of Salzburg and the fashionable women who made him welcome to their houses, and, indeed, often took lessons from him to hear his music and merry conversation; but, when it came to his affections, he went to call on the Webers, who had moved to Vienna, saw Constance, “the drudge of the house,” “always neat and nice” in her poor gowns, and from sympathetic pity went straight to love.
He was not without temptations to baser things. There is a letter recounting his behavior in a would-be love affair which throws light upon his character. He has been inveigled into giving lessons to a poor girl who wished to become a professional pianist. “She is not satisfied with my being two hours every day with her; I am to sit there the livelong day while she tries to be agreeable. Worse still she is sincerely smitten with me. I thought at first it was a joke; but now I know it to be the fact. I was obliged to tell her the truth in a civil manner to prevent her from being a fool!” Decidedly the malleable Mozart was a man with a mind of his own. He continued to give the girl the lessons he had promised her, and remained on good terms with father and daughters.
Constance, His Wife.
Mozart was now a betrothed man; his fiancée, as his father rightly surmised, was his inferior in education and breeding. He was madly in love, and now at last we are prepared to mark, learn, and inwardly digest the evidences of the baleful handiwork of our sex in misplaced affection and shattered ideals. We come accordingly upon a note of reproof to Constance for having submitted to an indecorous forfeit in a game of romp: “The thing is past,” he concludes, “and a candid avowal of your heedless conduct would have made me overlook it at once and, allow me to say, will still do so. If you feel and have feeling, then I know I shall be able this very day to say with a tranquil mind: My Constance is the virtuous, honorable, discreet, and faithful darling of her honest and kindly disposed Mozart.”
On this high ground he presently made her Mrs. Mozart, and from time to time cautioned her to abstain from levity during his absence from home “out of regard for his honor.” From his earliest to his latest day his final and clinching argument in support of his conduct was “I am a man of high principle—a man of honor.” He was a pattern husband to an invalid wife. His married life full of care and disappointment; his fatherhood; his debts; his moments of good fortune; his artistic successes; his ever-present sense of his responsibilities to his art ripened, but could not change, the quality of his imagination or the play of his temperament. Not long before his death he found in Free Masonry a deepening and clarifying of his religious life. “I thank God for giving me the opportunity of learning to look upon death as the key which unlocks the gates of true bliss,” he writes after his advent into this order. Woman accordingly did not even lead him on in spirituality.
We look through this hurried chronicle of Mozart’s relations to us in vain for evidence that his character was made or marred by any one of our sex. The truth is that the artistic temperament is no more malleable than butter; no more plastic than wine. It apparently takes the form of the glass that contains it to resolve into some other shape with equal facility. This is the social side of genius. The controlling element of the artistic personality is art for art’s sake; in the long run art pales every other emotion, overshadows every other obligation, and dominates the career. For this reason women have less influence over the artistic career than over any other profession or calling. And in particular the readers of “The Department of Woman’s Work in Music” may absolve themselves from any remorse whatever regarding the cares and untimely death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as due to the influence of their sex.Etude Magazine. December, 1901