My Search for Mozart
. . . and his Wife
I’d learned about Mozart early. My mother was a big fan of classical music and opera. In the fifties, that meant mostly Wagner, Verdi and Puccini, but, occasionally, there would be a
Magic Flute or Marriage of Figaro on the Metropolitan Operas’ broadcast. We also had a few favorite piano sonatas of his on those big black 78 rpm records. Although I’d heard and loved most of the classical warhorses, all I really knew about Mozart was that he had been a child prodigy, and that he had died young and poor.
After seeing the movie AMADEUS, I walked out of the theater on fire, at the beginning of a mad obsession with Mozart and his music. I had to know how much of his real life story had been incorporated into the brilliant screenplay.
I went through a period in which I hardly slept, just stayed up all night listening to Mozart. Soon, I decided the best way to work through it would be to write a novel. In order to do that, though, I first had to find a comfortable POV from which to tell the story. I couldn’t imagine placing myself inside Mozart’s head -- he was a genius -- and I’m from a generation brought up with a profound respect for that (now overworked) word, and some sense of what such a superlative ought to mean.
The next closest human being to the great man would have been his wife, the first to share his joys and sorrows, so I soon decided to write my fiction using Constanze as the narrator. I began research by reading biographies.
The plots of Mozart's operas, especially the three mentioned above, are intriguing insights into 18th Century ideas about love, marriage, sex, and social class.
It was beyond wonderful to be able to justify an evening’s viewing/hearing of an opera performed in period dress at the beautiful and “built for Mozart” theaters of Glyndebourne or Drottningholm.
I soon found that many of Mozart’s biographers had no love for his Constanze. They either belittled her as someone who abandoned her man when the going got rough or they dismissed her as a silly young woman from an insignificant family who’d married a genius she was ill-prepared to handle.
I immediately doubted the insignificant part, at least in terms of the Weber family’s musicianship. Constanze’s two older sisters became famous prima donnas, performing the most demanding vocal music of the day, some of it written specifically for their voices by their brilliant brother-in-law.
It appears that Mozart suffered from all the familiar problems of a child star attempting to make the transition to adult master. Accustomed as he had been to fame and adulation from his earliest years, this transition was made supremely difficult, not only because of Mozart’s own high opinion of himself, but because of the understandable resentment of older musicians who had achieved their official positions “the hard way.”
Mozart’s largest problem in finding financial security was that upon voluntarily leaving the Archbishop of Salzburg’s service, he became the first freelance composer in Europe. Like all who opt for creative freedom, he would find there was a high price to pay. Every great musician who came after him, even the fiercely proud and independent Beethoven, would carry the image of Mozart’s daring as a banner.
It is a modern axiom that “anonymous was a woman,” and so it proved as I searched for facts about Constanze among a host of biographies. Primary source eventually proved to be my “mother lode.”
In the second volume of The Mozart Family Letters, translated by Emily Anderson, I found many written by Mozart himself, most sent from Vienna to his father in Salzburg, many from the Weber’s house, where he was lodging. They make good reading, for Wolfgang was a witty observer. These letters may be the horse’s mouth in one sense, however, they were also carefully tailored to soothe the recipient, the stern and possessive Leopold.
The old joke about the landlady’s daughter and the lodger has a long tradition in folk tale and plenty of fact behind it. By simply looking the other way, it was easy enough for Cecelia Weber to allow her daughter and the young composer to compromise themselves.
“But who is the object of my love? Again, do not be horrified, I beg of you! Not one of the Webers? Yes, eine Weberische -- Constanze, the middle one. In no other family have I ever met with such differences of temperament. . . . the middle one, my dear good Constanze, she . . . is the best-hearted, the best of them all ”
Mozart hoped to take a wife and have a safe and comfortable home to return to after his battles with the world. He looked forward to having his needs met, his supper fixed, his clothes cleaned, pressed and mended. He seems to have not thought much about the expenses of a family, nor about the inevitability of children nor any of the difficulties that can and do occur when people set up housekeeping.
On her side, Constanze seems to have desperately wanted to get away from her overbearing mother. The Mozarts’ union took a classic form -- young people wanting to build their own nest, to make an escape from restrictions and injustice. Mozart and his Constanze fairly seem to have jumped out of the frying pan of parental domination into the fire of marriage.
To quote Marcia Davenport, “Constanze is often blamed for a large share of these misfortunes and blamed with a certain injustice. She had nothing to do with Wolfgang's ridiculous bringing up which left him helpless in the face of every practical exaction of life. ”
In a 19 March, 1789, letter from Leopold says to his daughter in Salzburg:“If my son has no debts to pay, I think that he can now lodge 2,000 gulden in the bank. Certainly the money is there, and so far as eating and drinking is concerned, the housekeeping is extremely economical ... ”
Another feature of Constanze's life rarely mentioned by Wolfgang’s masculine biographers, was that she was pregnant or convalescent from childbirth for six out of the nine years she was married to Wolfgang. The longest interval between pregnancies was seventeen months, the shortest (on two occasions) six months. In 1789 she was bedridden. Her legs swelled, she had
intermittent fevers and a terrible pain in her legs and abdomen throughout the entire pregnancy. The daughter she bore that year died at birth and very nearly took Constanze with her.
From the letters, and from research on her symptoms, it would appear that Constanze nearly died of puerperal fever on two separate occasions. Childbirth and the resulting illnesses brought doctors, midwives, wet-nurses, and prescriptions, and attendant expense.
All large European cities of this period were open sewers. The brief life of four of Mozart’s children was not unusual. However, it can only be imagined how difficult the birth and death of four infants, in such a short space of time, was upon the mother, both physically and emotionally.
In a time without copyright laws, Mozart's “Greatest Hits” like “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” would have been sufficient to provide for his little family. However, Mozart was usually paid once, fairly well, by the standards of the time. Then, without payment to the composer, that music would be copied and dispersed. By 1791, Mozart's composition was playing all over Europe.
~ Juliet Waldron
Later, the picture of the Mozart’s family life becomes less clear. One reason is that Leopold, Wolfgang’s most faithful correspondent, had died. Another was that Constanze destroyed all of the letters she wrote to him and most of the letters he wrote to her. The surviving letters from this later period are filled with names that she carefully blacked out during the long years that remained to her after Mozart’s death.
Was she protecting her own reputation? Or was she protecting the reputations of people who were still alive-and still powerful? Was she covering up for Mozart? A few bits of gossip remain.
A quote from 1827 by Karl Friedrich Zelter in a letter to Goethe:
“We remember the circumstances of Mozart’s death only too well. As a result of such good training, production went so smoothly that he had time for a hundred things, time which he spent with women; in consequence, it did not do him any good.”
Mozart appears to have had an unusually heightened awareness of woman’s point of view. The pull between Mozart and the most talented of his singers and fortepiano students must have been very strong.
it was said,” (Jean-Baptiste-Antione Suard in his Anecdotes of Mozart, 1804) “loved his wife tenderly, although he was sometimes unfaithful to her. His fancies had such a hold over him that he could not resist them.”
The end of the story, culminating in the mystery of Mozart’s death, had to be created out of hints and allusions found in diaries and letters. I was forced to trust the characters I’d created to tell me what had taken place. Whether my novel’s ending is fiction or the unpleasant truth, I allowed the last few chapters of Mozart’s Wife to unfold exactly as Constanze explained it to me.
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