Mozart’s Father (Father’s Day)

Selections from “Notebook for Wolfgang” Leopold Mozart (1719-1787)

Leopold Mozart was a German composer, conductor, teacher, and — the father and teacher of his spectacularly famous son Wolfgang. Leopold and his wife had seven children, of whom only two survived: Maria Anna (1751–1829) — better known by her nickname ‘Nannerl’, and her younger brother Wolfgang (1756–1791). When Nannerl was seven years old Leopold began giving her music lessons. Little three-year-old Wolfgang was enchanted, and the toddler immediately began imitating his sister, at first picking out tunes on the keyboard and then making rapid progress under dad’s instruction (which included a set of beginner pieces dad wrote for his son — a few featured in today’s prelude).

It didn’t take long for Leopold to realize he had a prodigy on his hands — he once referred to Wolfgang as “the miracle which God let be born in Salzburg”. By 1762, the children (ten and six years old) were ready to work as concert performers, and Leopold began taking the entire family on extensive concert tours, performing for both aristocracy and public, throughout central and western Europe. These trips were often difficult and travel conditions were primitive. The family had to wait for invitations and reimbursement from the nobility and father, son and daughter endured long, near-fatal illnesses far from home. (Mother Mozart died in Paris in 1778 while accompanying 22-year-old Wolfgang on a job-hunting tour.) Scholars differ on whether the tours made any money. To be sure, the children often performed before large audiences and took in large sums, but the expenses of travel were also very high, and no money at all was made during their illnesses. Subsequent tours to Italy beginning when Wolfgang was 18 included only father and son.

Between the demands of being tour manager and music teacher, Leopold’s own musical efforts waned. After 1762, his compositional efforts seem to have been limited to revising his earlier work; and after 1771 he composed not at all.

As Wolfgang came into his own, his relationship with dad became increasingly strained. Leopold strongly disapproved of Wolfgang’s decision to leave Salzburg and move to Vienna (the ‘Big Apple’ of the day), and was even more strongly opposed to Wolfgang’s marriage to Constanze. In hindsight Wolfgang’s decision to move to Vienna was a good one; to marry Constanze maybe not so much — she had champagne tastes on a beer budget, and her money management skills were even worse than her husband’s — if that were possible. Scholars differ as to whether Leopold was an overbearing controlling father, or whether his were sensible efforts to guide the life of a grossly irresponsible Wolfgang.

Leopold died age 68 – Wolfgang was 31. Who could know that Wolfgang had only four more years himself?

As a child prodigy Nannerl had sometimes received top billing on the Mozart tours, but when she became of marriageable age her parents – in keeping with the attitudes of the day — forbade any further public performances. Letters by Wolfgang refer to music which Nannerl had composed — sadly none of it has survived. Nannerl lived to be 78. (I highly recommend a film about Nannerl called “Mozart’s Sister”).