Mozart's Letters: Activities
Writing like Mozart
Over the course of his immensely productive life, Mozart wrote nearly seven hundred compositions. Over and above this activity he also found time to pen more than 1,200 letters, making him one of the most prolific writers of his era. We must remember that in the eighteenth century, letter-writing was the only means of long-distance communication. There were no telephones no radios, no televisions, and of course no email, instant messaging or text messaging.
In Mozart’s letters, we learn much information about the compositions he was writing, detailed descriptions of concerts he attended and how audiences responded to his music. He was also very fond of relating all the nitty-gritty of his daily life, thus allowing us to better grasp significant aspects of his personality including an undeniable sense of humor and repartee. He loved to play with words, not only in his native German but in French and occasionally Italian as well. Numerous love letters to his wife Constanze, his father Leopold, his sister Nannerl and his friend and composer Joseph Haydn have come down to us. These letters reveal a little-known side of an extraordinary individual who often amuses, sometimes surprises, and always moves the reader.
On daily life...
Vienna, February 13, 1782
I described my manner of life the other day to my father and I will repeat it to you. My hair is always done by six o’clock in the morning and by seven I am fully dressed. I then compose until nine. From nine to one I give lessons. Then I have lunch unless I am invited to some house where they eat at two or even three o’clock, as, for example, today and tomorrow at Countess Zichy’s and Countess Thun’s. I can never work before five or six o’clock in the afternoon, and even then I am often prevented from doing so by a concert. If I am not prevented, I compose until nine. I then go to my dear Constanze, though the joy of seeing each other is nearly always spoiled by her mother’s bitter remarks. I shall explain this in my next letter to my father. For that is the reason why I am longing to be able to set her free and to rescue her as soon as possible. At half past ten or eleven I come home – it depends on her mother’s mood and on my ability to put up with her. As I cannot rely on being able to compose in the evening, due to the concerts which are taking place and also to the uncertainty as to whether I might be summoned to this place or that, it is my custom, especially if I get home early, to compose a little before going to bed. I often go on writing until one – and I am up again at six. Dearest sister – if you imagine that I can ever forget my dearest, most beloved father and you, then …but I shall say no more. May He punish me if I can ever forget you.
Adieu. I am ever your sincere brother.
W. A. Mozart
P.S. If my dearest father is back in Salzburg, tell him I kiss his hands a thousand times.
On the six string quartets dedicated to Haydn...
Vienna, September 1, 1785
To my dear friend Haydn.
A father who had decided to send his sons [the six string quartets Mozart dedicated to Haydn] out into the great world thought it his duty to entrust them to the protection and guidance of a man who was highly celebrated at the time and who, moreover, happened to be his best friend.
In like manner, I send my six sons to you, most celebrated and very dear friend. They are truly the fruit of a long and laborious study, but the hope which many friends have given me, that this toil will be in some degree rewarded, encourages me and flatters me with the thought that these children may one day prove a source of consolation to me.
During your last stay in this capital, you yourself, my very good friend, expressed to me your approval of these compositions. Your good opinion encourages me to offer them to you and leads me to hope that you will not consider them wholly unworthy of your favor. Please then receive them kindly and be to them a father, guide and friend! From this moment, I surrender to you all my rights over them. I entreat you, however, to be indulgent to those faults that may have escaped a father’s partial eye and, in spite of them, to continue your generous friendship towards one who so highly appreciates it. Meanwhile, I remain with all my heart, dearest friend, your most sincere friend.
W. A. Mozart
To the Abbé Bullinger, his best friend in Salzburg, following the death of his mother...
Paris, July 3, 1778
Most beloved friend!
For you alone.
Mourn with me, my friend! This has been the saddest day of my life. I am writing at two o’clock in the morning. I must tell you that my mother, my dear mother, is no more! God has called her to Himself. It was His will to take her, that I saw clearly, so I resigned myself to His will. He gave her to me, so He was could take her back. Only think of all my anxiety, the fears and sorrows I have had to endure for the past two weeks. She was quite unconscious at the time of her death; her life flickered out like a candle. … I beg you, therefore, most beloved friend, watch over my father for me and try to give him courage so that, when he hears the worst, he may not take it too badly. I commend my sister to you also with all my heart. Go to them both at once, I implore you, but do not tell them yet that she is dead, just prepare them for it. Do what you think best – use all means to comfort them – but act in such a way that my mind may be relieved, and that I may not have to expect further misfortune. Watch over my father and my dear sister for me. Send me a reply at once, I beg of you.
Wolfgang Amadè Mozart
To Constanze, at the baths in Baden...
Vienna, July 6, 1791
Dearest, most beloved little wife!
With indescribable pleasure I received the news that you got the money safely. I can’t remember, but I’m sure I never told you to settle up everything. Now, how could I, a sensible person, have written such nonsense? Well, if I did, I must have been completely out of my mind! Which is quite possible, as at the moment I have so many important things to think about. I only meant that you should pay for your baths and use the rest yourself. All other debts, the amount of which I have more or less calculated, I shall settle myself when I come. … Our life is not at all a pleasant one. But patience! Things are bound to improve. And then I shall rest in your arms!
But the greatest pleasure of all you can give me is to be happy and jolly. And if I know for certain that you have everything you want, then all my trouble is a joy and delight. Indeed, the most difficult and complicated situation in which I can possibly find myself becomes a trifle, if only I know that you are healthy and happy.”
In the meantime, stay well!
Three kisses, sweet as sugar, are flying to you!
In The Classroom...
This activity is appropriate for students at all levels.
Activity #1 - Sharing the Listening Experience
Mozart was up to his eyeballs in work when he wrote this concerto. For both private and subscription concerts, audiences wanted to hear new music. Leopold visited his son in Vienna (this would be the last time Wolfgang would see him alive) and observed the whirlwind of concerts. Proud of his son’s accomplishments, he wrote to his daughter Nannerl on February 16, 1785: “Haydn said to me, ‘I tell you before God and honest men that your son is the greatest composer known to me both in person and in name. He has taste and above all the most profound knowledge of composing.’”
The second movement of this concerto is one of the best-known in the repertory. It has acquired the nickname “the Elvira Madigan concerto,” as its slow movement was used in a 1967 Swedish film of that name depicting a scene of romantic bliss. The tenderness and serenity of the theme, played by violins in the opening measures and later by the piano, takes us into a realm where time seems almost to have stopped.
Listen to the movement and imagine that you were in the concert hall on the evening of the first performance. Write a letter to a friend relating your impression of the music. You might talk about the emotions you felt, the manner in which particular instruments were used or how the pianist played. (The soloist on the ArtsAlive.com performance was one of the greatest pianists of the twentieth century, Geza Anda, a Hungarian who died in 1976.)
Activity #2 - Sharing the Writing Experience
This activity is appropriate for students at all levels.
Imagine that you are Mozart writing to your father Leopold, or to your sister or a friend, and want to tell him or her about the first movement of the symphony you are writing. You can include details about the musical choices you made, how you used dynamics (indications where to play loud or soft), how you made repeated use of melodic ideas and whatever was happening in you life at the time.
Some ideas you might incorporate:
- The symphony was written in Salzburg in 1774, just after Mozart had returned from a trip to Vienna.
- Instruments used: 2 oboes, 2 horns and strings
- Operas Mozart wrote about the same time: La finta giardiniera and Il rè pastore
- Written at a time when Mozart was on the verge of adulthood (he was eighteen)
- The introduction shows how one can expand a simple motif (heard in the very first measures) into a full-length symphonic movement through changes in dynamics (levels of loud and soft).
- The movement has three melodic ideas. The first
is played twice in close succession, once softly, then loudly by
full orchestra. The second idea, more delicate in character, is
presented by the first violins (57 sec) and the third (1m 30)
consists of a little dialogue between the two violin