PLEASE MEET MY OLDER SISTER, ALOYSIA WEBER:
MOZART’S SISTER-IN-LAW ALOYSIA WEBER LANGE: PRIMA DONNA--MY PAGE:
Salzburg, January 2, 1839
My dear guests, I bid you good day! I am so pleased that you dropped by to call on me and visit awhile. I do hope that you enjoy the fresh cake I just baked this morning and the hot, steaming Viennese Kaffee.
You do know my name, of course, dear guests: Aloysia Weber.
Yes, Weber, and my first name spelled with an “A”—that is right—Aloysia. Ach, you do not remember? You no longer recall my name? Do you not remember my singing? You do not recall how I brought down the house and received a standing ovation in Vienna that night I sang two areas from my brother-in-law’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera “Lucio Silla” at the Theater an der Wien? Do you not recall how my performances in Mozart’s operas “Don Giovanni”, the “Abduction from the Seraglio” and “La Clemenza di Tito” would send the audience into wild applause and rapture—would always hold up the show for at least five or ten minutes?
You mean that you have never heard of me? That my name is forgotten?
My dear visitors, permit me to sing for you one of my favorite arias and one that the Emperor Josef II always adored hearing me sing, “Voi Que Sapete” from Mozart’s opera “The Marriage of Figaro.” You see, my friends? Not bad for an old broad of nine-and-seventy years, eh? Notice how my voice has retained its richness, strength, and timbre, without too much vibrato.
Oh, I have had to relinquish the very highest notes in my soprano range, but I discern now more depth and authority. Ach ja, how I still love to sing!
Well, now usually my sole audience is my two ears.
My acute hearing, praise God, is still intact.
I rarely venture out these days. Besides, where could an old lady safely go? But my four walls are constantly bombarded by my still-sweet dulcet tones as I go about my daily tasks and as I sit at the pianoforte accompanying myself on all the wonderful, glorious arias and songs I sang in my heyday, in my golden youth. Ach, meine Guete—I can not help but smile when I think about my great passion for singing and interpreting music; how this old woman draws steady comfort from singing and recalling those operas, those arias, those glorious, bygone days…….
One of my very first memories is of my dear Papa sitting me at the pianoforte and lovingly guiding my tiny fingers through Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck’s sublime aria “Che faro senza Euridice” from “Orfeo ed Euridice”. Ah…..my child’s voice delightedly mimicked the instrument’s tones.
I moved with my family from my birthplace of Zell im Wiesenthal in the Black Forest to Mannheim when I was but a small child—the second eldest of Fridolin and Caecilia Weber’s four daughters.
My dear guests, music was all around me as I grew up, as my father was by profession a bass singer, a violinist, a music copyist, and a prompter at the Court Theater. Music was his life and, in such a household as ours, mine and my sisters’ as well. I was blessed by God to have been given the gifts of a bell-clear, beautiful soprano voice and an innate musicality which likewise found expression in my training and musical interpretations on the pianoforte. Whenever I played and sang, I noticed how my emoting much pleased my listeners and audience—be it family, or increasingly, guests and visitors to our humble home. How the applause which met my ears inebriated and intoxicated me! How good I felt! How I basked in the glory and praise! Meine lieben Gaeste, I began to notice something else as well—how people in general reacted to me and treated me—especially men—and not only for my singing and playing the pianoforte!
As I was in my teens and blossoming into womanhood, I perceived how men followed me on the street with their eyes, how readily they smiled at me, their faces lighting up while in my presence, how they eagerly struck up a conversation with me. My friends, I became accustomed to this deference and attention and took it as my due. I took the habit of often seeking the reassurance of my faithful mirror, or painstakingly enlisting the aid of our natural foodstuffs to color my cheeks, to emphasize the length of my long eyelashes, to add a dash, a bloom of pink or red to my lips, to style my coiffeur ever so artfully, aping the latest court fashions. You see, my dear guests, I had become addicted with all my being to the admiration, to the warmth, the love it gave me! I felt so good, so loved when people gave me their admiration and manifold attentions. I HAD to do whatever possible to maintain their interest, to increase it even. And—haha—being that my very favorite person to gaze upon—in the mirror or in life—was without a doubt my own dear self—I could not help but be aware that the Almighty was not as generous with my sisters in bestowing beauty of countenance and a fetching figure as with my precious person! God was so generous and outdid himself with me to endow me with these inestimable gifts!
I saw and experienced the effect that had on people and, you know what—it slowly—young as I was—gave me ambition, empowered me with a fierce drive and steely desire to succeed! I had to; I must!
Look at my poor father! Look how he had to toil by the sweat of his brow, to overwork himself at two extra jobs—music copyist and theater prompter—just to struggle to put food on the table. And how poor our circumstances still were. How my dear father was growing old and weary before his time!
My friends, my hard work and the devoted tutelage of my father paid off handsomely, though not yet in terms of lifting my family’s fortunes.
Already in my teen years, I was an accomplished singer, praised by our Elector Palatine, Karl Theodor. The year was 1777, and I was aged seventeen years. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then one-and-twenty years of age, was visiting Mannheim on his way to Paris, and struck up a friendship with my father. So it was indeed natural that Mozart should start visiting us at our house, where he also gave us Weber girls some lessons on the pianoforte. Right away, I noticed a by now familiar deference and special attentions to me in particular from Papa’s new friend. I saw that Mozart esteemed me and was without a doubt in love with me. Naturally, my vanity was flattered. Men falling in love with me was a natural condition, an everyday occurrence, and, as usual, I was pleased. But look at Mozart, dear friends! Look at him! Mozart was a short, slight, insignificant-looking, pock-scarred young man, appearing far younger than his actual age. Like a mere boy! He had a long, prominent nose and large, piercing blue eyes, though still, above all, I admired his artistry, his accomplishments, his gifts of composition and skill on the pianoforte and as a teacher.
If truth be told—and I am an honest woman—I was not in the least moved by Mozart’s physical person. I cannot help it, but Mozart did not in the least attract me physically. But I was always happy to see him and be in his company. He was helping me achieve all I could, elevating my art, his council improving my singing and my playing on the pianoforte. And how could I not be flattered and amused when such a prominent and famous man should seek me out and lavish such attentions on me! How I smiled and flirted outrageously with Mozart, and kissed up to him with all my might and my fickle heart. Oh, my dear friends, Mozart had such plans to make me famous—me—me—by embarking with me on a concert journey to Italy with my dear Papa along as chaperon. Oh; these grand plans would make my name! Ach, zum Teufel—Mozart HAD to inform his father of all this! The old man--this domineering fool--had to stick his darn foot in and ruin our plans! What a sacrilege—this meddling, interfering old party-pooper! How could he do this to me! Well, of course, Leopold Mozart may have thwarted Wolfgang’s and my plans and aspirations but, as it turned out, he did not stop my career from its inevitable upward turn. How could he? Talent will win out in the end.
Mozart and his mother departed for Paris after all.
When our Elector Palatinate inherited the Electorship of Bavaria and moved all the court, including the musicians and our family, to the capital town of Munich, I received an appointment as solo Saengerin at the Court.
Now, dear friends, Papa’s and my hard work had paid off!
My dear friends, ambition, the desire to please and to succeed, and the love of admiration and applause had firmly rooted themselves in my being.
So I realized without illusion that all this does not come on a silver platter, despite undeniable raw talent and application. The concession I would have to make to achieve my dreams would be to submit myself to the attentions of the Elector. Despite my dainty porcelain beauty and refinement, I have become in my heart a toughened person. I knew what I had to do—and I swallowed hard with a touch of resignation at first, and gamely gritted my teeth and did my duty to achieve my goals and aid my family!
I was now a bona fide prima donna--the toast of Munich, and could not count the many admirers who eagerly thronged around me and constantly sought me out. And my bright star continued its dazzling accent into the heavens, into the bright stratosphere of fame and acclaim.
My ascending star hit a bump in the road when our Elector took another soprano to his bed, although what seemed at first wretched ill luck turned out in the end to be for me a blessing.
The Elector obtained for me the even higher position as soprano at the Court Opera—the German opera company--in the city of musicians, the Habsburg capital of Vienna!
So once again, my whole family was on the move and quickly settled into our new apartment, situated in the center of town at the corner of the Petersplatz and the Graben, in a building called “Zum Auge Gottes” (at the eye of God).
What a rude shock and awakening when my dear Papa died only one month after our arrival in this renown town on the Danube.
Now Mama, myself, and my three sisters were alone in the world, and I, Aloysia, was their soul means of support! With my brilliant singing technique and wide range of dynamics, I again quickly became the toast of the town! And now, dear guests, for the very first time in my life, I, who had effortlessly captured heart after heart of faithful swains did indeed fall head over heals truly, hopelessly in love. Boom! It was love at first sight—le coup de foudre! The recipient of my undying affections was the celebrated Viennese leading man of the theater, Josef Lange. Mein Gott—what looks, what charm—what everything! God, how could I refrain from swooning at the sight, even at the thought of him! Ach, what bliss! My beloved returned my affections! He loved me; he loved me! We two were truly and completely united—one love, one heart, one soul. And then we were also officially united in holy matrimony. It was to be expected that Mama would raise high holy hell because my beloved Josef was thereby depriving her of her soul means of support, namely—me--so out of the kindness of his heart, my Josef agreed to pay Mama a small annual stipend for the remainder of her life.
I was to bear my Josef six children.
And what is indeed pleasurable in this whole situation is that my former suitor, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and my husband and I became all fast friends and colleagues. Ja, ja—we often collaborated in our work.
I sang in Wolfgang’s operas, ofttimes with Wolfgang at the helm, countless times.
I believe, my dear friends, that I am unintentionally skipping ahead.
For did I mention that two years after our move to Vienna, Wolfgang Mozart, that gangly youth and musical genius, himself settled permanently in our fair city?
And just where did he reside, you may ask? Why, in no other home but in my Mama’s—ja, in my old dwelling.
How can this be? I certainly bear my sister, Constanze, no ill will, but how can Wolfgang so unashamedly transfer his affections from moi to my insignificant younger sister! Okay, okay; I am acting a trifle harsh, I know. For Constanze may be a wallflower--unlike me--who am blessed with natural beauty, but you cannot count her out!
Constanze is someone to be reckoned with. She may seem like a shrinking violet, always in the background, not as gregarious, smiling, and charming with folk as I am. But she has a true heart and a faithful spirit.
The longer you know her, the more you like and esteem her.
So I heard that since Wolfgang could not have me, he picked my younger sister.
My friends, I cannot believe that I would be fated to experience the tragedy of a divorce—that our marriage would not work out! Ach, it is so. Why me? Why me? My Josef—he had everything—and, sadly, too much of everything! Why the heck could he not have restricted his courtships and gallantries and object of affection to ME ALONE—his dear, devoted wife? Why oh why?
And ach, Josef was so jealous! Josef was simply jealous over nothing, as I told him countless times. My flirting with my admirers did not mean anything at all. Their attentions so pleased me, my friends. Ach, and attention and admiration are like oxygen to me. They make my whole being come alive.
You know, I am addicted to performing, to applause, to the approval of my audience.
When I had to be away from the opera house for any length of time, such as during my six pregnancies, I suffered such migraines and stomach cramps.
Meine lieben Gaeste, I sang in the theater for many years.
I thereafter lived for a time in Zurich where I gave singing lessons, and then again resided in Vienna.
I am not a good manager of money and had not the comfort and security of a breadwinner in the house. All my fortune sadly evaporated, and I was left penniless, dependent on the good graces and will of my sister, Constanze.
For you see, Mozart died, and so had Constanze’s second husband, Baron Georg Nikolaus von Nissen. My sister, you see, possessed a thrifty disposition, worked tirelessly to champion her late husband’s--Mozart’s--music, and slowly accumulated pecuniary means--almost wealth.
For Constanze was now a lady of independent means, and could afford to live out her remaining years in comfortable fashion.
Constanze, with her kindness and good heart, smiled upon my youngest sister, Sophie, as well. Sophie lived with Constanze for many, many years in Salzburg after she too was widowed—and on the very same day as Constanze!
I too moved to Salzburg where Constanze has been so generous as to support me.
My faithful, dependable mirror had always been my best friend! And now, dear guests, it has turned on me and betrayed me! I look into it now and see an old woman. How can that be? It has not been so many years since I sang to wild applause and acclaim at the Court Theater--also called the Burgtheater--and at the Kaerntnertor Theater. Well, I was young then and am now nine-and-seventy years. Where has all the time gone?
I am proud, dear friends, still very proud and stubborn. I still diligently attend devotedly to my toilette, applying with care foodstuff to my sunken, faded cheeks and rose to my mouth, and never miss brushing my long white hair one hundred strokes a day. As often as I can, I still attach a flower to my coiffeur and always, but always apply fastidiously perfume to my person. But these days, it takes a strong stomach and constitution to dare to approach my enemy--my mirror! At times, I hurry with my toilette and turn abruptly away, unable to face my mirror’s harsh truths.
Can you imagine when you have been blessed with great beauty what it is like to be an old woman? Can you?
I have become invisible; that I cannot bear! Men no longer look at me when I pass by on the street. When I am in a room, they look not at me, but past me, through me, seeing me not!
My dear guests, do you know what gives me comfort in my dotage?
Do not tell what I am about to confide in you to my sister, Constanze, for she would most vigorously disagree with me! My opinion is that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart never forgot me and has always to his dying day loved me.
These tender thoughts give me warmth and comfort. Ach, how I hate to admit that I am lonely! The reason for my conviction that Wolfgang has always loved me? There is no reason, no proof. There—I am admitting it. These daydreams sustain and nurture me, keep me alive. I still feel strong and without my illusions, my body would no doubt continue to live.
But, you know, once you are a prima donna, you can never give that up; you are always and forever a prima donna for all time.
Now that starring, luminous light has gone out of my life.
But in my thoughts of Wolfgang’s undying love and devotion to me, in my singing and in my playing Wolfgang’s music, I am keeping the flame, love, and warmth in my heart alive and beating optimistically to face another day.
"MOZART’S SISTER-IN-LAW ALOYSIA WEBER LANGE: PRIMA DONNA--MY PAGE" is the exclusive property of Marti Burger, and is not to be reprinted without her written permission.
"MOZART’S SISTER-IN-LAW ALOYSIA WEBER LANGE: PRIMA DONNA--MY PAGE"
© Marti Burger 2003-2008