SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL: MOZART’S FATHER, LEOPOLD
Salzburg, June 21, 1846
My dear friends, Gruess Gott! I rejoice in this day of the summer solstice—the longest day of the year! In the dead of winter and during our still cool springtime, I secretly longed for this day to arrive.
And I, at nearly three-and-eighty years of age, have again lived to experience it; I feel truly blessed and exhilarated.
I so love to commune with nature, to be a part of it, particularly in this mild, welcoming season. And at this equinox, nature is all around me in our fair town. So easy is it to take a nature stroll within its walls, for the green, verdant wilds are never far distant.
What a morning, my friends! As I strolled through the lively Universitaetsplatz this warm morning on this first day of summer, it was market day—a bustling, living panorama of sights and smells that never fails to engross me. And as I gazed upon the venerable ancient gray walls of Salzburg University opposite the square, who but Leopold Mozart came to mind—my dear and esteemed friend, Leopold, beloved father of my dear, late brother-in-law, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Yes; Leopold inhabited these very walls just a few short meters from where I stood this day. He experienced life, was a University scholar in this very place.
But then, from the time Leopold set foot in this pristine alpine region, he was never again to call another place home, although Leopold remained to his dying day a citizen of his birthplace, Augsburg.
I recall Leopold Mozart with fondness and affection.
Yes, he had a strong personality, an air of authority about him, and strong opinions.
Leopold was in appearance of a stocky build, and though not overly tall in stature, a commanding presence.
Leopold had self-confidence in full measure and, in my view, an aura of charisma emanating from his very being.
I remember so clearly, dear friends, Leopold’s deep, rich, mellifluous voice.
As though it were yesterday, I can hear him saying to me and smiling, “Why Sophie dear; I am so pleased to see you! How are you, my dear?”
I shall never forget Leopold’s unique voice, nor indeed, his imposing and pleasing person.
Leopold was a born teacher, I feel, a teacher’s teacher if I may express it that way, and his most cherished pupil, to whom he was wholeheartedly devoted and wished only the best for—was his dear son, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Leopold was an unfailing mentor and teacher to his daughter, Nannerl, as well as to Wolfgang.
But at age eighteen, Nannerl gave up playing the pianoforte professionally, so thereafter, Wolfgang was Leopold’s focus, his world, his raison d’etre.
Though Leopold exuded an air of authoritativeness, a commanding presence, I felt also a kindness, a gentleness within him.
Leopold was born in the Swabian city of Augsburg in the Southern German lands on November 14, 1719, the son of bookbinder Johann Georg Mozart and his second wife, Anna Maria, nee Sulzer.
Leopold was one of nine children. His younger brother, Franz Aloys Mozart, was, like his father before him, a bookbinder by trade and the father of Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, a very special youthful friend and first cousin of Wolfgang, whom Wolfgang referred to affectionately as "das Baesle."
Leopold spent his early school years at the Gymnasium and the Lyceum, both run by the Jesuits. He considered a religious vocation, but after his father's death, he decided instead to enter the University of Salzburg, and studied philosophy and jurisprudence there.
Leopold told me that he was an excellent student, receiving top grades, but after some time, his interest in his studies slackened and Leopold was finally expelled from the University owing to poor attendance.
Leopold had always made music, primarily on the violin, and he now decided to make music his life's work.
Leopold thereupon entered into service as a valet and an assistant Kapellmeister (music conductor) to Count Johann of Thurn-Valsassina und Taxis, a canon of the cathedral.
Leopold excelled at his work, and several years later, he became a chamber musician in the orchestra of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg.
He rose to the position of Vice Kapellmeister.
Leopold was now in a secure enough financial position to be able to marry, and eight-and-twenty year old Leopold took to wife his Salzburg neighbor, seven-and-twenty year old Maria Anna Pertl, in the Salzburg Cathedral, on November 21, 1747.
Leopold and Maria Anna enjoyed a most happy union and loved one another dearly.
Years later, Leopold was to tenderly write Maria Anna:
"Today is the anniversary of our wedding day. It was twenty-five years ago, I think, that we had the sensible idea of getting married, one which we had cherished, it is true, for many years. All good things take time!"
Leopold and Maria Anna were to have seven children, all save Wolfgang and Nannerl not surviving infancy.
In the year of Wolfgang's birth, in 1756, Leopold published his famous violin textbook "Violinschule", which was also subsequently translated into Dutch and French.
Leopold was also a composer, but as he became aware of the remarkable musical abilities of Nannerl and Wolfgang, Leopold’s educating them in music became his first priority, and his composing ceased.
During Nannerl and Wolfgang’s childhood, Leopold was very fortunate to serve under the music-loving Prince-Archbishop, Count Sigismund Christoph Schrattenbach.
The Archbishop was tolerant and understanding of Leopold’s plans to promote his musical prodigy children and to undertake long tours with them where they performed in Europe and in London, England.
Archbishop Schrattenbach’s successor, however, was the dictatorial Archbishop Colloredo, who was not so kind-hearted, and treated his composers and musicians as servants.
Leopold, as well as Wolfgang, hoped eventually to obtain a secure position outside the confines of Salzburg and the reaches of the despotic Archbishop Colloredo.
In 1777, the Archbishop refused to grant Leopold leave to accompany Wolfgang on a job-seeking journey throughout the Southern German lands and on to Paris, so Mozart’s dear mother, Maria Anna, went with Wolfgang in Leopold’s place.
Alas, she passed on in Paris.
Devastated by his loss, Leopold later wrote, "It is mysteriously sad when death severs a very happy marriage. You have to experience it before you can realize it."
Leopold wanted now more than ever for Wolfgang to return permanently to Salzburg, not to leave him for some other venue.
But now, Wolfgang was a young man, an adult with an independent spirit and mind, and he wished to make his own way in the world.
Wolfgang would no longer unquestioningly obey his dear Papa, though he always loved, honored, and revered Leopold for the whole of his life.
Wolfgang detested even more than Leopold his stifling, humiliating position at the Archbishop’s Court, where, as Wolfgang himself said, “I have to sit at table with the other servants.”
Wolfgang wanted more freedom and desired to be treated as an equal, which he indeed was.
Wolfgang made his way to Vienna, the city of musicians, where he found lodgings with his old friends, namely us: the Webers!
Papa had passed from this earth, and Mama was forced thereby to turn our apartment in the Petersplatz into a boarding house.
Well, Wolfgang and my older sister, Constanze, fell in love and married.
This act infuriated Leopold, who now feared that he had irretrievably lost his dear son.
Constanze, by the by, was my best friend and only one-and-twenty months my elder.
In 1785, Leopold visited Vienna, where he spent two months at the home of Wolfgang and Constanze.
He often came to call on Mama and me as well, and I greatly esteemed Leopold and took great pleasure in his company.
During this period, Wolfgang was very much in demand as a composer, performer, and teacher, and Leopold wrote home to Nannerl: "We never get to bed before one o'clock, and I never get up before nine. We lunch at two or half past. The weather is horrible. Every day there are concerts; and the whole time is given up to teaching, music, composing and so forth. I feel rather out of it all. If only the concerts were over! It is impossible for me to describe the rush and bustle. Since my arrival, your brother's fortepiano has been taken at least a dozen times to the theatre or to some other house."
Constanze, Mama, and I attended a concert of Wolfgang’s music with Leopold, where Wolfgang performed one of his works on the pianoforte. Also present at the concert was Maestro Josef Haydn.
Haydn spoke truly from the heart when he exclaimed to Leopold:
“Before God and as an honest man, I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name. He has taste and, what is more, the most profound knowledge of composition.”
While in Vienna, Leopold was initiated into Wolfgang’s Masonic lodge, so that the two were not only father and son but also “brothers”.
At the time of Leopold’s death on May 28, 1787, aged seven-and-sixty years, further rapprochement and reconciliation between father and son still needed to be made—and would have too—had not Leopold died at that time and Wolfgang some scant four and one half years later, aged nearly six-and-thirty years, in the early morning hours of December 5, 1791.
For Leopold and Wolfgang truly loved and esteemed one another and always—no matter what outwardly transpired between the two—lovingly and faithfully kept one another in their hearts.
"SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL: MOZART’S FATHER, LEOPOLD" is the exclusive property of Marti Burger, and is not to be reprinted without her written permission.
"SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL: MOZART’S FATHER, LEOPOLD"
© Marti Burger 2003-2008