SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL:
DEAR VISITORS, HERE IS MY EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT OF MOZART'S DEATH IN ENGLISH.
FOLLOWING MY ACCOUNT, YOU WILL FIND MY MEMORIES OF MOZART, MY REPORT ON MY LIFE AT AGE FORTY, A BIRTHDAY TO REMEMBER IN OLD VIENNA, AND "THE DIARY OF SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL, MOZART'S FAVORITE SISTER-IN-LAW".
SOPHIE'S ACCOUNT OF MOZART'S DEATH IN ENGLISH:
SOPHIE HAIBL TO GEORG NIKOLAUS von NISSEN, SALZBURG
Diakovar, 7 April, 1825
Now I must tell you about Mozart’s last days. Well, Mozart became fonder and fonder of our dear departed mother and she of him.
Indeed he often came running along in great haste to the Wieden (where she and I were lodging at the Goldner Pflug), carrying under his arm a little bag containing coffee and sugar, which he would hand to our good mother, saying, ‘Here, mother dear, now you can have a little "Jause"’. She used to be as delighted as a child. He did this very often. In short, Mozart in the end never came to see us without bringing something.
Now when Mozart fell ill, we both made him a night-jacket which he could put on frontways, since on account of his swollen condition, he was unable to turn in bed. Then, as we didn’t know how seriously ill he was, we also made him a quilted dressing-gown (though indeed his dear wife, my sister, had given us the materials for both garments), so that when he got up, he should have everything he needed. We often visited him, and he was really delighted with the dressing-gown. I used to go into town every day to see him. Well, one Saturday when I was with him, Mozart said to me: ‘Dear Sophie, do tell Mamma that I am fairly well, and that I shall be able to go and congratulate her in the octave of her name-day’. Who could have been more delighted than I to bring such cheerful news to my mother, when she could barely expect the news? I hurried home therefore to comfort her, the more so as he himself really seemed to be bright and happy.
The following day was a Sunday. I was young then and rather vain, I confess, and liked to dress up. But I never cared to go out walking from our suburb into town in my fine clothes, and I had no money for a drive.
So I said to our good mother: ‘Dear Mamma, I’m not going to see Mozart today. He was so well yesterday that surely he will be even better today, and one day more or less won’t make much difference.’ Well, my mother said: ‘Listen to this. Make me a cup of coffee, and then I’ll tell you what you ought to do.’ She was rather inclined to keep me at home; and indeed my sister knows how much I had to be with her. I went into the kitchen. The fire was out. I had to light the lamp and make a fire.
All the time, I was thinking of Mozart.
I had made the coffee, and the lamp was still burning. Then I noticed how wasteful I had been with my lamp, I mean, that I had burned so much wax. It was still burning brightly. I stared into the flame and thought to myself, ‘How I should love to know how Mozart is’. While I was thinking and gazing at the flame, it went out, as completely as if the lamp had never been burning. Not a spark remained on the big wick, and yet there wasn’t the slightest draught—that I can swear to. A horrible feeling came over me. I ran to our mother and told her all. She said: ‘Well, take off your fine clothes and go into town, and bring me back news of him at once. But be sure not to delay.’ I hurried along as fast as I could. Alas, how frightened I was when my sister, who was almost despairing and yet trying to keep calm, came out to me, saying: ‘Thank God that you have come, dear Sophie. Last night, he was so ill that I thought he would not be alive this morning. Do stay with me today, for if he has another bad turn, he will pass away tonight. Go in to him for a little while and see how he is.’ I tried to control myself and went to his bedside.
He immediately called me to him and said: ‘Ah, dear Sophie, how glad I am that you have come. You must stay here tonight and see me die.’
I tried hard to be brave and to persuade him to the contrary. But to all my attempts he only replied: ‘Why, I have already the taste of death on my tongue.’ And, ‘who will support my dearest Constanze if you don’t stay here?’ ‘Yes, yes, dear Mozart,’ I assured him, ‘but I must first go back to our mother and tell her that you would like me to stay with you today. Otherwise she will think that some misfortune has befallen you.’
‘Yes, do so,’ said Mozart, ‘but be sure and come back soon.’
Good God, how distressed I felt! My poor sister followed me to the door and begged me for Heaven’s sake to go to the priests at St. Peter’s and implore one of them to come to Mozart—a chance call, as it were.
I did so, but for a long time, they refused to come, and I had a great deal of trouble to persuade one of those clerical brutes to go to him.
Then I ran off to my mother who was anxiously awaiting me. It was already dark. Poor soul, how shocked she was! I persuaded her to go and spend the night with her eldest daughter, the late Josefa Hofer. I then ran back as fast as I could to my distracted sister. Suessmayr was at Mozart’s bedside.
The well-known Requiem lay on the quilt, and Mozart was explaining to him how, in his opinion, he ought to finish it, when he was gone.
Further, he urged his wife to keep his death a secret until she should have informed Albrechtsberger, for the post should be his before God and the world. A long search was made for Dr. Closset, who was found at the theatre, but who had to wait for the end of the play. He came and ordered cold poultices to be placed on Mozart’s burning head, which, however, affected him to such an extent that he became unconscious and remained so until he died.
His last movement was an attempt to express with his mouth the drum passages in the Requiem.
That I can still hear.
Mueller from the Art Gallery came and took a cast of his pale, dead face. Words fail me, dearest brother, to describe how his devoted wife in her utter misery threw herself on her knees and implored the Almighty for His aid. She simply could not tear herself away from Mozart, however much I begged her to do so. If it was possible to increase her sorrow, this was done on the day after that dreadful night, when crowds of people passed by and wept and wailed for him.
All my life, I have never seen Mozart in a temper, still less, angry.
My dear, forgive me if I have been rambling and long-winded in my letter. I don’t quite recall whether or not I’ve told my sister about the very strange incident—in my opinion--with the light, as I’ve always carefully avoided renewing her wounds.
Oh how concerned Mozart was when his dear little wife needed something! So it was once when she lay very seriously ill, and I was by her side and tended to her for eight long months. I even sat on her bed, Mozart too.
He composed next to her; I observed her sweet slumber after she had been unable to sleep for such a long time.
We were both quiet as the grave so as not to disturb her. Suddenly, an ungainly domestic servant came into the room. Mozart was startled with fear that his dear wife would be disturbed in her gentle slumber, signaled to him to be quiet, moved the chair backwards behind him; Mozart was holding his pen knife in the palm of his hand. The knife became skewered between the chair and his thigh, so that the knife penetrated deeply into his thick flesh up to the handle.
Mozart, who was normally plaintive, didn’t move a muscle and clenched his teeth to suppress his pain, and signaled to me to follow him out of the room. We went into a room where our mother lived concealed because we didn’t want dear Mrs. Mozart, my sister, to know how ill she was, and our mother could render assistance at once.
Our mother bandaged up his leg and put Coubey into his very deep wound. And with Johannes-oil, she succeeded in restoring him to health.
Although Mozart limped because of the pain, he was successful in keeping his accident a secret, and his dear wife didn’t find out about it.
Write and tell me if you knew all this already.
1. Mozart, who had been in poor health for some time, became very ill early in November and bedridden about a fortnight before his death on 5 December, 1791. A vivid and moving account of his last days is given in the above letter, written many years later by Sophie Haibl to her elder sister Constanze’s second husband, Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, formerly Counsellor at the Danish Legation in Vienna, who at the time was collecting materials for his biography of Mozart.
2. Sophie Weber’s husband, Jakob Haibl, (1762-1826), musician and composer, was choirmaster at Diakovar.
3. Frau Caecilia Weber, Constanze's and Sophie's mother, who died on 22 August, 1793.
4. A Jause: i.e. afternoon coffee
5. Josefa Weber-Hofer, who in 1797 had married as her second husband the actor and singer Friedrich Sebastian Mayer (1773-1835), died on 29 December, 1819.
6. The Requiem: K.626. Six months previously, Mozart had been commissioned by Count Franz Walsegg-Stuppach to compose this work, which, however, had been delayed by his journey to Prague early in September for the production of “La Clemenza di Tito” and by his work on “Die Zauberfloete”, first performed on 30 September.
7. Albrechtsberger: As Mozart intended, Albrechtsberger, the court organist, succeeded him as assistant to the Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral, Leopold Hofmann.
8. Mozart died at 55 minutes past midnight on 5 December, 1791.
9. Mueller: Count Josef Deym von Stritetz (1752-1804), alias Mueller, was the owner of a collection of wax-works, casts from the antique, and miscellaneous attractions, which from 1797 onwards was housed in a building on the Danube canal. Mozart’s death-mask has disappeared. According to Nohl (“Mozart nach den Schilderungen seiner Zeitgenossen”, p. 393), Constanze, one day while cleaning, smashed the copy in her possession. She is said to have remarked that ‘she was glad that the ugly old thing was broken’ (A. Schurig, “Leopold Mozarts Reiseaufzeichnungen, p. 92).