WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART -
A BIOGRAPHY BY HIS SISTER-IN-LAW, SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL
Salzburg, July 19, 1838
These summer days are memorable for me and my dear sister, Constanze, Widow Mozart, Widow Nissen.
Constanze’s two sons, Karl Thomas and Franz Xaver Wolfgang Mozart, whom we all affectionately call “Wowi”, are visiting from Milan and Lemberg respectively.
Both are here at the very same time!
What a rare and happy occasion that is for Constanze and myself!
Constanze and I, now elderly, reside together on the ground floor of an apartment in the Marktplatz in the heart of Salzburg, and I too am widowed.
My dearest husband, Jakob Haibl, was a once-in-a-lifetime person for me, so unique and irreplaceable.
Constanze feels as I do about her two wonderful husbands—Mozart and Nissen.
At present, it is the height of summer, and we love to climb the stairway to the top floor of our building where a doorway and stairs lead us to the roof.
In spite of Constanze's discomfort in negotiating stairs due to the swollen veins in her legs, my sister and I are proud at our age to still be able to make it to the very top—no small feat indeed.
There on the roof is a terrace—with a wooden table and chairs—overlooking the whole of Salzburg—the serene and magnificent alps framing the elegant, stately buildings, the imposing fortress, the church spires and rounded domes, and the river Salzach with its bridges connecting both parts of the town.
With the help of our faithful and longtime maid, Luise, we often take late afternoon coffee and cake and pitchers of punch or some wine out on the rooftop terrace.
Of course, we bring along our damask parasols sewn with an outer layer of silk, as rain could happen at any time.
Today was a bright, sunny day; the terrace and its airy enticement of being on top of the world beckoned, and there we all were—Constanze, Karl, Wowi, and I at table on our terrace.
I feel a sweet exhilaration and security with the added presence of my beloved nephews, Karl and Wowi, joining Constanze and me.
Here we are again all together in a tightly-knit family circle.
I feel myself a part of something which nurtures and strengthens my soul.
If only this gathering could always remain so!
Wowi, sitting next to me, mentioned that last night, he had an inspiration for a new composition and, thanks to the fortification of strong coffee, was able to keep composing during the wee hours.
I exclaimed, “Wowi, you are so like your father! How your father loved and depended on this strong brew, and how it sustained him while he penned his compositions late into the night.”
“Aunt Sophie, I know so little of my father.”
Wowi shook his head sadly and continued, “He died when I was but an infant. Tell me more about him.”
“Wowi,” I replied, “I remember when you were a little boy—how you loved to listen to my stories of your beloved Papa. You never tired of hearing them over and over again.”
Franz Xaver looked thoughtfully at me with the hint of a smile.
His eyes lit up, and his smile broadened into a wide and happy grin.
“So it is still and ever shall be, Aunt Sophie.”
My mind goes back to my brother-in-law, Wolfgang, to those bygone years of the last century—to the time of tricorn hats, powdered wigs and hair, knee breeches, silk stockings and buckled shoes, ladies with elaborate bouffant hairdos, wide-brimmed hats and lace bonnets, broad skirts, lots of petticoats, and generous decoltage.
And the music—Ach, it went straight to my heart!
How I love and cherish the music composed and played during my younger years!
It is refined music—not like the muddy harmonies and more turbulent melodies composed today.
Yes, it is elegant music, often peaceful and serene—yet also soulful, reaching deep inside me, its dulcet tones utterly satisfying my longing for beauty and completion.
Listening to this music, playing it on the pianoforte and singing it makes me happy, makes this old broad feel alive and satisfied in all my senses.
And the person—the genius—who created the most perfect, sublime music of all time?
It is my own beloved brother-in-law, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, whose progeny—my dear nephews—are seated around me on the terrace, together with their mother, Constanze.
Wolfgang…...Wolfgang…...It started long ago, nearly eight years before my birth, though it all seems like yesterday……
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756, to Leopold and Maria Anna Pertl Mozart in Salzburg.
Wolfgang was the youngest of seven children, and only he and his sister Maria Anna, called Nannerl and five years his elder, survived infancy.
Leopold Mozart, the son of an Augsburg bookbinder, was a talented violinist, composer, and author of the well-known teaching manual, “The Violin School”, and in the employ of the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg.
Wolfgang’s mother was the daughter of the Mayor of Sankt Gilgen near Salzburg, and came from a musical family.
She was orphaned at age four and with her mother and sister, came to live in Salzburg in the Getreidegasse, in the same street as her future husband, Leopold.
At age three, Mozart started exploring the pianoforte in depth, and Leopold took note of Wolfgang’s remarkable talent on the pianoforte and musical genius.
Wolfgang was a true child prodigy, and Nannerl also showed an exceptional gift for music and great skill on the pianoforte.
Leopold decided to devote himself heart and soul to the education and career advancement of his two gifted children, sacrificing to an extent his own career, though Leopold always remained a Vice Conductor at the Archbishop’s court.
He ceased composing, however, to further the careers of his children, notably Wolfgang.
Leopold undertook several tours with his children in order to showcase their talents to the world.
Wolfgang and Nannerl played before the crowned heads and aristocracy of Europe and England.
Wolfgang’s mother accompanied them on one of these grand tours, though after 1769, Leopold and Wolfgang went on the journeys alone.
From a young child, Wolfgang composed his whole life, and in all types of music genres—and here, his genius shines.
Wolfgang composed symphonies, operas, all genres of church music, chamber music with and without a keyboard instrument, solo keyboard music, concertos for pianoforte, strings, and winds, dances, serenades, divertimentos, marches, ballets and incidental music, songs, concert arias, duets, trios, and quartets, cantatas, and oratorios.
Wolfgang too was employed as court composer and conductor under the Archbishop of Salzburg, and he chafed at his limited opportunities at the Salzburg court, and being regarded by his employer as a mere servant who ate at table with the cooks and other servants.
1777 was a momentous year for Wolfgang, and I say this most especially because my family, the Webers of Mannheim, and I made his acquaintance in that year.
Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg had succeeded his more tolerant predecessor, and the new archbishop was far less permissive in allowing Leopold and Wolfgang extended leaves of absence in order to undertake journeys promoting Wolfgang’s music.
Leopold was thus unable to accompany his son to Munich, Mannheim, and Paris in search of a better position, so Mozart’s mother, Maria Anna, undertook the journey with Wolfgang in Leopold’s stead.
After Munich, the two stayed awhile in Augsburg, where they visited Mozart’s paternal uncle and his first cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart, known as “das Baesle”.
Wolfgang and das Baesle struck up a very close friendship, and she was Wolfgang’s first great love.
Marianne, as she was also called, was very friendly and down to earth, having a cheeky disposition and a ribald sense of humor like Wolfgang.
After departing Augsburg, Wolfgang and Marianne exchanged a series of intimate, joking, and racy letters.
In Mannheim, Wolfgang made the acquaintance of my Papa, Fridolin Weber, a music copyist, bass singer, and prompter at the court theater.
Papa and Wolfgang took to each other at once and became very close friends.
Papa was also a father substitute to Wolfgang.
Wolfgang wrote compositions and gave concerts in Mannheim and hoped to secure a position there, but to no avail.
I was then aged fourteen and my dear sister, Constanze, nearly sixteen.
Mozart became a frequent visitor to our home, indeed almost a member of our family.
He gave all us four Weber sisters lessons on the pianoforte, and encouraged the singing careers of my two eldest sisters, Josefa and Aloysia.
It was Aloysia, a great beauty in her youth and a born flirt, with whom Wolfgang became infatuated.
He made tentative plans to travel to Italy with Aloysia and my eldest sister, Josefa, with Papa along as chaperon, and to establish Aloysia as a leading prima donna there.
However, Leopold put his foot firmly down and ordered that Mozart and his mother proceed forthwith to Paris.
Efforts to secure a permanent position in Paris likewise proved unsuccessful, and what is far worse is the tragedy that befell Mozart and the family there.
Wolfgang’s beloved mother fell ill, worsened, and passed away in Paris.
The crestfallen, shaken Mozart made his way home to Salzburg, stopping on the way in Mannheim, and then Munich, where our family, the Webers, now resided.
The Elector of Mannheim had inherited the Electorship of Bavaria, and the whole court of Mannheim, including the court musicians, had relocated to the Bavarian capital.
We were all overjoyed to be reunited with Wolfgang, and he stayed with us in Munich, though it became clear to him here that his love for Aloysia was not returned.
Wolfgang returned to Salzburg.
We Webers relocated yet again—to Vienna, the city of musicians.
Aloysia had obtained an excellent position as soloist at the Vienna Court Opera, and we followed her burgeoning career to this much larger metropolis.
After scarcely one month there, my beloved Papa suddenly died, and Mama was forced to turn our apartment on the Petersplatz into a boarding house to make ends meet.
This is where Wolfgang came into our lives again in the spring of 1781.
Aloysia had married the actor and painter Josef Lange in the autumn of the previous year, and Wolfgang was temporarily in Vienna as part of the Archbishop of Salzburg’s retinue of musicians and servants.
At this point, Wolfgang had had his fill under the dogmatic archbishop and with the limited opportunities in Salzburg.
He got himself fired, and was henceforth a free agent.
Wolfgang decided to settle in Vienna and make his livelihood either as a freelance musician—composing, concertizing, and giving music lessons, or finding a suitable position at court or with an aristocratic family.
Wolfgang also found lodgings with us in our boarding house.
A deep friendship developed between my sister, Constanze, and Wolfgang, and it turned to love and then marriage on August 4, 1782 in St. Stephen’s Cathedral.
Leopold was not pleased that Wolfgang had decided to stay in Vienna, nor that he married my sister.
Constanze bore Wolfgang six children, and only the second eldest, Karl Thomas, and the youngest, Franz Xaver, survived infancy and grew to adulthood—grew to be excellent, fine young men of whom their father most certainly would be very proud.
The marriage of Wolfgang and Constanze was a happy one of mutual love, affection, and respect.
During Mozart’s ten years in Vienna, he composed prolifically, most especially operas and piano concertos and sonatas, and in many other genres.
Wolfgang gave subscription concerts in which he—as soloist—showcased his works. He also had piano pupils.
Mozart’s greatest operas were written during his Vienna years: “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (The Abduction from the Seraglio), and collaborating with Court Poet and author Lorenzo Da Ponte: “Le Nozze di Figaro” (The Marriage of Figaro), “Don Giovanni” (Don Juan), and “Così Fan Tutte” (So Are All Women).
Later Mozart composed “Die Zauberfloete” (The Magic Flute).
Both “Figaro” and “Don Giovanni”, which had its premiere in Prague, were wildly popular, and his other operas also enjoyed success.
The sixteen-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven came to Vienna in the spring of 1787 in the hopes of studying with Mozart.
The young Beethoven played the pianoforte for him, after which Mozart exclaimed, “That boy will make a name for himself in the world!”
But Beethoven was called back to Bonn a short time later because his mother was dying, and when he finally returned to Vienna hoping to study with Mozart, it was alas too late………
Wolfgang’s father, Leopold, passed away in Salzburg on May 28, 1787, aged seven-and-sixty years.
In December 1787, Mozart was appointed by the Emperor to the post of Chamber Composer, succeeding Christoph Willibald Gluck, who had recently died.
Wolfgang’s annual salary was a mere 800 gulden—instead of the 2,000 gulden that Gluck had received.
But the position required Wolfgang only to composes dances during Carnival seasons, and salary increases would gradually occur.
From this time, Wolfgang and Constanze suffered increasing financial hardships.
A war with the Ottoman Empire meant that many noblemen left Vienna to attend to their regiments, and money for the arts dried up.
The Emperor Josef II, a great lover and patron of music and a passionate amateur musician, died in 1790, and his successor, his brother Leopold, Grand Duke of Tuscany, did not accord music the same importance.
Musical tastes in Vienna could be fickle, and Wolfgang was less in demand as a composer and virtuoso.
My sister, Constanze, lamented that Mozart sometimes had a penchant for gambling and often lost money at the gambling table.
He was forced to borrow money to repay old debts, creating a cycle of borrowing and being continually in debt.
It was important for Wolfgang to “dress for success” and to keep up appearances in style-conscious Vienna, which meant more borrowing and more debt……
Constanze was often ill as the result of her numerous pregnancies and frequently had to take the curative waters at Baden.
At times, Wolfgang himself was also in ill health.
None of Wolfgang’s despair at his insolvency shows or is evident at all in his glorious and sublime music.
Mozart traveled to Berlin in hopes of obtaining a better position than the one in Vienna, and later, he journeyed to Frankfurt with the same goal in mind, though neither trip bore fruit.
Wolfgang’s old friend, Emanuel Schikaneder, an impresario whose theater was located in a lower middle-class part of Vienna, commissioned Wolfgang to compose the opera “The Magic Flute”, and this opera was very popular.
At last, Wolfgang was able to enjoy success again for his genius and hard work.
Things were starting to turn around for him.
Wolfgang was appointed unpaid deputy Kapellmeister at St. Stephan’s Cathedral to assist the sick Kapellmeister, and was in line to inherit this post.
He also had offers to tour England as he had done as a child prodigy.
Wolfgang’s close friend and mentor, Josef Haydn, had recently returned from the first of two very successful stays in London and tours of England.
In the spring of 1791, Wolfgang received a prepaid commission from the messenger of an anonymous amateur composer to write a requiem in honor of the anniversary of his wife’s death.
Count Franz Walsegg, the instigator, hoped to pass off this work as his own.
Wolfgang gradually became obsessed with the idea that the Requiem was really intended for him.
In November of 1791, Wolfgang took ill, and was confined to his bed.
He suffered swelling in his joints and high fever.
Wolfgang was treated by his personal physician, Dr. Thomas Closset, and other doctors, but his condition gradually worsened.
I came daily from my lodgings with Mama in the suburb of Wieden to help Constanze care for Wolfgang; this was a very sad and difficult time for all of us.
Wolfgang gave his student, Franz Xaver Suessmayr, instructions on how he wanted the Requiem completed.
At five minutes before one o’clock in the morning of December 5, 1791, Wolfgang passed away in my arms.
He was nearly six-and-thirty years of age.
Constanze was too devastated to attend the funeral at St. Marx cemetery.
Thus Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart entered immortality.
I had twice filled everyone’s glasses with tart, cold lemonade punch, and nothing save cake crumbs remained on our empty plates as all four of us sat at table musing.
The rosy pink glow of twilight crept softly over the rounded domes and spires of majestic Salzburg, bathing the baroque town in a warm sunset light.
How good to share these precious moments of dusk with the ones I love most in the world!
Yet…..some people can no longer be here among us, though love never dies.
Karl spoke first.
“I had Papa for the first seven years of my life. I often find myself seeking out the memories I have of him—Papa playing with me on the floor, singing to me, laughing with me. Unconsciously, I want to make these memories so vivid and alive…..that Papa is alive in my mind. I also recapture Papa’s soul whenever I listen to his music.”
“Thank goodness for your Papa’s music,” I exclaimed, as a cool evening breeze swept over us.
It was time to return to the house.
"WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART - A BIOGRAPHY BY HIS SISTER-IN-LAW, SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL” is the exclusive property of Marti Burger, and is not to be reprinted without her written permission.
"WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART - A BIOGRAPHY BY HIS SISTER-IN-LAW, SOPHIE WEBER HAIBL”
© Marti Burger 2004-2008