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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART hobnobbed with important Europeans, Emperor Joseph II of the Holy Roman Empire, for one, who in turn was Marie Antoinette’s brother; she, married to Louis XVI of France. Another resident of Versailles, where Louis and Antonette resided at the time, was Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de Lafayette, aka—zut alors—Lieutenant General of the Continental Army of the American Revolution.
What do you suppose Mozart thought of the American Revolution? Or, for that matter, of revolution in general?
Here, in Parts 1 and 2 today and tomorrow, are tidbits suggesting everything from occupational apathy to patriotic fevor. The answer lies somewhere in between.
Performing for Europe’s Bigwigs. A composer’s livelihood depended upon patronage from high society, the higher, the better. Little Wolfie and his sister Nannerl were musical prodigies, trooped around Europe by their father Leopold. Leopold was a music teacher and a composer on his own right until he realized his son’s overwhelming talent.
As cited in Wikipedia, in 1762 the Mozart kids had gigs “at the court of Prince-elector Maximillian III of Bavaria in Munich, and at the Imperial Courts in Vienna and Prague.” Wolfie was six. A long concert tour followed, spanning three and a half years, taking the family to the courts of Munich, Mannheim, Paris, London, Dover, The Hague, Amsterdam, Utrecht, Mechelin and again to Paris, and back home to Salzburg via Zurich, Donaueschingen, and Munich.
Imagine the cool t-shirt, were such sales the thing back then.
The Colloredo Connection. In 1773, Prince-Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo, ruler of Salzburg, appointed Mozart as court musician. Viewers of the 1984 movie Amadeus may recall that Colloredo was something of a jerk.
As an example, in 1781 when the Prince-Archbishop attended Joseph II’s accession to the Austrian throne, he paraded Mozart before the Emperor, but made sure the court musician dined with the valets and cooks.
Mozart eventually tired of this treatment, and when he quit, Colloredo made his departure humiliating by having steward Count Arco give the court musician what Wikipedia calls “a kick in the arse.”
Mozart didn’t forget such indignities.
However, some good came out of the Colloredo appointment. Through it, Mozart had met Emperor Joseph II, who gave him commissions and, in 1787, appointed him chamber composer.
Joseph II, Not Your Typical Royal. If there’s such a thing as a benevolent Holy Roman Emperor, Joseph II was one.
As noted by courses.lumenlearning.com, “Joseph II was considered the most radical of enlightened despots because he… dealt directly with his subjects to understand their problems.” For example, in 1781 he issued the Serfdom Patent, which established basic civil liberties for the serfs. Other royal edicts included emancipation of the Jews and support of the arts.
Score another point in favor of Mozart’s progressive nature: His Marriage of Figaro, premiered in 1786, made fun of aristos and had servant Figaro the hero. Mozart was able to persuade Joseph II to allow such outrageous humor.
A Masonic Influence. “On 14 December, 1784,” Wikipedia notes, “Mozart became a Freemason, admitted to the lodge Zur Wohltätigkeit (‘Beneficence’). Freemasonary played an essential role in the remainder of Mozart’s life….”
There were competing practices of Freemasonry at the time; the lodge Mozart joined was one of the more progressive (and least mystical) ones. Zur Wohltätigkeit was founded by the Baron Otto von Gemmingen.
Tomorrow in Part 2, we learn more about two of Mozart’s operas, The Abduction from the Seraglio and The Magic Flute. Masonic rivalries play a role as well. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021