Cliff Eisen (ed.): Mozart – A Life in Letters. ISBN 978-0-141-44146-7 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Reading Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s correspondence with his father Leopold, his sister Nannerl, his wife Constanze and his friends and patrons – that seemed to me to be the key to better understand Mozart’s personality. His double-sided face – gentle, loving, helpful on the one hand, arrogant, vulgar and deceitful on the other hand – was a recurrent theme in my posts on my music blog and it kept irritating me.
The letters selected by Cliff Eisen fulfilled my expectation in so far as they nuanced certain aspects of the composer’s character that the biographies I had read up to that point had empasized e.g. his at times strained relationship with his father and his tendancy to speak with much despise of some of his benefactors. The tension between the young and old Mozart triggered by some of Wolfgang’s decisions in professional matters reminds me of many other father-son conflicts such as the dispute between Franz Schubert and his father or the one between my dad and myself! Such conflicts are part of man’s personal development, and in Mozart’s case, his success in Vienna quickly reconciled the father with his maverick son.
Mozart’s inability to keep his expences under control and and thus to reduce his dependance on borrowing money from friends who quite often were not reimbursed also appears in a new light. In his letters Mozart regularly complains that the nobility – people who liked to have him around as a mark of their cultural taste – mostly expected him to perform for free without giving a thought to how the composer would feed his family and cover the expenses he had to make to be able to compose and perform. If Mozart’s morality in financial issues may appear questionable today, it must be said in his defence that his noble “friends” did not exactly set a good example.
Mozart’s letters are a lovely piece of prose, reflecting well life at the end of the 18th century in general and Mozart’s world more specifically, from mundane issues like how to get a good housemaid or find decent transport for long-distance trips to political issues and the questions of musical taste, court appointments and his apprecuation of fellow composers.
While reading Mozart’s letters I discovered a wonderful early composition, the oratorio “La Betulia Liberata”, inspired by the Book of Judith: