Composers Anecdotes
Mozart’s Musical Journey
3 July 1778: “Mum is dying”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart could not have known that his time in Paris in 1778 was about to take a tragic turn. He reports to his father “my dearest mother is very ill.” Suffering from shivering and feverishness, diarrhea and headache, they called on a physician to administer a bloodletting. This seemed to work at first, however, when the symptoms returned they tried a couple of home remedies. Mozart reports that they gave her “antispasmodic powders, and then we would gladly have had recourse to black powder, but we had none, and could not get it here.”

Anna Maria Mozart, year 1775

Anna Maria Mozart, year 1775

Her condition rapidly deteriorated, and she could hardly speak and also lost her hearing. They consulted another doctor, but Mozart’s mum remained weak, feverish and delirious. Although the doctor gave them some hope, Mozart was already resigned. “I am quite reconciled to the will of God,” he writes, “and hope that you and my sister will be the same. What other resource have we to make us calm…knowing that it comes from God, who wills all things for our good, and no doctor, no man living, no misfortune, no casualty, can either save or take away the life of any human being—none but God alone.”

Voltaire's funeral procession

Voltaire’s funeral procession

Despite his mother being in a dire state, Mozart had other things on his mind as well. For one, he composed a symphony for the opening concert of the Concert Spirituel, which was performed to great acclaim on Corpus Christi day. Although the performance turned out a critical success, Mozart had been very apprehensive during rehearsals.

Mozart's Paris Symphony

Mozart’s Paris Symphony

He writes that the orchestra “scraped and scrambled through my symphony twice over; I was really very uneasy, and would gladly have had it rehearsed again, but so many things had been tried over that there was no time left.” Mozart was rather angry and threatened to take the violin out of the hands of the first violin M. La Haussaye and lead the performance himself. In the event, the symphony was well liked and the audience demanded that the opening movement be repeated. Mozart was in an upbeat mood and passed on to his father the news that “the ungodly arch-villain Voltaire has died miserably like a dog—just like a brute. This is his just reward.” As a devout Catholic and struggling to come to terms with the impending death of his mother, Mozart could simply not understand why Voltaire almost summarily rejected Christian doctrine.

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Comments

  1. I had been led to believe that Mozart’s mother had psychological issues as well as reproductive issues but I find no reference to this. Is it true or false

    1. I’ve been doing a good deal of research on the Mozarts for a book, and it appears that his mother had no real problems, physical or psychological – just the occasional illness, and of course the one which took her life, which was thankfully brief. She bore seven children, all of whom died in infancy except for Maria Anna “Nannerl” and Wolfgang Amadeus “Wolferl”. Wolferl was often in poor health, especially as a child, and suffered a good deal of illness throughout his life – including the one that ended it.

      Mr. Mozart, Leopold, was a rather overbearing “stage father” who loved his children dearly but was always concerned about supporting his family financially. When little Wolferl displayed precocious musical talent by imitating his big sister Nannerl when she began taking music lessons from Papa, he conceived of a “brother-sister act” that could make them RICH. Viewing their skills as a gift from God that would give them financial security, he soon began carting his family all over Europe to show off his musical genius kids. Surely he knew that it couldn’t last – Nannerl would soon be of marriageable age, and “respectable” women could NOT have careers then, and of course Wolferl wouldn’t be a tiny boy forever either. He put things off by lying about their ages at first; then sought to micromanage Wolferl’s career as though he were always the helpless boy. Leopold grappled with the difficulties of the situation for the rest of his life, and the relationship between him and his children remained rather tense – a lot of “love-hate” going on. I suppose it is this way with nearly all families. But knowing that the big potential breadwinner in your family is your prepubescent son, and trying to keep that hothouse flower in bloom forever… It couldn’t have been an easy life for any of the Mozarts. And Mrs. Mozart bore it all with a phenomenal degree of patience, balancing her obedience to her husband with her love for her children.

      While the deaths of five children out of seven seem like terrible odds, high infant mortality was a fact of life. The fact that Mrs. Mozart didn’t die of a pregnancy complication or post-partum infection was considered a good sign. J.S. Bach famously fathered 21 children between both his wives (9 by the first, 12 by the second, who outlived him by some years); but the popular engraving showing an insanely crowded Bach household is an imaginary scene – only (!) seven of those kiddies survived infancy.

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