Chips from the Workshop

By Friedrich Kerst

1. “If one has the talent it pushes for utterance and torments one; it will out; and then one is out with it without questioning. And, look you, there is nothing in this thing of learning out of books. Here, here and here (pointing to his ear, his head and his heart) is your school. If everything is right there, then take your pen and down with it; afterward ask the opinion of a man who knows his business.”

(To a musically talented boy who asked Mozart how one might learn to compose.)


2.   “I can not write poetically; I am no poet. I can not divide and subdivide my phrases so as to produce light and shade; I am no painter. I can not even give expression to my sentiments and thoughts by gestures and pantomime; I am no dancer. But I can do it with tones; I am a musician....I wish you might live till there is nothing more to be said in music.”

(Mannheim, November 8, 1777, in a letter of congratulation to his father who was born on November 14, 1719. Despite his assertion Mozart was an admirable dancer and passionately devoted to the sport. [So says Herr Kerst obviously misconceiving Mozart’s words. It is plain to me that the composer had the classic definition of the dance in mind when he said that he was no dancer. The dance of which he was thinking was that described by Charles Kingsley. “A dance in which every motion was a word, and rest as eloquent as motion; in which every attitude was a fresh motive for a sculptor of the purest school, and the highest physical activity was manifested, not as in coarse pantomime, in fantastic bounds and unnatural distortions, but in perpetual delicate modulations of a stately and self-sustained grace.” H.E.K.])


3.   “The poets almost remind me of the trumpeters with their tricks of handicraft. If we musicians were to stick as faithfully to our rules (which were very good as long as we had no better) we should make as worthless music as they make worthless books.”

(Vienna, October 13, 1781, to his father. He is writing about the libretto of “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail,” by Stephanie. The trumpeters at the time still made use of certain flourishes which had been traditionally preserved in their guild.)


4.   “I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something excellent for Prague. Moreover it is a mistake to think that the practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I have not frequently and diligently studied.”

(A remark to Conductor Kucharz in Prague, who led the rehearsals for “Don Giovanni” in 1787.)


5.   “They are, indeed, the fruit of long and painstaking labor; but the hope which some of my friends aroused in me, that my work would be rewarded at least in part, has given me courage and the flattering belief that these, my offspring, will some day bring me comfort.”

(From the dedication of the Six Quartets to Haydn in 1785. The quartets were sent back to the publisher, Artaria, from Italy, because “they contained so many misprints.” The unfamiliar chords and dissonances were looked upon as printers’ errors.  Grassalkowitsch, a Hungarian prince, thought his musicians were playing faultily in some of these passages, and when he learned differently he tore the music in pieces.)


6.   “I can not deny, but must confess that I shall be glad when I receive my release from this place. Giving lessons here is no fun; you must work yourself pretty tired, and if you don’t give a good many lessons you will make but little money. You must not think that it is laziness;--no!--but it goes counter to my genius, counter to my mode of life. You know that, so to speak, I am wrapped up in music,--that I practice it all day long,--that I like to speculate, study, consider. All this is prevented by my mode of life here. I shall, of course, have some free hours, but they will be so few that they will be necessary more for recuperation than work.”

 (Paris, July 31, 1778, to his father.)


7.   “M. Le Gros bought the ‘Sinfonie concertante’ of me. He thinks that he is the only one who has it; but that isn’t so. It is still fresh in my head, and as soon as I get home I’ll write it down again.”

(Paris, October 3, 1778, to his father. An evidence of the retentiveness of Mozart’s memory. In this instance, however, he did not carry out his expressed intention. Le Gros was director of the Concerts spirituels.)


8.   “Melody is the essence of music. I compare a good melodist to a fine racer, and counterpointists to hack post-horses; therefore be advised, let well alone and remember the old Italian proverb: Chi sa piu, meno sa—‘Who knows most, knows least.’”

(To the English tenor Michael Kelly, about 1786, in answer to Kelly’s question whether or not he should take up the study of counterpoint.)


9.   “One of the priests gave me a theme. I took it on a promenade and in the middle (the fugue was in G minor) I began in the major, with something jocose but in the same tempo; finally the theme again, but backwards. Finally I wondered if I might not use the playful melody as a theme for a fugue. I did not question long, but made it at once, and it went as accurately as if Daser had measured it for the purpose. The dean was beside himself.”

(Augsburg, October 23, 1777, to his father. Daser was a tailor in Salzburg.)


10. “Above us is a violinist, below us another, next door a singing teacher who gives lessons, and in the last room opposite ours, a hautboyist. Merry conditions for composing! You get so many ideas!”

(Milan, August 23, 1771, to his “dearest sister.”)


11. “If I but had the theme on paper,--worked out, of course. It is too silly that we have got to hatch out our work in a room.”

(A remark to his wife while driving through a beautiful bit of nature and humming all manner of ideas that came into his head.)


12. “I’d be willing to work forever and forever if I were permitted to write only such music as I want to write and can write—which I myself think good. Three weeks ago I made a symphony, and by tomorrow’s post I shall write again to Hofmeister and offer him three pianoforte quartets, if he has the money.”

(Written in 1789 to a baron who was his friend and who had submitted a symphony for his judgment. F.A. Hofmeister was a composer and publisher in Vienna.)


13. “You can do a thing like this for the pianoforte, but not for the theatre. When I wrote this I was still too fond of hearing my own music, and never could make an end.”

(A remark to Rochlitz while revising and abbreviating the principal air in “Die Entfuhrung.”)


14. “You know that I had already finished the first Allegro on the second day after my arrival here, and consequently had seen Mademoiselle Cannabich only once. Then came young Danner and asked me how I intended to write the Andante. ‘I will make it fit the character of Mademoiselle Rose.’ When I played it, it pleased immensely....I was right; she is just like the Andante.”

(Mannheim, December 6, 1777, to his father. Rose Cannabich was a pupil of Mozart’s, aged thirteen and very talented. “She is very sensible for her age, has a staid manner, is serious, speaks little, but when she does speak it is with grace and amiability,” writes Mozart in the same letter. It is also related of Beethoven that he sometimes delineated persons musically.


15. “I have composed a Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon and Pianoforte, which has been received with extraordinary favor.  (Kochel, No. 452.) I myself think it the best thing I ever wrote in my life.”

(Vienna, April 10, 1784, to his father.)


16. “As an exercise I have set the aria, ‘Non so d’onde viene,’ which Bach composed so beautifully. I did it because I know Bach so well, and the aria pleases me so much that I can’t get it out of my head. I wanted to see whether or not in spite of these things I was able to make an aria that should not be a bit like Bach’s. It isn’t a bit, not a bit like it.”

(Mannheim, February 28, 1778, to his father. The lovely aria is No. 294 in Kochel’s catalogue. The Bach referred to was Johann Christian, the “London” Bach.)


17. “I haven’t a single quiet hour here. I can not write except at night and consequently can not get up early. One is not always in the mood for writing. Of course I could scribble all day long, but these things go out into the world and I want not to be ashamed of myself when I see my name on them. And then, as you know, I become stupid as soon as I am obliged to write for an instrument that I can not endure. Occasionally for the sake of a change I have composed something else—pianoforte duets with the violin, and a bit of the mass.”

(Mannheim, February 14, 1778, to his father. Mozart was ill disposed toward the pianoforte at the time. His love for Aloysia Weber occupied the most of his attention and time.)


18. “Herewith I am sending you a Prelude and a three-voiced Fugue (Kochel, No. 394)....It is awkwardly written; the prelude must come first and the fugue follow. The reason for its appearance is because I had made the fugue and wrote it out while I was thinking out the prelude.”

(Vienna, April 20, 1782, to his sister Marianne. Here Mozart gives us evidence of his manner of composing; he worked out his compositions completely in his mind and was then able, even after considerable time had elapsed, to write them down, in which proceeding nothing could disturb him. In the case before us while engaged in the more or less mechanical labor of transcription he thought out a new composition. Concerning the fugue and its origin he continues to gossip in the same letter.)


19. “The cause of this fugue seeing the light of this world is my dear Constanze. Baron von Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, let me carry home all the works of Handel and Sebastian Bach after I had played them through for him. Constanze fell in love with the fugues as soon as she had heard them; she doesn’t want to hear anything but fugues, especially those of Handel and Bach. Having often heard me improvise fugues she asked me if I had never written any down, and when I said no, she gave me a good scolding, for not being willing to write the most beautiful things in music, and did not cease her begging until I had composed one for her, and so it came about. I purposely wrote the indication ‘Andante maestoso,’ so that it should not be played too rapidly;--for unless a fugue is played slowly the entrance of the subject will not be distinctly and clearly heard and the piece will be ineffective. As soon as I find time and opportunity I shall write five more.”

(Vienna, April 20, 1782, to his sister Marianne. Cf. No. 93.  [Mozart’s remark that he carried home “all the works” of Handel and Bach, must, of course, be read as meaning all that were in print at the time. H.E.K.])


20. “I have no small amount of work ahead of me. By Sunday week I must have my opera arranged for military band or somebody will be ahead of me and carry away the profits; and I must also write a new symphony. How will that be possible? You have no idea how difficult it is to make such an arrangement so that it shall be adapted to wind instruments and yet lose nothing of its effect.  Well, well;--I shall have to do the work at night.”

(Vienna, July 20, 1782, to his father who had asked for a symphony for the Hafner family in Salzburg. The opera referred to is “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.”)


21. “I was firmly resolved to write the Adagio for the clock-maker at once so that I might drop a few ducats into the hands of my dear little wife; and I began it, but was unlucky enough—because I hate such work—not to be able to finish it. I write at it every day, but have to drop it because it bores me. If the reason for its existence were not such a momentous one, rest assured I should let the thing drop. I hope, however, to force it through in time. Ah, yes! if it were a large clock-work with a sound like an organ I’d be glad to do it; but as it is the thing is made up of tiny pipes only, which sound too shrill and childish for me.”

(Frankfort-on-the-Main, October 3, 1790, to his wife. “A Piece for an Organ in a Clock.” [Kochel’s catalogue, No. 594.] It was probably ordered by Count Deym for his Wax-works Museum on the occasion of the death of the famous Field Marshal Laudon. The dominant mood of sorrow prevails in the first movement; the Allegro is in Handel’s style.)





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