Worldly Wisdom

By Friedrich Kerst

Mozart’s father brought him up to be worldly wise. While journeying at a tender age through the world with his father the lad became an eye witness of the paternal business management with all its attention to detail; of the art of utilizing persons and conditions in order to achieve material results. As a youth he repeats the journeys accompanied by his mother whom he loses by death in Paris. Regularly from Salzburg his father sends him letters full of admonitions and advice, the subjects almost systematically grouped. The worldly wisdom of the son is the fruit of paternal education, which he did not outgrow up to the day of his death. But life, experience, was also an educator; a seeming distrust of mankind speaks out of many a passage in his letters, but on the whole he thought too well of his fellow men, and remained blind to the faults of his false friends who basely exploited him for their own ends. Although gifted with keen powers of observation he always followed his kind heart instead of his better judgment and his sister spoke no more than the truth when she said after his death: “Outside of music he was, and remained, nearly always, a child. This was the chief trait of his character on its shady side; he always needed a father, mother, or other guardian.”

202.     “Reflect, too, on this only too certain truth: it is not always wise to do all the things contemplated. Often one thinks one thing would be most advisable and another unadvisable and bad, when, if it were done, the opposite results would disclose themselves.”

 (Mannheim, December 10, 1777, to his father, when a plan for an appointment in Mannheim came to naught.)

203.     “I am not indifferent but only resolved, and therefore, I can endure everything with patience,--provided, only, that neither my honor nor the good name of Mozart shall suffer therefrom. Well, since it must be so, so be it; only I beg, do not rejoice or sorrow prematurely; for let happen what may it will be all right so long as we remain well—happiness exists only in the imagination.”

 (Mannheim, November 29, 1777, to his father, who had upbraided him because of his reckless expenditures. At the time Mozart was hoping for an appointment at Mannheim.)

204.     “Dearest and best of fathers:--You shall see that things go better and better with me. What use is this perpetual turmoil, this hurried fortune? It does not endure.—Che va piano va, sano.  One must adjust himself to circumstances.”

 (Vienna, December 22, 1781, to his father, just before Mozart’s marriage engagement to Constanze Weber.)

205.     “Now, to put your mind at ease, I am doing nothing without reasons, and well-founded ones, too.”

 (Vienna, October 21, 1781, to his “little cousin,” who may still have cherished hopes of capturing her merry kinsman.)

206.     “I have no news except that 35, 59, 60, 61, 62, were the winning numbers in the lottery, and, therefore, that if we had played those numbers we would have won; but that inasmuch as we did not play those numbers we neither won nor lost but had a good laugh at others.”

 (Milan, October 26, 1771, to his sister.)

207.     “Everybody was extremely courteous, and therefore I was also very courteous; for it is my custom to conduct myself towards others as they conduct themselves towards me,--it’s the best way to get along.”

 (Augsburg, October 14, 1777, to his father.)

208.     “In Vienna and all the imperial hereditaments the theatres will all open in six weeks. It is wisely designed; for the dead are not so much benefited by the long mourning as many people are harmed.”

 (Munich, December 13, 1780, to his father. Empress Maria Theresa had died on November 29. Mozart had greatly revered her from his youth. Nevertheless he takes a practical view of the situation since the production of his opera “Idomeneo” is imminent. He requests of his father to have his “black coat thoroughly dusted, cleaned and put to rights,” and to send it to him, since “everybody would go into mourning, and I, who will be summoned hither and thither, must weep along with the others.”)

209.     “Rest assured that I am a changed man; outside of my health

I know of nothing more necessary than money. I am certainly not a miser,--it would be difficult for me to change myself into one—and yet the people here think me more disposed to be stingy than prodigal; and for a beginning that will suffice. So far as pupils are concerned I can have as many as I want; but I do not want many;

I want better pay than the others, and therefore I am content with fewer. One must put on a few airs at the beginning or one is lost, i.e. one must travel the common road with the many.”

(Vienna, May 26, 1781, to his father.)

210.     “Depend confidently on me. I am no longer a fool, and you will still less believe that I am a wicked and ungrateful son.  Meanwhile trust my brains and my good heart implicitly, and you shall never be sorry. How should I have learned to value money? I never had enough of it in my hands. I remember that once when I had 20 ducats I thought myself rich. Need alone teaches the value of money.”

 (Vienna, May 26, 1781, to his father.)

211.     “If it were possible that it should vex me I should do my best not to notice it; as it is, thank God, there is no need of my deceiving myself because only the opposite could vex me, and I should have had to decline, which is always too bad when one is dealing with a grand gentleman.”

 (Vienna, October 5, 1782, to his father. Mozart had expected to give music lessons to a princess, but another teacher was chosen.  Continuing in the same letter, he says: “I need only tell you his fee and you will easily be able to judge from it the strength of the master--400 florins. His name is Summerer.”)

212.     “I shall compose an opera but not in order, for the sake of 100 ducats, to see the theatre earn four times as much in a fortnight. I shall perform my opera at my own cost and make at least 1,200 florins in three performances; then the director can have the work for 50 ducats. If he does not want it I shall have received my pay and can utilize the opera elsewhere. I hope that you have never observed a tendency to dishonest dealing in me.  One ought not to be a bad fellow, but neither ought one to be a stupid who is willing to let others benefit from the work which cost him study, care and labor, and surrender all claims for the future.”

(Vienna, October 5, 1782, to his father. Mozart’s plans for exploiting his opera were never realized.)

213.     “Yesterday I dined with the Countess Thun, and tomorrow I shall dine with her again. I let her hear all that was complete; she told me that she would wager her life that everything that I have written up to date would please. In such matters I care nothing for the praise or censure of anybody until the whole work has been seen or heard; instead I follow my own judgment and feelings.”

 (Vienna, August 8, 1781, to his father. The opera in question was “Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.”)

214.     “Magnanimity and gentleness have often reconciled the worst enemies.”

 (Vienna, July 8, 1791, to his wife, who had somewhat rudely repulsed the advances of one of the visitors at Baden where she was taking the waters.)





Daniel McAdam's Guide to Music