Thursday, 14 April 2016


A young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (8 yrs.) poses alongside his harpsichord
Today’s featured letter comes to us from the noted 18th century English lawyer and antiquary The Honorable Daines Barrington F.R.S.

Barrington was a true polymath of his day, contributing as a writer (and later becoming vice-president) to the Society of Antiquaries and the esteemed Royal Society - an electorate gathering of scientific intelligentsia backed by a Royal Charter (issued by Britain’s King Charles II) and founded in the late 17th century at London.

It was in the year 1770 that Barrington would contribute to the Society’s Philosophical Transactions sector, issuing a raving review/letter of recommendation (of sorts) for a pre-pubescent young musical prodigy named Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

The letter, preserved by the Royal Society and now available in the Public Domain, is both telling and touching as Barrington paints for the modern reader a rather vivid picture of the young wunderkind's world, and the jealousy-fueled controversies that surrounded an 8 year-old Mozart during his rapidly ascending foray into the esteemed realm of Icons of Western Classical Music.

Hon. Daines Barrington F.R.S.
The following extract from Barrington’s letter to the Dutch Secretary of the Royal Society, one Dr. Matthew Maty in 1770 is especially unique in that it depicts for the reader a time in young Mozart’s life in which the ignorant bliss of youth seemingly blinded him to the controversies and disapproving narrations of the naysayers who had only heard of his prodigal talents and which surrounded him. This is in complete contrast to Mozart as both a young man and as a hyper aware adult, wherein his frequent outbursts of what can arguably be described as conceit (although in his case, his outbursts were substantiated by his majestic oeuvre) were commonplace for the composer as he struggled to gain both a royal post and proper accreditation at the court of Joseph II of Austria. The contrast between a preternatural genius and the innocence of childhood is exquisitely depicted in one delightful exchange, in which Barrington describes the pre-pubescent Wolfgang at one moment expertly playing a number upon his harpsichord (his instrument of choice) with the sharp focus of a man engaged in intellectual vocation, and at the next, childishly wandering off chasing the family cat when it makes a sudden and surprised entrance into the room. Somehow, this ‘conflict’ between the astute focus of a learned man whist engaged in a project vs. the often cumbersome attention span of a curious child - playing, running and skipping his way into learning the wonders of the world - makes the extraordinary gifts of the composer that much more unique, that much more impressive.

The quoted extract:
“…I have been informed by two or three able musicians, when Bach the celebrated composer had begun a fugue and left off abruptly, that little Mozart hath immediately taken it up, and worked at it after a most masterly manner.

Witness as I was myself of most of these extraordinary facts, I must own that I could not help suspecting his father imposed with regard to the real age of the boy, though he had not only a most childish appearance, but likewise had all the actions of that stage of life.

For example, whilst he was playing to me, a favorite cat came in, upon which he immediately left his harpsichord, nor could we bring him back for a considerable time.

He would also sometimes run about the room with a stick between his legs by way of a horse.
I found likewise that most of the London musicians were of the same opinion with regard to his age, not believing it possible that a child of so tender years could surpass most of the matters in that science.

I have therefore for a considerable time made the best inquiries I was able from some of the German musicians resident in London, but could never receive any further information than that he was born near Salzburg, till I was so fortunate as to procure an extract from the register of that place, through his Excellence Count Haslang.

It appears from this extract, that Mozart’s father did not impose with regard to his age when he was in England, for it was in June 1765, that I was witness to what I have above related, when the boy was only eight years and five months old.

I have made frequent inquiries with regard to this very extraordinary genius since he left England and was told that last summer, that he was then at Salzburg, where he had composed several oratorios, which were much admired.

I am also informed, that the Prince of Salzburg, not crediting that such masterly compositions were really those of a child, shut him up for a week, during which he was not permitted to see anyone, and was left only with music paper, and the words of an oratorio.

During this short time he composed a very capital oratorio, which was most highly approved of upon being performed….”



Mozart as he would have appeared in 1789
Making moves and impressing royalty of course!

It would be on the 14th of April in the year 1789 that a 33-year-old Mozart would perform for the court of Prince-Elector Friedrich August III his so-named “Coronation” [1] Piano Concerto No. 26 (K.537).

It would be one of Mozart’s last performing appearances at any Royal court. The 33-year-old composer would succumb to an unknown illness just two years later, leaving this earthly sphere at the still tender age of 35.

The “Coronation”: Piano Concerto no. 26 (K.537):

[1] The name “Coronation” was attributed to the Piano Concerto No. 26 by posterity. It was granted the esteemed title following the coronation of Leopold II as Holy Roman Emperor, for which Mozart performed the piece at Frankfurt am Main in October of 1790.

Navigate the pages below to read Barrington’s letter to Maty:*

*This letter resides in the PUBLIC DOMAIN and is therefore legal for display on this blog.


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