Wednesday, 24 May 2017


Constanze Mozart (née Weber), widow of Wolfgang Amadé

"A child that disappoints their parents... will encounter disgrace and misery. Let these words be a warning to my lovely (son)."

Those heavy handed words were written in a private exchange, from mother to son, at Salzburg in 1801.

Undeniably harsh and exceedingly expectatious, Constanze’s – the widow Mozart – letter of fair warning to her youngest son, Franz Xaver, 9, is just one of the fascinating surviving artifacts currently on display at Salzburg’s Mozarteum for a special exhibition honoring the minor composer.

The private correspondence between the domineering mother and assiduous son was donated to the museum foundation in 1844 by the last surviving Mozart – Wolfgang’s second son with Constanze - Karl Thomas, who, unlike his kin and father before him chose a life in politics over composition - around the time of the government official’s death.

Cumulatively, the artifacts provide a unique insight into the private lives of the Mozart family post-Wolfgang. Of unique interest to fans of the iconic composer is the revelation that Franz Xaver, – who was born in 1791, a mere six months prior to his famous father’s passing – under the steely guiding hand of his mother, would enter the tutelage of one Antonio Salieri recently recognized Mozart collaborator, and historically (erroneous) assassin.

The widow Mozart (née Weber) fully intended for at least one of her two surviving children to carry on in the spirit of her late husband, and perhaps, even create a legacy for himself as “the next Mozart.” Surely, her motives for Franz Xaver’s success may not have been altogether altruistic: left to inherit her husbands debts following his mysterious and untimely death weeks shy of the Christmas season in 1791, Constanze and her boys would be forced to relocate from their comfortable lodgings into the home of the Weber family. The destitute state of the family soon attracted the attention of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold II and friends of the late composer, who would set up benefits in her honor. Constanze herself would resort to selling several of Wolfgang’s compositions in the first several years following his death - to the King of Prussia in 1792, and to publisher Johann André of Offenbach in 1799.

Mozart's only surviving sons: Franz
Xaver (L), and Karl Thomas (R), c. 1800
Although she would later marry in 1809 – to a Danish Diplomat no less (and subsequently sell a biography on Wolfgang, co-authored with her beau, Georg Nikolaus von Nissen) - at the time Constanze penned this demanding letter to Franz Xaver, it was evident the widow needed to seek out any possible means of procuring a sustainable income just to stay afloat.

Speaking to the press, Mozarteum curator Armin Brinzing noted that Mrs. Mozart wasted no time in getting started. As soon as little Franz Xaver could walk and speak, he was hauled off to study the art of composition and performance:

"At the age of two, she already made him take piano and music theory lessons," he told reporters.

It is believed the widow Constanze was only able to finance her son’s education under the elite professorship of the period (Johann Nepomuk Hummel taught for the boy lessons on the piano, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger on the art of composition, and with Salieri/Abbé Volger (Georg Joseph) providing vocal mentorship) through the generous donations of her former husband’s friends and admirers. The lessons couldn’t have come cheap: Aside from being a notable composer himself, Salieri had also proved himself many times over as a more than capable tutor and vocal coach: he famously mentored Franz Schubert and Ludwig van Beethoven.

In order to cement into the impressionable mind of her young son the notion that failure could never be an option, Mrs. Mozart began to refer to Franz as “Wolfgang Amadeus” – a patronymic employed by the boy Mozart himself, who would sign his manuscriptsWolfgang Amadeus Mozart, son.”

According to letters exchanged between Franz and his brother Karl, the youngest of the surviving Mozart kin expressed a foreboding and constant feeling of “immense pressure,” indicating to his older sibling that he was “not treated very well at home.”

Such a sad perspective from a half-orphaned lad who was essentially robbed of an otherwise ‘normal’ childhood: young Franz (“Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, son”) forced to endure relentless study until such time as he was stage-ready. This came at age 13, at a packed concert hall in Vienna, where the boy-musician performed "a nice if slightly slow rendition of his father's piano concerto." The performance was met with mixed reviews – according to an editorial in Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung – one of the leading music magazines of the time: "May he never forget that although the name Mozart currently grants him some indulgence, it will place great demands on him later on," with another critic warning the composer “not to rest on his laurels.”

In the end, it would seem Franz Xaver's star would pale in comparison to the blinding glare of his father’s – that most famous of the Mozarts, from then until infinity -Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...Father.

Although he would experience some success in the Ukraine and across Europe as a tutor and choirmaster – and was lauded for his skills in performing works of his father - Franz’ compositional output failed to impress. From Brinzing: "That last spark of genius was missing in him. He was considered a gifted musician and composer, but not one of the great ones."

The Franz Xaver Exhibition will be on display at the Salzburg Mozarteum from the present through August 2017. For admission information visit the Museum website here.

Listen below to Franz Xaver’s first composition, his Piano Quartet in G-minor, Op.1. Although the video commentary states that Franz penned the Quartet in 1800, it is more likely the composer authored the work between 1803-1805, between the ages of 11 and 13:

Compare Franz Xaver’s 11th year composition above to an 11-year old Wolfgang Amadé (Amadeus) Mozart's recently discovered "Allegro Molto in C major," found in the attic of a recently deceased church music and band leader at Tyrol (Austria) in 2012 (performed at the Mozarteum by pianist Florian Birsak on Mozart's personal fortepiano):

Did You Know?

Franz Xaver as an adult. The minor
composer would perish in 1844 at
the age of 53, leaving behind no
children. Thus, the Mozart family
line would perish with him - and
with elder brother Karl Thomas, who
died 3 years later, also childless.
Wolfgang would once more eclipse
his son - even in death: Franz' epitaph
famously pays homage to the elder:
"May the name of his father be his
epitaph, as his veneration for him
was the essence of his life."

Apparently, Franz was more than aware of his marginal talent in contrast to his father’s – whether the fact was rooted in public perception and the lackluster critical response received for his works, or simply by the psychological abuse and the emasculation the musician undoubtedly carried with him from childhood thanks to a domineering mother – for in 1842, when asked to compose a piece of music for the unveiling of a monument dedicated to his father at Salzburg, the humble composer outright refused, citing “little ability.” Instead, Franz would combine two compositions of his father's – both of which the senior Mozart left unfinished prior to his death – into a cantata, which he performed at the inauguration.

Allegedly, spurned on by the applause received at the unveiling, Franz messengered a signed copy to Emperor Ferdinand I. If the composer meant to impress the imperial ruler, he was sorely mistaken: Ferdinand offered a mere pittance to the musician – and only after having inquired of his advisors as to exactly who Franz Xaver was in the first place!

Legend has it, the official in whom the Emperor queried replied most barbarously: "As everyone knows, the famous father's talent has not been transferred to his son so we should give him some money!"


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