contributo di Robert Newman
WAS MOZART REALLY A CELEBRATED
VIRTUOSO PIANIST AND CONCERTO COMPOSER
IN VIENNA (1781-1791) ?
On the rare occasions when experts have searched for contemporary evidence to support Mozart’s iconic status as a 'great piano concerto composer and public performer of his own concertos in Vienna during the last decade of his life' (i.e. from 1781 till late 1791) they’ve had to admit to a rather strange, even remarkable, fact . Who better to describe the situation than a contemporary editor of the Koechel catalogue, Neil Zaslaw -
‘…in spite of the fact that Mozart lent the genre (of the piano concerto) an entirely new stature, and in spite of repeated performances of his concertos by himself, his pupils, his sister, and his admirers, there was nothing written about them in the press or elsewhere at the time.’ (Neil Zaslaw)
Piano concertos were certainly being discussed in Vienna at the time of Mozart's career in that city. Perhaps the most widely available study of the late 18th century that deals with them is found in a 3 volume work published in Vienna by the celebrated music theorist Heinrich Christoph Koch (1749-1816). Let's see what Koch has to tell us about the mercurial Mozart's reputation and achievements in that form.
Koch, in 1793, discussed piano concertos at some length in Volume 3 of his ‘Versuch’. So his discussion appeared less than 2 years after Mozart's death in December 1791. A good time for us to look. Bear in mind that according to convention no less than 7 mature piano concertos by Mozart had supposedly been performed by Mozart in Vienna (some of them, supposedly, many times) and had been published. Indeed, some 15 piano concertos by Mozart are said to have been premiered in the Austrian capital city during the years 1782 to 1791. And in this time Mozart (according to convention) was a celebrated virtuoso and teacher of piano. All the more reason to see what Koch has to say about Mozart.
Well, Koch says nothing in 1793 of any such reputation. Nothing about Mozart as a composer of piano concertos. Nothing about Mozart as a keyboard virtuoso. And nothing about Mozart as a celebrated teacher. Perhaps there's another Vienna somewhere ? A parallel musical universe ?
Koch should surely have known of the great Mozart, don't you think ?. Various handwritten copies of his mature concertos were supposedly made for patrons by commercial copyists such as Traeg (a man who had a working relationship with Mozart before the publisher Artaria became formally involved in 1784). Mozart, so we have always been told, enjoyed a huge reputation in Vienna as a virtuoso player and concerto composer. Hardly a single biography fails to say his keyboard and compositional skills enabled him to firmly establish his career in the city from 1782 onwards. Such concerts and such works were the very basis of Mozart securing a living there. Right ?
BUT HEINRICH KOCH , WRITING IN 1793 AT GREAT LENGTH ON THIS SUBJECT OF CONCERTOS FAILS TO REFER, EVEN ONCE, TO MOZART OR TO MOZART PIANO CONCERTOS ! - NOWHERE ! - AS A MATTER OF FACT, HE TELLS HIS READERS (IN 1793) THAT THE IDEAL PIANO CONCERTOS ARE THOSE OF CPE BACH. !
This amazing lack of reference to Mozart’s achievements during the whole decade of his Vienna career is strange indeed.
AND YET, BY 1802 , AN EQUALLY REMARKABLE THING HAPPENED. ‘MOZART’S’ PIANO CONCERTOS, CLEARLY UNKNOWN TO KOCH AND HIS READERS ALMOST 10 YEARS EARLIER, HAVE BY THAT DATE COME TO REPRESENT FOR THIS SAME KOCH THE ‘EPITOME’ OF WHAT WAS ACHIEVABLE WITHIN THE CONCERTO GENRE !
Beyond reasonable doubt, between 1793 and 1802 (i.e. between 2 to 10 years after Mozart had died) Heinrich Koch first came into contact with various piano concertos then in print which were in some cases available in handwritten versions by Traeg and others - all of these at that time (1803) attributed to the late Mozart - BUT NOT BEFORE.
Again, bear in mind that, prior to Mozart’s death, no less than 7 concertos are said to have been published in Vienna in Mozart’s name, these by leading publishers such as Artaria. The fact that Koch says nothing of these or of the legendary skills of their Vienna based composer between 1782 and 1791 IS amazing. Even more amazing - NOR DOES ANYONE ELSE !
So, Mozart, portrayed for almost 2 centuries in countless textbooks as one of the main ‘pioneers of piano concertos’ (certainly in Vienna) and ecstatically described as one of Europe's leading keyboard virtuosos and teachers in Vienna for over a decade is challenged by the strange silence of Koch, a contemporary expert, who says nothing of him or his Vienna concertos in his work of 1793. Nor does anyone else. The reason for Koch’s silence on the subject was certainly not due to to dislike of Mozart since a decade later the same Koch tells us how he loves and prefers ’Mozart’s’ concertos above all others). By any fair line of reasoning we must conclude that Koch did not know ‘Mozart’ piano concertos in 1793. He also seems to have been unaware of Mozart’s Vienna reputation as a virtuoso performer of those same works. Stranger and stranger !
The only logical conclusion we can draw is that the much discussed subscription concerts of Mozart in Vienna (patronized as they were during those years by a high proportion of members of the Vienna aristocracy and for which certain concerts were planned - concerts recorded as having attracted around 160 named individuals to sign up as patrons, were NOT, in fact, a list of people who actually attended their performance. They were for the most part members of an elite within Viennese aristocracy who had no doubt been approached to patronise the newly arrived Salzburger. They are named in these surviving documents as patrons because they had in common a simple formal commitment to help Mozart’s career at that time. BUT THESE PATRON DOCUMENTS FROM THE EARLY 1780'S DO NOT MEAN 160 VIENNESE ATTENDED VIENNA PERFORMANCES OF ‘MOZART PIANO CONCERTOS‘. THEY CAN EQUALLY MEAN THESE PATRONS FINANCIALLY SUBSCRIBED TO HELP MOZART'S CAREER TO SOME EXTENT DURING THOSE YEARS EVEN IF THEY, INDIVIDUALLY, WERE UNABLE OR EVEN UNWILLING TO ATTEND SUCH EVENTS.
SURELY OF EQUAL RELEVANCE IS THAT THE SUPPOSED FIRST THREE VIENNESE PIANO CONCERTOS OF MOZART (WHICH APPEARED FIRST IN 1782) ARE SAID TO HAVE BEEN PERFORMED FOR THESE SAME SUBSCRIBERS DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS OF THAT SAME YEAR OF 1782 - A TIME WHEN, IN FACT, THE VIENNESE NOBILITY TRADITIONALLY LEFT THE CITY FOR HOLIDAYS AT THEIR COUNTRY RESIDENCES. MOZART PERF0RMANCES OF CONCERTOS IN VIENNA GIVEN IN LATER YEARS ARE ALSO KNOWN TO HAVE OCCURRED (OFFICIALLY, AT LEAST) AT SUCH TIMES AS THE SEASON OF LENT - A TIME WHICH WOULD ONCE AGAIN HAVE CAUSED THE SAME BASIC PROBLEM AS FAR AS OBTAINING A VIENNA AUDIENCE IS CONCERNED.
Add to this the fact that PUBLIC concerto performances in Vienna by Mozart of his own concertos were remarkably rare. This too is strange. The Vienna aristocracy during the first years of Mozart‘s last decade were therefore (undeniably) able to fund Mozart’s social and musical acceptance in the city even if absent from these 'Vienna performances'. AND THIS IS WHAT SEEMS TO HAVE OCCURRED. Besides subscription events Mozart is also known to have performed almost exclusively in private homes of the nobility who supported him or played in conditions which were effectively private. But that he performed concertos of his own creation during these years of patronage is far less certain than it first seems. That the 7 published concertos of Mozart’s last decade were well known in Vienna at the time of his death also seems far more doubtful as we've already seen. Or that 15 concertos were premiered, etc. Once again, we seem to be dealing here with a version of Mozart’s compositional career that has been contrived. One virtually unknown to the Vienna public (other than accounts given by later propagandists) and certainly unknown to leading musicologists of the time such as Koch and others.
These are surely sufficient grounds to look more closely, (more honestly, perhaps, than normal) at the known facts of ‘Mozart Piano Concertos’ as a whole.
Early ‘Mozart’ Concertos
There are today recognized to be TWO (not one) sets of pastiche keyboard concertos by ‘Mozart’ - these dating respectively from the years 1767 and 1772. 7 concertos in all. The first set, consisting of KV37. KV39, KV40 and KV41 are today acknowledged to be little more than orchestrated arrangements of sonatas by no less than 4 different Paris-based composers . Works by men that Mozart and his family met in Paris. But these 7 pastiches were, truth to tell, widely advertised, performed and described as works by the young ‘genius Mozart‘. Add to this clear evidence that Nannerl’s reputation as a performer at this time even exceeded that of Mozart himself. These 7 works nevertheless remained officially ‘Mozart’ throughout Mozart’s lifetime. There was never a time when the true origin of those 7 pastiches were admitted to by Mozart, his father, or anyone else that patronized Mozart.
The second set of ‘ early Mozart’ concertos (K107 - 1-3) has also been discovered to have been based on 3 works by another composer - in this case JC Bach’s keyboard sonatas (Op..5 Nos. 2, 3 and 4). Thus, to say the least, it is surely disingenuous for these same 7 concertos - orchestral arrangements of works by other composers, to be described or listed as Concertos 1-7 of 27 by ‘Mozart’. And this second series of pastiches was finally discovered to be NOT by Mozart only around the year 1800 (nearly a decade after Mozart’s death). Amazingly, it was not until the early 20th century before the earlier set ( KV 37, 39, 40 and 41) were admitted to be orchestrated arrangements of works by other composers. ! Thus, neither Andre nor Otto Jahn, Ludwig Koechel, Constanze Mozart, Nissen, Niemetscheck, Maximilian Stadler (nor any other maker of the Mozart myth) told us the whole truth.
Furthermore, Leopold’s handwriting is considerably more prevalent in the early set of 4 works and it includes detailed corrections of Wolfgang’s writing in harmony, instrumentation and even in notation.
Other clues exist to the true state of things with supposed examples of ‘early Mozart virtuosity’.
On 4th December 1780 Leopold wrote to the 24 year old Wolfgang in Munich explaining that visitors at home in Salzburg had just heard Nannerl perform on the fortepiano - a significant reference to that instrument because it’s the first mention in the Mozart correspondence to a fortepiano being owned by the Mozart family. (The family portrait from around this same time seems to be of that very instrument). The pianoforte was therefore not an instrument that Mozart had much exposure to before 1780. This suggests a pianoforte came in to the Mozart household as late as that same year of 1780.
Nor are we left in doubt about young Mozart’s true keyboard abilities (and limitations) by the following report from Ignatz von Beecke -
‘In Munich last winter (1774-5) I heard two of the greatest clavier players, Herr Mozart and Captain von Beecke - My host, Herr Albert has an excellent fortepiano in his house. It was there that I heard these two giants in contest on the clavier. Mozart’s playing had great weight…..but no more than that….. For Beecke surpassed him by a long way. Winged ability, grace and sweetness characterized Beecke’s playing’
We’ve already seen no less than 7 concertos falsely described as ‘Mozart’s’ for well over a century - by ‘experts’. Let’s leave them behind as clear examples of the duplicity and misinformation that are all too common in this area of study as we tackle (or, at least, sketch) the story behind the remaining 20 or so ‘Mozart’ piano concertos. That means, in effect, that the remaining 9 parts of this series will focus on Concertos No.8 to 27 inclusive.
I’d like to offer some little known facts that are consistent with the view these 20 works were fraudulently attributed to Mozart.
1784, as said before, is a crucially important year for studies of Mozart and his career. It’s pivotal. It fixes Mozart firmly in Vienna. It ends the uncertainty of his status there. It sees the start of those works called ‘his’ in the thematic catalogue. It’s the year he becomes a Freemason. The year when, according to popular belief, Mozart is at his height as a virtuoso and freelance composer. 1784 also begins a formalised commercial relationship with music publishers such as Artaria. It’s also the year when the music archives of Bonn reveal that not a single work by W.A.Mozart is actually held by them. And it’s the year when an outpouring of great music seems to flow from the pen of the composer that does not end until December 1791.
I’d like you also to consider a very different year. That of 1796/7, a time some 5-6 years after Mozart’s death. This date, will, of course, seem like a strange approach to take on the subject of Mozart’s 20 piano concertos. Nevertheless, of significance from just that time are many factors that may help as we try to unravel truth from fantasy on this matter. In early 1797 an event occurred that, on the surface, appears to have little relevance to our study. In January a written instruction was given to have the vast music archives from Bonn Chapel (these being stored in their crates at the residence of the Bonn Elector Max Franz and held there since their evacuation in 1794) transferred to another location. By carts. And, around this same time, a certain Baron Gottfried van Swieten (long time patron of Mozart, friend of Mozart and of Haydn in Vienna) begins to make a strange claim - that he was the true composer of various masses from Bonn which were, at the time, already wrongly circulating in the name of Joseph Haydn. We can assume van Swieten had privileged access to the Bonn music archives at Bad Mergentheim. In any event, van Swieten (rather like the eccentric Count Walsegg of 1791-2) has come down to posterity as being a talented composer. We know, for example, van Swieten is today credited with having composed no less than 10 symphonies. One was performed in his own name at the Augarten in Vienna as early as 1782 alongside one by ‘Mozart’. But let’s look closer at events during that year.
And where were the music archives of the Bonn Principality destined in 1797 ? The answer is - Prague. Records show they came to Prague in January and stayed there for some 4 ½ months. After this point they were removed (again briefly) to Vienna. Four years later (and roughly coinciding with the beginning of that great flood of Andre ‘Mozart’ publications) Prague also sees the arrival in the city of one Abbe Georg Vogler, a man who ( as can be shown separately) was the senior administrator of music in the Holy Roman Empire, a fellow member of the Order of the Golden Spur with Mozart himself, and a man granted by the papacy just prior to the annullment of the Jesuit Order in 1773 the office of papal prenotary - a rank second only to that of a Cardinal. Vogler, the hidden agent of the creation of the Mozart myth. And Vogler (himself at the time grossly over-rated as an expert in organ repair and design, teacher of theory, and Kapellmeister extraordinaire) lived in Prague between 1801 and 1803, at the very time when Prague and a circle of musicians in Prague (these mostly attached to the Premonstratensians there) busied themselves with the task of manufacturing for eventual publication Mozart’s posthumous reputation as a composer. The ‘project’, of creating the vast reputations of both Joseph Haydn and Mozart was finally to be realised. In the case of Mozart, largely posthumously.
Of course the cracks had begun to show even during Mozart’s final years. Note how hugely important Prague was to Mozart. It was Prague, of course (through places such as Betramka) that offered Mozart and his reputation a massive boost. It was Prague who raved about Mozart and whose musical elites virtually created his reputation in opera. Skilful management of the ‘media’. And of course it was Prague, even more than Vienna itself, which assumes such a massive status to Mozart in a string of late works. Typical being the Clarinet Quintet, KV581, the Clarinet Concerto, KV622 (both of which were premiered by Maximilian Stadler but both lacking an autograph) who himself was linked regularly with the music scene of Prague.
I would like to briefly touch on an earlier ‘Mozart’ concerto, KV175. We are told, for example, that the proofs of it being a work by Mozart are found in family correspondence. In point of fact those letters really describe a far inferior piece, the juvenile KV107/1 in C Major.
Then too there is at least one (and probably two) keyboard concertos given to Mozart himself by Andrea Luchesi in Italy during the visit there of Wolfgang and Leopold in 1771. A Luchesi concerto was performed by Mozart himself at Ellwangen an der Jagst on 28th October 1777. And later family correspondence refers (twice) to the Luchesi work still being a favourite of the family in Salzburg.
But let’s return to Prague and this period between 1796-7. Ludwig van Beethoven, on 19th February 1796 writes from the city during a visit there which he made with Prince Karl Lichnowsky. ‘Lichnowsky will probably soon return to Vienna. He is gone from here’. And Lichnowsky, of course, long term patron of Mozart (a man who actually travelled with him on at least one concert tour that failed miserably) is therefore in Prague around the time when Baron van Swieten is talking of being the composer of masses from Bonn. It is clear that by 1796 large amounts of music, under the control of the Elector Max Franz were, at this time, accessible to certain elites within the musical world, of which one was van Swieten. Lichnowsky in Prague. In that very same year (1796) the Mozart widow, Constanze, comes to Prague. She arranges for her son, Karl, to stay there, with the ‘first Mozart biographer’ FX Niemetscheck. A man who (though it’s little appreciated) was a trusted censor of the state, a propagandist for Mozart, and a close colleague of the Jesuit Canon F.X. Noe. (It was in fact Noe who had ‘arranged’ for Karl to stay with Niemetscheck in the first place). Noe, as it happened, died that same year on 25th August. It is in Prague today where we can see examples of early ‘Mozart’ works in the form of ‘harmoniemusik’. It’s in Prague that ‘Don Giovanni’ was created (well, officially). It’s in Prague where, safely, a huge pile of music could be and was used to finally create the piano concertos that we are familiar with today in ‘Mozart’s’ name. And all of this is entirely consistent with the fact that Mozart, as a celebrated virtuoso and concerto composer belongs really to the realms of myth.
Enter in to this scene one Abbe Josef Gelinek (1758-1825). An amazingly suppressed musician who (after Mozart’s death) obtained a reputation in Vienna as an extraordinary virtuoso pianist. By 1792 Gelinek was highly sought after. Until, that is, his talents were shown to be no match for those of Ludwig van Beethoven, whose victory over the latter in a public piano duel was so overwhelming Gelinek stormed out of the hall. But this same Gelinek has a part to play in this affair of the Mozart concertos. He was from Prague, for a start. Gelinek had also been closely associated with Mozart. In fact (though it never gets a mention in textbooks), it was Mozart himself who, during his last visit to Prague, introduced Gelinek with a personal recommendation to the powerful sponsor of music Count Phillip Kinsky.
Who was Abbe Josef Gelinek ? Well, he studied organ and composition under Seger and counterpoint with Albrechstsberger in Vienna (the latter being a close friend of both Joseph Haydn and W.A. Mozart). Gelinek was to remain in service to the Kinskys for no less than 15 years. He ended his life in musical service to the Esterhazy's. He made many famous versions of ‘Mozart’. Indeed, his work on Mozart in the period prior to the flood of Andre and other published works by him is his chief claim to fame. So we come full circle. In 1801, when Andre finally published the cadenzas of ‘Mozart’s’ piano concertos for the first time it was to Gelinek himself that the 1st Edition of these cadenzas was dedicated. At Offenbach Andre and others, from roughly this same time (1800 onwards) would begin the torrent of publications announcing to a startled world ‘Mozart’s’ previously unknown achievements in piano concertos. And, around 1803, came general recognition in Vienna of these 20 great concertos that we are familiar with today.
The modern reputation of Mozart as ‘composer’ of these 20 piano concertos owes as much, if not more, to what was done for him posthumously, as to anything he, Mozart, actually achieved in that form during his own lifetime.
We must of course acknowledge also the huge contribution made by the virtually ignored and systematically marginalised women pianists, Nannerl Mozart and the brilliant but blind virtuoso composer Theresia von Paradis, etc etc. But these can be refered to in future posts.
(Sources on Music Archives of Bonn include G. Taboga's 'Works Falsely Attributed to Mozart and Haydn', S. Brandenburg's 'Die kurfuerstliche Musikbiliothek in Bonn und ihre Bestande im 18 Jahrhundert' in the Beethoven Jahrbuch of 1978, A. Sandberger's 'Die Inventaere de Bonner Hofkapelle in 'Ausgewaelte Aufsatze fuer Musikgeschichte', Drie Masken, Muenchen, 1924 Band 3, pp.109-110, A. Chiarelli, 'The Collection of Archduke Max Franz, Elector of Cologne. Outline of an enquiry into the Estense Sources' - 'Restauri di Marca' N.2 Villorba (Treviso), 1992, p.84, 'Die Kirchenmusik A. Luchesis', Merseburger (1983), pp 126-33, Groves Dictionary of Music and Musicians, and various online sources).