The pianist: Mozart as virtuoso performer

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Mozart, the all-round genius, gives piano recitals, music lessons and composes – but only at the last minute. What he produces, however, pleases the Emperor.

On Christmas Eve 1781 Emperor Joseph II summoned Mozart to a piano contest with the Italian composer Muzio Clementi. Mozart won the contest and the emperor, who had bet on Mozart, thereby won his wager with a Russian princess. However, no position at Court for Mozart was forthcoming. The position of music teacher to the bride of the heir to the throne, the future Franz II (I), was given to Mozart’s great rival, Antonio Salieri. Disappointed, Mozart said: ‘The emperor has spoiled it for me; for him, there is nothing but Salieri.’

In the following years Mozart earned a living by giving music lessons, in particular to society ladies such as the wife of the publisher and printing works proprietor Johann Thomas von Trattner, and with house concerts at the palaces of the nobility, where his performances were much acclaimed.

He often finished composing his piano concertos shortly before the performance, so that sometimes there was no time to rehearse them with the orchestra. Mozart mostly did not write out his solo part on the piano, as it was all in his head anyway. This made a great impression on the audience, evidently including Emperor Joseph II, who watched Mozart from the Imperial box. In a letter dating from 1784 to Mozart’s sister Nannerl, his father Leopold records that even the Emperor complimented Mozart on his performance, calling out ‘Bravo Mozart!’.

Julia Teresa Friehs