Leopold Mozart

Johann Georg Leopold Mozart (November 14, 1719 – May 28, 1787) was a composer, conductor, teacher, and violinist. Mozart is best known today as the father and teacher of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and for his violin textbook Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule.

He was born in Augsburg, son of Johann Georg Mozart (1679-1736), a bookbinder, and his second wife Anna Maria Sulzer (1696-1766). From an early age he sang as a choirboy. He attended a local Jesuit school, the St. Salvator Gymnasium, where he studied logic, science, theology, graduating magna cum laude in 1735. He then moved on to a more advanced school, the St. Salvator Lyceum.

While a student in Augsburg, he appeared in student theatrical productions as an actor and singer,[3] and became a skilled violinist and organist. He also developed an interest, which he retained, in microscopes and telescopes. Although his parents had planned a career for Leopold as a Catholic priest, this apparently was not Leopold's own wish. An old school friend told Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in 1777, "Ah he [Leopold] was a great fellow. My father thought the world of him. And how he hoodwinked the clerics about becoming a priest!"

He withdrew from the St. Salvator Lyceum after less than a year. Following a year's delay, he moved to Salzburg to resume his education, enrolling in November 1737 at the Benedictine University to study philosophy and jurisprudence. At the time Salzburg was the capital of an independent state with Holy Roman Empire (the Prince-Archbishopric of Salzburg), now part of Austria. Except for periods of travel, Leopold spent the rest of his life there.

Leopold received the degree of Bachelor of Philosophy in 1738. However, in September 1739 he was expelled from the university for poor attendance, having "hardly attended Natural Science more than once or twice"

In 1740, he began his career as a professional musician, becoming violinist and valet to one of the university's canons, Johann Baptist, Count of Thurn-Valsassina and Taxis, in 1740. This was also the year of his first musical publication, the six Trio Sonatas, Opus 1. These were entitled Sonate sei da chiesa e da camera; Leopold did the work of copper engraving himself. He continued to compose, producing a series of German Passion cantatas.
Anna Maria Pertl Mozart, wife of Leopold

In 1747 he married Anna Maria Pertl, who bore him seven children, although only two of them survived: Maria Anna Wallburga Ignatia (called "Nannerl") and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In 1743 Leopold Mozart was appointed to a position (fourth violinist) in the musical establishment of Leopold Anton Freiherr von Firmian, the ruling Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg. His duties included composition and the teaching of violin (later, piano) to the choirboys of the Salzburg cathedral. He was promoted to second violinist in 1758 and in 1763 to deputy Kapellmeister. He rose no further; others were repeatedly promoted over him to the head position of Kapellmeister.

The question of whether Leopold was successful as a composer (either in terms of artistic success or fame) is debated. The Grove Dictionary says that as of 1756, "Mozart was already well-known. His works circulated widely in German-speaking Europe." However, biographer Maynard Solomon asserts that he "failed to make his mark as a composer" and Alfred Einstein "judged him to be an undistinguished composer". For discussion of Leopold's musical works, see below.

Scholars agree, however, that Leopold was successful as a pedagogue. In 1755, he wrote his Versuch einer gründlichen Violinschule, a comprehensive treatise on violin playing. This work was published in 1756 (the year of Wolfgang's birth), and went through two further German editions (1769, 1787), as well as being translated into Dutch (1766) and French (1770). Today, the work is consulted by musicians interested in 18th century performance practice; see Historically informed performance. This work made a reputation in Europe for Leopold, and his name begins to appears around this time in music dictionaries and other works of musical pedagogy.

Leopold discovered that his two children were musically gifted in about 1759, when he began with keyboard lessons for the seven-year-old Nannerl. The toddler Wolfgang immediately began imitating his sister, at first picking out thirds on the keyboard and then making rapid progress under Leopold's instruction. By 1762, the children were ready to work as concert performers, and Leopold began taking the family on extensive concert tours, performing for both aristocracy and public, throughout central and western Europe. This tour included Munich, Vienna, Presburg, Paris and the Hague together with a lengthy stay in London; see Mozart family Grand Tour.

The discovery of his children's talent is considered to have been a life-transforming event for Leopold. He once referred to his son as the "miracle which God let be born in Salzburg". Of Leopold's attitude, the Grove Dictionary says:

The recognition of this 'miracle' must have struck Leopold with the force of a divine revelation and he felt his responsibility to be not merely a father's and teacher's but a missionary's as well.

By "missionary", the Grove refers to the family's concert tours.

Scholars differ on whether the tours made substantial profits. To be sure, often the children performed before large audiences and took in large sums, but the expenses of travel were also very high, and no money at all was made during the various times that Leopold and the children suffered serious illnesses. Mozart biographer Maynard Solomon (1995) takes the view that the tours were lucrative and produced long-term profits for Leopold; Ruth Halliwell (1998) states to the contrary that their income generally only covered their travel and living expenses.

Since the instruction took much of his time, and the touring kept him away from Salzburg for long periods, Leopold cut down his activities in other areas. Nannerl later claimed that he "entirely gave up both violin instruction and composition in order to direct that time not claimed in service to the prince to the education of his two children." After 1762, his compositional efforts seem to have been limited to revising his earlier work; and after 1771 he composed not at all.

The touring continued into the early 1770s. The last three trips were to Italy, with only Leopold accompanying Wolfgang. The failure of Leopold to advance above his Vice-Kapellmeister position at Salzburg is attributed by the Grove to the great amount of time that the journeys kept him away from Salzburg (the longest journey was about three and a half years). After the final return from Italy in 1773, Leopold was repeatedly passed over for the Kapellmeister post.

Although Leopold is portrayed (notably by Halliwell 1998) as generally quite worried about money, the Mozart family by 1773 evidently felt prosperous enough to upgrade their living quarters. They left the home in the Getreidegasse where the children had been born and moved to rooms in the Tanzmeisterhaus ("Dancing-Master's House"), which had been the home of the recently-deceased dancing master Franz Karl Gottlieb Speckner. As tenants of Speckner's cousin and heir Maria Anna Raab, the Mozarts had eight rooms, including the quite large room that Speckner had used for dancing lessons. This the Mozarts used for teaching, for domestic concerts, for storing keyboard instruments sold by Leopold, and for Bölzlschiessen, a form of recreation in which family and their guests shot airguns at humorously-designed paper targets.

Starting around this time, a major preoccupation of Leopold was the lengthy and frustrating struggle to find a professional position for his son. Leopold was widowed in 1778 when Maria Anna died in Paris while accompanying Wolfgang on a job-hunting tour.

Relations with Wolfgang

Wolfgang left home for good in 1781, when instead of returning from a stay in Vienna with his employer Archbishop Colloredo he remained in the city to pursue a freelance career. This effort was to a fair degree successful; Wolfgang achieved great fame and was for a time quite prosperous (though poor planning later changed this status). The move almost certainly aided Wolfgang's musical development; the great majority of his most celebrated works were composed in Vienna.

As indicated by Mozart's return letters (which alone survive), Leopold was strongly opposed to the Vienna move, wanting Wolfgang to return to Salzburg. A fairly harsh family quarrel resulted. Leopold was also strongly opposed to Wolfgang's marriage to Constanze Weber in 1782, and gave his permission late, reluctantly, and under duress. Biographers differ on the extent that Constanze was later snubbed by Leopold, if at all, during her visit with Wolfgang (July-October 1783) to Salzburg; the Grove Dictionary calls the visit "not entirely happy".

In 1785 Leopold visited Wolfgang and Constanze in Vienna, at a time when his son's career success was at its peak. He witnessed first hand his son's success as a performer, and on February 12 heard Joseph Haydn's widely-quoted words of praise, upon hearing the string quartets Wolfgang dedicated to him, "Before God and as an honest man I tell you that your son is the greatest composer known to me either in person or by name: He has taste, and, furthermore, the most profound knowledge of composition." The visit was the last time that Leopold saw his son, though they continued to correspond, and Wolfgang sometimes sent copies of his piano concertos and string quartets for Leopold and Nannerl to perform with friends.

Later in 1785, when Leopold took in Nannerl's child, Wolfgang was not informed. However, in the following year Wolfgang found this out from a mutual acquaintance in Vienna. At this time, Wolfgang wrote to Leopold to ask if he would be willing to take care of his own two children while he and Konstanze went on concert tour. Leopold turned him down, probably with harsh words. His letter to Wolfgang does not survive, but his summary to Nannerl of it does (17 November 1786):

"Today I had to answer a letter from your brother which cost me a lot of writing, so I can write very little to you ... You'll readily understand that I had to write a very emphatic letter, because he made no lesser suggestion than that I should take his 2 children into my care, since he would like to make a journey through Germany to England ... The good honest silhouette maker H[err] Müller had sung Leopoldl's praises to your brother, so he found out that the child is with me, which I'd never told him: so this was how the good idea occurred to him or perhaps his wife. that would certainly not be bad, -- They could travel in peace, -- could die, -- -- could stay in England, -- -- then I could run after them with the children etc: as for the payment he's offering me for the children, for servants and the children etc: -- Basta! my excuse is forceful and instructive, if he cares to profit from it."

For interpretations of this letter, see Halliwell (1998, 528), which takes a viewpoint sympathetic to Leopold, and Solomon (1995, 396), which takes a viewpoint sympathetic to Wolfgang.
Leopold Mozart's grave in Salzburg, with headstone identifying him as a Vice-Kapellmeister. Others buried here are Jeannette Berchtold von Sonnenburg (Nannerl's daughter), Genovefa Weber (aunt of his daughter-in-law Constanze), Constanze Mozart Nissen (his daughter-in-law), and Euphrosina Pertl (his mother-in-law).

Starting around the time he wrote this letter and continuing through the first part of 1787, Leopold's health was failing. He had become seriously ill by April 4. On this day, Wolfgang wrote to him in alarm at the news, though he did not travel to Salzburg to see him. When Leopold died on 28 May (see below), Wolfgang was unable to attend the funeral, the travel time to Salzburg being too long.

Little information is available on how Wolfgang took Leopolds' death, but a postscript he included in a letter to his friend Gottfried von Janequin suggests that, despite the quarrels and partial estrangement, his father's death was a blow to him: "I inform you that on returning home today I received the sad news of my most beloved father's death. You can imagine the state I am in.

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