notes, finds & fragments of research
It would be pretentious to say I don’t like Mozart’s work, there are pieces which are simply amazing, the requiem for instance; and he is undoubtedly one of the great composers of the 18th Century, but he’s not at the top of my list – so be it.
As I am still struggling through the massive amount of notes and research, gathered during my quest of digging into the depths of our family history, which has become an on-going search due to interesting leads and many (distant) relatives sending me more and more data – I often find remarkable little facts that astonish me. In this case I should perhaps not be surprised, as parts of my ancestral lines are situated within the borders of the former Habsburg Empire, and quite a few of them made a professional career in the noble art of court dwelling. Still, it is nice to read that some of them were also patrons of the arts during the sparkly 18th Century, and, more particular, of some of Europe’s great composers. Not that I can derive any personal glory from it, as it all happened without me having anything to do with it – I am after all merely the accidental descendant; it brings history to life, and that is what I find most appealing about this journey.
Last week I stumbled upon a note concerning Mozart’s 36th Symphony, better known as the Linzer Sinfonie. Young Mozart, he was twenty-seven and married for just a few months to Constanze Weber, left Salzburg in the autumn of 1783, after an inimical three months of visiting his father and introducing his wife to him. On their way back to Wien (Vienna) they made a short stop, which was not only more pleasant than their stay in Salzburg, but also productive. For over two weeks they would stay in the comfortable townhouse of (now) Altstadt 17 in Linz, as guests of Johann Joseph Franz Anton Graf von Thun und Hohenstein (1711-1788), and his (fourth) wife Elisabeth, née Freiin Henninger von Seeberg (1729-1800). The Thuns were familiar with Mozart as their daughter-in-law in Wien was one of his ardent patrons: Maria Wilhelmine Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein, née Gräfin von Uhlfeldt (1744-1800). The family had supported Haydn in the past and would later also sponsor Beethoven.
On their arrival, October 30th, Thun invited his composing guest to give a concert in the so-called ‘Ballhaus’ in Linz. Some sources claim that Thun had already announced it before Mozart and his young wife even had the chance to take off their hats and cloaks, but I can’t find any viable information about it. So I choose to think the best of my ancestor; he came up with the plan over dinner. In a letter to his father, Mozart wrote*;
Linz, October 31st, 1783
We arrived here safely yesterday morning at nine o’clock. We spent the first night in Vocklabruck and reached Lambach next morning, where I arrived just in time to accompany the “Agnus Dei” on the organ. The abbot [Schickmayer] was absolutely delighted to see me again and told me the anecdote about you and himself in Salzburg. We spent the whole day there and I played both on the organ and on a clavichord. I heard that an opera was to be given next day at Ebelsberg at the house of the Prefect Steurer (whose wife is a sister of Frau von Barisani) and that almost all Linz was to be assembled. I resolved therefore to be present and we drove there. Young Count Thun (brother of the Thun in Vienna) called on me immediately and said that his father had been expecting me for a fortnight and would I please drive to his house at once for I was to stay with him. I told him that I could easily put up at an inn. But when we reached the gates of Linz on the following day, we found a servant waiting there to drive us to old Count Thun’s, at whose house we are now staying. I really cannot tell you what kindnesses the family are showering on us. On Tuesday, November 4th, I am giving a concert in the theatre here and, as I have not a single symphony with me, I am writing a new one at break-neck speed, which must be finished by that time. Well, I must close, because I really must set to work. My wife and I kiss your hands, ask you to forgive us for inconveniencing you for so long and thank you once more very much for all the kindnesses we have received. So farewell. We send cordial greetings to little Greta, to Heinrich (about whom I have already said a great deal here) and Hanni. Please give a special message to little Greta, and tell her that when she sings she must not be so arch and coy; for cajolings and kissings are not always palatable in fact only silly asses are taken in by such devices. I for one would rather have a country lout, who does not hesitate to shit and piss in my presence, than let myself be humbugged by such false toadyings, which after all are so exaggerated that anyone can easily see through them. Well, adieu. We kiss our dear sister most cordially. I am ever your most grateful son
– W. A. Mozart
And he kept word; he finished the symphony on time:
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791),
Symphony No. 36 (Linzer Sinfonie) in C major (KV425).
This version is conducted by Leonard Bernstein (1918-1990)
with the Wiener Philharmoniker(Decca Records, 1967)
The Ballhaus must have been swarming with people. Mozart’s star was rising rapidly and all who were interested in music had heard of the great success of Die Entführing aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) which premiered in Wien, in 1782. I imagine the seventy-two year old Graf von Thun, supported by his wife (she was fifty-four at the time), greeting all they had invited from Linzer society for this magnificent event, everyone dressed in full feather, and the glorious Ballhaus, adorned by the bright lights of glimmering chandeliers and filled with the buzz of high expectations. It must have been a spectacular happening. I’m sure the Thuns were chuffed; listening to this symphony written for the occasion of them hosting the (relatively) newlywed Mozarts, and conducted by the composer himself – who had now the same status as a modern day pop star.
Several sources state that the autograph score hasn’t been preserved; which makes me wonder: Perhaps it is tucked away somewhere in a family archive? Mozart would write more and more in the following years; Thun himself, however, remained but a footnote in history. He is mentioned various times in relation to Mozart; the following year, 1784, Mozart visited him while he was taking a cure in Baden; and he and his wife were again hosts of the Mozarts, during their first visit to Prague in January 1787. For the rest; apart from Thuns favourite pastime of hunting on his Bohemian estates, his position as Kämmerer (Chamberlain) at the Wiener royal and imperial court, and the fact that he owned very large estates, which kept him in Prague for most of the time, he is not very well known. He did, however, invite a poor composer into his house and to his table during various moments in his career, clearly appreciating Mozart’s talent as a composer – and I can only agree when it comes to this symphony.
Ah, the old days – when immortality could still be gained by such a simple recipe as kindness, hospitality and good claret…
*) Emily Anderson, The Letters of Mozart and his Family, chronologically arranged, translated and edited with an introduction, notes and indices […], (London 1938), vol. III, p. 1280-1282