Mozart's biography: his first concert and European tour (1762 - 1765)
Mozart's first taste of the touring lifestyle came in 1762, and with it came musical discoveries and illness, his first solo concert and an epic, country-hopping schedule.
1762 - Mozart visits Vienna for the first time
In some ways, 1762 is a tricky year for us to get our heads around. It wasn't the most momentous 12 months in the world’s calendar. Rousseau wrote his Social Contract, Tzarina Elizabeth of Russia died, to be succeeded first by Peter III and then, upon his
assassination, by Catherine II. ‘While the artist George Stubbs was painting “mares and foals”, Gluck was premiering his opera, Orpheus and Eurydice in Vienna; and Beau Nash “dandied” one final time, before shuffling off his mortal coil.
For Mozart, the year was going to contain an important taste of things to come: 1762 was significant for him because it was when he was introduced to the art of travel. He undertook three mini-tours across the year, none of them very long in itself, but when taken as a whole, they would have given Mozart — and to be fair, Leopold — some idea of what lay in store for them. In January they travelled to Munich — a place Mozart would come to know fairly well — where both Nannerl and Mozart were invited to play for Elector Maximilian Joseph.
In October the same year, Leopold hauled both children off to Vienna. Just as it is today, this great city was the beating heart of music in the Austrian lands. Once again, the youngsters were noticed by the powers that be and asked to play at the Viennese court, which they did on 13 October.
The year 1762 was also important for another real first for Mozart: for the first but by no means the last time in his life, he became ill. He was treated by a Doctor von Bernhard, for whom he would later play a concert in thanks, and recovered fairly quickly. Nevertheless, any illness must have been a worry for Leopold, considering that Mozart and Nannerl were the only two of his seven children to survive.
In December, the family travelled to Pressburg, now known as Bratislava. They returned to their home in Salzburg, some 20 days later, again via Vienna. Even when they got back, Mozart was still ill and bed-bound with rheumatic fever. Mozart’s dress rehearsal for his main youthful travels suggested all was not going to be plain sailing when they finally did decide to take to the road for any length of time. But when would they decide it was a good time to travel? Despite things not having gone terribly well, Leopold surprisingly decided that the time was right now.
1763 - the child prodigy on the road
Mozart was about to spend 3 years on the road playing to dukes and barons, emperors and empresses, and kings and queens. Mozart was about to embark on a tour that would take in 17 cities in seven different countries.
The family set out in the early summer of 1763 and visited Wasserburg on their way to Munich, from where Leopold wrote that Mozart had tried playing the organ. Although he was an accomplished keyboard player, the organ would have been a totally different ball game — mainly because of the intimidating board of pedals at ground level, arranged as an oversized keyboard for the feet. No sooner had Leopold briefly explained what they did, than Mozart was off, playing as if he had been practising for many months. Leopold
"Everyone was amazed. It’s another gift from God — the type many people are bestowed with only after hard work."
The mini-tour to Vienna in 1762 had allowed Leopold to stash away the equivalent of 2 years’ salary in his Salzburg bank account, so they would be able to survive in relative comfort for quite some time. They arrived in Munich in June and gave four concerts, probably with Mozart and Nannerl playing together in all of them. One of the concerts was on the evening of 13 June 1763. It lasted from 8 o’clock until 11 o’clock. It was hard graft for the two youngsters but this sort of work rate would stay with Mozart throughout his life.
The family left Munich on 22 June, with the children probably already exhausted, and moved on to Augsburg, Leopold’s old stamping ground and still a place where he had family connections. They had been away from home for only 1 month or so of their 3-year grand tour and already Mozart was showing signs of stress. Leopold wrote a letter to his landlord, saying that Mozart woke up several times in the night, homesick and crying. He reeled off a list of names of people in Salzburg whom he was missing. After three concerts in Augsburg, it was on to Frankfurt and a reminder from Leopold, in case anyone could forget, that this was very much a duo tour, with Mozart and Nannerl getting equal billing:
"Frankfurt, August 20th, 1763.
We played a concert on the 18th which was great. Everyone was amazed. Thank God, we are healthy and, wherever we go, much admired As for little Wolfgangerl, he’s astonishingly happy, but also naughty. Little Nannerl is no longer in his shadow, and she now plays with such skill that the world talks of her and marvels at her."
In the first of many 'command performances', the father of the German poet and thinker, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, invited the two prodigies to perform for him, paying Leopold four gulden and seven kreuzers for the privilege. By September 1763 they had reached Koblenz, from where Leopold wrote, almost incredulously, to his landlord:
"We mix only with aristocrats and other distinguished folk… honest!"
From here, the Magical Mozart Mystery Tour moved on via Brussels to Paris. During Mozart’s life, the French capital was, as it has so often been in history, one of the important centres of musical excellence. In much the same way as the pop stars of today want to 'crack' America, so classical musicians, and composers in particular, would feel the need to conquer Paris, if only for their personal pride.
Mozart arrived in Paris on 18 November. He and his family would end up staying there for 5 months. To prove that the boast that Leopold made in his letter from Koblenz was in fact true, the family was allowed to lodge on the Rue St Antoine, in the home of Count Maximilian Emanuel Franz von Eyck, and, on 1 January 1764, they gave a concert for Louis XV. Indeed, on one particular occasion, when Mozart was dining with the queen, it’s said that he stood by her, kissing her hand while she fed him morsels of food. The Mozarts’ reputation preceded them and they were feted by the nobility wherever they went.
1764 - his first composition and London living
It was in Paris in 1764 that a momentous event for classical music occurred. A violin sonata was published, in five movements: the first was quick; the second slow; two minuets and then a final fast movement followed. An 8-year-old Mozart had moved from performer to composer. This was his first published music, his Opus 1.
Fresh from this triumph, on 23 April, the family battle bus moved on to London. If you visit London, you will find three plaques showing where Mozart stayed. The first is at 19 Cecil Court, in Leicester Square, where the family first stayed above what was then a barbershop, but since became, fittingly, a music shop. They then moved to 20 Frith Street in the heart of Soho. In those days it was called Thrift Street, and the family lodged with a Mr Thomas Williamson, a corset maker. There is a blue plaque on the wall of the house now, which is very close to another building with enormous musical heritage: Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club.
Leopold, who was shrewd not only in the exhibiting of his little geniuses, but also in their marketing, displayed posters to attract the right sort of audience to their concerts. Some of these advertisements were addressed to members of the 'Nobility and Gentry'. Others seem to somehow have the feel of a freak show, as if Leopold were promoting a travelling circus act.
The marketing obviously worked. They were received by George III himself and gave many concerts. Everyone who was anyone from noblemen to royalty was enchanted by Mozart, the boy wonder. Leopold revelled in all the attention and was no doubt also thankful for the hard cash his offspring were generating. The King presented him with music by Wagenseil, Bach, Abel and Handel, and he played them all at first sight. He played the King’s own organ so well that people said his organ playing was better than his piano playing. Next, he accompanied the Queen in a song, and a flute player in a flute and piano piece.
Leopold was also keen to point out that Mozart was learning lots from his time on the road:
"In short, his knowledge when he left home is but a shadow of his knowledge now. It’s beyond belief…"
Life in inner-city Soho obviously did not suit Leopold’s constitution and he became unwell. He decided to move the family out to a place where the air was cleaner and there were green fields. It’s a measure of how much bigger the city of London is now compared to the 18th century, because it was Chelsea that fitted the bill. They stayed at 180 Ebury Street, as a plaque on the wall of the house still bears testament. They arrived on 6 August and, before they left in September, Mozart had passed an important milestone: he had written his first symphony.
By no means do musical experts these days consider Mozart’s Symphony No. I to be a mature work, but it is, nevertheless, a symphony. It’s very easy to forget just how young Mozart was and, right through our Friendly Guide, we have to keep stopping to remind ourselves of his age at various key points. This is one of them. He was, let’s not forget, still only 8 years old.
One reason that London was the scene of this important landmark might be the fact that the city was at that time home to a member of the Bach clan. Johann Christian Bach was the famous Johann Sebastian Bach’s son. He had arrived in England in 1762 at the age of 27 and had never gone back home. His first opera in the capital, Orione, so impressed the powers that be that he was immediately appointed Master of Music to Queen Charlotte. J.C. Bach was introduced to Mozart when he arrived and the two soon became friendly. As Leopold mentioned in passing in a letter home:
"Mozart sends his best wishes from the piano stool, where he is, as I write, playing through Kapellmeister [JC] Bach’s trio."
J.C. Bach went on to write 90 symphonies and no doubt had some hand in persuading the flamboyant 8-year-old Mozart to dive in himself. A musical footnote here: although j.C. Bach was prolific when it came to penning symphonies, it was his older brother C.P.E. Bach who wrote what would later be considered important examples of the genre.
1765 - from London to Calais and the first solo concert
On 27 January 1765, Mozart celebrated his ninth birthday. Ever keen to do the right thing in each 'territory' in which they found themselves, Leopold had Mozart dedicate three piano sonatas to Queen Charlotte. Across the several months of their stay in London, Leopold felt his hard work had been repaid more than in any other place:
"At every court, it’s true, we’ve been received astonishingly graciously but what we’ve experienced in England outshines the rest."
As the business brain behind the entire Mozart enterprise, it would have been Leopold who set the two children to work in 1765, playing concerts in order to recoup some of the money spent on his medical bills. Having played a concert in February, Mozart and Nannerl were booked in at a London pub called the Swan and Harp for an entire week of concerts. The pair played from noon until 3 o’clock every day for 7 days in order to make up for lost time.
When they finally left London, they must have been shattered. They travelled back through the Kent countryside, stopping off in Canterbury and Dover. Leopold wrote that Mozart was, despite his illness and his tiredness, dreaming of a new work for 'young people':
"His mind is now occupied with an opera, which he’s hoping to put on back in Salzburg, with only young people. I’ve been helping him work out which young folk he might sign up for his orchestra."
On 1 August, the family arrived in Calais, where their coach was waiting for them, ready to whisk them off to Lille. In Lille, both father and son were ill, Leopold with angina. By the time they reached The Hague in September, Nannerl made the list of invalids three out of four, coming down with intestinal typhoid. As a result, a recovering Mozart was forced to play his first ever solo concert. All went well. He also published six violin sonatas. By now, and no doubt with some encouragement from his father, he had already taught himself to play the instrument.