No one believed Mozart was only nine years old. Until he started playing with a cat, mid-performance.

20 August 2021, 13:30

No one believed Mozart was only nine years old until he started playing with a cat
No one believed Mozart was only nine years old until he started playing with a cat. Picture: Alamy

By Rosie Pentreath

Because nothing shows your age like your attention span...

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is remembered and revered for being one of the greatest classical composers who ever lived.

A child prodigy, he went on to write 41 symphonies, over 20 operas, dozens of choral masterpieces and innumerable instrumental concertos and pieces during his short life, tragically dying at the age of 35.

He is also remembered for his love of cats. For pretending to be one, and now – thanks to a tweet we just found – loving them to the point of distraction.

This tweet unearthed a crazy fact about the great composer: that the Royal Society, a 360-year-old UK society for the sciences, was starting to doubt the composer’s age – because its supposed tenderness didn’t match up with his mind-boggling accomplishments.

Indeed, by the time he was eight, Mozart had written a symphony, a handful of violin sonatas, and some other pieces.

According to said tweet (see below), “When Mozart was eight years old, he was tested by the Royal Society to determine whether he was really a child or if he was secretly an adult dwarf. They were convinced of his age when, in the middle of playing a piece, he was distracted by a cat running through the room.”

Read more: Mozart apparently liked to imitate cats. Here’s the tail as we know it.

Young Mozart was easily distracted from his practice
Young Mozart was easily distracted from his practice. Picture: Alamy

Questionable language and potential exaggeration aside, it seems there’s truth Mozart’s talents may have been prodigious beyond his years, but his behaviour matched his young years to a tee.

“It’s true, albeit the age is wrong and the ‘adult dwarf’ bit is sensationalist language,” Classic FM’s John Suchet says.

The Mozart expert and Classic FM Concert presenter confirms that in June 1765, when Mozart was nine (not eight), the family was in London and a scientist, lawyer, and member of the Royal Society paid them a visit.

“A Daines Barrington came to visit them with the aim of establishing whether Mozart’s father was exaggerating his son’s age, saying he was younger than he actually was, to make him appear even more of a prodigy,” John confirms.

“Barrington suspected Leopold Mozart was falsifying his son’s age. He put the boy through a number of tests at the keyboard, including covering the keys with a cloth.

“At one point a favourite cat came in, at which point Wolfgang immediately left the piano to play with the cat, and it was some time before they could coax him back to the keyboard.”

Read more: Mozart’s letters – 10 wonderful, emotional and bizarre quotes

All parents, teachers and older siblings, friends and acquaintances can attest to how tough it can be to keep little’uns focussed.

“Another time,” John says, “Mozart ran around the room with a stick between his legs, pretending he was a horse. This childish behaviour, coupled with enquiries Barrington made establishing Wolfgang’s date of birth, convinced him this supremely talented boy really was the age his father said he was.”

John’s source is musicologist Stanley Sadie’s Mozart: The Early Years 1756-1781.

Read more: This utterly joyous Mozart flashmob on the streets of Prague is why we need music in our lives

Mozart is known to have imitated cats too, he loved them so much.

An Austrian novelist and former student of Mozart, Karoline von Greiner Pichler, recalls a pur-fect example of this in her 1843 memoirs, which is quoted in music historian Otto Deutsch’s Mozart: A Documentary Biography.

“One day when I was sitting at the pianoforte playing the ‘Non più andrai’ from The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart, who was paying a visit to us, came up behind me,” Pichler writes.

“I must have been playing it to his satisfaction, for he hummed the melody as I played and beat the time on my shoulders; but then he suddenly moved a chair up, sat down, told me to carry on playing the bass, and began to improvise such wonderfully beautiful variations that everyone listened to the tones of the German Orpheus with bated breath.”

All very ‘classical piano lesson’ and lovely so far.

Then: “He suddenly tired of it, jumped up, and, in the mad mood which so often came over him, he began to leap over tables and chairs, miaow like a cat, and turn somersaults like an unruly boy.”

To be fair, if we improvised and wrote sublime music like that, we’d probably be inclined to get up and transform into a magnificent four-legged creature, scamper about and meow our delight, too. If anyone earned the opportunity to lark about, Mozart did.