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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: Wolfgang Pounds the Pavement, Part 1

At first blush, it seems like one of classical music's most ludicrous historical realities: Mozart, the boy-genius-turned-adult-phenom, had a devil of a time getting a job. In his biography of Mozart, musicologist Maynard Solomon points out that Mozart's letters to his family in the year 1777, show him antsy to find the best way to launch what he had to have known could be a brilliant career. He left his position in the orchestra of the archbishop of Salzburg determined to find a job - and establish his reputation - in one of Europe's leading musical centers. To this end, Mozart and his mother embarked on what would be a not entirely successful 18-month job hunting tour. The first stop was Mannheim, then renowned for its orchestra. While in Mannheim, Mozart taught keyboard lessons to the children of the powerful elector of the Palatinate Karl Theodor, from whom he hoped to gain a permanent position. Mozart approached the elector with his wish for employment in his court first indirectly through the elector's close associates, including the governess of his children, then directly, grabbing a chance face-to-face encounter by the horns. Mozart described the occasion in a letter to his father, translated here by Emily Anderson: "I had at last the good fortune to meet the elector. [...] At last we saw him coming. The governess at once told the Countess [the elector's daughter] to seat herself at the clavier and I placed myself beside her and gave her a lesson; and that was how the Elector found us when he came in to the room. We stood up but he told us to go on. When the Countess had finished playing, the governess was the first to speak and said that I had composed a very fine Rondo. I played it and he liked it very much. At length he asked: 'But will she be able to learn it?' 'Oh yes,' I replied. 'I only wish that I might have the good fortune to teach it to her myself.'" Mozart had to wait a while to find out whether or not Karl Theodor would agree to hire him. And you too will have to wait until Wolfgang Pounds the Pavement, Part 2.