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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: No Really, Dad, I'm Surrounded by Mere Brute Beasts

Our two previous episodes show Mozart complaining about the Parisians' poor musical taste and his father, Leopold Mozart, telling him to make the Parisians happy so he can make a lot of money. Leopold should have known his son better. Wolfgang wrote back on May 1, 1778, with a litany of complaints about his experiences in the French capital. He told of a performance at the home of a duchess who insisted he give her a command performance on a bad piano in a cold room and had him wait for an hour before playing while she entertained other guests. He told of the muddy streets of Paris - "... really the mud in Paris is beyond all description." And he told of how Jean Le Gros, the director of the Parisian concert series Le Concert Spirituel, had commissioned him for a sinfonia concertante, agreed to take his score of the completed work to have parts copied from it for performance and, instead, simply held it hostage. Fed up with the Parisians, Wolfgang must have been further outraged by his father's earlier pleas to curry musical favor with the French. But he soldiered on for the good of his father's financial situation.  Here are Mozart's words in Emily Anderson's translation: "... as it is (so far as music is concerned), I am surrounded by mere brute beasts. How can it be otherwise? For in all their actions, emotions and passions they are just the same. There is no place in the world like Paris. You must not think that I exaggerate when I talk thus of the music here. Ask anyone you like - provided he is not a Frenchman born - and, if he knows anything at all of the matter, he will say exactly the same. Well, I am here. I must endure it for your sake. but I shall thank Almighty God if I escape with my taste unspoiled. I pray to God daily ... that He will enable me to prosper and make a great deal of money, so that I may help you out of your present difficulties. [...] I shall hack my way through here as best I can, and I hope to get out without any bones broken!"