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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: The Tough Sell

It took repeated requests for Mozart to gain dismissal from his oppressive employment at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Almost equally trying was Mozart's quest to justify to his father his decision to remain in Vienna as a freelancer, rather than return home to the paternal lair in Salzburg. Mozart's relationship with his father was famously complicated. Leopold had recognized his son's genius from day one and throughout Wolfgang's life aimed to promote and guide it - some might say control it - to greatest fulfillment and greatest cash value. At age 61, his wife dead, only tolerable employment, and both of his children in the process of leaving the nest, Leopold wanted his son to come home. And he was mildly outraged when, having quit his Salzburg post, the 25-year-old Wolfgang even contemplated staying on in Vienna. Wolfgang was quick to remind his father that there were no opportunities in Salzburg and that he had gained a toehold in Vienna that he believed he could parlay into a career. In his letters to his father, Wolfgang walked the same tightrope he had walked for years: satisfying his father's emotional needs by reassuring him of his devotion to him, while subtly claiming his right to live his own life. Wolfgang stood his ground in a letter of May 19, 1781: "I must confess that there is not a single touch in your letter by which I recognize my father! I see a father, indeed, but not that most beloved and most loving father, who cares for his own honour and for that of his children - in short, not my father. [...] You say that the only way to save my honour is to abandon my resolve. How can you perpetrate such a contradiction! [...] To please you, my most beloved father, I would sacrifice my happiness, my health and my life. But my honour - that  I prize, and you too must prize it, above everything." He stood firm again in a letter of May 26 to his father, writing, "The more I consider the whole question, the more I realize that the best way for me to serve myself and you, my most beloved father, as well as my dear sister, is to stay in Vienna." And still playing the devoted son, Wolfgang signed off with on last promise: "My duty now is to make good and to replace by my care and industry what you think you have lost by this affair. This I shall do with a thousand thrills of delight."