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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: Even Geniuses Get Stressed

During the summer of 1782, Mozart was working quickly to capitalize on the success of his opera The Abduction from the Seraglio by writing a wind ensemble work based on it, and he was blissfully in love with Constanze Weber. In short, his brain was full. So when his father, Leopold Mozart, asked him to compose a new symphony for the Haffners, Mozart got stressed. He wrote his dad on July 20, "Well, I am up to my eyes in work, for by Sunday week I have to arrange my opera for wind-instruments. If I don't, someone will anticipate me and secure the profits. And now you ask me to write a new symphony! How on earth can I do so? You have no idea how difficult it is to arrange a work of this kind for wind-instruments .... Well, I must just spend the night over it, for that is the only way; and to you, dearest father, I sacrifice it. [...] I shall work as fast as possible and, as far as haste permits, I shall turn out good work." (trans. Emily Anderson) One week later, on July 27, Mozart wrote his dad, "You will be surprised and disappointed to find that this contains only the first Allegro [of the new symphony]; but it has been quite impossible to do more for you, for I have had to compose in a great hurry a serenade, but only for wind instruments (otherwise I could have used it for you too)." He promised to send his father two minuets, the slow movement and the finale of the symphony in four days. When that day came, on July 31, Mozart enclosed none of the promised music with his letter to Leopold. "You see that my intentions are good," he wrote Leopold, "only what one cannot do one cannot! I am really unable to scribble off inferior stuff. So I cannot send you the whole symphony until next post-day." Mozart eventually did send Leopold all of the new symphony, and Leopold apparently liked it. Whether Mozart's delays in completing and sending the symphony were entirely work-related, however, is open to debate. For while Mozart was sending his father a steady stream of excuses about the symphony, he was also finding himself embroiled in a bit of a scandal that threatened to derail his plans to marry Constanze Weber. And as Mozart might have told his father at this point, I promise to tell you about that scandal in the next episode of The Mozart Minute.