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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: A Pianist Talks Shop with Mozart

Mozart in a red coat
Wikipedia
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If you were a pianist or composer in Europe in Mozart’s day, you definitely had competition. 

By the time Mozart reached adulthood and was establishing a career for himself as a freelance composer and performer in Vienna, word of his earlier career as a child prodigy had reached corners far and wide. And his adult career left no one in doubt about the extent of his musical gifts.

So what must it have been like to be a musician in Mozart’s day? A letter Mozart wrote his father, Leopold Mozart, on April 28, 1784 gives us an idea. Mozart wrote Leopold that the Dutch pianist Georg Friedrich Richter, on a performance tour, would be stopping by Leopold’s home in Salzburg on his way back from Vienna to Holland.

Wolfgang wasn’t tremendously impressed by Richter’s playing. “He plays well as far as execution goes,” Mozart wrote, “but as you will discover when you hear him, he is too rough and labored and entirely devoid of taste and feeling. Otherwise he is the best fellow in the world and is not the slightest bit conceited.” (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

According to the same letter, Richter reviewed Mozart’s playing far more favorably than Mozart had reviewed his. Mozart wrote, “When I played to him he stared all the time at my fingers and kept on saying: ‘Good God! How hard I work and sweat – and yet win no applause – and to you, my friend, it is all child’s play.’” And perhaps taking the “child’s play” remark as a cue to rub in his prodigious talent, Mozart went on, “‘Yes,’ I replied, ‘I too had to work hard, so as not to have to work hard any longer.’”