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Mozart Minute: Mozart Needs Cash

Mozart in a red coat

In February 1783, Mozart was a happy newlywed, an expectant father and a brilliant composer in the dawn of what he knew could be an illustrious career. In short, everything was going perfectly well for Mozart.

Well, almost everything.
At the time, Mozart was having a bit of a cash flow issue. The details are a bit sketchy, but it seems Mozart owed a debt to a merchant, who had decided to call in the loan.
So Mozart reached out to the Baroness von Waldstätten, the wealthy friend and patroness who had hosted his and Constanza's wedding feast. It was also the baroness whom Mozart had written in September 1782 to ask how he might acquire a bright red coat he had seen and liked. The baroness had a red coat made for Mozart as a gift.

With his debt dangling above him like the sword of Damocles, Mozart wrote the baroness on Feb. 15, 1783, asking for help paying it off. In the letter, Mozart explained that his good friend Johann von Trattner had advised him to ask the merchant in question for more time to pay off the debt. That request was denied, and Mozart found himself in a pickle.
"Herr von Trattner now informs me," Mozart wrote the baroness, "that the person in question absolutely refuses to wait and that if I do not pay the sum before tomorrow, he will bring an action against me. Only think, your Ladyship, what an unpleasant business this would be for me! At the moment I cannot pay - not even half the sum!" (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: MacMillan, 1985.)
Mozart explained that subscription sales for performances of three of his piano concertos were bringing in cash much more slowly than anticipated. And in signing off, Mozart explained of the pregnant Constanza, "My wife is slightly indisposed, so I cannot leave her; otherwise I should have come to you myself to ask in person for your Ladyship's assistance."
The correspondence doesn't confirm whether or not the baroness bailed Mozart out. But Mozart never landed in the clink, and the baroness remained one of Mozart's patrons, so we can draw our own conclusions.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.