Mozart Minute: Mozart at 30
By the time Mozart turned 30, his success as a composer was undeniable. But that didn't stop him from hitting up his friends for cash.
Around the time of Mozart's 30th birthday, on Jan. 27, 1786, his professional life was a flurry of activity. His operas The Abduction from the Seraglio and Idomeneo, premiered years earlier, were enjoying additional performances in and beyond Vienna.
His opera The Impresario saw its premiere in Feb. 1786, and The Marriage of Figaro would enjoy enormous success at its first performances later that year. Mozart was also leaving his mark in what his father, Leopold Mozart, described in a letter as an "astonishing" number of published compositions, and in a wildly varied concert schedule, which included performances in concert halls and at Masonic lodges all around Vienna.
In the midst of these professional successes, Mozart was nevertheless compelled to beg one of his friends - his publisher, no less - for money.
In a letter of Nov. 20, 1785, Mozart wrote the music publisher Franz Anton Hoffmeister, "I turn to you in my distress and beg you to help me out with some money, which I need very badly at the moment. Further, I entreat you to endeavor to procure for me as soon as possible the thing you know about." (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson.)
The thing Hoffmeister knew about might have been Hoffmeister's publication of one of Mozart's piano quartets. But the publisher would pay only a token amount for the quartet to roll off the presses. In the end, he also found the piece too difficult for the amateur musicians who were the mainstay of his market, prompting him to tell Mozart to write in a more popular idiom, or risk not having his music published at all.
Even in the face of Mozart's expanding family and possibly also a sudden emergency, Mozart, ever the artist and never one to refuse champagne on his beer budget, told Hoffmeister, "Then I will write nothing more, or go hungry, and may the devil take me."