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Mozart Minute: What Mozart's Friends Said about Him

image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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Catch The Mozart Minute Fridays at noon during the Amadeus Deli, and listen to The Mozart Minute podcast at wosu.org/podcasts.

How tall was Mozart? What color were his eyes? Did he ever pretend to be a cat?

Influenced by the play and film Amadeus, by Mozart's letters, by any number of full-length biographies of the composer and by ceaseless chatter on the Interwebs, we all have a certain idea what the immortal Mozart may have been like. Here’s what a few of his friends said about him.

In his Reminiscences, published in 1826, the Irish tenor Michael Kelly described Mozart as "a remarkable small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine hair, of which he was rather vain. [..] He was remarkably fond of punch, of which beverage I have seen him take copious draughts."

Johann Hummel, once a student of Mozart's, wrote that, "He was small of stature and of a rather pale complexion; his physiognomy had much that was pleasant and friendly, combined with a rather melancholy graveness; his large blue eyes shone brightly. In the circle of his good friends he could grow quite merry, lively, witty even at times and on certain subjects satirical!" (Karl Benyovszky's 1934 biography of Hummel, J.N. Hummel (Bratislava, 1934), quoted in Otto Erich Deutsch Mozart: A Documentary Biography, trans. Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe, and Jeremy Noble.)

In her Memoirs, Mozart's sister-in-law  Sophie Weber Haibel wrote that Mozart "was always good-humored, but even at his more good-humored he was very pensive, looking one straight in the eye the while, pondering his answer to any question… and yet he seemed the while to be working away deep in thought at something quite efferent. Even when he was washing his hands when he rose in the morning, he walked up and down in the room the while, never standing still, tapped one heel against the other the while and was always deep in thought. […]  In his pastimes he was always passionately attached to the latest of them, and so it was with riding, and also with billiards. […] Also, his hands and feet were always in motion, he was always playing with something, e.g. his hat, pockets, watch-fob, tables, chairs, as if they were a piano [clavier]." (Quoted in Deutsch Mozart: A Documentary Biography, trans. Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe, and Jeremy Noble.)

The Austrian novelist Karoline von Greiner Pichler had been a student of Mozart. She describes her former teacher in her Memoirs, published in 1843. "One day when I was sitting at the pianoforte playing the 'Non più andrai' from Figaro, Mozart, who was paying a visit to us, came up behind me; I must have been playing it to his satisfaction, for he hummed the melody as I played and beat the time on my shoulders; but then he suddenly moved a chair up, sat down, told me to carry on playing the bass, and began to improvise such wonderfully beautiful variations that everyone listened to the tones of the German Orpheus with bated breath. But then he suddenly tired of it, jumped up, and, in the mad mood which so often came over him, he began to leap over tables and chairs, miaow like a cat, and turn somersaults like an unruly boy …." (Quoted in Deutsch Mozart: A Documentary Biography, trans. Eric Blom, Peter Branscombe, and Jeremy Noble.)

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.