Mozart Minute: Mozart's Cheapskate Patron
Mozart's 1778 stay in Paris was pretty much a total washout. Instead of making his name there as a composer, he was rebuffed and ignored. His mother died. He was cold and starving. And people kept stiffing him for his work.
While in France, Mozart had to take on private students to pay the bills. One of those students was the daughter of Adrien-Louis de Bonnières, the Duc de Guînes. The duke was nonchalant about compensating the struggling Mozart for his work. On July 31, 1778, Mozart wrote his father of one such unsavory episode.
"Just imagine, the Duc de Guînes, to whose house I have had to go daily for two hours, let me give twenty-four lessons and (although it is the custom to pay after every twelve) went off into the country and came back after ten days without letting me know a word about it …" (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).
When Mozart visited the duke's home to collect payment for services rendered, he was affronted by the housekeeper, who, Mozart wrote, "pulled out a purse and said: 'Pray forgive me if I only pay you for twelve lessons this time, but I haven't enough money.' There’s noble treatment for you!"
Mozart made the episode a matter of nationalities. "So M. le Duc hasn’t a spark of honor and must have thought, 'After all, he's a young man and a stupid German into the bargain – (for all Frenchmen talk like this about the Germans) – so he'll be quite glad of it.' But the stupid German was not at all glad of it, in fact he didn’t take it."
To justify his righteous indignation, Mozart revealed a bit of his back story with the duke. Four months earlier, Mozart had written on commission from the duke his concerto for flute, harp and orchestra, and the duke had still not paid him for the piece. And, at least according to the evidence, nor would he ever.