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Mozart Minute: Constanze Gets Socked with Mozart's Debts

image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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The angel of death visited Mozart in December 1791. Then the angel of debt besieged Mozart's widow for years to come.

Mozart's sudden and untimely death left his widow, Constanze, to eke out a living for herself and their two children. Adding insult to injury was the reality that Mozart's death also made Constanze responsible for paying off her late husband's debts, which as a previous episode of The Mozart Minute suggests, were many and large.

In this live-or-die situation, Constanze sought income streams high and low. She sold some of Mozart's musical manuscripts. She applied for various pensions, some of which were granted. And she was the benefactor of a number of concerts of Mozart's music given specifically to help her out of dire straits.

Eventually Constanze, a trained soprano, also quite literally sang for her supper. She honed her business acumen, dusted off her singing skills and took herself on tour, organizing and appearing in concerts of Mozart’s music put on for her own financial benefit.

In 1795 through 1797, Constanze organized and performed in a series of three concerts of her late husband's music at Leipzig’s Gewandhaus. During that period, in February 1796, Constanze also performed Mozart's music in Berlin, then in May 1796 in Dresden, in November in Linz – where she sang in a concert version of Mozart’s opera La clemenza di Tito, in December in Graz – where she also performed in a concert version of Idomeneo and in November 1797 in Prague – where Mozart's younger son, Franz, at the tender age of six, sang a signature aria from The Magic Flute.

Two months before the November 1797 concert in Prague, another event took place that would eventually change the course of Constanze's life in a fiscally positive direction. In September 1797, Constanze met Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, a Danish Embassy official who, since 1793, had been living in Vienna. In September 1798 Constanze and Nissen moved in together. In 1809 they married. And in 1829, three years after Nissen's death, his now famous, if not entirely reliable, biography of Mozart was published.

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.