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Mozart Minute: Regifting, Mozart Style

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

As Christmas nears, you might be finding yourself wrapped up in the spirit of the season, searching for that perfect gift for each and every one of your special people. You might also find yourself at once enjoying quality time with family, and quietly grateful that the holidays roll around only once a year.

It didn’t take Christmas to cause Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to do some good, old-fashioned re-gifting, or to bring occasion for some family politicking. On March 23, 1782, Mozart wrote from Vienna to his father that he enclosed with his letter some gifts for him and for Nannerl, Mozart’s older sister. One of those gifts was a rondo Mozart composed for his Piano Concerto K. 175.

But Mozart didn’t stop at just musical offerings. He also sent a snuff box and some watch ribbons, along with two bonnets handmade for Nannerl by Mozart’s intended, Constanze Weber. Here’s Emily Anderson’s translation of what Mozart wrote his dad:

“I am sending my dear sister two caps in the latest Viennese mode. Both are the handiwork of my dear Constanze. She sends her most devoted greetings to you and kisses your hands and also embraces my sister most affectionately and asks her to forgive her if the caps are not as becoming as she would have wished, but the time was too short.” (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

Sending the hats was a political gesture, Constanze and Mozart’s attempt to win Leopold’s and Nannerl’s approval for Constanze, whom neither ever truly accepted. The gesture seemed to work in the short run, as Mozart confirmed in a letter to his father on April 10, 1782.

“I have delivered greetings from you both to my dear Constanze, who kisses your hands in return, my father, and embraces my sister most cordially and hopes that she will be her friend. She was absolutely delighted when I told her that my sister was very much pleased with the two caps, so greatly did she desire to give her pleasure.”

And as though to prove that re-gifting didn’t start with Seinfeld, in that same letter Mozart also revealed that the snuff boxes and watch ribbons had originally been gifts to him from a certain Count Zapara.

The episode of The Mozart Minute was published originally on Dec. 19, 2014 at wosu.org/classical101.

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.