Page images
PDF
EPUB

accord, invented another cantata expressive of rage, choosing for his subject the word perfido; and, in the course of the recitative, he gradually worked himself up to such a pitch of enthusiasm, that at last he rose up in his chair and beat the harpsichord like a person possessed. In the midst of his performance, a favourite cat happening to come into the room, gave his ideas a new direction, he abruptly left the harpsichord and caressed the animal with the greatest fondness. He afterwards rode about the room upon a stick with more than the usual vivacity and delight of an ordinary child of his age. His most trifling amusements were distinguished by the same enthusiastic ardour as his professional pursuits.

That nothing might be wanting to the cultivation of his talents, Mozart's next tour was through the principal cities of Italy, the native soil of music; but he soon convinced the professors in this favoured country, that he was already qualified to teach as well as to learn, by developing and performing without hesitation all the subjects of fugues proposed by the celebrated Martin, ayd by composing at fourteen years of age an opera, (Mithridates,) which was performed at Milan twenty nights in succession.

At Rome, he caused the greatest possible astonishment, by committing to memory, and afterwards writing down the whole of the famous service called the Miserere, by Allegri, performed in the pope's chapel exclusively twice during Passion week. We must, however, refer to the work itself for the account of this extraordinary effort of memory and musical skill, and for the curious and interesting description of the service itself, which is too long to be inserted, and will not admit of being properly abstracted.

The natural effect of these tours was, that Mozart learned at the fountain head, whatever was worth knowing in music throughout the principal cities of Europe; and thus, while poor Haydn was doomed to struggle with difficulties at every step, and to acquire knowledge, sometimes by labour and sometimes by artifice, Mozart lived in a round of continual variety aud pleasure; the astonishment and delight of all who beheld him; introduced into the first musical societies in the world; and possessing opportunities which he certainly did not neglect, of hearing and studying whatever was excellent in his profession. It is, however, a curious subject of inquiry, to trace the event of their different modes of education. Whatever Haydn painfully and laboriously acquired, was irrevocably fixed in his mind, and the necessity of early application and self-denial preserved him from the dissipated and irregular habits which checked the career, and probably shortened the life of Mozart.

After his return from Italy we hear little of Mozart till the twenty-fourth year of his age. We would willingly suppose, that

the

the intervening period was assiduously employed in the cultivation of his talents; but the silence of his biographer with regard to this period, and an observation, that the family of the lady, who afterwards became his wife, objected to him on account of his upsettled habits, and because his manners had been far from exemplary, have led us to consult other sources of information; froin which we collect, that, with the best natural dispositions and a feeling heart, Mozart knew not how to restrain whatever appetites or passions it was in his power tu gratify. He had an ardent and unconquerable love of pleasure in every shape; and, if his means of- enjoyment had been equal to his wishes, his name would probably have been added to the long list of forward children, of whose subsequent life no traces remain. The seeds of future excellence were sown during bis residence in Italy; but none of the works, on which his posthumous fame is established, were composed till he had reached the age of manhood; and Dr. Burney has perhaps given a fair estimate of his talents at sixteen years of age, in a letter from a correspondent at Saltzburgh, published in his Musical Tour through Germany in 1772:

" This young man, who so much astonished all Europe by his productions, is still a great master of his instrument. I went to his father's house, to hear him and his sister play duetts on the same harpsichord; but she is now at her summit, which is not marvellous; and, if I may judge of the music, which I heard of his composition in the orchestra, he is one further instance of early fruit being more extraordinary than excellent.'

It is perfectly natural that a youth of this age should have retained his mechanical skill of playing upon the harpsichord, but that he should not yet have acquired the degree of science necessary to constitute a great composer. Mozart was, however, fortunately roused to new exertions by the powerful excitements of love and vanity.--His whole soul was devoted to Constance Weber; his vanity was piqued by the rejection of her family, and he determined to convince them, that, although he had no fixed situation in life, he had talents that would soon procure hiin an establishment.

In his twenty-fifth year the elector of Bavaria requested him to write the serious opera of Idomeneo: his love for Constance supplied him with the most impassioned airs, and his vanity impelled him to the greatest exertions in the arrangement of the accompani. ments; and thus he composed his favourite work, the opera which he always considered his most fortunate effort, and from which he borrowed many ideas in his subsequent compositions. The effects of this opera were, to secure his mistress, to establish his fame, and to qualify him for future success. What may be deemed his classical productions, as distinguished

from

from his juvenile efforts, now succeeded each other with great rapidity till the end of his short career. His sonatas, quartetts, and symphonies, operas, and sacred compositions, may be immediately distinguished from those of all other masters; they all evince the originality of his genius and the fertility of his invention; and their appeal to the feelings of an audience was irresistible.

Mozart's peculiar method of composition was, first, to arrange in his mind the whole subject and all its details. This was the work of silent meditation during his walks, or on his pillow; and thus, while apparently idle, his mind was most intensely engaged. He next sat down to the piano-forte, generally in the stillness of night, tried various experiments, and satisfied himself of the effect of his whole composition. In the morning he committed his ideas to paper; and this last operation was so entirely mechanical, from the whole subject having been previously arranged in his mind, that he wrote the score at once with the greatest neatness, and frequently without altering a single note. We have lately seen the original scores, in his own hand-writing, of his principal instrumental pieces, which narrowly escaped the iron grasp of Davoust at Hamburgh, and are now in London. In looking over these manuscripts, we could almost fancy ourselves in Mozart's closet while he composed them. The notes are small, but very clearly and distinctly written. His pages had been all previously numbered, that he might continue writing without a moment's interruption. In the two first of his inimitable quartetts, dedicated to Haydn, there is not a single alteration; and, on the margin of the first andante movement, are directions to his copyist, in provincial German, to write now the second violin and the tenor; the bass after dinner. In the fifth quartett, several bars, which are struck out, show that his alterations were not made on revising his composition, but while he was writing it with the greatest rapidity, as in a literary production an author would substitute one word for another, while the first word was only half written. These occasional changes in his ideas are excellent studies for a composer. An eminent musician, while considering these alterations, exclaimed, “How beautiful is this first idea! who could improve it?' And immediately afterwards, But ah! how exquisite is the new passage! who could have done this but Mozart!' At the beginning of his celebrated Fantasia, for the piano forte in C minor, he las written, "for Madame Tratner.' It was so rapidly written, and the notes are showered down in such profusion, that his hand was evidently not quick enough to express the ideas that flowed from his mind. In a fugue for four instruments, written in imitation of those of Sebastian Bach, a species of composition that required more than usual study, he originally left the lower half of his paper

blank,

blank, on which he afterwards wrote the whole fugue over again in differently coloured ink, with such improvements as his subsequent experience suggested.

We hope these details will not appear tedious or misplaced; but that many of our readers will participate in the pleasure we feel in tracing the few relics of a man of genius like Mozart, which have been preserved in an entire state, his operas having been written for the copyist on separate papers, most of which were destroyed. We shall now give a short description of Mozart's personal appearance, and of his habits in private life. He never reached his full growth; he was pale and thin; his health was, always delicate, and there was nothing striking in his physiognomy except its extreme variableness. The changes in his countenance expressed, in the liveliest manner, the pleasure or pain which he experienced ; his body was constantly in motion, and his nervous irritability was evinced by the habit he had acquired of playing with his hands, or beating the ground with his foot. His hands were so habituated to the piano-forte, that they seemed hardly fit for any thing else. His mind was so constantly absorbed by a crowd of ideas, that, in the common business of life, he was. always a mere child. He had no idea of domestic affairs, of the use of money, of the judicious selection of his pleasures, or of temperance in their enjoyment; he never looked beyond the gratification of the moment. His affairs were necessarily managed for him, first by his father, and afterwards by his wife. He was absent, and devoted to trifling pursuits ; but the moment he was seated at the piano-forte his character changed; the harmony of sounds then absorbed his whole attention; and his ear was so aca curate, that, even in the fullest orchestra, he would instantly detect and point out the instrument that had played the slightest false note; and we may imagine his feelings during the performance of his opera of L'Enlèvement du Sérail, at Berlin, where he arrived late in the evening, and took his station at the entrance of the pit, to listen without being observed :— Sometimes he was so pleased with the execution of certain passages, and at others so dissatisfied with the manner or the time in which they were performed, or with the embellishments added by the actors, that, continually expressing either his pleasure or disapprobation, he insensibly got up to the bar of the orchestra ;' at last an air was played, in which the manager had taken the liberty of making some alterations; when Mozart, unable to restrain himself any longer, directed the orchestra how to play it. The eyes of the whole audience were fixed upon the man in a great coat, who made all this noise. Mozart was recognized; and some of the performers were 20 agitated that they refused to come again upon the stage. Mo

zart

zart immediately went behind the scenes, and, by the compliments which he paid the actors, at length prevailed upon them to go on with the piece.

Our limits oblige us to refer to the work itself for various interesting anecdotes of this extraordinary man, and for many judicious remarks on his several compositions. During the latter years of his life he felt his bealth gradually declining; and his disorder was increased by a deep and habitual melancholy, arising from the anticipation of future evils, and from being convinced that he had not long to live. This persuasion excited him to new efforts, which his feeble and languid frame was unable to support, and he was frequently carried fainting from the piano-forte. As his bodily health declined, his intellectual powers seemed to have gained fresh vigour; and, in the last year of his life, and thirty-sixth of his age, he composed some of the finest of his works : The Zauberflöte; the Clemenza di Tito, which is distinguished from his other operas, by the air of melancholy that shows the state of the composer's mind; and the Requiem, which accelerated the progress of his disorder. The circumstances attending this last composition have rather the appearance of romance than of real occurrences. A stranger, whose manner was dignified and impressive, informed him that a man of considerable importance, who did not wish to be known, was anxious to commemorate the loss of a dear friend, by the annual performance of a solemn funeral service, and therefore requested that Mozart would compose a'requiem for the dead. After the stranger had departed, Mozart remained lost in thought; he soon, however, applied with great ardour to his composition.—He wrote day and night, until his constitution was no longer able to support his enthusiasm, and he fell senseless. A few days afterwards he said abruptly to his wife, • It is certain that I am writing this requiem for myself !—It will be my own funeral service!' Nothing could remove this impression from his mind; he was convinced that the mysterious stranger was a being connected with the other world, sent to avnounce his approaching dissolution. He applied with still greater ardour to the Requien, as the most durable monument of his genius, till his hand was arrested by alarming fainting fits. The work was, however, at length completed; but when, at the appointed time, the stranger returned, Mozart was no more.

The merit must indeed be great that calls forth the unqualified praise of contemporaries and rivals.—Haydn once said to Mozart's father, 'I declare, before God, and as an honest man, that your son is the greatest composer I have ever heard of!' and, in the latter part of his life, he scrupled not to confess, that he was taking lessons from his pupil.' We have also seen a letter from

Haydn,

« PreviousContinue »