Laws are like spider-webs which, if anything small falls into them they ensnare it, but large things break through and escape. — Solon of Athens

Mozart's Youth - George Upton




At the Imperial Court

The reputation of the family had preceded them, and greatly to their advantage, for the nobility of Vienna were enthusiastically interested in them. They received almost daily invitations to entertainments, where Wolfgang's extraordinary skill created the utmost astonishment. Count Palssy, in particular, who had heard Wolfgang play in Linz, and Countess Sinzendorf took them under their protection, introduced them to the homes of the best families, and at last procured the special invitation to Court which Father Mozart had so long hoped and waited for. Wolfgang himself was still too little and childish to appreciate the high honor paid him. He was simply pleased at the opportunity he would have to see the splendors of the Court. As to the playing, he relied upon his skill and courage, which had never yet failed him.

Presentation day came. At three o'clock in the afternoon the royal equipage was at the door, and Baron von Stauffen, his Majesty's private treasurer, invited the family to take seats in the elegant state coach. Little Mozart's heart beat more quickly as he rode through the streets of the Court quarter. A few minutes later he was in the ante-chamber of her Majesty the Empress, waiting the moment which should reveal to him all the glories of her Court. That moment quickly came. The folding doors of the music hall were thrown open. Her Majesty's first gentleman in waiting beckoned to the family to come forward, and a moment later they were in the presence of the renowned Empress, Maria Theresa, and her noble consort, Francis the First, the royal household standing in the background.

Wolfgang had never seen such splendor before. He was in a rich and brilliantly decorated hall, with silken tapestries, tall mirrors in glistening gold frames, heavy silken curtains, and polished inlaid floor. In a chair a little above the rest, over which glistened a golden crown, sat a majestic woman—the Empress. At her side stood the princes and princesses, and a little farther on the Emperor, leaning against a beautiful piano.

Wolfgang cast hardly more than a fleeting glance at the splendor all about him. His gaze was fixed upon the Empress, whom he regarded for some time with childish love and reverence. The little archduchess, Marie Antoinette, afterwards the unhappy spouse of Louis the Sixteenth of France, with her beautiful curly head resting upon her mother's arm, watched Wolfgang with curious eyes. After a little the Emperor advanced to Wolfgang and led him to the Empress, who outstretched both hands with true maternal tenderness, and greeted him with a gracious smile. Although forty-five years of age at this time, she was still a very beautiful woman, and one whose fascinating manners could not help making a deep impression upon the susceptible young artist.

And so you are the little piano-player of whom we have heard so much," said she.

"Yes," replied Wolfgang, as naturally and as unembarrassed as if he were talking with his own mother. "It is true I am only a child, but not-withstanding that I can play the piano, as I shall be very glad to prove to the Lady Empress."

The easy and familiar manner in which Wolfgang addressed the august lady nearly paralyzed the courtiers, who were accustomed to the most rigid etiquette, but the Empress was not in the least offended with his childish frankness; on the other hand, she appeared pleased with this sincere, cordial, and informal artist nature.

"Oh, yes, child," she kindly said; "but are you so sure of all this? I warn you there are several persons behind us who know a great deal about music, and they will criticise you pretty severely."

"Those there?" replied Wolfgang, turning a little to one side and casting a sharp glance at the brilliant assemblage. "Those?" he repeated, shaking his head contemptuously. "No, Lady Empress, begging your pardon, they do not look as if they were good musicians. Certainly not."

"And why not, you saucy boy?" said the Empress, restraining a smile with some difficulty.

"Well, they don't show any signs of it, Your Majesty. They are altogether too stiff."

At this naive reply, which nearly threw the whole royal train into a panic, Maria Theresa could no longer restrain herself. She laughed loudly, and as a matter of etiquette her attendants had to laugh also, though they were not particularly flattered at the low estimate the little virtuoso had placed upon their musical ability.

"Well, you are truly a saucy child," said the Empress, still laughing, as she patted Wolfgang's cheeks with her white hands. "Really, Franz, he is a cunning little imp and ought to make a diplomat or a statesman, if physiognomy counts for anything."

"He certainly does not lack for courage," said the Emperor, smiling and turning to the Empress, who had addressed her last remark to him.

"Well, then, let us keep him here," said the little Marie Antoinette, raising her head and looking at the Empress with her large, kindly eyes. "I like him very much."

"Yes, there would be one advantage in keeping him," replied the Empress, good-naturedly. "You could at least learn from him how to play the piano properly."

"Does he play so very well?" said the little princess.

"Magnificently, I hear from all sides," replied the Empress.

"Then why may we not hear him right away? I am really very curious about it," said Marie Antoinette, looking at Wolfgang as if challenging him to play.

Wolfgang's artistic pride was aroused, for there was something in the manner of the little princess that impelled him to do the best he could. With kindling eyes he looked about him, and stepped up to the piano to give them an example of his skill. The Emperor, however, interposed. "Hold, little man," said he. "You have just asserted that none of these ladies and gentlemen know enough to judge of your playing—who then shall be the umpire?"

With scarcely an instant's hesitation Wolfgang replied, "Oh, I know an excellent one,—Herr Wagenseil, the Empress's music teacher. He understands music. If convenient, send for him."

"All right; it shall be done," said the Emperor, who at once ordered a servant to summon that famous composer and pianist. In the meantime Wolfgang went to his sister, took her by the hand, and led her to the Empress without any ceremony. "See, Your Majesty," said he, introducing her, "this is Nannerl, my sister. She plays as well as I do." The Empress laughed heartily at the odd ways of the little fellow, addressed a few kind words to Nannie, and then beckoned to Father Mozart, with whom she conversed most affably about the children and music. In the meantime Wolfgang and Nannie chatted with the princes and princesses, and Wolfgang was so loud in his praises of his sister that it attracted Maria Theresa's notice. "Look here, little one," she said, stretching her hands out to him as before, "do you really love your Nannerl so very much?"

"Oh, yes, Lady Empress," eagerly replied Wolfgang, pressing her Majesty's hand with childlike freedom. "Of course I love her, but I also love you, for you please me very much."

"That is extremely flattering to me," replied the Empress, "but how can you convince me of it?"

"By giving you a kiss, thus," he exclaimed; and before any one could stop him, or prevent such unheard-of audacity, he sprang into the Empress's lap, threw both arms around her neck, and kissed her tenderly and impulsively.

The Empress in her infinite goodness indulged the boy and laughed, perhaps more heartily than she had ever done before, at his childish boldness. The Emperor and the princes and princesses also laughed until the tears stood in their eyes, and the others, following the example of their superiors, dutifully simpered, though some of these stiff ladies and gentlemen nearly fainted away in their amazement at the temerity of this common lad. Such an occurrence had never before been known at the royal court in their recollection.

At last Herr Wagenseil came, and the Emperor, after introducing them, requested Wolfgang to play. He was all ready, kissed the Emperor's hand, and hurried to the piano. "I am glad you are here," he said to Herr Wagenseil. "I will play a concerto of yours, and would like to have you turn the leaves for me."

Herr Wagenseil came forward with a smile, and after rapidly running over a few passages, Wolfgang played the concerto. His performance took every one by surprise. Whatever their expectations, Wolfgang was resolved to surpass them. He played with a fire and intelligence which astonished all. It grew more and more quiet. The Emperor, the Empress, the princes and princesses, and the rest of the company kept their eyes fixed upon the little virtuoso, and Herr Wagenseil's manner betrayed his extreme surprise.

When the concerto was finished, and Wolfgang had played the last note, it was naturally supposed he would stop, but instead of doing so, he continued playing, taking a theme from the concerto and improvising upon it beautifully for nearly a quarter of an hour. He drew from the instrument expressions of sorrow and joy, pain and ecstasy, melancholy and divine happiness. A stream of richest melodies seemed to gush from under his hands as the clear, silvery brook leaps from the rocks. All listened as if entranced, until he closed with a brilliant cadenza, and then sprang from his seat with flashing eyes.

For some time deep silence followed his playing. Then the Empress expressed her great delight by applause. All present imitated her, and overwhelmed the little player with compliments. Even the quiet and sedate Herr Wagenseil frankly expressed his surprise. Wolfgang calmly accepted the ovation, keeping his delighted gaze upon the Empress, and said, "Now, your Majesty, have I not done my work well?"

"Yes," said the exalted sovereign; "not-withstanding your youth, you are already a great musician, whom we must admire. We heartily wish that your skill may increase with your years, until at last you reach the very summit of your art.

"With divine help, Lady Empress," replied the happy Wolfgang, "which will not fail me, I shall strive to deserve your praise."

Nannie also played, revealing surprising skill for one so young; but in reality she had neither the intellectual nor the artistic ability of her brother, and consequently had to be satisfied with less enthusiastic applause from the audience.

During a pause in the music, the Empress turned to Father Mozart and said: "I sincerely congratulate you that you have these children. They are a gift from Heaven, such as is rarely vouchsafed to man. Educate them well, so that their fine natural ability may be developed and produce the highest results."

While the vice chapel-master was assuring her Majesty upon this point, there was a sudden outburst of merry laughter near her. She turned with an expression of surprise and displeasure. Her rising anger, however, was dispelled when the Emperor came forward and said with a smile: "This Wolfgang is a witty genius. I asked him whom he considered the greatest musician in the past, and he replied, 'The trumpeter who blew down the walls of Jericho.' "

The Empress could not help laughing at the droll answer. The Emperor continued: "I may not succeed, but I am going to try to catch him. Look here, Wolfgang, I acknowledge that you have played very beautifully, but you have done it with all ten fingers, and that is not much of a feat. Show us what you can do with one finger, or with the keyboard covered, then we can tell whether you really are a true musician."

"All right," replied Wolfgang. "I have never tried either way, but I will."

Saying this, he went to the piano again, and skilfully executed some very difficult passages with one finger. Then he covered the keyboard with a cloth and played some charming little pieces as clearly and accurately as if he had always practised them that way.

"He is a little magician," said the astonished Emperor, "and so skilful that he compels you to admire him, whether you will or no."

The audience over, the Mozart family took leave of the royal family in the most friendly manner. The Empress gave Wolfgang and Nannie two beautiful diamond rings and graciously expressed her satisfaction to Father Mozart.

"Your children have delighted me," said she, "and I hope we may see them again ere long."

Delighted with her condescension, Father Mozart and the children returned home, and blessed the day which had been so happy and fortunate for them. But still greater joy and surprise were in store. Some days after the presentation the royal equipage again drove up, and the private treasurer, Baron Stauffen, brought instructions and gifts from the Empress. Father Mozart received a hundred ducats, and each of his children an elegant costume which had been made for some of the little royal highnesses. They were also invited by the Baron, in the name of the Empress, to the imperial table for that day,—of course only as spectators, to witness the pomp and ceremony of a state dinner.

"Her Majesty, our exalted Empress, desires that the children shall appear in these court dresses," said the Baron, "and will send a carriage at six o'clock to bring you all to the castle." Thereupon he took leave with a stiff bow, for he was an exceedingly ceremonious person, and in fact was somewhat displeased that he had to come in contact with these common persons at the command of his royal mistress. The Mozart family, however, did not trouble themselves in the least about his high mightiness. They were all delighted at the graciousness of the Empress, who had shown them so many delicate attentions.

The children were dressed and all ready at half-past five, and looked charming. Wolfgang strutted about the room with mock dignity in a lily-colored waistcoat with broad gold borders, while Nannie admired her beautifully embroidered white silk dress in the mirror with expressions of delight.

The carriage drove up at the appointed time, and a few minutes later the family were in the so-called golden hall "of the castle, where the highest grandees were to be served at seven tables. The centre table, a little higher than the others, canopied with heavy silk and embroidered cloth of gold, was set apart for the royal family. The others, three on the right and three on the left, were for the royal household. They were not yet assembled, so Wolfgang had time to admire the splendor displayed in the arrangements. Massive gold and silver plate, beautiful sets of china, and superb displays of flowers in vases of the most exquisite designs, decorated the tables, while numberless candelabra above shed a brilliant light over all. After a little the folding doors of an adjoining apartment opened, and the Empress and Emperor, surrounded by the prince and princesses of the royal house, entered the dining hall. All present bowed low before the majestic sovereign, who slowly advanced, with a gracious word here and a kindly glance there, and seated herself at table with her immediate circle. A shrill fanfare accompanied this ceremony, signifying also that the rest were to take their places according to their rank and dignity. They were hardly seated when the imperial court chapel, which on these occasions furnished the table music, began playing. The splendid apartment was filled with exquisite melody. Wolfgang, who had never heard such music before, was transported with delight. The moment it began, he forgot all the magnificence around him, and was absorbed in its performance until the last tones softly died away. Then he awoke with a sigh, as if from a dream, and once more realized where he was.

At this instant a beautiful voice broke the stillness, and Wolfgang was surprised to hear his name spoken. It was the Empress, who was calling and beckoning to him, much to the astonishment of the company. Though a little surprised himself, Wolfgang knew how to behave. He advanced through the room, carrying his head high, and looking like a little prince in his new costume, ascended with firm step to the royal table, and bowing low to their Majesties, stood a few paces away from the Empress. "What a cavalierish bow the little fellow makes," said she, with a kindly smile and a slight inclination of her head, "and how well he looks in his new waistcoat! One would suppose he had always been at Court."

"Oh, well, Your Majesty," replied Wolfgang, boldly, and with the utmost composure, "I have seen Herr Baron Stauffen do that." The Empress could not help laughing loudly, for Wolfgang had exactly imitated the stiff, formal manner of the pompous courtier, even to the swelling out of his breast.

"Look out," said the Empress, warning the boy with her finger; "have a care that the Baron does not hear you. He may be tempted to upset the carriage some day."

"It is a matter of no consequence if he does hear me, Your Majesty," replied Wolfgang, smiling contemptuously, "for nothing could tempt him to disarrange his ruffles or break his perfume box."

"Silence, child," interposed the Empress; "you have a very disrespectful way of talking, which you must stop. Come nearer."

Wolfgang obeyed, and the kind Empress gave him some dainties from her own plate, which he ate with evident relish. "Good," said the Empress, "now you can go; but I shall expect you after dinner in my own apartments, where you can play with my children a while."

"I shall be glad to go, Your Majesty," replied Wolfgang. "Will her little Royal Highness with the blond hair be there too?

"You mean my Marie Antoinette?" replied the Empress. "Yes, she will be there, and will be delighted to see you. Adieu till then."

Radiant with joy, Wolfgang bowed again, and proudly enough marched back to his father's side. Their Majesties soon arose at the sound of the trumpets, the signal that dinner was finished. After affably bowing to the assembled guests, the royal train left in the same stately way it had entered, and Chapel-master Mozart and his family were conducted by a servant to the ante-chamber of the Empress to await further orders.

They did not have to wait long. The Empress was in her dressing-room, and while her maid was arranging her toilet, Wolfgang and Nannie performed by turns upon a piano in the waiting-room. Wolfgang played with an inspired enthusiasm, which enabled him to overcome the greatest difficulties with ease. The condescension and maternal kindness of the noble lady had won his heart, and he improved this opportunity to express his love and gratitude by an extraordinary display of his skill. He continued in this manner until the Empress herself at last checked his enthusiasm. "Enough, enough, my child," she graciously said. "We do not wish you to make yourself sick by overdoing. You have again shown us you are a great magician; now show us that you can be a child among children."

The little archduchesses Elizabeth and Marie Antoinette, who had been listening with delight to Wolfgang's playing, understood their exalted mother's hint, and while she engaged in conversation with Father Mozart and Nannie, they took Wolfgang by the hand and led him through the magnificent state rooms which the Empress usually occupied. They called his attention in the most courteous manner to the beautiful pictures and furniture, pointed out remarkable objects, and talked as freely with him as if they were brother and sisters. An amusing incident shortly happened, growing out of the fact that Wolfgang was not as much at home in the castle as the charming little archduchesses. As they went along, looking at the statues and pictures on the walls, Wolfgang did not notice the smoothness of the inlaid floor, stumbled on a particularly slippery spot, and fell his whole length. The sight was amusing; so amusing that Elizabeth could not refrain from laughing loudly. Marie Antoinette, on the other hand, did not see the laughable side of the mishap. She was frightened, and, bending over Wolfgang, helped him to arise. "Poor child, have you hurt yourself?" she said compassionately.

"Oh, no," replied Wolfgang, giving the pretty little archduchess a grateful look. "No, I do not think I have, but your Royal Highness, you are so good and kind to me that I will marry you if you are willing."

Marie Antoinette received the marriage proposal quite pleasantly, and laughed over it. "Let us wait a bit, little one," she graciously replied, shaking her curly head. "I will ask my mother at once, and see what she thinks of it." Taking him by the hand, she went along with him until they were once more at the Empress's dressing-room. Leading him to her, she said coquettishly, "Mother, Your Majesty, Wolfgangerl has offered to marry me."

Father Mozart was so shocked at the boy's boldness that he felt like sinking through the floor. Maria Theresa looked at the audacious little fellow with evident pleasure. "Well, well," she said with a smile, "this is a great honor you have offered us, Wolfgangerl, but may I ask how you came to make such a flattering proposal to my daughter?"

"Certainly, Your Majesty," replied Wolfgang, modestly and affectionately. "I was grateful to her little Royal Highness for being so kind to me when I slipped and fell. The Archduchess Elizabeth laughed at me, but Marie Antoinette helped me up, and I could not help saying what was uppermost in my heart."

"Well, that is very nice of you, Wolfgangerl," said the Empress. "A thankful heart is worth more than gold, and we should always be thankful; but as to this marriage proposal, we must consider it for a while, you are both so young."

Father Mozart was happy that the event ended so well, and Wolfgang, perfectly contented, chatted again with the archduchesses until the family were kindly dismissed. They returned to their hotel, happy over the generosity of the good Empress, and loud in their praises of the powerful sovereign who had shown them such generosity and affection.