The desire for safety stands against every great and noble enterprise. — Tacitus

Mozart's Youth - George Upton




The Cavalier of Music

After six months stay in Paris, the Mozart family left France, going first to England, and thence to Holland. Wolfgang was very ill at the Hague, but speedily recovered, thanks to the careful nursing of his parents, and resumed his studies with renewed zeal. Paris was also revisited, and about the close of 1766, crowned with the laurels of fame, he returned to Salzburg.

Wolfgang spent a few years there in quiet seclusion, interrupted only by a visit to Vienna, where he distinguished himself on several occasions, and won the esteem and approbation of the famous Chapel-master Hasse. ")?> He also received at home a distinguished honor for a boy of twelve, from the Archbishop of Salzburg, who appointed him concert master of his chapel after repeated tests of his ability.

Everything conspired to increase his fame. His artistic skill was admired and appreciated wherever he went. There was but one thing lacking in his effort to reach the summit of his art—the approbation of Italy.

Italy was at this time the home of art. The greatest musicians and composers lived there, and it was Wolfgang's highest ambition to secure their recognition and to win honors at their hands. "To Italy," was his watchword. Although his father fully appreciated the risk of the experiment, he at last yielded to his son's solicitations. The Italian journey took place in 1769. This time father and son went alone. Nannie remained at home with her mother.

There was at that time a Philharmonic Academy in Bologna, which was recognized throughout the world as the final authority in all musical matters. Musicians considered it the highest honor to be a member of this Academy, and with good reason, for those only were admitted who had passed the severest tests. Padre Martini, universally recognized as the most learned of musical scholars, and his faithful friend, the renowned singer, Farinelli, who had retired after receiving most extraordinary honors, and was living at a charming villa near Bologna, were at the head of this famous institution. They were acquainted with the reputation of Wolfgang Mozart, and they were not surprised, therefore, that when he reached Bologna he expressed the desire to become a member of the Academy.

Padre Martini, as well as Farinelli, welcomed Wolfgang with sincere cordiality, and his agreeable and unaffected demeanor soon commended him to the goodwill of these renowned men. His extraordinary endowments were quickly recognized and appreciated by them, and yet Padre Martini doubted whether the boy could pass the severe examination necessary for admission to the Academy. He did not conceal his doubts from his friend Farinelli.

One day, after Wolfgang had called upon them, Padre Martini said to Farinelli: "This boy certainly is a wonder child and a rare flower of our beautiful art, but it is my duty to assign him the severest of tests, and I fear he is not skilful enough to succeed. 'I fear,' I repeat, for the lad has won my heart, and I shall be deeply grieved if he fail."

"I do not share your apprehensions," replied Farinelli. "His career abroad, as well as the proofs of his ability at home, speaks for him. Paris, London, Holland, and Vienna have been captivated by this wonder child."

"Yes, ' by this child,'" answered Padre Martini; "but Wolfgang is now leaving childhood. Although a boy, he is no longer a child, and he must now establish his claim as an artist. Though all the world may recognize him as such, he must first of all demonstrate it here. If our decision should elevate him to the rank of Cavaliere Filarmonico, his fame will be established. His piano, violin, and organ record cannot help him here. He must prove that he is a scientifically educated musician, and thoroughly grounded in counterpoint. It is this that makes me doubt."

"Well, we shall see," replied Farinelli, who had greater confidence in the young man. "What test will you assign him?"

"The most difficult one I know," replied Padre Martini. "He must set an antiphon from the Antiphonarium, in four parts."

It was Farinelli's turn to be anxious, for the test was so hard that its accomplishment required an absolute and perfect knowledge of musical science.

"You ought not to require that of him," he said, with some emotion.

"I must do it. He must submit to the most difficult test. The boy is yet very young, and the honor of the Academy is at stake," replied Padre Martini, unmoved by his friend's protest. "If he do not succeed it will be no disgrace for one so young, and he will have the consolation of knowing that older musicians have failed in like manner; but should he succeed in this hard contest, then, Farinelli, his fame will be as lofty and enduring as the stars."

"Manage this matter according to your best judgment," replied Farinelli, for he realized that nothing could induce the resolute old master to change his purpose. "For my part I wish the boy success."

"Not more than I," said Padre Martini, with emotion. "I love this child with my whole heart, and for that very reason I would have him accomplish something great."

Wolfgang in the meantime awaited his hard task with a serenity which would have appeared fool-hardy had he not been sure of his ability to overcome the greatest difficulties without much exertion. The gifted boy had not passed his leisure days at Salzburg in idleness. He had resolutely and industriously devoted them to the study of his art, both practically and theoretically. He had thoroughly analyzed the compositions of such great masters as Stradella, Scarlatti, Durante, Hasse, Bach, Handel, and others, and counterpoint had no difficulties for him. Knowing that he was well equipped, he eagerly awaited his test, anticipating it with impatience rather than with anxiety. It was the height of his ambition to show the world that he was a recognized master of music, and thus secure the friendship and esteem of Padre Martini, whom the Italians almost worshipped, and whose judgment on all musical questions was all-important because it was absolutely decisive.

On the day fixed for the test the cultivated people of Bologna were all astir. A great crowd gathered in front of the large and elegant building where the Accademia Filarmonica held its sessions, and waited with intense eagerness for the result of the test. The public were not allowed to enter the building, but awaited the news of the victory or defeat of a candidate, which was announced from a balcony. This was the old-time custom. The people already knew and admired young Mozart, for he had roused their enthusiasm by his wonderful playing in his concerts, and when he made his appearance about one o'clock that afternoon at the hall, an enthusiastic "Evviva" welcomed him on all sides. His frank, handsome face showed no trace of anxiety or doubt; on the contrary, he mingled with the people as freely and with as much unconcern as if the coming hours did not affect his interests, his honor, his fame, and his future, all of which were at stake. Should he fail, his artistic career would be at an end, and the laurels he had won would be of no more value than heaps of dust and ashes. He might be assigned a fair place in the ranks of artists, but no one would concede him any higher position.

Knowing all this, Wolfgang was calm when he appeared with his father, whose face wore an anxious look, in the hall of the Academy. Padre Martini, Farinelli, and all the other members at that time in Bologna, most of them old and famous chapel-masters and composers, were already assembled there. They received the boy in a dignified manner. It was a solemn moment. Father Mozart's heart beat with secret fear and his limbs trembled, as he stood before the stern and stately judges of his son. Wolfgang, however, was undisturbed as he looked at their array, but he displayed no sign of overconfidence.

After the formal greeting Father Mozart was conducted outside into the library. Wolfgang was requested to approach. After a few instructions the judges arose and handed him the paper containing the test. It was, as Padre Martini had said, the arrangement for four voices of an antiphon from the "Antiphonarium Romanum," which Wolfgang must accomplish in a closed room, three hours being allowed for its completion.

Wolfgang took the paper, made a low bow of reverence, and with quick step and confident manner followed an official, who conducted him to an apartment and locked him in. Anxiously and with secret misgivings Padre Martini and Farinelli watched the exit of this boy so full of life, animation, and courage. They had ample reasons for their anxiety, for they knew of course the difficulty of the test. They also remembered that many clever musicians had been wrecked by it, and that others had labored the entire three hours, exerting their utmost ability to arrange an antiphon of even fewer parts. The members watched him go in silence. Here and there they whispered together. Padre Martini and his friend Farinelli walked quietly up and down the hall. All were deeply moved. The majority of the judges wished the young candidate good luck, but there were some who were envious of the young artist's ability and secretly cherished the hope that he would not accomplish his task. Eager expectation was visible on every face. Some were anxious and hopeful, others were jealous and envious.

Thus a half hour passed. No one dreamed that the painful waiting was so nearly over, when the door of the hall was suddenly thrown open, and the official who such a short time before had locked Wolfgang in his room, entered. He looked pale and uneasy, and was evidently overcome with astonishment. "What is it? What has happened?" asked Padre Martini, breathlessly.

"Signor, I am almost afraid to tell you," replied the official. "I can hardly trust my own ears. The young Mozart has given the signal that he has completed his task."

"Impossible! In so short a time? Impossible!" exclaimed Padre Martini, his face growing somewhat pale.

"Impossible!" repeated several other members, who were amazed at the official's announcement. "The young man is either foolhardy or out of his head."

"We shall soon see," said Padre Martini, calmly. "Nothing is impossible to a great genius, and Mozart's genius is far above the ordinary."

"But the Academy has flourished a hundred years, and such a thing as this has never occurred before," said one member.

"That has little significance. What has never yet happened may have happened now," replied Padre Martini, who tried to conceal his anxiety behind outward composure. "The signal has been given. Come, gentlemen censors, and receive the young man's work and test it here in pleno."

They arose and followed Padre Martini, who led them with quiet dignity, though at heart he was not so quiet as he appeared. He was really afraid Wolfgang had underestimated the difficulty of his task and made errors. His heart beat violently as the official unlocked the door, and his eager eyes rested upon young Mozart, who was standing in the middle of the room in his easy, careless manner, with uplifted head, smiling countenance, and eyes glowing with the certainty of success. He handed the paper to Padre Martini with a graceful bow. The latter took it and cast a hurried, anxious glance at it. Almost instantly his face lit up with satisfaction.

"He has succeeded," he said to himself with a sigh of relief. "It is greater, grander, more artistic than I had dared to think or hope." Then he turned in a dignified manner to the censors: "Let us return to the hall, gentlemen. The work of the young musician must be thoroughly analyzed and passed upon."

With a gracious inclination of his head and a smile of delight, Padre Martini took leave of Wolfgang, who was again locked in to await the final announcement. Nearly an hour had passed when the boy heard some one hurriedly approaching. The door was again opened, and Padre Martini with tears of joy entered and embraced him. "Come with me, my son," he said with choking voice, as he led Wolfgang back to the hall.

When the youth entered by the side of the grand old master all the members arose, greeted him with long-continued and enthusiastic hand-clapping, and shouted:

"Evviva il maestro! Evviva it Cavaliere Filarmonico!"

Wolfgang was pale with joyous excitement. He had achieved his most glorious victory. His work had been unanimously adjudged the highest honors. He was now a member of the Academy, a recognized master, a knight of the exalted art to which he had consecrated his whole life. Two arms enfolded him with affectionate tenderness—the arms of his happy father. Wolfgang shed tears of delight. There was a silence of sympathy in the hall, broken all at once by the jubilant shouts of thousands in the street, the acclamations of a vast multitude resounding like the surge of the sea, and repeating the same words which had just rung through the hall:

"Evviva il maestro! Evviva it Cavaliere Filarmonico!"

With this inspiring and exciting scene Mozart's boyhood closed. He was no longer a child. Though in years a boy, in deeds he was a man,—a man in the full sense of the term, a sovereign in the empire of music, the idol of the Italians, soon to be the favorite of the world. What the child had promised, the man had achieved. His works bear witness to the greatness of that achievement. They shine like brilliant stars in the musical firmament. They assure his universal and imperishable fame.