Idolatry is committed, not merely by setting up false gods, but also by setting up false devils; by making men afraid of war or alcohol, or economic law, when they should be afraid of spiritual corruption and cowardice. — G. K. Chesterton

Mozart's Youth - George Upton




In the Wide World

It was the height of summer. The Archbishop of Salzburg had ordered his chapel to the neighboring Chateau of Heilbronn to entertain a number of invited guests with table music, and had sent them on in advance without any instructions, in his usually provoking and imperious manner. Although the members of his chapel were distinguished artists, he had no more respect for them, and particularly for Vice Chapel-master Mozart, than for the dust under his feet, and treated them no better, sometimes,—indeed even worse,—than the lowest of his lackeys. Upon this occasion he several times displayed his contempt for them in a manner so utterly devoid of decency that Father Mozart resented it, and in depressed spirits returned to Salzburg on foot. Naturally his artistic pride rebelled against such treatment; but when tempted, as he often was, to break the galling litters of this servitude, consideration for his family forced him to be patient, and to endure it uncomplainingly. The trifling compensation which he annually received for his service as vice chapel-master was not sufficient to relieve himself and family from anxiety; but even these few hundred guldens he could not spare, except at the risk of impoverishment, and as the small sums received from private instruction were not large enough to support the family, he was forced to submit to this indignity, and conceal his resentment as best he could, by the exercise of the strongest self-control.

As he proceeded along the shaded avenue to Salzburg, absorbed in mournful contemplation, and vainly seeking to calm his disturbed spirit, a friend and patron unexpectedly met him. He had been attached to Mozart for a long time, because he knew his worth and thoroughly appreciated his faithfulness and industry.

"Good day, my dear Mozart," he cordially said. "Where are you going? And why are you so troubled? I did not suppose a good musician and a master of art like you could ever be out of humor."

"Oh, if you only knew, Count von Herbenstein," replied Mozart, pleasantly surprised by his patron's greeting. The shoe often pinches us poor musicians in more than one place, and sometimes so hard that the best disposition cannot stand it. You were there this very day, Herr Count, when the Archbishop treated us so shabbily. Did he not insult us before all the guests by calling us a 'dissolute rabble,' 'frivolous fellows,' and 'a good-for-nothing pack'? I could have sunk into the earth for shame. What must these distinguished strangers have thought of us when we were treated in such manner by our own master? Really, sometimes I would rather be a wood-chopper or a boot-black than the Archbishop's vice chapel-master."

"Restrain yourself, dear Mozart," said Count Herbenstein, gently placing his hand on the vice chapel-master's shoulder. "We all know the Archbishop, and what to expect from him. Believe me, you are not lowered in our estimation by his aspersions. Do not let them disturb you. Seek consolation in your beautiful art. I know that you are a great violin virtuoso, and that you have written a famous 'Violin School.' I have thought for some time of asking you to write me some nice chamber music, for which I will advance you twenty-five ducats."

"Oh, you are too generous, Herr Count," replied Mozart, delightedly. "It will be a welcome addition to my meagre income, and I will thankfully undertake your kind commission. It will help to pay the expenses of a journey to Vienna, which I am going to make as soon as possible with my Wolfgang."

"Ah! so you are going with your little son to Vienna, "said Count Herbenstein. The conversation now took a new turn. "Is it really true that your little Wolfgang is such an extraordinary genius as I hear on all sides?"

Whenever his son was mentioned, Father Mozart was aflame with enthusiasm. "Certainly it is, Herr Count," he replied, excitedly. "I cannot say too much for that child. It is perfectly astonishing the progress Wolfgang has made in such short time. It absolutely surprises me. Just think of it, notwithstanding his hands are so little, he already plays the piano finely; better, indeed, than his sister, who is older than he, and. who is not without talent herself. When he has been to a concert, he can play every piece by memory."

"This is really extraordinary," said the Count. "And does he actually play intelligently and correctly?"

"Correctly and sometimes brilliantly," answered Father Mozart. "He learns with incredible facility. It hardly takes him half an hour to learn a minuet or any other small concert piece, and play it clearly and neatly."

"Impossible! Impossible!" exclaimed the Count.

"Do you not believe me, Herr Count?" said Father Mozart. "If you will give me the honor of your company and go home with me, you shall have proof of my statements, and see for yourself that I have not exaggerated."

The Count consented to go, for he was really curious to see the little Wolfgang. "All right, dear friend, I will go with you," he said. "Your Wolfgang must be a marvellous little fellow if all they say of him is true."

They soon reached the house and entered. They came at an opportune time, for an interesting spectacle greeted them. Little Wolfgang was seated at his father's desk, writing upon a sheet of paper with such eagerness that he did not notice their entrance. The vice chapel-master beckoned to the Count to approach nearer, and both looked over the boy's shoulders. It was a singular looking paper. Half of it was covered with notes, and smudged over with blots, which in his haste he had wiped out with his hand, leaving dingy curves, resembling big and little comets, in the midst of which the notes looked like black stars. The little fellow kept on writing, not in the least minding when he jabbed his pen to the bottom of the inkstand and blotted his paper anew. He would coolly wipe it off with the palm of his hand as before, and go on writing until the paper was covered with notes and blots from top to bottom. All at once he jumped up and gleefully clapped his hands when he saw his father and the Count. His eyes shone with unusual lustre, his cheeks glowed, and he was evidently deeply excited.

"What are you doing there, Wolfgangerl?" asked his father. "Have you been spoiling more paper with your scribbling?"

"No, not spoiling it, dearest father," replied the boy, flourishing the paper exultantly in the air. "See, I am writing a concerto on it. The first part is all done. Look at it yourself."

"Yes, it must be fine stuff you have been scrawling, you silly little fellow," said his father, laughing. He took the paper and at first only hastily glanced at it, but suddenly his gaze was riveted upon it, and the utmost astonishment was manifest in his countenance. At last he looked up and addressed the Count. "Truly, this is a correct concerto, Herr Count," he said exultantly, while tears of delight and surprise stood in his eyes. "It is written in accordance with the rules of the art, only it is too difficult for any one to play."

"It is only a concerto," replied little Wolfgang. "It must be practised some time before one can play it; but after all, it is not so difficult as you think. I will show you how it goes on the piano, papa."

The little fellow, barely five years old, eagerly ran to the piano and began playing with enthusiasm. Of course he hesitated a little at first, and the more difficult passages did not go well at the first trial; but it was not long before he had it so completely in hand that the working up of the themes was clearly apparent. Father Mozart stood speechless with rapture. Count Herbenstein was overcome with astonishment, and both contemplated the boy with something like reverence.

"Herr Vice Chapel-master," at last said Count Herbenstein, "I congratulate you from the bottom of my heart. If God spare your child's life, he will one day be a great artist."

"Yes, he will be a great artist," repeated Father Mozart, in the exuberance of his joy, as he took little Wolfgang in his arms and kissed him. "If Heaven will keep him safe and well, I will never again complain of anything, or envy the power and greatness of the Archbishop."

"With such a treasure as this you will have no occasion to do so," said the Count, pointing to Wolfgang. "And now, God keep you. May we have a speedy and happy reunion." He shook hands heartily with Father Mozart, kissed little Wolfgang, and went away to tell his friends what wonderful things he had seen at the vice chapel-master's.

From this time on Father Mozart took unusual pains with the instruction of his children, particularly with Wolfgang. The result was so satisfactory that before his son had finished his sixth year he decided to make a concert tour with him and his sister, introduce the two little artists to the great world, and challenge its admiration. In reality, he ran no risk. Success was assured in advance, for Wolfgang's ability increased with such wonderful rapidity as to astonish even his father, who was by no means easily satisfied, but on the contrary very exacting. The little man not only displayed extraordinary facility and dexterity in piano playing, but he also composed a large number of pretty pieces, which he played over to his father, who wrote them out.' He no longer cared for anything but his loved music. He took no part in the sports of children of his age after his father began his instruction. He also displayed unusual interest in the study of mathematics, and was completely absorbed in melody and harmony.

Preparations for the journey were soon made, and little Mozart was delighted with the prospect. He had not the slightest fear of appearing before strangers in public. On the contrary, he was eager to

The first of Mozart's compositions catalogued by Kochel is a minuet and trio for piano. Upon the manuscript, which is still preserved, his sister has written: "The undersigned witnesses that this piece was composed by her brother in his fifth year." The original is without title, and bears the date 1761, surprise them with his rare talent. Their first visit was to Vienna, where Father Mozart hoped to find patrons and friends who could secure their presentation at the royal court. They made the journey by way of Linz, and thence by the regular passenger boat down the Danube. He took the whole family with him, and as all were buoyant with hope, the journey was a pleasant one. Wolfgang particularly enjoyed himself because of his open and trusting disposition. He mingled freely in his lively way with the passengers, chatted with each and every one, was fondled and caressed by all, and even made friends with the rough crew by his merry antics.

On the way they reached the little village of Ipo, on the Danube, where the vessel remained a short time, as some of the passengers wished to visit a monastery in the vicinity. Father Mozart and his family also went there. It was solitary, silent, and solemn in the great auditorium of the church, for the monks were at dinner. Thoughtful and awe-struck, Wolfgang looked at the lofty building, its tall, slender columns and brilliantly stained windows, until at last his gaze rested upon a magnificent organ. His eyes flashed.

"Explain the pedals to me, papa," said he. "I should like to see if I can play the organ."

His father complied, and Wolfgang listened attentively until he understood the mechanism of the instrument, then he requested a servitor of the church to blow for him, pushed the organ bench to one side, and, standing by the pedals, trod them and struck the keys as correctly as if he had practised for months. The music, continually growing more powerful and majestic, rolled in grand and solemn volume through the great hall of the church, and melody followed melody in the consecrated solitude. The monks in the refectory near by laid down knife and fork and, marvelling greatly, entered the church. The brother organist was among them, and gazed at his organ as if terror-stricken. It had never been played like this before. Who could it be letting loose such a flood of music from those rigid pipes? The monks looked at each other with blanched faces.

The organ seemed to be playing itself; for the little performer could not be seen from below. Some of the brothers crossed themselves in fear. Some whispered, "Satan himself is playing," while others said, "This is a miracle. It has never happened before." At last some of them mustered up courage, and with the prior at their head, went up into the organ-loft, where they stood transfixed with astonishment at sight of the child, who was still playing as if inspired, and did not observe them until his father aroused him from his spell. Then all gathered about him, praising and admiring him. The brother organist, pale with excitement, laid his trembling hand upon the boy's head and blessed him, saying, "Thou wilt yet accomplish great things for the honor of God, and may God be with thee in all thy ways as thy strong protector."

Little Wolfgang looked about him in surprise, and pleasantly smiled as if he had done nothing to occasion such a demonstration. His power was indeed great, but he was not in the least aware that he possessed it.

The influence of this power was again manifested before the family reached Vienna,—this time in an accidental and somewhat amusing manner. Before the passengers were allowed to go into the city their baggage was searched by a custom-house official for articles liable to duty. This occasioned considerable delay as well as vexation. Little Wolfgang was impatient over it, and in his saucy, impetuous manner accosted one of the higher officials, and boldly addressed him. "Dear Sir," said he, "why do you open the trunks and bags of these people and search them? Don't you know you are hindering them from going on their way?"

"Why, youngster, that is our duty," replied the official, laughing. "But what are you in search of in our beautiful Kaiser city?"

"I? I have come here to play the piano," said Wolfgang, with an air of importance.

"You! You little snip! You play the piano!" said the official. "Much you can do with those little claws! Go ahead, but look out that they don't laugh at you."

"We will see whether any one dares to laugh at me," said Wolfgang, angrily. "See, there is our piano which we brought with us from Salzburg, packed in that big box. If it were only open I would soon show you whether I can play the piano or not."

The official was curious to hear him, for the little fellow spoke so confidently that he could hardly doubt him.

"Well, we will let you try," said he, as he ordered a workman to unpack the box. Wolfgang opened the piano, seated himself at it, and played some lively dances with his usual skill. The official opened his eyes in astonishment, and vigorously applauded him. All those in the custom house—officials, passengers, and servants—crowded around Wolfgang, and listened with delight to the melodies which he elicited from the keys with his "little claws." Then with a smile he stopped and turned to the official. "Now do I know anything about piano playing?" said he, roguishly. "You can laugh at me, sir, if you like."

"No, youngster," replied the delighted official, as he stroked the boy's red cheeks; "you are truly a little master musician. Those who hear you will not laugh at you. With thanks to you and your father for your beautiful playing, we will soon discharge you, so that you may go to your hotel and rest."

It was done at once. The official performed his duty in the most courteous and agreeable manner, and Father Mozart and his family were soon comfortably ensconced in their hotel, while the other passengers had to wait in the custom house for their permits.

Such was the influence of his great skill. As Amphion, according to the legend, set the rocks to dancing, so little Wolfgang moved the usually flinty heart of the customs official until it became his willing servant.