Chips from the workshop
1. "If one has the talent it pushes for utterance and torments
one; it will out; and then one is out with it without
questioning. And, look you, there is nothing in this thing of
learning out of books. Here, here and here (pointing to his ear,
his head and his heart) is your school. If everything is right
there, then take your pen and down with it; afterward ask the
opinion of a man who knows his business."
(To a musically talented boy who asked Mozart how one might learn
2. "I can not write poetically; I am no poet. I can not divide
and subdivide my phrases so as to produce light and shade; I am
no painter. I can not even give expression to my sentiments and
thoughts by gestures and pantomime; I am no dancer. But I can do
it with tones; I am a musician....I wish you might live till
there is nothing more to be said in music."
(Mannheim, November 8, 1777, in a letter of congratulation to his
father who was born on November 14, 1719. Despite his assertion
Mozart was an admirable dancer and passionately devoted to the
sport. [So says Herr Kerst obviously misconceiving Mozart's
words. It is plain to me that the composer had the classic
definition of the dance in mind when he said that he was no
dancer. The dance of which he was thinking was that described by
Charles Kingsley. "A dance in which every motion was a word, and
rest as eloquent as motion; in which every attitude was a fresh
motive for a sculptor of the purest school, and the highest
physical activity was manifested, not as in coarse pantomime, in
fantastic bounds and unnatural distortions, but in perpetual
delicate modulations of a stately and self-sustained grace."
3. "The poets almost remind me of the trumpeters with their
tricks of handicraft. If we musicians were to stick as faithfully
to our rules (which were very good as long as we had no better)
we should make as worthless music as they make worthless books."
(Vienna, October 13, 1781, to his father. He is writing about the
libretto of "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail," by Stephanie. The
trumpeters at the time still made use of certain flourishes which
had been traditionally preserved in their guild.)
4. "I have spared neither care nor labor to produce something
excellent for Prague. Moreover it is a mistake to think that the
practice of my art has become easy to me. I assure you, dear
friend, no one has given so much care to the study of composition
as I. There is scarcely a famous master in music whose works I
have not frequently and diligently studied."
(A remark to Conductor Kucharz in Prague, who led the rehearsals
for "Don Giovanni" in 1787.)
5. "They are, indeed, the fruit of long and painstaking labor;
but the hope which some of my friends aroused in me, that my work
would be rewarded at least in part, has given me courage and the
flattering belief that these, my offspring, will some day bring
(From the dedication of the Six Quartets to Haydn in 1785. The
quartets were sent back to the publisher, Artaria, from Italy,
because "they contained so many misprints." The unfamiliar chords
and dissonances were looked upon as printers' errors.
Grassalkowitsch, a Hungarian prince, thought his musicians were
playing faultily in some of these passages, and when he learned
differently he tore the music in pieces.)
6. "I can not deny, but must confess that I shall be glad when I
receive my release from this place. Giving lessons here is no
fun; you must work yourself pretty tired, and if you don't give a
good many lessons you will make but little money. You must not
think that it is laziness;--no!--but it goes counter to my
genius, counter to my mode of life. You know that, so to speak, I
am wrapped up in music,--that I practice it all day long,--that I
like to speculate, study, consider. All this is prevented by my
mode of life here. I shall, of course, have some free hours, but
they will be so few that they will be necessary more for
recuperation than work."
(Paris, July 31, 1778, to his father.)
7. "M. Le Gros bought the 'Sinfonie concertante' of me. He thinks
that he is the only one who has it; but that isn't so. It is
still fresh in my head, and as soon as I get home I'll write it
(Paris, October 3, 1778, to his father. An evidence of the
retentiveness of Mozart's memory. In this instance, however, he
did not carry out his expressed intention. Le Gros was director
of the Concerts spirituels.)
8. "Melody is the essence of music. I compare a good melodist to
a fine racer, and counterpointists to hack post-horses; therefore
be advised, let well alone and remember the old Italian proverb:
Chi sa piu, meno sa--'Who knows most, knows least.'"
(To the English tenor Michael Kelly, about 1786, in answer to
Kelly's question whether or not he should take up the study of
9. "One of the priests gave me a theme. I took it on a promenade
and in the middle (the fugue was in G minor) I began in the
major, with something jocose but in the same tempo; finally the
theme again, but backwards. Finally I wondered if I might not use
the playful melody as a theme for a fugue. I did not question
long, but made it at once, and it went as accurately as if Daser
had measured it for the purpose. The dean was beside himself."
(Augsburg, October 23, 1777, to his father. Daser was a tailor in
10. "Above us is a violinist, below us another, next door a
singing teacher who gives lessons, and in the last room opposite
ours, a hautboyist. Merry conditions for composing! You get so
(Milan, August 23, 1771, to his "dearest sister.")
11. "If I but had the theme on paper,--worked out, of course. It
is too silly that we have got to hatch out our work in a room."
(A remark to his wife while driving through a beautiful bit of
nature and humming all manner of ideas that came into his head.)
12. "I'd be willing to work forever and forever if I were
permitted to write only such music as I want to write and can
write--which I myself think good. Three weeks ago I made a
symphony, and by tomorrow's post I shall write again to
Hofmeister and offer him three pianoforte quartets, if he has
(Written in 1789 to a baron who was his friend and who had
submitted a symphony for his judgment. F.A. Hofmeister was a
composer and publisher in Vienna.)
13. "You can do a thing like this for the pianoforte, but not for
the theatre. When I wrote this I was still too fond of hearing my
own music, and never could make an end."
(A remark to Rochlitz while revising and abbreviating the
principal air in "Die Entfuhrung.")
14. "You know that I had already finished the first Allegro on
the second day after my arrival here, and consequently had seen
Mademoiselle Cannabich only once. Then came young Danner and
asked me how I intended to write the Andante. 'I will make it fit
the character of Mademoiselle Rose.' When I played it, it pleased
immensely....I was right; she is just like the Andante."
(Mannheim, December 6, 1777, to his father. Rose Cannabich was a
pupil of Mozart's, aged thirteen and very talented. "She is very
sensible for her age, has a staid manner, is serious, speaks
little, but when she does speak it is with grace and amiability,"
writes Mozart in the same letter. It is also related of Beethoven
that he sometimes delineated persons musically. [Also Schumann.
15. "I have composed a Quintet for Oboe, Clarinet, Horn, Bassoon
and Pianoforte, which has been received with extraordinary favor.
(Kochel, No. 452.) I myself think it the best thing I ever wrote
in my life."
(Vienna, April 10, 1784, to his father.)
16. "As an exercise I have set the aria, 'Non so d'onde viene,'
which Bach composed so beautifully. I did it because I know Bach
so well, and the aria pleases me so much that I can't get it out
of my head. I wanted to see whether or not in spite of these
things I was able to make an aria that should not be a bit like
Bach's. It isn't a bit, not a bit like it."
(Mannheim, February 28, 1778, to his father. The lovely aria is
No. 294 in Kochel's catalogue. The Bach referred to was Johann
Christian, the "London" Bach.)
17. "I haven't a single quiet hour here. I can not write except
at night and consequently can not get up early. One is not always
in the mood for writing. Of course I could scribble all day long,
but these things go out into the world and I want not to be
ashamed of myself when I see my name on them. And then, as you
know, I become stupid as soon as I am obliged to write for an
instrument that I can not endure. Occasionally for the sake of a
change I have composed something else--pianoforte duets with the
violin, and a bit of the mass."
(Mannheim, February 14, 1778, to his father. Mozart was ill
disposed toward the pianoforte at the time. His love for Aloysia
Weber occupied the most of his attention and time.)
18. "Herewith I am sending you a Prelude and a three-voiced Fugue
(Kochel, No. 394)....It is awkwardly written; the prelude must
come first and the fugue follow. The reason for its appearance is
because I had made the fugue and wrote it out while I was
thinking out the prelude."
(Vienna, April 20, 1782, to his sister Marianne. Here Mozart
gives us evidence of his manner of composing; he worked out his
compositions completely in his mind and was then able, even after
considerable time had elapsed, to write them down, in which
proceeding nothing could disturb him. In the case before us while
engaged in the more or less mechanical labor of transcription he
thought out a new composition. Concerning the fugue and its
origin he continues to gossip in the same letter.)
19. "The cause of this fugue seeing the light of this world is my
dear Constanze. Baron von Swieten, to whom I go every Sunday, let
me carry home all the works of Handel and Sebastian Bach after I
had played them through for him. Constanze fell in love with the
fugues as soon as she had heard them; she doesn't want to hear
anything but fugues, especially those of Handel and Bach. Having
often heard me improvise fugues she asked me if I had never
written any down, and when I said no, she gave me a good
scolding, for not being willing to write the most beautiful
things in music, and did not cease her begging until I had
composed one for her, and so it came about. I purposely wrote the
indication 'Andante maestoso,' so that it should not be played
too rapidly;--for unless a fugue is played slowly the entrance of
the subject will not be distinctly and clearly heard and the
piece will be ineffective. As soon as I find time and opportunity
I shall write five more."
(Vienna, April 20, 1782, to his sister Marianne. Cf. No. 93.
[Mozart's remark that he carried home "all the works" of Handel
and Bach, must, of course, be read as meaning all that were in
print at the time. H.E.K.])
20. "I have no small amount of work ahead of me. By Sunday week I
must have my opera arranged for military band or somebody will be
ahead of me and carry away the profits; and I must also write a
new symphony. How will that be possible? You have no idea how
difficult it is to make such an arrangement so that it shall be
adapted to wind instruments and yet lose nothing of its effect.
Well, well;--I shall have to do the work at night."
(Vienna, July 20, 1782, to his father who had asked for a
symphony for the Hafner family in Salzburg. The opera referred
to is "Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail.")
21. "I was firmly resolved to write the Adagio for the clock-maker
at once so that I might drop a few ducats into the hands of my
dear little wife; and I began it, but was unlucky enough--because
I hate such work--not to be able to finish it. I write at it every
day, but have to drop it because it bores me. If the reason for its
existence were not such a momentous one, rest assured I should let
the thing drop. I hope, however, to force it through in time. Ah,
yes! if it were a large clock-work with a sound like an organ I'd
be glad to do it; but as it is the thing is made up of tiny pipes
only, which sound too shrill and childish for me."
(Frankfort-on-the-Main, October 3, 1790, to his wife. "A Piece
for an Organ in a Clock." [Kochel's catalogue, No. 594.] It was
probably ordered by Count Deym for his Wax-works Museum on the
occasion of the death of the famous Field Marshal Laudon. The
dominant mood of sorrow prevails in the first movement; the
Allegro is in Handel's style.)