Genius and insanity often go hand-in-hand, so it should come as no surprise Mozart, the paramount musical genius of the western world, was kinda off his rocker. An eccentric man known in modern times for lunacy (thanks in part to the film Amadeus, in which he's portrayed as a complete nutcase bestowed with inimitable gifts by the god's of music), Mozart did his fare share of bizarre things.
Weird things Mozart did run the gamut from telling jokes befitting a 7-year-old while writing some of the most sophisticated symphonies of all time to asking his wife not to bathe because the dangers of it made him anxious. As told anecdotes or letters written by his own hand, evidence of Mozart eccentricities may have you wondering exactly what was going on his head as he guffawed over fart jokes while writing The Magic Flute.
Whether you've just come off three overwhelming hours of watching the director's cut of Amadeus on Netflix or are a classical music fan looking to get a kick out of some funny things Mozart did, you're in the right place. Read on for a list of weird Mozart stories, and to discover some of the most outlandish aspects of this world-renown composer's life.
Mozart's musical genius is so staggering it would be unbelievable were it not true. His ability to perform and compose complex pieces of music at an age at which most children struggle to read chapter books boggles the mind, and is frankly bizarre.
Mozart started learning music from his sister's lesson book when he was three years old, and could play minuets by the age of four. He composed his first music at age five and, encouraged by his father, Leopold, was performing internationally by the age of six. According to eyewitnesses, he could improvise astoundingly well at the same age, playing his own material for hours on end. As a teenager, Mozart could listen to a single performance of a piece and write down the music from memory. The kicker? Half of the symphonies he wrote were composed between the ages 8 and 19.
Phil Grabsky, director of the documentary In Search of Mozart, sees the composer's preternatural gifts in a different light. Of Mozart, Grabsky said:
What the characters we sometimes call geniuses have in common is drive and determination, often good parenting, and the fact that they are products of the social conditions of their time. All of this was true for Mozart. His talent wasn't simply a gift from God, it was the result of tremendously hard work.
In 1763, seminal German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (pictured above) saw Mozart in concert in Frankfurt. Mozart was 7, Goethe 14. Much later in life, Goethe addressed the subject of genius, defining it as the ability to consistently produce works that "have consequences and lasting life," adding "all the works of Mozart are of this sort." He compared Mozart's genius to that of William Shakespeare and Italian Renaissance artist Raphael, describing it as "unreal."
Goethe wasn't the only historical luminary taken with Mozart's gifts. Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, who was 24 years Mozart's senior and a tutor to both him and Beethoven, told Mozart's father, "before God and as an honest man," Wolfgang was the "greatest composer" he'd ever encountered, either in person or through published music.
Mozart's father, Leopold, was a monstrous man, though debate exists in scholarly circles whether he exploited and manipulated his son, or whether his overbearing drive and insistence upon success made Mozart who he was, for better or worse. Maybe the truth is a little bit of both.
Like trophy kids of today, Mozart lived with constant pressure to succeed placed upon by his father, himself a musician. Leopold quit his job so he and Mozart could embark on lengthy, grueling tours, the profits from which he pocketed. While these tours took their toll on Mozart, and contributed to his eccentricities, scholar Ruth Halliwell argues they also made him who he was, as did Leopold's recognition that his son's musical gifts far eclipsed his own and, therefore, that Mozart should receive the best musical education possible.
As Mozart gew up, Leopold vociferously opposed his marriage and routinely shamed him for his spendthrift ways. When Mozart finally broke away, his father wrote a manipulative letter: "Your whole intent is to ruin me so you can build your castles in the air." Leopold also tried to guilt his son into not severing ties with him by blaming him for the death of his mother, who passed away on a visit to Paris with her son. "I hope that, after your mother had to die in Paris already, you will not burden your conscience by expediting the death of your father."
At 21, Mozart met German opera singer Aloysia Weber and her three sisters on a trip to Mannheim. Weber was 16 and seductive, a stunning soprano. Shortly after meeting her, Mozart proposed, though could offer relatively little; he was unemployed, struggling to find a position in Mannheim. She told him she would consider the proposal. In the meantime, Mozart traveled to Paris, hoping to find a job.
He saw Aloysia again after leaving Paris, on a visit to Munich. She pretended not to know him (or maybe even actually forgot him), and was pregnant and married to a tall, handsome actor. Infuriated, Mozart sat down at a nearby piano and belted out a spiteful tune, allegedly containing the lyric "The one who doesn't want me can lick my butt."
Yet all's well that ends well. Mozart married Aloysia's younger sister, Constanze, who was 14 or 15 when he first met her (dirty dog, Wolfgang). He also wrote a number of pieces for Aloysia to perform.