17 Bizarre, Mind-Blowing Facts and Stories About Mozart
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.
Possessed with Superhuman Musical Gifts, He Began Composing at Age 5Photo: Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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.
Goethe Saw Mozart Perform At Age 7, And Compared His Genius To Shakespeare'sPhoto: Georg Oswald May / Public Domain
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.
His Father Was Also an Eccentric, and Their Relationship Was Bizarre and ExtremePhoto: Artist Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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."
He Proposed to a Woman, Then Told Her to Lick His Butt and Married Her SisterPhoto: Artist Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
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.
He Loved Vulgarity and Wrote His Cousin a Letter That Reads Like Juvenille Marquis de SadePhoto: Maria Anna Thekla Mozart / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Mozart's love of vulgarity appears frequently in writing. Take, for example, a letter sent to his 19-year-old cousin, Maria Anna, who he purportedly had a crush on. The first sentence contains four child-like rhyming pairs: "writing biting," "aunt slant," uncle garfuncle," and "well mell." He repeats this pattern throughout the letter, sometimes to make a point ("God fraud"), sometimes nonsensically ("stroke choke").
Halfway through his missive, Mozart includes the phrase "Oh, my ass burns like fire!" He wonders whether he has to take a dump (which he can apparently taste in the air), then reports on "a long and melancholic sound" trumpeted by his ass. Two paragraphs later, he returns to this subject, writing:
I hear a noise in the street. I stop writing—get up, go to the window—and—the noise is gone—I sit down again, start writing once more—I have barely written ten words when I hear the noise again—I rise—but as I rise, I can still hear something but very faint—it smells like something burning—wherever I go it stinks, when I look out the window, the smell goes away, when I turn my head back to the room, the smell comes back—finally My Mama says to me: I bet you let one go?
But that's not all. While he signs off with a poem and offers his cousin 10,000 kisses, he also writes: "Oui, by the love of my skin, I shit on your nose, so it runs down your chin. apropós. do you also have the spuni cuni fait?—what?—whether you still love me?"
He Was Literally Kicked Out Of A Palace for Refusing to Act Like a ServantPhoto: Johann M. Greiter / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
Most musicians of Mozart's time were employed by royalty or nobles, and Mozart was no exception. He was the court organist for Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg Hieronymus von Colloredo when his opera Idomeneo premiered to great acclaim. However, musicians and artists of the era were typically treated like servants - they were trotted out to perform, then took their dinner in the kitchen with the rest of the serving class.
Mozart's refusal to behave like a servant was progressive for the era, but also indicative of the composer's ego and bizarre, almost overwhelmingly stubborn state of mind. He unilaterally decided some of the concerts Von Colloredo had him perform were not included in the terms of their arangement, and therefore demanded separate payment for them (which he didn't get). At one high society function, Mozart, who, like all servants, was not meant to mingle with noble guests, caused a scandal by brazenly striking up a conversation with a Russian ambassador he knew.
Mozart's refusal to apologize for his transgressions, even after his father went to great lengths to smooth everything over with the Prince-Archbishop, resulted in him literally being kicked out of Von Colloredo's house, along with all his possessions.