Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Mozart’s experiences as a child prodigy on his European tours played a large part in his later achievements as a world-famous composer.

Summary of Event

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, perhaps the greatest composer of the eighteenth century along with Johann Sebastian Bach, began to play the harpsichord when he was three years old and to compose music when he was four. When he was not quite six, his father, Leopold, took him from their home in Salzburg to Munich on his first concert tour. Leopold Mozart undoubtedly wanted to share his miraculous son with an enlightened world, newly interested in gifted children. He also, however, saw an opportunity to make a fortune. The concert tours, to Munich and Vienna in 1762 and throughout Europe from 1763 through 1766, in which Wolfgang’s talented elder sister Nannerl also participated, were, for the most part, enormously successful. [kw]Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy (Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766) [kw]Prodigy, Mozart Tours Europe as a Child (Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766) [kw]Child Prodigy, Mozart Tours Europe as a (Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766) [kw]Europe as a Child Prodigy, Mozart Tours (Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766) [kw]Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy, Mozart (Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766) Music;classical Classical music Music;performance [c]Music;Jan., 1762-Nov., 1766: Mozart Tours Europe as a Child Prodigy[1630] Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Leopold Grimm, Friedrich Melchior von Bach, Johann Christian

Not much is known about Mozart’s first trip to Munich in early January, 1762, but it must have gone very well, for Leopold lost little time planning a foray to the imperial court. On September 1, 1762, the family (mother, father, and the two children) left Salzburg for Vienna. The children enchanted Archduchess Maria Theresa, Maria Theresa her genial husband, and the musical court with their playing and their charm. By no means overawed by the archduchess, Wolgang leaped into her lap and kissed her soundly. The Mozart children left Vienna with jewels, golden baubles, more than one hundred ducats, and gala clothing—one of the little archduchesses’ court dresses for Nannerl and a court suit which had been made for the Archduke Maximilian for Wolfgang. They also received an invitation from the French ambassador to visit Versailles.

After having been at home in Salzburg for less than six months, the Mozart family left on a Grand Tour of Europe Grand Tours of Europe in early June, 1763. They did not return until November, 1766. In Munich, they gave well-received concerts before the Elector Maximilian Joseph and other members of the Bavarian nobility, but in the bourgeois cities of Augsburg and Ulm, they met with less success. They were also unlucky at Württemberg, because Duke Karl Eugen was preoccupied with leading his troops on maneuvers and paid no attention to them. In Mannheim, at the musical court of the elector of the Palatinate, Karl Theodore, however, the children enjoyed a triumph. There, too, they heard the orchestra directed by Karl Stamitz, famous for its use of woodwinds and its dramatic crescendos and diminuendos, as well as for other subtle tonal coloring. This orchestra would leave its mark on Mozart’s own music.

In Frankfurt, the Mozarts gave three well-attended concerts, where the seven-year-old Wolfgang played concertos and sonatas, improvised on the harpsichord and organ, identified single notes and chords played to him, and played on the clavier with its keyboard covered by a cloth. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, then fourteen years old, attended the first of these concerts and later remembered being impressed by the little man with his powdered wig and tiny sword. At Koblenz, the children played for the local archbishop, and at Aachen they played for the princess Amelia, sister of Frederick the Great of Prussia, who paid them with kisses instead of money. In Brussels, they fared better. Musicales in the houses of various aristocrats netted them gold snuffboxes and needle cases, as well as many coins of the realm (thalers and louis d’or).

In Paris, the children played first for Madame de Pompadour, Pompadour, Madame de who had Wolfgang placed on a table, the better to scrutinize him. A concert before Louis XV Louis XV and Queen Marie followed. At some time after this, the Mozarts were honored by being allowed to stand like lackeys behind the king and queen at the royal dining table, where Wolfgang was fed tidbits by the queen. The most valuable of their Parisian acquaintances, though, was the well-connected Bavarian diplomat and man of letters Friedrich Melchior von Grimm, who made the success of the Mozarts one of his chief occupations. In an article in the Correspondance Litteraire, Grimm introduced the phenomenally gifted Wolfgang to the enlightened intellectual public of Europe, paying tribute to him as a virtuoso performer of others’ works but stressing his own inspired improvisations.

The grandeur of the rich and powerful, as well as the squalor in which many less-fortunate Parisians lived, certainly made an impression on Mozart. He was busy absorbing musical matters, too. He attended both French and Italian operas, as well as performances of the famous Concert Spirituel, Concert Spirituel where he heard keyboard music by Johann Gottfried Eckhart, Eckhart, Johann Gottfried an exponent of the Sturm und Drang Sturm und Drang movement in music, and Johann Schobert, who had translated the dynamics and tonal colors of the Mannheim orchestra to keyboard compositions. Schobert especially, although Leopold Mozart did not like him or his music, exerted substantial influence on Wolfgang’s early concertos and sonatas.

In early April, 1763, the Mozarts moved on to England. Four days after their arrival in London, the children appeared at Buckingham Palace to play for King George III and Queen Charlotte. There they met and became good friends with Johann Christian Bach, music master to the royal couple. A composer in the so-called galant style, he was an important model for young Mozart, who also learned much from the music of Karl Friedrich Abel and George Frideric Handel. Mozart attended performances of the Italian opera and took singing lessons from the celebrated castrato Giovanni Manzuoli, Manzuoli, Giovanni which certainly helped him to master the vocal style of Italian opera. Opera;Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart[Mozart] From this time, opera became a dominant interest for the child, and he talked about writing an opera with children in the principal roles upon his return to Salzburg.

The young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is introduced to Madame de Pompadour.

(Francis R. Niglutsch)

At first, the Mozart children’s public appearances in London were very well attended. Leopold contracted a serious illness in the summer of 1764, however, bringing these appearances to an abrupt end. Wolfgang, however, was not idle. Taking advantage of the enforced silence, he composed his first symphonies. By the time Leopold recovered and the concerts were resumed, they met with only occasional success, so Wolfgang was made available to callers at the Mozart lodgings. These callers paid five shillings each for the privilege of testing his ability to sight read, to identify notes or chords by ear, and to improvise. One of the callers was Daines Barrington, a scholar of wide interests. In a report to the Royal Society, he recorded his astonishment at the child’s ability to improvise impressive operatic scenes on a given emotion, such as love or rage. He related, too, that Wolfgang had slipped down from the keyboard to play with a cat and that his father had had some difficulty in getting him to return to the examination in progress at the clavier.

In the summer of 1765, the Mozarts left England for Holland. There a serious illness, possibly typhoid fever, brought Nannerl to death’s door. Just as she recovered, the same illness attacked Wolfgang and reduced him to skin and bones. Toward the end of January, 1766, the children were well enough to appear in public again. Concerts at the Hague before Princess Caroline and Prince William followed, at which Wolfgang performed keyboard variations on the Dutch national anthem, “Willem van Nassau.” Some of his new orchestral music was also played. It was clear that Wolfgang was becoming a composer.

After brief visits to the salons of Paris, to the estate of the prince de Condé in Dijon, and to Lyon, Leopold decided to head home via Switzerland. In Geneva, the Mozarts met the composer André-Étienne Grétry, who was not much impressed by Wolfgang’s talent, but in Lausanne, where the Mozarts traveled next, Duke Louis Eugene of Württemberg overwhelmed them with his enthusiasm for the prodigy. Together with Samuel Tissot, a physician much interested in the phenomenon of child geniuses, the duke wrote a panegyric—published in the October 11, 1766, issue of the Lausanne periodical, Aristide ou le Citoyen—which described Mozart as a heaven-sent immortal. In Zürich, the Mozarts were in the company of poets Solomon Gessner and Christian Fürchtegott Gellert. The family then made a detour to Donaueschingen to visit Prince Joseph Wenzel von Fürstenberg, who welcomed them warmly and rewarded them richly. Eventually, they reached Munich, where Wolfgang performed for the elector. Immediately, however, a serious illness, possibly rheumatic fever, attacked the boy and confined him to bed for a month.

Recovered and back in Salzburg in late autumn, 1766, Wolfgang must have missed the variety, stimulation, and excitement of travel. Leopold returned to his position as vice-chapel master, his wife returned to her domestic concerns, Nannerl returned to preparation for an acceptable station in life, and Wolfgang returned to work and study which, his father hoped, would make him a highly competent and well-rewarded composer.

Significance

Fame, elevated social status, and enough money to provide a comfortable bourgeois existence for his family were three of the consequences of Mozart’s early tours. The fame he garnered is significant historically, in that the international fame of a musician—or of any entertainer—was still a relatively new phenomenon. As his fame spread, people wished to see at first hand Mozart demonstrate gifts that they had already heard about, and this desire to experience the presence of a famous person built upon a growing population with disposable income, as well as the increased speed and distance of communication.

Other, negative, results of the tour included Mozart’s deprivation of a “normal” childhood and a strenuous schedule that caused his physical delicacy and frequent illness. The musical, social, intellectual, and spiritual benefits the child prodigy garnered from experiences on his travels were by far the most important outcomes, however: They helped to make him a composer preeminent in universality, sympathy, and the understanding of humankind.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gutman, Robert W. Mozart: A Cultural Biography. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1999. Balanced account. Views Mozart in the intellectual, political, and artistic world in which he lived. Includes bibliography, notes, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">King, A. Hyatt, and Monica Carolan, eds. The Letters of Mozart and His Family. 2d ed. 2 vols. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1966. New edition of Emily Anderson’s three-volume 1938 work. Chronologically arranged. Includes notes and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wignall, Harrison James. In Mozart’s Footsteps. New York: Paragon House, 1991. Popular account of Mozart’s travels. Has bibliographical references.

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