Stories about Mozart that you probably don’t know


No matter what instrument you play, or even if you don’t play any musical instrument, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s compositions were probably the first pieces of music you came across.  Mozart was born in Salzburg, now the fourth-largest city in Austria, in the year of 1756.

He is widely regarded as one of the most influential and productive composers of the Classical period. Before he passed away at the age of 35, he had composed over 800 works of music. Mozart, however, was not the perfectly lovable artist in conventional reception. Here are some of his stories that are not widely known to many contemporary music fans. 

Was it nature or nurture that defined Mozart’s genius? Both!

Mozart’s success came about at a very early age. When he was six, he started composing and toured Europe with his father from 1762 to 1766. One highlight of his career is his first opera, Apollo et Hyacinthus, which he finished at the age of 11. Composed more than two centuries ago, the opera is still widely performed today.

His early achievement was partly attributable to his father Leopold. His father was himself a music teacher and started to provide his son with musical training when he turned 3 years old. Apart from early training in music, Mozart also showed remarkable talent.

It is believed that he had perfect pitch, meaning that he could correctly identify the pitch of a note when he heard it. He also had an eidetic memory, which enabled him to memorize a large quantity of sounds in great detail. It’s like a photographic memory for music. Rumor had it that he once wrote down the exact score of a full-length piece of classical music after only listening to it once. 

He was once laid off and kicked out

Just like many highly acclaimed artists and geniuses, Mozart was quite stubborn and quite a lot of people found him arrogant and offensive. During Mozart’s time, most musicians were employed by royalty or nobility and were oftentimes treated like servants, who would have meals in the kitchen. Mozart was no exception but he did not act like an underling.

While serving as court organist for the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, Hieronymus von Colloredo, he refused to swallow his pride. He once demanded separate payment for concerts he gave that were not stated in his contract.

At a high-society function, Mozart surprised the guests by openly having a conversation with a Russian ambassador, an act that servants were not allowed to do. When he was criticized for his insolence, he, of course, refused to apologize. As a result, he was dismissed from his position and evicted from the house, despite his father’s attempt to smooth things over with the Prince-Archbishop.

He had unexplainable fears

Apart from being criticized for his pride, Mozart was known for being an extreme fusspot, someone who worries about a lot of things that are trivial. According to hearsay, Mozart manifested obsessive-compulsive tendencies and would often become fixated on certain ideas, thoughts, and things. In his letters to his wife, he expressed an irrational fear of her leaving the house. His fear was so great that people wondered if he should have married someone who was agoraphobic, meaning someone who is scared of being in open or crowded spaces.

He frequently sent messages such as “It terrifies me when you go out walking alone” and “Please don’t go to the casino today.” There are also indications that Mozart was afraid that his wife might drown in the bathtub. In one note, he pleaded with her to only take baths every other day, for an hour only, or preferably not at all until he returned. 

Did he suffer from severe Tourette’s Syndrome?

It has been suggested that Mozart’s unusual behavior was a symptom of Tourette’s Syndrome. Tourette’s Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder that typically appears during childhood or adolescence. People with Tourette’s Syndrome often uncontrollably blink, cough, clear their throats, sniff, etc. In the past, Tourette’s was also frequently associated with coprolalia, the involuntary use of obscene or derogatory words.

The real Mozart was actually quite different from the eccentric but lovable composer portrayed in 21st century popular media. According to accounts from his brother-in-law, Joseph Lange, Mozart was fond of mixing vulgar language with his divine musical ideas.

Other family members also reported that Mozart showed signs of Tourette’s Syndrome. For instance, Mozart was known to repeatedly touch his lips with a napkin, make grimaces, and play with things near him. He also struggled with impulse control, often making inappropriate jokes without being aware of the consequences. Even if Mozart had not suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome, it’s likely that he had been dealing with some sort of neurological condition.

He had money problems

Despite being very successful early on, Mozart struggled with money problems. Mozart’s wealth, or the lack thereof, is often a subject of debate. Some historians suggest that he was mostly in comfortable circumstances, whereas others claimed that he led a life of poverty. But one thing is certain: he could not manage his finances very well.

Mozart made 10, 000 Florins a year, which would place him in the top five percent of wage earners of his time. However, his lavish lifestyle, including luxurious clothing, extensive travels, drinking habit and gambling, always put him in financial hardships. There were also reasons beyond his control that exacerbated his money problems. During Mozart’s time, there was a preference for Italian composers like Antonio Salieri, so his music wasn’t always in high demand.

Despite the instability of his income, Mozart did not cut his expenses. He continued to live extravagantly. For instance, he sent his children to boarding schools and kept servants. As a result, his debts continued to pile up. Even after his death in 1791, his wife, Constanze, took years to pay off his debts by selling his manuscripts and hosting memorial concerts.

What can we learn from Mozart?

Mozart was a complex and fascinating composer, whose musical legacy still influences music to this day. Although he was not without faults, his talents and contributions to the world of music cannot be denied. These lesser-known stories should serve as a reminder that even the most talented and successful artists are not perfect, and it’s crucial to recognize and learn from both their achievements and mistakes.

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