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Mozart’s first royal performance

Mozart’s musical debut, anticipating his journey to the imperial court at Vienna by seven months, took place, somewhat predictably, before royalty. This was – had he but known it – the beginning of what would prove to be many performance-based trips throughout Europe, spectacular in their struggle for due reward and recognition.

The first of these was a ‘Grand Tour’ of the German states, which took in some of the major European cities en route, including Frankfurt, Brussels, Paris, London and The Hague – but subsequently, they became an exhaustive series of trips, in the frustrated hope of eventual court patronage. But the Europe that had been so entranced by the child prodigy was less welcoming when it came to the prospects of a lasting post, resulting in Mozart’s precarious choice of settling in Vienna as a freelance composer. Whilst he did this with immense elan and was himself extremely successful in the commissions he fulfilled, Mozart did not achieve what he would have judged as a true acknowledgement of his abilities from his ‘own’ Austrian imperial family. The enlightened Joseph II certainly encouraged the young composer, but Vienna never did understand Mozart as did Prague in the 1780s. For all this though, Vienna was still his emotional capital, as he wrote: “Although Prague is indeed a very beautiful and pleasant place – I’m really longing to be back in Vienna again…” (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: A Life in Letters, Pg 521, 2006).

As it happened, Munich would be a city which would come to have many musical links with Mozart, not least because of his carnival trip (‘Fasching’: December 1774 – March 1775) but also importantly, because of the premiere of his opera, Idomeneo, re di Creta (29 January 1781). The first trip to Munich was made in January 1762, when Mozart was aged only six.

Mozart undertook the journey with his eleven-year-old elder sister, the remarkably gifted Maria Anna, better known as “Nannerl” and their father, Leopold Mozart. The first of these early Munich trips was a journey that lasted three weeks, as part of which the children performed for the musically-gifted Elector Maximilian III Joseph of Bavaria. Little about this first journey is known, but the second, made to the Elector in the summer of 1763, is better documented.

Mozart was by now aged seven and setting out on the ‘Grand Tour’ that would last until November 1766, when the whole family, including Mozart’s mother, Maria Anna, would return to Salzburg via Munich, in a full circle of a journey, that lasted over three years. Munich was the first stop on this mammoth musical tour of central Europe, and the Mozart family arrived there on 12 June 1763. The family stayed at the ‘Golden Deer Inn’ in Munich. Leopold Mozart drove with the children to Schloss Nymphenburg, the magnificent baroque summer palace of the Bavarian electors to the west of Munich, where they walked in the park and saw the Badenburg, the exquisite bathing-palace built by Max Emmanuel, (the ‘Blue Elector’) to the designs of the renowned architect Joseph Effner. Being recognised – as Leopold Mozart was careful to report to his landlord and friend back in Salzburg, Lorenz Hagenauer – a footman was sent out and an impromptu concert arranged for the Elector at 8 o’clock that evening. The performance that resulted from this invitation lasted several hours, with Leopold not returning with the children until quarter-past eleven at night.

We know from Leopold’s letters that the majority of the performance was – unsurprisingly  – given by the boy Mozart, who “on his own took up most of the time improvising and then playing a concerto on the violin and at the keyboard; two ladies sang, and then it was over….” The Elector expressed the wish to hear Nannerl Mozart play too, so their stay in Munich was extended by several days. Afterwards, Leopold was able to report back to Salzburg: “Nannerl was most warmly applauded when she played for both the elector and the duke [Clemens Franz de Paula (1722-70), cousin of Maximilian III Joseph]…”

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart aged seven, in the lilac moire silk gala dress given to him by Empress Maria Theresia (By Anonymous, possibly by Pietro Antonio Lorenzoni (1721-1782) [United States Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Maximilian III Joseph was a respected patron of the arts and the large conversation piece by Peter Horemans (1761) which today hangs at Nymphenburg Palace and depicts the electoral families of Bavaria and Saxony, is a testament to this. In the left half of the picture are a group of musicians, all members of the Elector’s family, including Elector Clemens August of Cologne on the bass viol, his sister, Maria Josepha of Baden on the harpsichord, Princess Elisabeth of Saxony singing and Prince Karl of Saxony on the flute. The Elector Maximilian III Joseph features in a delightful portrait made of himself, his wife and one of his sisters by the artist Johann Nikolaus Grooth, all playing musical instruments.

Maria Anna Sophia, Maximilian III Joseph’s wife and his sister, Maria Antonia Walpurgis, together with the Elector, attended Mozart’s opera, commissioned for the Munich carnival of 1775, La finta giardiniera (K196): “Her Highness the Electress and the Dowager Electress – who were opposite me – also said bravo to me. Once the opera was over… there was nothing but clapping and shouts of bravo… afterwards, I went with Papa to a particular room through which the elector and electress and the whole court have to pass…” It was a pleasant sequel to those earlier performances which he had given as a child, over twelve years earlier, at Nymphenburg. However great its success, it again brought no court appointment.

It is likely that the performance before the Elector at Nymphenburg Palace took place in the Orangery; possibly in the Hubertussaal, which was built under Maximilian III Joseph and already in its own day providing the setting for theatrical performances and banquets, since the late 1750s. If true, it would give a pleasing parallel to the musical contest between Mozart and Salieri which later took place in the Orangery at Schönbrunn Palace, the imperial Habsburg summer residence outside Vienna, in 1786. Today, the Orangery at Nymphenburg provides the setting for corporate events and also cultural events such as concerts, including occasional performances of Mozart’s works. The magnificent Great Hall [“Steinerner Saal”] at Nymphenburg Palace, was rebuilt by the Elector Maximilian III Joseph from 1755-57 and contains its own musician’s balcony, along with a direct reference to Orpheus, to indicate the Elector’s love of music. Leopold, however, does not mention that the concert took place here, which otherwise one feels, would probably not have been lost in his descriptions.

Maximilian III Joseph, Elector of Bavaria, with his wife, Electress Maria Anna Sophia of Saxony and one of his sisters, 1758  (By Johann Nikolaus Grooth (German, 1723?–1797) ( [United States Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The splendid theatre of the Munich Residenz, designed by François Cuvilliés the Elder which saw the original premiere of Idomeneo as the Elector’s “new opera house” no longer exists. It was destroyed by bomb damage on 18 March 1944. The Cuvilliés Theatre – also now known as the Old Residence Theatre to distinguish it from the New Residence Theatre was, however, spectacularly reconstructed in its present position near the Apothecary Court of the Residenz, with the surviving carvings and fittings which had been removed for safety during the Second World War. When it eventually re-opened on 14 June 2008, it did so with a new performance of – Idomeneo.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018

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