SUPPORT OUR JOURNALISM: Please considering donating to keep our website running and free for all - thank you!


From Canterbury to The Hague: Mozart and Princess Carolina of Nassau

Having given several royal performances before George III and Queen Charlotte, the boy Mozart’s sonatas for keyboard and violin K10-15 were engraved before the end of 1764, dedicated to the musical Queen: ‘Six Sonates pour le clavecin que peuvent se jouer avec l’accompagnement de violin our flaute/traversiere/Tres humblement dediees/a sa Majeste Charlotte/Reine de la Grande Bretagne/composes par I.G.Wolfgang Mozart/Age de huit ans/Oeuvre III’. The Mozarts left the British capital, where they had stayed for some fifteen months. Soon they were bound for The Hague, despite Leopold Mozart’s previous plans to visit Milan and then retrace their route home via Venice.

The decision to travel to the Netherlands was due to another royal woman, this time the Princess Carolina of Nassau-Weilburg (1743-87), who in Leopold Mozart’s words, was ‘extraordinarily anxious to see this child, about whom she had heard and read so much’. As it happened, the Mozarts were ‘twice’ with Princess Carolina. Leopold was also anxious but this time to oblige, for as he said with mischievous chivalry in his letter home to his landlord in Salzburg: ‘one shouldn’t refuse a pregnant woman’. Princess Carolina would – much like the British Queen Charlotte – go on to have some fifteen pregnancies. Princess Carolina died in Kirchheimbolanden in 1787 – a Rhinish town that also claims an association with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Princess Carolina of Nassau-Weilburg, as painted by Pierre Frédéric de la Croix, ca 1754. (Pierre Frédéric de la Croix [Public domain/United States Public domain])

The result of all this was another royal dedication in The Hague, similar to the offering made to Queen Charlotte in London and once again, it was a series of sonatas for the keyboard: ‘Six sonates pour le clavecin avec l’accomagnement d’un violon. Dediees A.S.A.S. Madame la Princesse de Nassau Weilbourg, nee Princesse d’Orange &c.’ Predictably, they did not fail their proud boast: ‘Par J. G. Wolfgang Mozart age de neuf ans, Oeuvre IV’. [By J.G. Wolfgang Mozart, aged nine years old, Oeuvre IV’. These were printed: ‘A la Haye chez Hummel, marchand & imprimeur de Musique’. [The Hague, at the house of Hummel, master merchant and printer of music].

The visit to the Netherlands had been ‘repeatedly urged’ on Leopold Mozart by the Dutch envoy whilst the family were still in London, but Leopold decided against it. So keen in fact was the Dutch envoy that the Mozarts should indeed journey to The Hague, that he drove to where the Mozarts were last staying in London (presumably the Swan and Harp Tavern at Cornhill) (ed. Cliff Eisen, Mozart: A Life in Letters, 45) to persuade them, but found the family had already left for Dover that same day – 24 July 1765. Piecing together Leopold’s letters, we can see that the Dutch envoy followed the family south when he found them gone. A pretty observation from the point of view of posterity might be that the Netherlands wanted its own music from the young Mozart.

It is therefore thanks to the efforts of the Dutch envoy in London, that these six further sonatas (in E flat, G, C, D, F and B flat) were composed and dedicated (K26-31) and that Mozart made a visit to the Netherlands during the Mozarts’ monumental, three-and-a-half-year tour of musical Europe. Mozart also composed his K32, the quodlibet Galimathias musicum, which was performed during the ceremonies for Willem V’s installation on his coming of age. Similar to the London programme, the Mozart children continued their pattern of performances in the concert rooms of The Hague, Amsterdam and Utrecht (Ibid, 51). During this period, the young Mozart composed K24, his variations for the keyboard on the Dutch song, Laat ons juichen, and also his K25, modifications for the keyboard on the Dutch national song, Willem van Nassau. Leopold Mozart tells us that these pieces were ‘dashed off hurriedly‘, a variation on the popular song Willem van Nassau being the tune that ‘everybody in Holland is singing, playing and whistling’.

Willem V, ca 1768-69, in a painting by Johann Georg Ziesenis at the Mauritshuis, The Hague (Johann Georg Ziesenis Public domain/United States Public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

En route to Dover, the Mozarts made a little-known stop in Canterbury. According to Leopold Mozart’s letter home on 19 September 1765, written from The Hague, the family spent ‘a day’ in Canterbury. We can see from Leopold’s letter that the Dutch envoy followed the family, or as Leopold possibly embroidered the truth with a pinch of drama to his landlord, ‘he was with us in a trice’. All in all, the offer to go to The Hague was ‘so attractive’ that Leopold considered he could hardly refuse.

Much has been written on Mozart’s sole visit to the sparkling musical capital of mid-eighteenth-century London, but the visit to Canterbury is shrouded in mystery. Leopold Mozart simply tells us that they went to Canterbury ‘for the races’ (Ibid, 46).

It seems highly probable that the boy Mozart gave a concert in Canterbury. Considering the gruelling programme of public performances and daily concerts that the Mozart children had given in London, this would certainly have been consistent with Leopold’s exacting schedule of promotion.

Research enabled me to find record of what was listed as an advertisement in the Kentish Post for 25 July – a day after the departure from London: “On Thursday, July 25 at Eleven in the Forenoon will be A MUSICAL PERFORMANCE at the TOWN HALL in Canterbury FOR the BENEFIT of Master MOZART, the celebrated German Boy aged eight years and his Sister who have exhibited with universal Applause to the Nobility and Gentry in London. The Compositions and extempore Performances of this little boy are the Astonishment of all Judges of Music. Admission 2s 6d” (Canterbury Historical and Archaeological Society, retrieved 20/07/2019).

If the performance took place at the Guildhall, this historic building can sadly no longer be studied. It was situated at the corner of High Street and Guildhall Street. According to the CHAS Society, Mozart ‘(almost certainly) played here in 1765’ (Ibid, retrieved 20/07/2019). The Guildhall was used as a contemporary venue for concerts but demolished in 1950. Today only a small plaque commemorates the site of the Canterbury Guildhall and a COSTA coffee shop occupies the spot where potentially, Mozart’s last ever performance on British soil took place, for ‘2s 6d’.

Bourne Park House, near Canterbury (Stephen Richards / Bourne Park, Bishopsbourne, Creative Commons, Stephen Richards / Bourne Park, Bishopsbourne / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Leopold Mozart’s letter goes on to tell us that whilst the Mozarts were en route to Dover, they did not leave after 25 July, if a concert did take place as advertised. Instead, they stayed until the end of July ‘on the estates of an English gentleman’ (cit., Ibid, 46). Moreover, they may have visited the races on more than one occasion, because Leopold’s letter mentions that the stay on the estates was ‘in order to see the horse racing’. 

This was Sir Horatio Mann, 2nd Baronet (1744-1814) who inherited the family estate at Bourne Park House, although he owned other properties such as Linton Park, near Maidstone. I assumed that it must have been at Bourne Park House that the Mozarts stayed out the remainder of July because Bourne Park House lies adjacent to the village of Bishopbourne, some four miles south-east of Canterbury. I subsequently found this suggestion supported in Hermann Abert’s painstakingly researched W. A. Mozart (1919-23); Abert stated this as fact (Hermann Abert, W. A. Mozart, 47). It is pleasant to note that Bourne Park still boasts the south-east end of its eighteenth-century lime avenue.

The Mozarts finally left for Calais on 1 August, sailing from Dover. Now accustomed to life on the road, the route stretched ahead of them to The Hague, with stops in Dunkirk, Lille, Ghent, Antwerp and Rotterdam (Ibid, 45).

Musically speaking, it was from one royal dedication to another.

©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2019

Royal Central’s Assistant Editor Moniek Bloks wrote a book about Carolina of Orange-Nassau. Read more about that here.

About author

Elizabeth Jane Timms is a royal historian, writer and researcher. An expert in royal studies as an academic subject, she specializes in Queen Victoria's family and Russian royalty and speaks as an independent scholar on matters royal historical for both TV and radio, including the BBC. She writes for journals and specialist magazines. She was elected a member of the Royal Historical Society in 2017.