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The Intimate Mozart

the award-winning novel by Juliet Waldron

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The Intimate Mozart book cover
originally published as Mozart’s Wife

The Baroness Waldstaten
The Vogelstarl
Mozartís oldest boy, Karl
Click on a selection to read the excerpt.

The Baroness Waldstaten

Painting by Trinquesse

        The impulsive nature of the Baronesses’ social behavior was contagious, attracting a whole coterie of young people, mainly officers and their female companions. Most of the women were “ruined,” pretty young ballerinas, actresses, and a few singers. Mama wouldn’t have approved of any of them, but they were lively and fun.
        When such a crowd gathered, we would play and sing and dance. Besides music, there were games of cards, forfeits, and naughty pastimes like Blind Man’s Bluff where you were liable to be touched all over by a stranger. The Baroness knew how to tell fortunes, too, and the young women were continually begging her to do it.
        The predictions my Mistress made were nothing like the polite games of parlor tarot or palmistry that I’d played with my sisters. The Baroness foretold frightening things, life as it really was; full of deaths, disappointments, and partings. It was all much too real for me. I always avoided being pushed to the front of the crowd whenever she laid out her cards.

        It was during one of these almost improper evenings when I first met Christoph von Hagen. Waving aside the Major Domo’s introduction, he lurched in, evidently very drunk, wearing a blue and buff Major’s uniform. Von Hagen was tall, dark, and breathtakingly handsome. That night he was in some disorder, his thick dark curls falling out of his queue and over massive shoulders.
        After he’d greeted the Baroness, he held his arms up like a tragedian and announced to the room that his mistress had left him. I was shocked; doubly so when everyone greeted the announcement with laughter.
        He next asked if any lady present would care to solace him. As soon as that was out of his mouth, all the men made a great show of holding onto their girls.
        Appearing deeply despondent, this very drunken gentleman sank to his knees and covered his eyes. The men crowded around, delivered brotherly cuffs, and said that they were glad to see that even the great Christoph von Hagen could suffer defeat on the “battlefield of Amour.”
        The ladies were more sympathetic. Several of them pranced up to give him kisses.
        Madame Podleska, with whom I’d been sitting, slipped an arm around me and whispered, “Major von Hagen is the oldest son of a wealthy Passau family. Beautiful, isn’t he?”
        When I nodded, she added crisply, “He’s also an accomplished and heartless rake, so don’t you get too close, little Fraulein Weber.”
        Egged on by the others, von Hagen suggested that the Baroness should be the one “to heal my wounds. First, she is beautiful. Second, she has experience. Third, and best of all, she can pay my gambling debts.”
        When the Baroness responded to this unpleasant flippancy with a resounding slap, the room fell silent. The ladies hid behind their fans. The men cleared their throats and made conciliatory noises. Everyone was offended by von Hagen’s unprovoked rudeness to their generous hostess, but it was also clear that every man present was terrified of issuing a challenge.
        The silence was broken when von Hagen, now as abashed and red-faced as a boy, stumbled through an apology.
        “Christoph, my dear,” the Baroness interrupted in a voice of supreme calm, “why don’t you walk around the conservatory until you’ve settled down a little? Anton will bring you some coffee.”
        She was like a woman quieting an unruly child, nothing at all like a great lady who has been grossly insulted by a guest.
        Making a deep, contrite bow, Major von Hagen withdrew. As if nothing unusual had happened, the Baroness turned and asked Madame Podleska to summon her musicians.

Etching of dancers

        Everyone looked relieved. Quietly, with a minimum of chatter, they began to form sets for dancing.
        I remained where I was, sitting by myself and devoutly wishing that Wolfgang was there. It was hard to watch while the others danced, but I never did without him.
        After perhaps a half an hour of music, watching the manly young officers peacocking around their graceful girls, I became aware that Major von Hagen had reappeared. He was just beyond the ring of candlelight that framed the dancers.
        As soon as I turned and met his gaze, he sauntered up. Steadier after the elasped hour and much coffee, he bowed and formally asked to sit beside me. I was lonely enough to be pleased and foolish enough to be flattered, even though a strong smell of brandy still clung to him.

Portrait of Commodore the Honourable Augustus Keppel

        “So, Fraulein,” he said. “Are you my Lady cousin’s new companion? The fiance of that little keyboard man from Salzburg?”
        A rather abrupt opening, but I nodded demurely.
        “Whew! You should congratulate me,” he said with a white grin. “I’m terrible with gossip, but I guess I got it right. I’m more used to being the subject than the retailer, if you take my meaning.”
        He paused and his dark eyes fastened on my bosom in a way I didn’t much care for.
        “I remember your Beau because he played some rousing marches and because he was such an outspoken fella. Nothing like the slinking ass-kissers my Mama always employs. Preposterous lavender jacket aside, I think I rather liked him.”
        I turned scarlet. That jacket was Wolfgang’s favorite.
        Major von Hagen didn’t appear to notice. “I hate music, you know,” he continued, “so don’t talk music. The Emperor is demented on the subject, so all the baaing sheep have to pretend they’re every one Kapellmeisters.”
        He engulfed my hand in his, as familiarly as if I had invited him to. “It’s silly, actually, all the fuss,” he went on. “Marches and dances. That’s all the music anyone needs.”

        After delivering this remarkably brainless opinion, he waved at the Baronesses’ most imposing footman.
        “Hey, Anton! Get me some brandy, will you?”
        “I’m sorry, Major.” Anton had the build of a blacksmith, but I could tell he wasn’t happy to deny von Hagen. “My mistress says you are to have anything you wish, but not a drop more drink.”
        “And just why is that, you jackass?” the dark haired giant at my side said.
        The servant, face impassive, straightened. “Forgive me, sir, but the Baroness is of the opinion that your new horse is too spirited for a man as drunk as you…seem to be. She says she would never forgive herself if you broke your neck on the way back to town.”
        For a moment I thought von Hagen would strike the servant, but again he surprised me.
        “By God!” He burst out with a riotous baritone laugh, “She’s right and so are you, damn you! Bring me chocolate, then. Enough for this lady, too.”
        If I’d imagined that this apparent reasonableness was a forecast of better behavior, I was quickly disappointed. No sooner had Anton left, then von Hagen turned to me and said, “A beauty like you shouldn’t rush to get married, you know, especially to a musiker. They never have any money.”
        “Herr Mozart is a Kapellmeister, not a mere musiker,” I said with as much dignity as I could muster. Into his widening grin I added, “Kapellmeister Gluck hasn’t done badly for himself. And neither has Signor Salieri.”
        Von Hagen chuckled. “Ah, but you’re overlooking something, Fraulein. Those two are ass-kissers. Both of ‘em. And your man, little Fraulein, is not. Don’t you know that you’ve got to be an extraordinary ass-kisser to get an appointment in Vienna?”
        He leaned closer. Had I a candle in hand, I could have set fire to his breath.
        “Has it ever occurred to you,” he said, the lashes of one eye coming together in a lazy wink, “that there are roles other than Hausfrau that a pretty girl like yourself could play?”
        “Sir! How dare you?” I tried to get up, but somehow he’d got hold of my hands.

dance by Hogarth
        A lively contradanse was in progress, the wide wooden floor resounding with the uniform strike of feet. Even that tuneful noise did not drown out his next remark.
        “God’s Blood! You’re a beauty! Angry women always are. The only time they’re prettier is when they’re on their backs.”
        Outrage extricated one of my hands. I delivered the hardest slap of which I was capable to the handsome face.
        “Temper! Temper!” he cried, laughing and shaking his head. He caught my hand on the rebound.
        Glowing as if I’d kissed him, he mused, “I really must be in bad shape. First the old tigress lands one on me and now her newest little kitten.”
            The wicked smile grew; the dark eyes postively glowed. “Oh, but you must forgive me, pretty little Fraulein. Forgive me! I really was terribly rude, most terribly, terribly rude. But it’s your own fault, you know, for being such an adorable little angel.”
        Unbelievable! Now he leaned forward in an attempt to kiss me.
        “Let go,” I hissed, frantically struggling with him.
        “Let go? Oh, no. Absolutely not! Not until we’ve danced. That’s your penalty for hitting. I’m a very good dancer and I’m really very sorry, very, very sorry that I was so terribly, terribly rude.”
        If one thing was clear, it was that he wasn’t the least bit sorry. He was laughing, already on his feet, dragging me after him.
        “Come on, sweetheart, let’s dance. I’m sure Madame Baroness has forgiven me by now.”
        He wouldn’t let me go, and just as he said, he really was a very good dancer. After we joined the others, charm fairly oozed from him. We danced our way through several progressions, this Wilde Bube now emanating nothing but gallantry and grace. I’m ashamed to admit that the envious looks of the other girls was a heady experience, too.
        Suddenly, I heard the Baroness call.
        Christoph winked, then let me go after pressing a lingering kiss upon my hand.
        As I trotted to her, she patted the divan, indicating that I was to sit as close as her full skirts would allow. Something in her expression told me that it might be prudent to begin a defense at once.
        “Major von Hagen…um…insisted that I dance with him, your Ladyship. I didn’t know what else to do.”
        “Of course, my darling.” The Baroness rolled her eyes at Madame Podleska. “That is why I called you here,” she said in her most motherly tone. She seized my hands that still tingled with the rogue’s kisses.
        “Now listen to your Mistress, Fraulein Weber,” she said severely. “Major von Hagen can be terribly charming…when the mood strikes him. Since he was a darling little boy I’ve indulged him and now, no matter what he does, I can’t seem to stop. Sadly, he’s become a gambler and the most heartless rake. He’s far too dangerous for you, little one.”
        Long fingers lifted my chin, and her  strange, pale eyes gazed deep into mine. “So, a dance or two, my angel, but promise me that you’ll be very, very careful. He’s made a fool of far more worldly women than you.”

~ ~ ~

detail of child and bird by Van Dyck

The Vogelstarl

            If memory serves, it was later the same week when I heard him once again pounding breathlessly up those three flights of stairs. This time he was carrying a large, wicker bird cage.
            “Look, Stanzi! Look.”
            The poor tenant of the cage, a starling, was in a state, beating its wings and shrieking.
            Mozart set the cage down. As soon as all movement stopped, the bird hopped onto its perch and gaped, displaying a mouth with a garish yellow lining.
            Wolfgang leaned on the edge of the klavier, rubbing his side. He was panting, too.
             “Isn’t it terrific? I just bought it.”
            “Why?” I was absolutely sure I would soon be the one taking care of the wretched thing. “It’s…it’s…just a starling.”
            “Well yes but Stanzi. You’ll never believe! This bird is one of a kind, a miracle of nature.”
            Really? I peered into the cage again, in case I’d missed something.
            “It can sing the first bars of my new Concerto in G, the allegretto theme,” he explained. “It’s quite astounding. I was passing a shop down on the Michaelerplatz when I heard it. The shopkeeper said a bird catcher brought it in yesterday.”
            I had to admit that was queer. Even if someone had memorized the new piece, how could they have so quickly taught the bird?
            The starling showed me another side of my husband. He not only talked, sang, and whistled to it, but he faithfully fed it, brought it water, and, thank heaven, cleaned its cage.
            Soon, the bird became very tame. If Mozart was writing nearby, it chirped and pecked at the bars until he let it out for awhile.
            Sometimes, I’d come into the parlor and he’d be scribbling away like a madman while his bird walked back and forth on his shoulder. Funnier still, the whole time the starling softly vocalized, exactly as if it were offering advice on composition.

~ ~ ~

Mozart's sons

Mozart’s oldest boy, Karl

            There was one bright spot in the midst of this chaos, however. Now that he wasn’t working so much, Wolfi spent hours with Karl, teaching him his letters and numbers. I thought it was rather early for such serious stuff, but my husband’s patience was admirable.
             It was a chore simply to keep Karl sitting. In the middle of what were supposed to be studies, Elise and I would hear shrieks. Going to the music room, we’d discover father and son scrambling on the floor being bears or some other wild creatures, until Karl was able to sit still for A-B-C’s again. Mozart would have to have his hair completely redressed after these forays into pedagogy, but Karl learned letters and numbers.
            Quite often, I’d find the two of them leaning on the standing desk, Karl elevated on a chair. Along the top of a discarded piece of music paper, Mozart usually made an alphabet for Karl to copy. During his first attempt to hold the quill and dip the right amount of ink, Karl covered his cuffs and hands and even splotched his face. After that, we trimmed an old shirt of Wolfgang’s and covered the boy with it before lessons.
            Wolfi’s hand moved swiftly across each page, leaving behind a neat trail of notes. Karl strained, his concentrating tongue pressed tightly between his lips, and produced letters and blots, numbers and splotches.
            There were keyboard lessons from Papa, too. At first, Karlchen played the klavier rather tentatively. Papa had always been strict about when and how the boy was allowed to touch the klavier.
            No banging on the keys! No touching when you had a handful of bread and honey. No touching when you came in from playing in muddy puddles or building in grand piles of dirt.
At first, Karl kept looking back at Wolfgang expecting a rebuke, but none was forthcoming. Papa seemed content to hold him and let him play. Karl began to poke away happily, making quite a din. For some reason, he was being allowed to play with Papa’s favorite toy.
            Soon Karl learned to play some minuets. His mastery was not immediate, like all the stories recounted about Wolfgang, but it was cute to see the boy’s fat little fingers hopping determinedly over the keys. Mozart petted him lavishly for every new bit he learned.
             After a few months, Karl lost his initial interest in lessons. While he enjoyed music and was always ready to practice for his Papa, he didn’t experiment. He seemed to like music lessons mostly because he was getting attention from his beloved Papa. Karlchen was no prodigy. He clearly preferred dolls to music.
            Still, he was always attentive when performers like his Tante Aloysia or Tante Jo sang at our house. By the age of four he’d memorized great stretches of recitative. He was always trotting around sweetly piping some bit of Figaro or Idomeneo in his own funny, fractured Italian.
            On rainy days, Karl liked to play in the same room where his father worked. Under the klavier great battles took place, complete with explosions and barked orders. His regiments of soldiers and horsemen, a wonderful present from the von Trattner’s, went on complicated maneuvers around his Papa’s little carpet slippers.

~ ~ ~