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The Intimate Mozart

the award-winning novel by Juliet Waldron

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Mozart Family Sketches

Juliet Waldron discusses other Mozart Family members.
the Mozart Family

Leopold Mozart

Leopold Mozart

         There are those who ladle out blame to the father for what happened to Wolfgang, but I’m not among them. In the first place, I’m a parent, and now a grandparent, and find that time has caused me to change sides on this issue. If allowed an emoticon - I will insert a smile here.

         Leopold was both a hard working and an ambitious man. He was, in several ways, a part of the Enlightenment then sweeping through the educated middle classes, especially in tune with The Rights of Man.¹ He was also a man of tradition, too, and a pious one. He felt that if God had made Wolfgang and given genius into his care, that it was his a duty to display what God had so well made to the world.

         “ . . . to proclaim to the world a prodigy that God has vouchsafed to be born in Salzburg.”²  And so Leopold set out on his journeys with a purpose as pious as it was ambitious. This, of course, is a dangerous mixture, and led to some poor -- but reasonable enough by 18th Century standards -- choices in regard to Wolfgang’s health and upbringing.

The Mozart family playing music

         The children and their father set off on their first journey 12 January, 1762, about two weeks before Wolfgang’s sixth birthday. His sister was ten. They both played violin and klavier. Wolfgang could also play the organ and sing. The rigors and dangers of traveling with children in that time can hardly be overstated.

         The coaches were barely sprung, the roads were bad, the cold intense. There is discussion in the letters about fur boots and even stuffing the carriage with straw in order to hold the heat. A broken hoop on a front wheel might end them in some poor rustic inn where “the door was left open constantly, so that we frequently had the honor of a visit from the pigs, who grunted all around us.” ³

detail of Girl with Pigs by Thomas Gainsborough Girl 1782

         Leopold held that vaccination was interference with the Will of God. His decision not to allow the children this new treatment ⁴left Wolfgang and his sister Nannerel open to infection by smallpox. In fact, friends at the Paris Court pleaded with Leopold to allow the children to be vaccinated, and he refused, and later detailed his pious reasoning in a letter. Both children suffered through the awful disease in the house of a brave and generous stranger.⁵

         Nevertheless, Leopold did give his children the best education a man of his class could manage. They were instructed to keep diaries in the language of the countries they visited, and Nannerel’s travel diary still exists.

Chardin girl

She did the best she could in Dutch, French, and English. The constant bombardment of experience in foreign courts and along the road would have necessarily made sophisticates of them both children, but it is touching how often the love and trust between parents and children is remarked upon by strangers. As Wolfgang would often say “Next to God comes Papa.” And who are we, at this distance of 200+ years, to argue otherwise?


1. These new Rights of Man did not improve the lot of either slaves or women.

2. Mozart & His Times by Eric Schenk

3. Matter from smallpox pustules was often used in these early vaccinations, and so occasionally the method of “prevention” was as perilous as the cure.

4. Mozart Family Letters

5. Count Leopold Podstatsky, Dean of the Cathedral of Olmutz, who declared himself “not afraid of smallpox at all.”

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