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Mozart’s wife

If you have any interest at all in the history of classical music, then I warmly recommend this fascinating article by Jane Glover in last Friday’s Guardian (linked to yesterday by Arts & Letters Daily). I already know Jane Glover as an excellent conductor, and before writing this I played a CD of her conducting some of my very favourite Mozart symphonies. Wonderful. But, I had no idea until yesterday how much of a Mozart expert she is.

Her article, which doubles as a plug for her forthcoming book called Mozart’s Women, concentrates on Mozart’s wife Constanze.


Glover states the Constanze problem succinctly:

Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus brilliantly explores the confrontation between genius (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and mediocrity (Antonio Salieri). But there is one person to whom his take on Mozart’s life does no favours at all: his wife Constanze. Portrayed as a vulgar, bubble-headed sex kitten, lacking any appreciation of her husband’s phenomenal gifts, Constanze shares and encourages only the immature aspects of Mozart’s personality.

What is more, in portraying Constanze like this, Shaffer only echoed contemporary gossip about her, now believed to be utterly without foundation, to the effect that she had no idea to whom and to what she was married.

But it turns out that Constanze was a hugely more formidable figure than that. She thoroughly appreciated her husband’s genius, and it was during their very happy marriage that Mozart wrote the vast majority of his finest works. Coming herself from a famous musical family, the Webers, she was in fact the ideal composer’s wife, assisting and inspiring in equal measure.

Even more important from the point of view of posterity is that after Mozart’s tragically early death – which most scholars now agree to have been accidental, despite how Peter Shaffer tells the story – Constanze did everything she could to ensure that Mozart’s music was made available to posterity. All who love Mozart’s music are in her debt.

The history of art is shot through with horror stories of lost masterpieces, of destroyed manuscripts, of mislaid musical scores, and nowadays, of things like destroyed tapes from the early days of television. That nothing like this happened to the wondrous creative output of Mozart is due to the industry of many people, not least to that of Constanze’s second husband, whom she got to know because they worked together to preserve and publish husband number one’s compositions. But pride of place in ensuring that Mozart remained for ever Mozart, so to speak, goes to his beloved Constanze.

As for the “sex kitten” stuff, I cannot believe that, musically speaking, this did any harm either. On the contrary, even the smallest acquaintance with Mozart’s music – especially his operas – suggests quite the opposite.

6 comments to Mozart’s wife

  • KevinR

    Great article. I’m sure it was Jane Glover who I remember doing an excellent series of TV programs about Mozart. Back in the 1980s I think this was.

    Yes Constanze was portrayed as a bit of an airhead in the film. I especially recall “Don’t be silly Wolfie – who ever heard of an opera with a giant snake and a magic flute!”

    I think I read once that Constanze actually kept a detailed diary herself into her old age, but that it contained little of interest. Maybe it has more of interest than is commonly supposed. If so, hopefully Glover (who I believe did a PhD in Baroque music so will be no stranger to academic music scholarship) will reveal it in her book.


  • In my limited experience of diaries, they can be both deadly dull, and of extreme historical interest and usefulness, because they supply so many crucial facts in among the tedious and repetitious waffle.

    I know it is a bit sacrilegious to say it, but I find the Pepys diary very boring whenever I try to read that. But it is of huge use to historians.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Brian, very interesting article. I loved Amadeus but like a few was prepared to accept that a certain amount of artistic licence was involved. The film was rather patronising in its treatment of Mozart’s wife so it is good to hear of what a serious musician and support she was.

    It is rather depressing how movie portrayals of the famous often trivialise key individuals by making them less serious or noble in order to make the characters more “accessible” to a public raised on puerile tabloid journalism.

  • chazzle

    i think i is da best!!!!!!!!!!

  • robert newman

    But there are of course two sides to this coin. The bad reputation that Constanze Mozart had (certainly in the eyes of many contemporaries and even today) is based not so much ignorance, but a series of facts that nobody (not even Jane Glover) can really avoid.

    Firstly, Constanze Mozart is known to have avoided visiting the site of her own husband’s grave at St Marx for almost 15 years. She even expressed astonishment that there was no grave marker. She did not attend his funeral (pleading illness) but was well enough to be extremely active making money within days of her husband’s death. She applied for (and received) a state pension from the Emperor despite not actually being entitled to one (Mozart not having worked for the required period). She systematically corrupted many letters by ‘editing’ them and destroying many others. She was famously mean – the case of Hummel is one such case – where she seriously considered suing him for not paying for board and lodging during the time that he was a pupil of Mozart (well over a decade earlier). She is indisputably guilty of having fabricated many stories about Mozart’s last days and his last works – stories which have greatly added to the complexity of those matters for biographers. And, finally, there is really no doubt that she was far more interested in cashing in on Mozart’s legacy than seems politically correct to accept.

    I am grateful that good came of all this. But Ms Glover (and indeed other female writers who have recently written on Constanze) have perhaps strayed too far in the opposite direction. There is no real evidence that Constanze, prior to Mozart’s death, really appreciated the astounding works of her husband – though she quickly realised they were as good as cash when he was gone.

    The notion that Mozart and his family were in a state of virtual poverty at the time of the composer’s death is almost entirely due to her bending of the truth. In fact in 1791 (the year of Mozar’s death) he had earned more money than most citizens in Vienna. But such facts did not stop Constanze pleading poverty.

    On these grounds alone, I think it only fair to allow human nature to have a fair hearing too without applauding revisionism for its own sake.

    Robert Newman

  • Anne Y. Wong

    I’m a little confused. Does Constanze appreciate Mozart’s works? Is she a good wife? Do they love each other?