copyright © 2006
in The Guardian
18 March 2006
We can learn a number of curious facts about
Mozart's Vienna from Johann Pezzl's "Sketch of Vienna"
(1786-90). Here we are told, for instance, that the poorer prostitutes,
unable to dress up in any finery, would wait until after dark
before appearing on the streets. Compared with their equivalent
in other cities, they were not particularly importunate: "They
don't grab at your arm or rush after you through the mud as
happens in Paris; all they do in order to hook you is direct
a fiery and inviting look towards you."
By 10 o'clock the girls had left the streets
and all private houses were closed on the stroke of the hour.
Get home later than that and you had to pay a surly porter to
let you in. By 11pm, Pezzl tells us, "you can walk the
breadth of the city and encounter hardly more than 50 persons
as they creep out of a few taverns and coffee-houses".
Vienna at night was astonishingly quiet and astonishingly safe
from "thieves, pickpockets, marauders, etc".
However, between midnight and 12.30 the carriages
of the aristocracy would return from supper at the great palaces.
The rumble of their wheels would awaken the lowly citizen from
his slumbers, and Pezzl asserts that "his modest better
half [was] not displeased by it". That is to say, in the
apartments of Vienna, where privacy must have been at a premium
given the general overcrowding of the city, the nicest time
to make love was when woken by, for example, Mozart's audiences
going home. "Many a young Viennese," says Pezzl, "owes
his existence to the nightly thunder of passing carriages."
Another thing we know about Mozart is that,
while writing to his wife from Berlin on May 23, 1789, he experienced
an erection at the thought of sleeping with her again. He says
to Constanze, "Spruce up your sweet little nest because
my little rascal here really deserves it, he has been very well
behaved but now he's itching to possess your sweet [erasure
in manuscript]. Just imagine that little sneak, while I am writing
he has secretly crept up on the table and now looks at me questioningly;
but I, without more ado, give him a little slap - but now he's
even more [erasure in manuscript]; well, he is almost out of
control - the scoundrel. I hope you will take a carriage and
come out to meet me at the first postal station?"
It is charming that the unknown censor of this
document took such care over a couple of possibly offensive
words, but left the meaning of the whole passage intact. You
might think that, for the biographer, such a description of
sexual need would count as evidence of the composer's devotion
to and physical attachment to his wife. Yet in a life of Mozart
published not long ago it is quoted in the middle of a long
disquisition on his supposed infidelities.
A description of Mozart by his hairdresser
strikes one as characteristic. Mozart was blond and did not
wear a wig. The hairdresser tells us that "as I was doing
Mozart's hair one morning, and was just occupied with completing
his pigtail, M. suddenly jumped up and, despite the fact that
I was holding him by his pigtail, he went into the next room,
dragging me along with him, and started to play the piano."
The hairdresser is so admiring of the playing that he lets go
of the pigtail.
The same source describes meeting Mozart in
the street. He is on horseback. He rides a few steps, then takes
a little board out of his pocket and writes down some music
on it. This description (although the intention of the story-teller
is the same - to give an image of a man preoccupied with composition)
strikes one as uncharacteristic, because Mozart on horseback
sounds rather wealthier than the Mozart at the back of our minds.
But when Mozart went to Frankfurt in 1790 he
travelled in his own carriage, which one scholar describes as
"the easiest, most comfortable and by far the most expensive
way". Mozart adored his carriage. He writes: "My carriage
- I should like to give it a kiss - is simply wonderful."
He was a high flyer. He had heavy debts but he was not impoverished
in these final years. That's what the evidence says, although
of course the mythology says otherwise.