10 Things you didn’t know about Mozart

Rosie Pentreath

  1. He was a Freemason

    Mozart was initiated into the Vienna Freemasons in December 1784 and history has him down as mixing with various Masons and members of the Illuminati. Indeed, one of Mozart’s patrons, Joseph von Sonnenfels, was the leader of all of Vienna’s Illuminati by all accounts, and Mozart composed his cantata "Die Maurerfreude (The Mason's Joy) K.471" for an event where friend and fellow Mason Ignaz von Born was honoured by Emperor Joseph II. Several of Mozart’s well-known works, including "The Magic Flute K.620" and cantata "Dir Seele des Weltalls, K.429" are inspired by Masonry.


     
  2. He had an, um, scatological sense of humour

    Mozart's letters divulge a rather more childish sense of humour than one may expect from a classical music genius. Indeed, letters between the composer and his 19-year-old cousin reveal a sick sense of humour, with one dated November 5, 1777 including a passage in which Mozart writes, "Oui, by the love of my skin, I sh*t on your nose, so it runs down your chin." Later on in the same letter, the young composer reveals: "Oh my ass burns like fire! What is the meaning of this? Maybe muck wants to come out?" Too much information, Wolfgang Amadeus, too much information.

     
  3. Mozart was from a musical family (and his father may have been one of the first stage mums in history)

    Mozart's father, violinist and composer Leopold, was deputy kapellmeister at the orchestra of the Archbishop of Salzberg and author of the seminal textbook on violin playing of its time, Versuch einer grundlichen Violinschule. He encouraged Mozart to pursue his talent from an incredibly young age after, at three, the boy started picking out piano chords and, at five, began improvising minuets at the keyboard. Indeed, Leopold has sometimes been criticised for exploiting his son's prodigious talents for money and fame, much like today's stage mums, soccer dads or similar.


    Mozart wonder child with his father and sister in 1763. After Carmontelle, watercolour, published on Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1845

     
  4. Mozart was one of only two children out of seven who survived infancy

    Leopold and Anna Marie Mozart had seven children, but only two survived infancy: Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) and our own Wolfgang Amadeus, who was the younger of the two. Maria Anna was a musician too, having started learning keyboard with her father at the age of seven (see below). 

     
  5. Mozart’s sister could have been as big a genius as he was

    Leopold Mozart’s daughter Maria Anna (Marianne, nicknamed Nannerl), was an excellent harpsichord and forte piano player. She was even paraded around with her younger brother as a musical prodigy in the early years. That was until (because she happened to be born a woman) she was no longer permitted to show off her artistic talents alongside her brother because she had reached the right age to be married off and it wasn't becoming of a woman to pursue a life in public.


    Salzburg, Austria: Antique furniture and an ancient harpsichord in the W. A. Mozart home
  6. Mozart was knighted at 14 but rarely used his title

    In 1770, when he was still a teenager, Mozart was awarded the Papel Order Of The Golden Spur. His father made him sign his compositions with “Cavaliere Amadeo” for a while, but Mozart soon dropped the formality. 

     
  7. Mozart whiled away plenty of time at the billiard table

    In his downtime, Mozart liked to indulge in billiards and bowls. Perhaps the rolling of the balls accompanied well the constant revolving of his musical mind. Indeed, history has him down as humming full Mozartian melodies throughout games and stopping to make brief notes on spontaneous ideas. Mozart favoured playing alone for those very reasons no doubt.

     
  8. He experimented with polytonality long before Benjamin Britten, John Cage et al

    Several of Mozart's works, including "A Musical Joke, K.522", incorporated dischords and the use of different musical keys simultaneously. These are techniques you would expect from more modern composers like John Cage and Benjamin Britten before you would from Mozart.


     
  9. He was an animal lover

    The Mozarts had a dog called Bimberl and among Wolfgang's many extravagant letter sign-offs is one from December 1774 in which he writes: "Farewell! A thousand kisses to Bimberl." This has us delighted with imagining Mozart bimbling around the streets with Bimberl (did you see what we did there?) and humming one of his cheerful melodies before popping into a cafe for a round of billiards.

     
  10. There is a frog named after Mozart

    The “Eleutherodactylus Amadeus” is a Haitian frog species, named after Mozart for the striking spectrum of sound frequencies it produces and the similarity between these and musical notes. The species was feared to have died out in 1991, but were reported as rediscovered in 2011. As well as frogs, there are cafes, orchestras, numerous cakes and even asteroids named after Mozart.