Mozart's Youth - George Upton

In Paris

A carriage was driven along at a quick trot toward Paris one hot summer's day, and had just reached the village of Choissy, when the careless coachman drove over a rock and upset the vehicle. There was an outcry of alarm from the inside. The door was forced open, and four persons crawled out, one after another, and stood around the wreck in dismay. They are old acquaintances—Herr Vice Chapel-master Mozart, his wife and children.

"Well, this is a pretty business," said Father Mozart, indignantly. "Here we are, hardly two hours away from Paris, upset in a wretched village, and, worst of all, with broken axletrees. We are expected at an early hour this evening by Count Van Eyck, the Bavarian ambassador, and now we cannot get there before late at night."

"Don't worry, dear husband," interposed Frau Mozart, "the accident is not so bad as it might have been, for we have all escaped without injury. Let us thank God, and hope that the little mishap is not a bad omen."

"Never fear, little mother," said Wolfgang, cheerfully. I shall not break down in Paris. You can rely upon that."

Father Mozart had to laugh at the boy's amusing consolation, and his indignation speedily subsided. "Well," said he, "what has happened can't be altered. With divine help we can bear this ill-luck patiently. I wonder if there is a smith or a wheelwright in the village who can repair the carriage. Say, driver, how soon can you have the damage your carelessness has caused made good?"

"We can go on in a couple of hours," replied the driver.

"And what shall we do meanwhile to pass the time away in this miserable spot?"

"I can help you about that, sir," said the driver in a most amicable tone, hoping they might over-look his carelessness if he were civil. "The beautiful castle, Choissy-le-Roi, where her Majesty the Queen has her summer residence, is near here. You can go there and stroll about the elegant park, and the hours will pass like minutes."

"Your suggestion sounds well," replied Father Mozart. "What do you think of it, dear wife? As we have nothing else to do, suppose we go over there a while." The mother gave her assent, and both the children were delighted at the prospect of frolicking about in the open air for two hours after having been so long closely crowded in a carriage on the dusty roads. They set off at once, while the driver went for help to mend the broken vehicle.

The park, which they soon reached, was shadowy and cool. The trimly kept walks were arched with a roof of beautiful green foliage. Stags and deer were browsing here and there on the grass patches, and above the tree-tops gleamed the towers of the castle, noted at that time for its stateliness. They greatly enjoyed themselves in the cool shade, and gradually approached the castle. No one was to be seen except our travellers. Wolfgang noticed an open door in a building standing by itself, which, from its construction, he judged must be the castle chapel. His curiosity impelled him to enter, and Nannie and his parents followed him. It was a fair-sized chapel and superbly decorated. A very beautiful organ particularly attracted Wolfgang's attention, and he could not resist the temptation to play on it. As the chapel was empty, and no one could be seen in the vicinity, Father Mozart ventured to gratify his son's wish. He went to the bellows, and soon a flood of beautiful, captivating music streamed through the chapel and out into the park.

Two richly dressed ladies of distinguished bearing and unusual beauty were just at this time walking in the park, and heard with surprise the wonderfully rich tones which seemed to them to come from the sky. They approached the chapel nearer and nearer, and at last stopped and concealed themselves behind some thick shrubbery, that they might enjoy the magnificent music unperceived. It continued a little longer and then closed with beautiful harmony, softly dying away. Silence once more reigned in the great solitary park.

"It is wonderful," said one of the ladies to her companion. "It seems to me I have never heard such beautiful, such ravishing music before. Who can the organist be? Our old organist is an excellent player, but he has no idea of such melody and harmony as that."

"If you wish I will inquire," said the other lady; but the quickest and easiest way would be to enter the chapel and see for ourselves."

"No, no, dear," said the first lady, about to turn away. "Those truly heavenly sounds have put me in an exalted mood, which I would not have disturbed. Let us go on. Perhaps we may learn in the morning who this extraordinary artist is, and the occasion of his performance." With these words the lady turned into a denser and more shadowy part of the park, and her companion followed her without further suggestion.

Father Mozart and his family left the chapel about the same time and happened to go in the same direction. They intended to return to the village and look after the carriage, but not being familiar with the labyrinthine windings of the park, which were made still more confusing by high rows of yews and beeches here and there, they soon lost their way, and after wandering about aimlessly for half an hour they at last stood helpless. "It is too bad that we cannot find our way out," said Father Mozart, with some uneasiness. "The whole park is deserted; there is not a person to be seen anywhere."

"Oh, yes, father, there is!" exclaimed Wolfgang, whose sharp eyes saw everything, even through the foliage of the hedges. "Look there, father! Two beautiful ladies! They can tell us and set us right if they only will. I will go and ask them." No sooner said than done. In his usually bold, informal way, he ran up to the ladies, greeted them courteously, and said in German: "Beautiful ladies, will you have the goodness to tell me where we really are?"

Mozart and ladies


The ladies, one of them in particular, who was of exceptionally distinguished presence, at first seemed displeased with his boldness; but when her eyes rested upon the pretty boy, who was accosting her so familiarly, she smiled and replied, also in German, "In the park of Choissy, my little one. You ought to have known that."

"Oh, yes, I know that," answered Wolfgang, "but the park is so big and has so many walks, and they cross and recross so often, that we can't find our way back to the village whence we came."

"Oh, that is another thing," said the lady, kindly. "You are now on the right way. Go down that walk there and you will find Choissy on your left. But tell me who you are, and how you come to be so far away from Germany."

"I am Wolfgang Mozart," he replied, looking as important as possible, "and these are my dear parents, and the little girl is my sister Nannerl. We are on our way to Paris, where Nannerl and I are to play before the King and Queen."

"You, child!" said the lady in surprise. "What can you play?"

"The piano, violin, or organ, just which is most desired."

"Impossible! It is impossible for such a little man as you."

"Why is it impossible? I played last winter before the Empress Maria Theresa, in Vienna. Why should I not play here? Have you not heard anything about me?"

"No, my child, to tell the truth I have not."

"Then you do not read the papers much," said Wolfgang. "They have had whole columns about me. Try to remember, fair lady; you must have heard of Wolfgang Mozart."

"It would be useless," said the lady, smiling, "for I scarcely ever read a paper. But it is a matter of little consequence anyway. If you play at Court I shall be there, and shall be delighted to renew our acquaintance."

"Ah! So you are also attached to the Court? I am so pleased," said Wolfgang. "When you get there you will know all about me. I do not play badly if I am a little boy."

"Dear me," said the lady to herself, "can it be possible that—listen, my child," she said, turning again to Wolfgang, "can you tell me who was playing the organ just now in the castle chapel?"

"It was I, and my father was blowing for me," replied Wolfgang.

The lady was overcome with astonishment. She could hardly believe his assertion; but all doubt disappeared when she looked into his frank, open countenance and honest eyes.

"Well," she said at last, "if this is true, and I have no reason to doubt it, then indeed you are a great artist, and I promise to use all my influence to secure your presentation at Court."

"That is splendid, and I thank you for it in advance," replied Wolfgang. "When you see the Queen, greet her many times for me. The Countess Lillibonne has already told me she is a dear, good, lovely woman, and she certainly has heard of the little Mozart."

"I promise you, my child, that I will convey your greetings to her," said the lady. "And now adieu. Your parents must be getting impatient, and I have much to look after before the day closes. Adieu." She extended her hand to Wolfgang. He kissed it and took his leave.

"She is a lovely lady," he said, when he got back to his parents. "She says she belongs to the royal household, and has promised her help in securing our presentation to the Queen."

Father Mozart did not attach much importance to chance promises of this sort. It was of more consequence to him that Wolfgang had found the right way to the village of Choissy, and thither they repaired. They found the carriage all right again, and resumed their journey to Paris, which they reached without further mishaps before nightfall.

With his usual consideration and far-sightedness, Father Mozart had provided himself with letters of introduction to several of the best families in Paris, which secured him an unexpectedly courteous and kindly reception. The leading people planned a public appearance for the children in a style befitting their reputation, and succeeded in engaging a prominent theatre for their concerts,—a favor rarely granted to travelling artists. The concerts were duly announced and given, and, as usual, Wolfgang was enthusiastically received by large audiences of the highest social standing. Father Mozart was greatly pleased, for his wellnigh empty pockets were filling up again with bright gold-pieces, and this of course kept him in good humor. After a few weeks' stay the situation became still more satisfactory.

Baron von Grimm, a friend of the family and a German by birth, but very influential in Paris, brought the welcome intelligence one day that the family would shortly be invited to Court. "For some curious reason," he said, "the Queen herself has shown a most extraordinary interest in our little Wolfgang. It is mainly due to this that we have succeeded so quickly—more quickly indeed than I had expected."

"Aha!" said Wolfgang, gleefully clapping his little hands, "do you not see, papa, this is the work of that beautiful lady at Choissy? She has at last accomplished what she promised."

"What lady?" said Baron Grimm in surprise. Wolfgang and his father by turns narrated the little adventure in the park of Choissy, and Baron Grimm smilingly but eagerly listened. "Ah! is that so?" said he in a somewhat significant tone. "The riddle is now clearly solved. This is a very agreeable surprise."

"But when shall I play before the Queen?" said Wolfgang, impatiently. "I am very eager to know."

"Soon, perhaps, my child," said Baron Grimm. It is not possible to say exactly when, but we will do all we can to hasten the time."

Wolfgang was satisfied with this assurance. He was not kept on the rack long, however, for, a few days after this, Baron Hebert, the Queen's lord high treasurer, was announced, and invited the family to be present at an appointed hour in her apartments at the palace of Versailles.

The hour came at last, and Wolfgang found himself in the midst of the splendors of the French Court, which eclipsed those of the Court in Vienna. The highest nobility of the land, arrayed in gold-embroidered costumes and blazing with diamonds, were assembled in a grand salon from which opened, right and left, elegant suites of rooms flooded with the brilliancy of hundreds of wax tapers. The family could see this magnificence only from a distance, for the King had not yet appeared, and his signal had to be awaited before they could enter. After a little, a movement in the salon indicated that Louis the Fifteenth had entered, and about half an hour later Baron Hebert accosted the family. "Come," he said in a pompous manner; "his Majesty orders that you be presented to the Queen."

They followed him. As they entered the salon, Wolfgang, not in the least embarrassed by the splendor, uttered a cry of joy. He saw the lady with whom he had conversed in the park of Choissy and gazed at her with sparkling eyes. "Oh, it is so nice that you are here," he said excitedly, at the same time kissing her hand, which was graciously extended to him. "You have kept your word, and I heartily thank you over and over again. But tell me, where is the Queen?"

"Have you not divined, dear child?" replied the lady, with a smile. "I am the Queen."

"I am overjoyed," exclaimed Mozart, surprised and delighted. "I shall love you still more, for you have been very good to me."

"And this," turning to a gentleman standing near her, "this is his Majesty, the King, who also wishes to hear you play."

Wolfgang bowed gracefully to his Majesty, who acknowledged the courtesy with a slight inclination of his head. As he did not clearly understand the situation, the Queen explained how she came to be acquainted with the pretty child, and then Wolf gang's father and sister were presented. The King addressed a few kindly words to each, and then resumed a card game with some of his courtiers. Wolfgang continued his conversation with the Queen, who also presented him to the French princesses, Victoire and Adelaide, both of whom fortunately spoke German. Victoire, the younger, was greatly interested in Wolfgang, for she had heard glowing reports about him from others and was herself a clever musician. While Wolfgang was having a pleasant chat with her, the King suddenly turned round, and, looking up from the card-table, said: "Eh, bien! Are we not soon to hear our little musician?"

There was a deep hush at these words. Wolfgang and Nannie, acting upon the King's suggestion, instantly went to the piano and began a four-handed sonata, which they performed with great skill and brilliancy. In fact the children played with extraordinary effect. The King, however, did not stop his card game, and as he apparently paid no attention to the children's playing, the rest of the company followed his example. The performance would have passed entirely unnoticed had not the Queen and Princess Victoire listened with the closest attention. They rewarded it with hearty applause, and sought to allay the feeling of disappointment which the indifference of the rest of the company had caused. The sensitive feelings and artistic pride of the children had been deeply grieved, however. The tears came into Nannie's eyes, and Wolfgang, indignant at the conduct of his audience, made no effort to conceal his anger. "Come, papa," he said in a loud tone to his father, at the same time slapping the leaves of his music-book together, "come, let us go. It is easy to see that these people know nothing about music."

The vice chapel-master was alarmed at this loud expression of his son's indignation. He feared, and not without reason, that they might incur the royal displeasure, and he also realized the harm it would do them in the world if it were known that Wolfgang's playing had failed to make an impression at the French Court. He kept his presence of mind, therefore, and quietly said: "Just as you like, Wolfgang. We will go if you are resolved not to play anymore, but think how you will feel when the world says, 'Little Wolfgang Mozart has failed at the Court of Versailles.' How could you stand such disgrace? And the world will not fail to say this if we sneak away now without accomplishing our purpose."

"You are right, father," proudly replied Wolfgang. His sense of honor was now aroused for the first time, as could be seen by his flashing eyes. "I will make them hear me, and once they listen I shall succeed." Boldly advancing to the card-table, he bowed, and said to the King: "Will Your Majesty have the kindness to give me a theme for improvising?"

The King looked up with surprise, for it now occurred to him he had been so engrossed with card-playing that he had utterly forgotten the children. "Ah, it is you, is it?" said he. "What do you wish?"

"He wishes you would give him a theme for improvising," promptly replied the Princess Adelaide. The King, with an exclamation of surprise, cast a searching glance at Wolfgang. "Certainly," said he. "Try this," humming a melody from a favorite opera at that time.

"I hope to satisfy Your Majesty," replied Wolfgang, with confidence, as he returned to the piano.

The King's attention had been aroused by the boldness of the child, and although he did not stop his game, he heard Wolfgang's playing just the same. Suddenly he laid down his cards, arose, and said to those around him, "This is really extraordinary."

Wolfgang heard him, and there was a gleam of triumph in his face. He continued playing with increasing beauty, power, and brilliancy, and closed with a technical display surpassing anything ever before exhibited. Now all were attentive. Only the tones of Wolfgang's music were heard in the great hall. The Queen and the princesses listened with delight. Tears of sympathy stood in Princess Victoire's eyes. The King remained standing, overcome with astonishment, and now and then passed his hand over his brow as if to convince himself he was not dreaming. As the last note died away, his loud "brava" was the signal for such a storm of applause as had never been heard at Versailles before. Princess Victoire, unmindful of Court etiquette, rushed to Wolfgang, embraced him, and kissed him repeatedly.

Besides the Queen, there was another lady present who at that time had great influence with the King, and consequently was all-powerful at Court—the famous Marquise de Pompadour. Like the rest, she was overcome by the fascinating performance, and expressing to the King her wish to see the boy more closely, he brought Wolfgang to her. "A little man," said she, "but a great genius notwithstanding. Put him on the table."

This was done. When the beautiful Marquise—for she was really an exceedingly beautiful woman—looked at him with her large, brilliant eyes and smiled, Wolfgang bent forward to kiss her. He was not a little surprised, however, when she drew back and turned herself away. He could not restrain his impetuous disposition, and in his deep mortification he cried out contemptuously: "Ah, who is this that will not kiss me? Has not the Empress kissed me?"

Fortunately for him, and perhaps for the rest of the family, he spoke in German, and no one at Court understood that language except the Queen and the princesses, who were not at all displeased at the contempt which Wolfgang then and afterwards displayed for the hated Marquise.

To prevent any further imprudent outbreaks on the part of the audacious little fellow, he was induced to return to the piano, where he delighted the company anew with his charming and graceful playing. He also repeated the feat of playing upon the covered keyboard, which he had performed for the Emperor of Austria. It was greeted with even more applause and made a greater impression than his legitimate playing, and this still further vexed and angered him. "They do not understand music here at all," he said to the Princess Victoire, to whom he had freely opened his heart. "You are the only exception, and I will play for you as a token of affection. Give me some task to perform."

"What kind of one?" replied the princess. "Can you play a minuet and write in the bass part before-hand?"

"Why not? I can if you will give me the melody."

The princess requested her music teacher, Mons. Le Grand, to arrange a minuet theme for Wolfgang. Le Grand obeyed, but with a doubtful shake of the head. When it was ready Wolfgang took the composition, went to a desk, and without stopping or hesitating an instant, wrote in the correct bass. Mons. Le Grand was surprised, for, though he was an excellent musician, he could not do anything like that. It was an easy task, however, for Wolfgang.

"Now then, child, since you have successfully performed my sister's task," said the Princess Adelaide to him, "will you try another?

"With pleasure," replied Wolfgang. "What shall it be?"

"Something very difficult," said Princess Adelaide. "I will sing an Italian cavatina which I know by heart. Do you think you can accompany me on the piano without knowing the melody, entirely by ear?"

"That is impossible, absolutely impossible!" exclaimed Mons. Le Grand.

"It is not very easy," said Wolfgang, "but I will try."

He sat down to the piano, and Princess Adelaide, who was really a fine singer, began the cavatina. Wolfgang accompanied her, imperfectly of course, and sometimes incorrectly, for, as every musician knows, it is almost impossible to divine every modulation and digression in an unknown melody. The princess had hardly ended before Wolfgang requested her to repeat the cavatina, and this time accomplished what human ears had seldom, if ever, heard before. He not only played the melody with his right hand, but the bass accompaniment with his left, apparently with the greatest facility. Ten times over he requested the princess to begin again, and each time he played an absolutely correct accompaniment, each time varying it.

The performance was simply incredible, and it is not remarkable that this feat of almost superhuman skill was greeted with a storm of applause. All were enraptured. Princess Victoire took Wolfgang in her lap, hugged and kissed him as if he were her own child, and gave him a magnificent diamond brooch which she unfastened from her breast. The Queen lavished dainties upon him, and fed him as if he had been a little bird. Even the King conversed with the sharp little fellow, his replies being translated into French by the Queen. The troop of courtiers stood staring at the wonder child who had thus been honored above all other artists in the world.