Mozart's Youth - George Upton

The Second Violin

Overloaded with attentions, honors, and distinctions, the Mozart family returned to Salzburg for a time and resumed the old quiet life. The journey to Vienna had been advantageous in many ways.

Father Mozart brought back quite a little sum of gold; but of still greater value was the reputation which Wolfgang had so quickly acquired. His talent had been surprising from his infancy, and now his first introduction into the great world was in every way a success. His fame as a rising star of the first magnitude in the musical firmament was already beginning to spread all over Europe.

Wolfgang, young as he was, appreciated this, and it was a spur that urged him to attempt the highest artistic achievements. After the Vienna journey nothing but music had any attraction for him. He practised almost incessantly. The customary amusements of childhood no longer interested him. He was absorbed in a dominating passion—the passion of music.

It was noticeable, as well as curious, that Wolfgang in his earlier years, notwithstanding his love for music, had an irresistible aversion to the sound of metallic instruments, and particularly to the shrill tone of the trumpet. He revelled in the music of string instruments and the piano, like a butterfly among fragrant flowers, but the loud noise of trumpets and trombones seemed to scare him, and cause him actual pain. His father, of course, soon noticed this, and it caused him great anxiety. How could his son conduct great musical performances, in which the brasses were indispensable, if he did not succeed in overcoming this aversion? Remonstrance and reasoning alike were of no avail. As soon as he heard a trumpet, even in the distance, he would either run out of hearing or stop both his ears. His father decided to adopt vigorous measures, and one day asked a trumpeter to his room.

"Come here, Wolfgangerl, and be sensible," he said to his son, who was looking at the dreadful trumpet with a shudder, and was about to take to his heels as usual. "You must stop this nonsense. You must get used to the trumpet or you never can be a chapel-master."

"I cannot do it, papa, I cannot do it," replied Wolfgang. "Please, father, send the trumpeter away.

This time, however, his father was remorseless. He firmly held Wolfgang, and ordered the trumpeter to sound one of his shrillest fanfares. Of course he obeyed. Hardly, however, had he blown the first cruel notes when the boy, with a cry of pain, grew deadly pale. He trembled in every limb, cold sweat stood on him, and he fainted. Father Mozart was alarmed, and sent the trumpeter away at once. When Wolfgang was himself once more, his father went to the family physician, told him his trouble, and requested him to assist in overcoming his son's peculiar sensibility. The physician reassured him. "Do not worry about this, Herr Vice Chapel-master," he said. "Medical treatment can do nothing for him. Wolfgangerl is still but a tender child, and the cause of his aversion to loud, shrill, and piercing noises lies in his delicate organism. Let him alone a few years. When he has greater physical strength his dislike of the trumpet will disappear of itself. But upon no account try to compel him to become accustomed to it or make any more such forcible attempts as you have done to-day. It might be his ruin."

Mozart and his teacher


The father was relieved by the assurances of the skilful physician, and did not repeat the experiment. The latter's statements were ultimately confirmed. Wolfgang not only became accustomed to the brasses, but he employed them for years in his larger works more effectively than any of his predecessors had done. But though he could not yet overcome his aversion to piercing noises, he could overcome other difficulties with the utmost ease which would have cost an ordinary person almost incredible exertion.

One day he determined to learn the violin. "I am no longer satisfied with the piano alone," he said to himself. "I must do something more in music.

All by himself, and without letting a soul know what he was doing, he began the new study. When his father was away from home he would take a little violin which had been given him in Vienna, quietly steal off by himself, so that his mother and sister should not hear him, and practise assiduously. Not a word ever escaped from him about it.

Some weeks passed in this way. A wonderfully beautiful spring morning promised a perfect day. Father Mozart could not let it pass without enjoying it to the utmost, and invited his friends Schachtner, Adlgasser, and Lipp to take a glass of wine with him that afternoon in a beautiful little garden near the gates of Salzburg, which was his personal property, and which he often used in summer for friendly gatherings. His devoted associates of course gladly accepted the cordial invitation, and the afternoon found them all in the garden. Frau Mozart was not of the company, as she was detained at home by household duties, but she sent the gentlemen by Nannie a goodly supply of wine and cold lunch for their refreshment.

The day was one of rare loveliness. There was not a cloud in the deep blue, crystalline heavens, and the jagged peaks of the neighboring mountains stood out clearly before the eye. The rushing Salza, like a great glistening serpent, wound through meadows, fields, and clumps of trees. The trimly arranged garden beds were rich with blossoms and fragrance. Violets, lilies of the valley, and snow-drops profusely exhaled their sweet perfume. Hyacinths and tulips were arranged in their most gorgeous colors, and the branches of the ornamental shrubs, a short time ago leafless, were decked in delicate mantles of green. It was an exquisite and enjoyable scene. The friends revelled in the mild spring air and admired both the wide, beautiful prospect and the floral beauty near at hand.

After setting the table in the little summer-house, Nannie returned home. The wine and viands had been served, and the chairs were pushed back, when Father Mozart heard a knock at the garden door. Little Wolfgang and a family friend entered, and were heartily greeted by all. "A thousand times welcome, dearest Wenzel," exclaimed the vice chapel-master, advancing to meet him and shaking both his hands. "This is fortunate, for you have come at a most auspicious time. I am very glad to see you."

While the others were greeting the new-comer, Wolfgang slipped away to one side lest he should be seen and sent home again. He well knew there would be music in the summer-house, because the guests had brought their instruments, and music was the joy of his life. No one paid any attention to him. His father conversed intimately with Herr Wenzel, a clever young violinist who for some time had been taking lessons of him in composition; and the others, even if they had noticed Wolfgang's presence, would not have had him sent away, for they were very fond of him. Young Wenzel admired the beautiful garden and its charming location, much to the satisfaction of Father Mozart. "Yes, I am very devoted to my little garden," said he. "I never enjoy myself more in summer than I do here."

"I can well believe it," replied Wenzel. "How pleasant it must be to stroll here! How delightful the prospect and the flowers! How one could think and dream here! It must be a great satisfaction to work, compose, and meditate in this garden."

"Yes; you have hit it exactly, Herr Wenzel," said Father Mozart. "Whenever a good idea comes to me it is here in this cosy solitude. But what about your own affairs, my friend? You certainly have not come out here without some good reason for it. I see a roll of paper peeping out of your pocket which looks as if it might contain something nice."

"The Herr Vice Chapel-master really should be the Archbishop's privy councillor, he is such a good guesser," replied Wenzel, blushing and slightly embarrassed. "I brought a few little compositions with me, having learned from your good wife that you were all here with your instruments. May I ask you to run through them so that I may have your judgment on them?"

"Certainly; we shall be a thousand times glad to play them," replied Father Mozart. "What are these nice things?"

"Six violin trios," answered Wenzel, taking them from his pocket and handing them to Father Mozart. "Their composition has been a great pleasure to me, but whether my poor talent will satisfy you is another question."

"Well, we shall soon see," said Father Mozart. "We will play the trios through and then have some of the food and drink my good wife has so generously provided. Let us get to work, dear friends. You, Wenzel, shall play the first violin, friend Schachtner the second, and I will undertake the bass upon the viola."

They were all willing, and went to the garden-house where their violins were. The scores were placed on the racks, the instruments perfectly tuned, and the playing was about to begin, when little Wolfgang, who had quietly stolen up, lightly nudged his father's elbow. "What is it, child?" said he. "Where did you come from? Say what you wish quickly, for we are all ready to begin."

Wolfgang had been concealing something under his coat, but he now took it out, and his father saw a little but excellent violin, which he had brought from Vienna. "What does this mean?" he said with some surprise.

"It means, father, I. would like to play the violin with you," replied Wolfgang. Please let me play the second violin."

"Why, you silly child," said his father, laughing, "what put such a notion as that in your head? You can make believe you are playing with us, but as to playing in earnest, you cannot do it. Perhaps the time may come when you can."

"I can now, really and truly," said Wolfgang, with flashing eyes and a look of absolute confidence.

"Did you learn to play the violin in your sleep?" said his father, jokingly.

"No, not in my sleep, but when I was awake," replied Wolfgang. "Just let me try once, papa, and then I will explain it all to you."

His father, of course, had not the slightest idea that Wolfgang had secretly learned the violin, and consequently thought the boy was only in sport. "When we go home, we will try a little minuet, Wolfgang, but don't disturb us any more now."

"A minuet! That is easy," answered the boy. "Let me play Herr Wenzel's trio with you. Then I will show you what I can do."

His father now began to grow seriously displeased at the boy's persistence, which seemed to him little else than idle boasting, and he somewhat unwillingly pushed him back. "Go away, go away," said he. "Because you can play the piano it does not follow that you understand the violin. Go away, and don't make yourself ridiculous."

"But, father," replied Wolfgang, tearfully, "it does not require much skill to play the second violin."

"Silly child; your head must be a little turned or you would not talk such nonsense," replied his father, at last really vexed, for he thought his son's remark was disrespectful to his friends, Schachtner and Wenzel. "Go away, and don't annoy us any longer. You need not fancy you know everything because the good God has given you a little skill. That is childish folly, and you must quit it. Remember that."

Wolfgang was so overcome by the harsh reproof of his father, who was usually so kind to him, that the tears came into his eyes, and he nearly cried out loud. He sadly took his violin under his arm, and was about to slip away, when just at the right time his friends interposed in his behalf.

"Let him stay, Herr Vice Chapel-master," said Schachtner, "and play with us a little. If he does not make it go, it will be time then to stop him."

"Well," replied Father Mozart, graciously,—for in reality it had greatly pained him to be harsh with his darling,—" you can play with Herr Schachtner, but play softly, so that we shall not hear your scraping, and don't howl if any one says a word to you. Come here and play, but, as I said, play softly."

At these words sorrow disappeared instantly from Wolfgang's countenance, and in its place came a look of intense satisfaction. He wiped away his tears with his sleeve, took his place by Herr Schachtner, and the playing began.

The piece was not very easy. Herr Schachtner himself had to give his whole mind to it, and followed it at first with such close attention that he entirely forgot his associate. But soon he heard such a clear, pure tone at his side that he listened with surprise, and watched Wolfgang with the utmost astonishment. The child played with an accuracy, precision, and purity which seemed to him inspired. Delight and satisfaction were pictured in his joyous manner and beaming eyes. Herr Schachtner could hardly believe his senses. He played more and more softly, so as not to lose a tone of Wolfgang's violin, and after a little stopped entirely, dropped his arms, and gave Wolfgang's father a significant look.

Father Mozart himself had noticed for some time the beauty, clearness, and correctness with which his son was playing, and when their glances met tears of joy and delight were in his eyes. The performance was not interrupted, however. He indicated to Herr Schachtner that he understood, and kept on playing. Wolfgang was doing the same, for he was so completely absorbed in his work that he had not observed the little intermezzo between Herr Schachtner and his father. He bowed and fingered accurately and skilfully, and played all six trios through, keeping up with the others without even a hitch. When the last note was played Father Mozart laid down his viola, joyfully hastened to Wolfgang, took him in his arms, and kissed him. "Why, Wolfgangerl, you marvel, when and where did you learn all this?" he loudly exclaimed.

"When you were at church or away from home giving lessons," replied the boy. "Did I claim too much, father? Now you shall see that I can also play the first violin."

As he had demonstrated his ability by actual test, all were convinced that the seven-year-old little fellow could accomplish even this more difficult task, and they were anxious for him to begin at once. He did so. He played the first violin, with several curious and irregular fingerings, to be sure, but he did not have to stop, and he kept correct time with the other players. All were greatly pleased at the surprise the lad had given them as well as his father by his skill. The latter kissed and caressed him, and the others heartily congratulated him.

"Now, Wolfgang," said his father, when it was quiet, "some request of yours shall be granted. You have given me great pleasure, and I am grateful for it. Have you a wish? If so, mention it, and I will grant it if it is in my power to do so."

"Oh, yes, I have a wish, and a very pleasant one," said Wolfgang, snuggling up to his father and whispering in his ear.

"What is it?" said his father, just as softly.

"I should like to make another concert trip, father," said Wolfgang. "I cannot tell you how eager I am to get out into the great world."

"Good, my child," replied his father, with a smile of satisfaction; "this is a happy coincidence. We have the same wish, for I have already decided to undertake another trip."

"And where, father?" asked Wolfgang, excitedly.

"To Paris!"

"To Paris!" shouted the lad. "Oh, that is beautiful, the beautiful thing I have dreamed of so often. Let us go as soon as it is convenient. You may he sure I will do my best when we get to the great city."

His father promised the journey should be made as soon as possible. The company again assembled at the table that they might congratulate him upon his good fortune. They ate and drank, chatted and laughed, expressing wishes for a happy trip and a successful future, until evening came, and the joyous party separated to meet at some other time. All went home delighted, and Father Mozart most delighted of all over this newly discovered talent of his son, which justified the brightest hopes for his future.