Sunday, June 20, 2010

People: Constanze Weber Mozart: The perfect wife?

Constanze Mozart (born Constanze Weber) (5 January 1762 in Zell im Wiesental, Germany – 6 March 1842 in Salzburg, Austria) was the wife of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

I don't wish to go into the biographical aspects of Constanze's life in this post, mainly because it would just be boring. Her biography is readily available in other places on the web. (If you're interested, the Wikipedia article on her is quite good, although it leans heavily in her defense.) You can also read about some of the controversy surrounding Constanze in her handling of Mozart's last work (uncompleted), his Requiem in D minor, in this Wikipedia article.

Much controversy has existed throughout the last two-hundred years over the relationship that Mozart had with his wife, Constanze. From the personal testimonies of those who knew the Mozarts  in the last few years of Mozart's life, the marriage seemed to be strained, at best. There are many conflicting and confusing reports, many of them originating from the Mozarts themselves. Constanze's own testimony from years later is difficult to trust, for most of it was given years after Mozart's death under the auspices of her second husband, Georg Nissen, who was actively working to clean up Mozart's sullied reputation, as he was working on Mozart's biography. It is believed, with much certainty, that Constanze and Nissen destroyed most of Constanze's letters to Mozart, as well as many of Mozart's to her, only keeping those that held her in a favorable light. And of the ones that were kept, certain words and entire paragraphs have been blacked out.

It is no secret to anyone who has studied Mozart's life, that his father, Leopold, despised Constanze, and in the early months of their marriage, Mozart made a concerted effort to convince his father that Constanze would make a good wife for him. Leopold's reasons for disliking Constanze were based on his belief that the Weber family were opportunists who were only looking for monetary gain and that marriage and obligation to her would only drag him down and keep him from reaching his full potential.

In the early years of their marriage, shortly after the birth of their first child, Mozart and Constanze took an extended trip to Salzburg. The trip had two purposes:  The first, for Mozart to meet with a librettist who was working on an Italian libretto for Mozart to compose an opera for Emperor Joseph's new Italian opera company, and the second, for Leopold and Nannerl (Mozart's older sister), to meet Constanze and possibly form a better opinion of her.  Leopold knew that while Constanze was the daughter of a music copyist and had a solid musical education, she was out-shined by her older sisters, Josepha and Aloyisa (the latter with whom Mozart had a love affair a couple of years earlier and who later scorned him). Constanze was, for the most part, largely uneducated and common, and Leopold considered her a poor and uneven match for his brilliant, highly educated, well-traveled, and worldly son. So while they were in Salzburg, Mozart created an opportunity to show off Constanze's musical abilities by dragging out bits of an unfinished mass and adding more to it, creating a portion for Constanze to sing her herself, and dedicating it to her. Mozart's Great Mass in C minor has gone down through history as one of his greatest sacred works, some believing it to be even greater than his Requiem. Although many have believed that the entire soprano solo was composed for Constanze to sing, clearly it is not, for most of the solo sections in this mass, especially in the opening Kyrie, would have been entirely too difficult for her to manage. It is most likely that Constanze sang only the Et Incarnatus est, which while one of the loveliest and most lyrical sections in the entire mass, is not nearly as technically demanding as the rest.

Together, the Mozarts had six children, of which only two survived infancy into adulthood. Mozart never knew his sons, Karl and Franz (whom Constanze later named Wolfgang, Jr. and called "Wowi", pronounced VOH-vee), as adults as Karl was only seven and Franz only months old when their father died on 5 December 1791. Clearly the sheer number difficult pregnancies which Constanze endured in the nine years they were together, as well as the steady stream of dead children, put a strain on the marriage.  It was during Constanze's fifth pregnancy that she developed an infection in a vein in one of her feet, most likely due to a swollen varicose vein that she may have injured by bumping her foot on some furniture. As a result, she was sent to the spa in Baden to take the waters. It was after this initial trip to Baden that Constanze started making frequent trips there alone, although she had made a full recovery from the ulcerated foot. She spent weeks at a time separated from her husband and rumors began to spread that she was having an affair with a Lieutenant who also frequented the spa. In one letter that Mozart wrote to his wife (obviously one of the ones that Constanze and Nissen didn't realize still existed after Mozart's death or it would surely have been destroyed), he told her that he had been hearing the rumors and he begged her to be "discreet".  And despite their obvious financial woes at the time, neither Constanze nor Mozart seemed to be concerned nor discontent with the fact that she spent so much time there, and that they had to finance and maintain two separate households for the better part of the last two years of Mozart's life.

Finally, in October of 1791, when Mozart became ill with a strep infection that had been going around Vienna, Constanze had to be summoned from Baden to care for her husband. Mozart never fully recovered from the infection, for it was only a few weeks later, in mid-November that he took to his bed with his final illness and died only two weeks later. Constanze was not in the same room with her husband when he died (although years later, she wrote in a statement that she dated 5 December 1791 that she had been with him in his final hours), but it was her younger sister, Sophie, who held him in her arms in those final, terrible and feverish moments. Constanze was not in attendance at his funeral. Later, when she accidentally knocked one of the copies of his death mask off of a table and shattered it, Constanze claimed that she didn't care about that "ugly old thing" anyway.

The following is a scene from Chapter 10 of So Faithful a Heart.

     He turned his head to watch Constanze as she sat on the lawn playing with their son, holding him in her lap and kissing his fat little fingers. She was a good wife and a good mother, and he cared for her a great deal, but she’d never ignited his soul. She was pretty enough with her large dark brown eyes and thick, straight, dark hair that hung like a drape. She was charming and sweet, with a playful sense of humor, very like his. But after he met Nancy, he found it difficult not to compare them and find his wife lacking.
     He thought back to the days when he’d rented a room from Constanze’s mother not long after he’d arrived in Vienna and split from Archbishop Colloredo’s service. Frau Weber saw opportunity to still bring Mozart into the family after the break-up with Aloysia and she manipulated things in such a way that he and Constanze often found themselves in tempting and compromising situations. Then when they finally succumbed and went too far with their petting, she forced him into a contract of marriage with her daughter, threatening to ruin him if he refused. He married Constanze in August of 1782 and Nancy arrived in Vienna the following January.
     “I shouldn’t have married,” he thought with regret. “If only I had waited six months.” 
     He had never known a woman like Nancy. She was independent, intelligent, educated, and outspoken. She possessed a wicked sense of humor, which played itself out beautifully both on the stage and off, with an air of confidence and strength that he had never observed in any woman he’d ever known. To him, she was a woman who thought like a man and that fascinated him. Then when they became friends he discovered the many things that they had in common, not the least being their mutual love and dedication to music. She was his musical peer in many respects and that was her greatest appeal.
     “How could I have resisted her? I’m only a man,” he thought as he picked up the book, opening it to where he’d left off.


  1. i've never heard of nancy storace...the woman i knew that mozart had courted before settling down is Aloysia Weber. But I like the story. this glimpse, it's so wonderful.

  2. Actually, Constanze continued to return to Baden because her legs continued to bother her greatly, and the doctor recommended the baths there as a remedy. Any rumors about her having an affair there would have been laughable, since she was usually largely pregnant while there. There was, of course, much gossip in those days, as there is now...people like to talk. But the only thing that we really know to be true is that Mozart, like most men of his day, held women to a much higher standard than men, and was a rather jealous husband. It is from his most prudish letters, where he constantly commands Constanze to "guard her virtue," that most conjecture about her infidelity derives. All they really prove, however, is that he was a jealous man, and had a great deal of trouble tolerating any free-spirited behavior from his wife.

    That Constanze had any hand in destroying her own letters is unfounded. Sure, you could assume that, but you know what they say about assumptions. In fact, very few letters from anyone to Mozart, other than his father, exist from the days following his marriage. Since Leopold was the one who always insisted that Mozart keep his letters for posterity, it is just as likely that Mozart simply didn't keep many letters from anyone else.

    1. You are correct. Let us remember that Mozart was the same dude who was taken aback by the fact that another had measured Constanze's legs while he was engaged to her. Taking that into account, Mozart advising his wife to be discreet was NO indication that she was an unfaithful spouse. Now I'm not attacking Mozart as I can understand not wanting another to touch his fiancé's legs, but there's no doubt that he was one to overreact! Mozart was often too emotional, and that should be considered when reading his letters.

  3. Also, I am not sure why you think Constanze was uneducated or could not have sung the difficult passages in the Great Mass in C Minor. Constanze and all of her sisters were, in fact, educated quite efficiently by their father, and all four were gifted singers and spoke several languages. It is true that Aloysia was the prodigy, followed in talent by Josefa, and that neither Constanze nor Sophie ever reached the fame of the elder two. Constanze didn't even try. This does not mean, however, that she could not have sung the passages from the Mass which, although somewhat difficult, did not nearly reach the level of difficulty or demand such a large range as the arias which he wrote for the elder two Weber sisters.

    That Constanze was not at his funeral is testament to her incapacitating grief, as several accounts, including those of Sophie and Carl, recall Constanze plastering herself to her husband's body for hours after his death, in spite of the fact that the stench from his infection was terrible.

    Most biographies I have read that paint Constanze in a negative light have taken a very chauvinistic tone, and most are, indeed, older biographies, written by men. In newer tomes by Agnes Selby and Jane Glover (especially by Glover, whose tone is less defensive and much more factual), this tendency toward demonizing women who so much as allowed their calves to be measured is simply set aside, and Constanze's better attributes are allowed to shine through.

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