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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: Mozart's "Little Cousin"

Mozart is best known today as a musician of prodigious gifts - an astonishing keyboard player, a crack violinist and a composer whose prolific output ranks among the most inspired and revered bodies of artistic work ever created. But Mozart was also a man of many talents beyond music. He had a gift for languages, and he had a gift for attracting people, the latter of which was certainly aided by his freewheeling sense of humor, at turns erudite, goofy and scandalously profane. Nowhere does Mozart's silly and scatological sides reveal themselves more plainly than in his correspondence with his younger paternal cousin, Maria Anna Thekla Mozart. Only a clutch of letters between them still exist, but in short, they knock the marble-bust image of Mozart the Great Composer right off its pedestal. Much of Mozart's correspondence with his cousin contains profanity and bathroom humor that would make a playground blush and paints a portrait of Mozart with his hair - or, rather, his wig - down, and in the full blazing fury of his humanity. Take for instance, the letter Mozart dated October 50, 1777 (which really dates from October 31), in which he writes, "Well, I have too little space left to jot down any more sensible remarks. Besides, too much sense gives one a headache." Throughout his letter of November 5, 1777, Mozart mixes crude references with rhyming word play: "I have received reprieved your dear letter, telling selling me that my uncle carbuncle, my aunt can't and you too are very well hell. [...]  Today the letter setter from my Papa Ha! Ha! dropped safely into my claws paws." Then there's Mozart's letter from January 1779, after Maria Anna Thekla had visited Mozart in Munich. The paper on which Mozart wrote the letter contained an ink blot, beneath which Mozart wrote, "A portrait of my cousin, who is writing in shirt-sleeves!" And the letter of May 10, 1779, which after a scatological opening rhyme, begins in earnest with the over-the-top salutation: "Dearest, most beloved, most beautiful, most amiable, most charming little bass or little cello, whom a worthless cousin has enraged." Mozart's letters to his cousin betray a certain familial friendliness, but also at times a bit more than that. It has been surmised that, in a day when first cousins frequently married each other, Mozart and his cousin might have enjoyed a brief romantic attachment. Be that as it may, Wolfgang married Constanza Weber in 1781, and about a year-and-a-half later, Maria Anna Thekla disappears from Mozart's correspondence.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.