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Mozart Minute: Mozart Snoops on His Maid

Mozart in a red coat

It’s like a scene from one of Mozart’s operas – the master of the house snoops on his wayward maid and is shocked by what he learns.

The maid was Lisa Schwemmer, whom Mozart’s father, Leopold, had apparently told Mozart was in real need of a job. In a letter of December 1783, Mozart told Leopold that he and Constanze would take Schwemmer in if she wished to move to Vienna.

Schwemmer made the move. But in late May 1784, Mozart himself fomented a household drama. In a letter of May 26, 1784, Mozart wrote his father that Schwemmer had written the address on a letter to her mother in such a ridiculous way that the post would never had delivered it. He offered to address the letter correctly for Schwemmer. But, as he wrote his father, he ended up doing much more than that.

“Out of curiosity and with a view to reading some more of this amazing composition rather than with that of prying into her secrets,” Mozart wrote, “I broke the seal of the letter.” (The Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson)

Mozart then wrote of Schwemmer’s litany of complaints about working in Mozart’s home. “She complains that she gets to bed too late and has to get up too early – though I should have thought that one would get enough sleep between eleven and six, which is after all seven hours! [...] Then she complains about the food and that too in the most impertinent fashion. She says she has to starve …”

Not enough sleep, not enough food – Mozart reported that Schwemmer also griped about her pay. “And what has she to do? To clear the table, hand round the dishes and take them away and help my wife to dress and undress.”

And Mozart had a few more unflattering things to say about Schwemmer. In the same letter to Leopold, Mozart called Schwemmer “the clumsiest and stupidest creature in the world.” He also recounted two drinking episodes between Schwemmer and “a certain Herr Johannes,” who, Mozart claimed, had come to their house when he and Constanza were not at home.

The first time, Mozart wrote, Schwemmer had “swilled so heavily that she couldn’t walk without support and the second time she was sick all over her bed.”

Evidently Mozart’s indignation overrode any compunction he might have had about opening Schwemmer’s personal correspondence. So he leveled the boom, writing Leopold to ask Schwemmer’s mother to be looking for another job for her daughter. “Were it not that I hate to make people unhappy I should get rid of her on the spot.”

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.
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