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Mozart Minute: Mozart Tries Again to Get Cash out of the Prince

image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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As a freelance musician more often than not short on cash, Mozart learned early on that, when it comes to making do-re-mi, if you don't succeed, the only thing to do is try and try again.

  In a previous episode of The Mozart Minute, we found Mozart writing in August of 1786 to ask his friend Sebastian Winter, valet to the Prince Joseph Maria Benedikt von Fürstenberg, to broker the sale of several of his compositions to the prince. Beyond that, Mozart also offered to put the prince on a subscription to receive all of his new works and, moreover, suggested that the prince consider making him a salaried employee of his court.

Mozart was desperate for cash, and his offers to the prince were really pleas for help. And they worked. Nearly two months later, on Sept. 30, 1786, Mozart wrote Sebastian Winter again, telling his friend that the musical works the prince agreed to purchase would go out in the next day’s mail. Those works included three symphonies and three piano concertos (K. 451, 459 and 488), the prince’s acquisition of which Mozart portrayed as ultra-exclusive.  

“It is quite natural,” Mozart wrote Winter, “that some of my compositions should be sent abroad, but those which I do send are deliberately chosen. … the compositions which I keep for myself or for a small circle of music-lovers and connoisseurs (who promise not to let them out of their hands) cannot possibly be known elsewhere, as they are not even known in Vienna. And this is the case with the three concertos which I have the honour of sending to His Highness. … I must ask High Highness not to let them out of his hands.” (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

Perhaps encouraged by the prince’s purchase, and perhaps fearing that his buddy Winter hadn’t passed the earlier subscription offer along to his boss, Mozart again offered to sign the prince up to receive his new compositions automatically.

Mozart’s letter to Winter continued, “As for the proposal which I took the liberty of making to your worthy Prince, I should have to be exactly informed, first of all, as to what kinds of composition His Highness might require or prefer and, secondly, as to how many of each kind he would like to have every year, in order to be able to make my calculations. I wish to offer my homage to His Highness, and I request you make known to him my desire.”

The prince never took Mozart up on his offer to purchase his new works by subscription, or to hire Mozart on as a salaried employee. But it might have been some consolation to Mozart that he could still enjoy the sparkling diamond ring the prince had given him many years earlier when he had first visited the prince’s court as a 10-year-old child prodigy.

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.