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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: What Mozart Says to His Wife's Portrait

image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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The saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. But in one letter to his wife, Mozart’s words paint a picture of the effect his wife’s portrait has on him.

In the spring of 1789, the cash-strapped Mozart left his Vienna home and went on a concert tour through Prague, Dresden, Leipzig and Berlin in an effort to generate some income and breathe new life into his floundering career. Mozart carried with him a small portrait of his wife, Constanza, or Stanzerl, as he liked to call her. Throughout the trip, he wrote letters back home to her.

Mozart’s devotion to his wife is documented throughout their marriage in a number of letters. On the morning of April 13, 1789 the homesick Mozart wrote his wife a letter hat today gives us a glimpse into his besotted soul.  Here’s Emily Anderson’s translation of some of what Mozart wrote.

“If I were to tell you all the things I do with your dear portrait, I think that you would often laugh. For instance, when I take it out of its case, I say, ‘Good-day, Stanzerl! – Good day, little rascal, pussy-pussy, turned-up nose, little bagatelle, Schluck und Druck,’ and when I put it away again, I let it slip in very slowly, saying all the time, ‘Nu – Nu – Nu!’ with the particular emphasis which this word so full of meaning demands, and then just at the last, quickly, ‘Good night, little mouse, sleep well.’  Well, I suppose I have been writing something very foolish (to the world at all events); but to us who love each other so dearly, it is not foolish at all. Today is the sixth day since I have left you and by Heaven! It seems a year.” (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

The next day, Mozart performed his “Emperor” Piano Concerto (K. 537) at court in Dresden. That performance, and one from the day before, might not have garnered Mozart any money or any long-term employment prospects. But they did get him presented with what he described to his wife as a “very handsome” snuff box.

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.