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Classical 101

Mozart Minute: Nannerl's Last Rites and Wolfgang's Fourth Symphony

color image of a portrait of Mozart in which he wears a bright red coat
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From 1763 to 1766, Leopold Mozart and his wife, Anna Maria, were touring their prodigiously gifted children through western Europe, making their talents known at some of Europe’s most important courts. Also on this trip, illness brought one of the children to the brink of death.

Along the way, Wolfgang, who was a mere seven years old when the tour began, managed to compose some new musical works. He started writing his Fourth Symphony in, late 1764 or early 1765, while he and his family were in London. After leaving London in July 1765, the Mozarts traveled through northern France, where Wolfgang and then Leopold came down with various illnesses, and then to The Hague, where Wolfgang’s 14-year-old sister, Nannerl, caught a cold.

At first Nannerl’s cold seemed to be improving, but then  it took a serious turn for the worse. On Nov. 5, 1765, Leopold wrote his Salzburg landlord, Lorenz Hagenauer, “… though I have not lost my daughter, I have seen her lying well-night in extremis.” (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson). A physician, Leopold wrote, urged the family to prepare for the worse. The devoutly Catholic Mozarts called in a priest, who administered last rites.

Leopold wrote, “I prepared her to resign herself to God’s will, and not only did she receive the Holy Communion, but the priest found her in such serious condition that he gave her the Holy Sacrament of Extreme Unction, for she was often so weak that she could hardly utter what she wanted to say.”

In the same letter, Leopold also wrote that, amid the gloom and doom, “… little Wolfgang in the next room was amusing himself with his music.”

Mozart finished composing his Fourth Symphony while in The Hague, and Nannerl recovered from her ordeal in time to perform on the Jan. 22, 1766 concert there that likely also saw that symphony’s world premiere.

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.