IX. NADIR: 1788-90

The proceeds from Don Giovanni were soon used up, and Mozart’s modest salary hardly paid for food. He took some pupils, but teaching was an exhausting, time-consuming task. He moved to cheaper quarters in suburban Währingerstrasse; debts multiplied nevertheless. He borrowed wherever he could—chiefly from a kindly merchant and fellow Mason, Michael Puchberg. To him Mozart wrote in June, 1788:

I still owe you eight ducats. Apart from the fact that at the moment I am not in a position to pay you back this sum, my confidence in you is so boundless that I dare implore you to help me out with a hundred gulden until next week, when my concerts in the Casino are to begin. By that time I shall certainly have received my subscription money, and shall then be able quite easily to pay you back 136 gulden with my warmest thanks.87

Puchberg sent the hundred gulden. Encouraged, Mozart appealed to him (June 17) for a loan of “one or two thousand gulden for a year or two at a suitable rate of interest.” He had left unpaid the arrears of rent at his former home; the landlord threatened to have him jailed; Mozart borrowed to pay him. Apparently Puchberg sent less than was asked, for the desperate composer made further appeals in June and July. It was in those harassed months that Mozart composed the three “Great Symphonies.”

He welcomed an invitation from Prince Karl von Lichnowsky to ride with him to Berlin. For that trip he borrowed a hundred gulden from Franz Hofdemel. Prince and pauper left Vienna April 8, 1789. At Dresden Mozart played before Elector Frederick Augustus, and received a hundred ducats. At Leipzig he gave a public performance on Bach’s organ, and was stirred by the Thomasschule choir’s singing of Bach’s motet “Singet dem Herrn.” At Potsdam and Berlin (April 28 to May 28) he played for Frederick William II, and received a gift of seven hundred florins, with commissions for six quartets and six sonatas. But his gains were spent with mysterious celerity; an unverified rumor ascribed part of the outlet to a liaison with a Berlin singer, Henriette Baronius.88 On May 23 he wrote to Constanze: “As regards my return, you will have to look forward to me more than to the money.”89 He reached home June 4, 1789.

Constanze, pregnant again, needed doctors and medicines and an expensive trip to take the waters at Baden-bei-Wien. Mozart again turned to Puchberg:

Great God! I would not wish my worst enemy to be in my present position. If you, most beloved friend and brother [Mason] forsake me, we are altogether lost—both my unfortunate and blameless self and my poor sick wife and children . … All depends … upon whether you will lend me another five hundred gulden. Until my affairs are settled, I undertake to pay back ten gulden a month; and then I shall pay back the whole sum. … Oh, God! I can hardly bring myself to dispatch this letter, and yet I must!—For God’s sake forgive me, only forgive me!90

Puchberg sent him 150 gulden, most of which went to pay Constanze’s bills at Baden. On November 16, at home, she gave birth to a daughter, who died the same day. Joseph II helped by commissioning Mozart and Ponte to write a dramma giocoso on an old theme (used by Marivaux in Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard, 1730): two men disguise themselves to test the fidelity of their fiancées; they find them pliable, but forgive them on the ground that “così fan tutte ”—“so do all” women; thence the opera’s name. It was hardly a subject fit for Mozart’s tragic mood (except that Constanze had flirted a bit at Baden), but he provided for the clever and witty libretto music that is the very embodiment of cleverness and wit; seldom has nonsense been so glorified. It had a moderately successful première on January 26, 1790, and four repetitions in a month, bringing Mozart a hundred ducats. Then Joseph II died (February 20), and the Vienna theaters were closed till April 12.

Mozart hoped that the new Emperor would find work for him, but Leopold II ignored him. He ignored Ponte too, who went off to England and America, and ended (1838) as a teacher of Italian in what is now Columbia University in New York.91 Mozart made further appeals to Puchberg (December 29, 1789, January 20, February 20, April 1, 8, and 23, 1790), never in vain, but seldom receiving all that he asked. Early in May he pleaded for six hundred gulden to pay rent due; Puchberg sent a hundred. He confessed to Puchberg on May 17, “I am obliged to resort to moneylenders”; in that letter he numbered his pupils as only two, and asked his friend “to spread the news that I am willing to give lessons.”92 However, he was too nervous and impatient to be a good teacher. Sometimes he failed to keep appointments with his pupils; sometimes he played billiards with them instead of giving a lesson.93 But when he found a student of promising talent he gave himself unreservedly; so he gladly and successfully taught Johann Hummel, who came to him (1787) at the age of eight and became a famous pianist in the next generation.

Serious illnesses added pains to Mozart’s griefs. One physician diagnosed his ailments as “excretory pyelitis with pyonephritis, latent focal lesions of the kidneys, tending inescapably toward eventual total nephritic insufficiency”94—i.e., a disabling pus-forming inflammation of the kidneys. “I am absolutely wretched today,” he wrote to Puchberg on August 14, 1790. “I could not sleep at all last night because of pain. … Picture to yourself my condition—ill, and consumed with worries and anxieties. … Can you not help me with a trifle? The smallest sum would be very welcome.” Puchberg sent him ten gulden.

Despite his physical condition Mozart undertook a desperate expedient to support his family. Leopold II was to be crowned at Frankfurt October 9, 1790. Seventeen court musicians were in the Emperor’s retinue, but Mozart was not invited. He went nevertheless, accompanied by Franz Hofer, his violinist brother-in-law. To defray the expense he pawned the family’s silver plate. At Frankfurt on October 15 he played and conducted his Piano Concerto in D (K. 537), which he had composed three years before, but which the whim of history has named the “Coronation Concerto”—hardly among his best. “It was a splendid success,” he wrote to his wife, “from the point of view of honor and glory, but a failure as far as money was concerned.”95 He returned to Vienna having earned little more than his expenses. In November he moved to cheaper lodgings at Rauhensteingasse 70, where he was to die.

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