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Mozart as a Teacher

by Alfred Mann and Mario R. Mercado

This small contribution to the observances of the Mozart anniversary is offered under dual authorship since its discussion emanated from two recent studies. One of them, published as one of the last volumes in the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe, the new Critical Edition of Mozart's works to be concluded in 1991, deals with Mozart's work as a teacher of composition.1 The other is concerned with the development of Mozart's keyboard idiom and touches upon questions of what in modern terminology would be referred to as piano pedagogy.2

The didactic situation in Mozart's time differed in its approach significantly from that of twentieth-century teaching. Vocal or instrumental instruction was, as a rule, not treated as an isolated phenomenon but in conjunction with training in theory and composition. "Piano lessons" as such were something upon which Mozart looked with disdain. "I leave that to people who cannot do anything but play the piano. I am a composer," he wrote in a letter (February 7, 1778) to his mother.

Nevertheless, a dichotomy by which instruction in performance was separated from that in composition began to take shape in the course of Mozart's teaching activities, and it was prompted both by the development of the students' careers and the role Mozart's own creative work played in it.

Mozart had several keyboard students that figured prominently in his work as a composer; the Salzburg Countess Antonia Lützow was the dedicatee of the Concerto in C, K. 238 written in 1776; Rosa Cannabich and Thérèse Pierron Serrarius, pupils during Mozart's Mannheim sojourn of 1778, prompted important keyboard works: the Sonata in C, K. 309 (284b) for piano solo and the Sonata in C, K. 296 for piano and violin. About Rosa Cannabich, the daughter of Christian Cannabich, composer, violinist, and Konzertmeister of the celebrated Mannheim orchestra, Mozart made the following remarks in a report home to his father:

As soon as I can, I shall have the sonata which I have written for Mlle Cannabich copied out on small paper and shall send it to my sister. I began to teach it to Mlle Rosa three days ago. We finished the opening Allegro today. The Andante will give us most trouble, for it is full of expression and must be played accurately and with the exact shades of forte and piano, precisely as they are marked. She is very smart and learns very easily. Her right hand is very good, but her left, unfortunately, is completely ruined ... For she has got into the habit of doing what she does, because no one has ever shown her any other way. I have told her mother, and I have told her too, that if I were her regular teacher, I would lock up all her music, cover the keys with a handkerchief and make her practice, first with the right and then with the left, nothing but passages, trills, mordants and so forth, very slowly at first, until each hand should be thoroughly trained. I would then undertake to turn her into a first-rate clavierist.

Mozart's activity as a teacher grew in the last decade of his life, the Vienna years, after he made the irrevocable break with the Archbishop of Salzburg and took up the existence of a free-lance artist. Teaching held the potential for a lucrative and fairly steady income, though Mozart learned early that he had to come to certain understandings with the nobility, many of whom figured as his students, to undercut a frivolous attitude toward their studies and, more importantly, to avoid a loss in essential income. In January 1782, Mozart wrote to his father:

I have three pupils now, which brings me in eighteen ducats a month; for I no longer charge for twelve lessons, but monthly. I learnt to my cost that my pupils often dropped out for weeks at a time, so now, whether they learn or not, each of them must pay me six ducats. I shall get several more on these terms, but I really need only one more, because four pupils are quite enough.

We do not know the exact literature Mozart taught his students, though he included his own sonatas for piano solo and piano and violin as well as sets of variations for his advanced pupils. A letter from 1781, again to his father, closes with a hasty explanation of the need to finish a set of variations for the imminent lesson of a pupil, the Countess Marie Thiennes de Rumbecke; the variations in question were one of three sets composed during the summer of 1781 in Vienna — either the Variations in F, K. 352 (374c) for piano on "Dieu d'amour," a chorus from the Gretry opera Les mariages samnites, or the Variations in G, K. 359 (374a) for piano and violin on the French song "La bergère Célimène," or the Variations in G minor, K. 360 (374b) for piano and violin on "Hélas, j'ai perdu mon amant."

Thérèse von Trattner, wife of the bookseller and printer Joseph von Trattner, as well as the Countess Rumbecke, were among the three pupils Mozart mentioned in the above letter. To Thérèse von Trattner he dedicated his Sonata in C minor, K. 457 composed in 1784 and the Fantasy in C minor, K. 475 written in 1785, both works published in 1785 as his Op. 11 by Artaria, the leading Viennese music publisher. Mme. von Trattner was reputed to be a gifted pianist, an opinion which is borne out by the demands made on pianistic technique in both works. However, not all of Mozart's sonatas posed such uncompromising technical challenges; his justly famous C major sonata K. 545, written in 1788, carried the epithet "fur Anfänger." Intended as a teaching piece, the ostensibly simple and transparent pianistic idiom of the sonata nonetheless calls for an assured technique.

The third pupil to whom Mozart referred in the letter was the most gifted musician of the three, Josepha von Auernhammer. Like the others, she was close to Mozart's age. Mlle. von Auernhammer and Mozart performed often as duo-pianists: he composed the brilliant concertante Sonata in D, K. 448 for two pianos for her. Though the two piano parts are mostly on equal footing, Mozart intended the primo part for her. They gave frequent performances of the Concerto in E-flat, K. 365 (316a), written in 1779, and the Concerto in F, K. 242, for three pianos, composed in 1776, which Mozart had subsequently arranged for two pianos. He also dedicated to her his Op. 2, the series of six sonatas which included K. 296,376-380(296,374d, 374e, 317d, 373a, 374f).

In general, Mozart gave his students from three to five one-hour lessons a week (at least during the early Viennese years; as Mozart's obligations increased — both as a performer and as a composer, and as he took on more students — it is difficult to believe that he continued to be as generous with his time). Nonetheless, correspondence with his father suggests that, during the early months of their association, he taught Josepha von Auernhammer on a daily basis and that he maintained a cordial relationship with her family that lasted throughout his career in Vienna. The correspondence also reveals that teaching usually occupied Mozart's mid-day; he sought to reserve the early morning and the evening for composing.

Josepha von Auernhammer established herself as a pianist, composer, and teacher in Vienna. Among her various compositions was a set of variations on "Der Vogelfänger bin ich ja," which was published in 1793. Keyboard variations became established as very fashionable forms with the rising class of cultivated music amateurs of late-eighteenth century Vienna and Paris; for themes or subjects, composers chose opera arias or songs. As publications, variation sets functioned in a fashion analogous to the widely disseminated songs. As a teaching vehicle, the variation form developed by Mozart proved ideal, providing for each hand pianistic problems and idioms; interpolated into the series of ongoing figure patterns were variations contrasting in style, mode, and tempo. In a sense, the variation sets tested all aspects of contemporary pianistic technique and occupied the role which collections of pianistic studies or études were to assume in the nineteenth century. Unlike other genres of works, the majority of Mozart's variation sets were published during his life.

Evident in Mozart's evaluation of the shortcomings in Rosa Cannabich's keyboard skills as well as in his method toward correcting them is his opinion of a requisite grounding in fundamentals of pianistic technique. Mozart regarded as indispensable the absolute independence of the thumb and fingers of each hand. In this regard, his recommendation to practice scales, passages, and ornaments on a keyboard covered with a handkerchief is telling: such an approach compels a uniform touch. Moreover, it is noteworthy that the only surviving exercise by Mozart is one, believed to emanate from the late 1780s, which stresses finger independence through broken chord patterns.

Of the numerous other students, Prince Karl Lichnowsky occupies a rather different position in Mozart's life. Like the others mentioned above, he became a piano pupil of Mozart; however, he also assumed the role of patron — he facilitated the composer's trip to Prague, Dresden, Leipzig, and Berlin in 1789 — and serves to link the generations of the Viennese classical school. His wife, Christiane, née Thun, was the daughter of Countess Wilhelmine von Thun, who had studied with Haydn and became a friend to Mozart. Through the introduction of Haydn, Beethoven was to meet the young and musically sophisticated Prince Lichnowsky when he moved to the Imperial capital in 1792. Beethoven's first lodgings were rooms in one of the Lichnowsky Viennese residences and the Lichnowskys proved his kind and generous supporters. The prince himself accompanied Beethoven on a concert tour in 1796 which, coincidentally, proceeded along the same itinerary as that he had undertaken with Mozart. Beethoven's respect and admiration for Prince Lichnowsky gained expression in various dedications, including his Op. 1, a set of three piano trios, and the Sonate pathétique, Op. 13.

As we know, Mozart was obliged to teach throughout his career in Vienna. Particularly moving are the letters of the last years to his fellow mason Michael Puchberg in which he entreats Puchberg for financial assistance and informs him of his need to secure additional students. In contrast stands the period of the mid- I780s during which the income received by teaching as well as through subscription concerts, subscription sales of his music, and commissions contributed to a prosperous and secure era for Mozart; the year 1784 is often singled out as one of Mozart's happiest and most productive. It was also in this year that Mozart began the cultivation of the most mature series of piano concertos and two of them, in E-flat, K. 449 and G, K. 453, were dedicated to a favorite student, the pianist Barbara Ployer. In fact, Mozart's roles as instructor of piano and harmony and counterpoint converge in the instruction of Barbara Ployer.

From the year 1784 dates a preserved notebook of Barbara Ployer which a later owner entitled Mozarts Unterricht in der Komposition. It contains exercises in four-part harmony that range from simple keyboard settings, for which the top part and a figured bass are assigned, to complete movements for string quartet as well as sporadic studies in counterpoint. Mozart had given what was probably his earliest instruction in composition (1778) to the daughter of the Duke of Guines in Paris. The young lady was not very gifted, and the lessons developed into somewhat of a struggle well documented in Mozart's correspondence with his father. Mozart wrote to him on May 14,1778: "... she made a rather acceptable bass for the first minuet I had put down for her, and has now begun to write in three parts ... but she tires easily ...I can't move ahead ... it seems too early even if she had real talent, but she doesn't." He continues: "I have tried all sorts of things ... Among others, I hit on the idea of giving her a very simple minuet to see if she could not write a variation on it — in vain .... Now I thought she probably does not know how to begin... so I varied the first measure and told her to follow up the pattern ... this worked more or less."

The method Mozart had developed, however, came to a sudden halt when he asked the student to commence with an idea of her own. As he reports, she thought about it for a quarter of an hour, but "nothing came." He then tried the device of writing out four measures of another minuet, saying: "Look, what a fool I am; I have started a minuet and now I don't know how to end even the first section. Be good enough to finish it for me." Yet the attempt led to no perceptible success.

Leopold Mozart's reply (May 28, 1778) is highly interesting: "You want her to have ideas of her own — do you think everyone has your genius? ... If she has a good memory, eh bien! Let her crib — or, to put it politely, adopt — it is all right for the beginning until some Courage comes; with variations you have made a good start, just carry on!"

Barbara Ployer's studies show that Mozart took his father's advice to heart. The variation principle had assumed a prominent role in his own early exercises, conducted under Leopold's guidance; and Mozart's emphasis on contrapuntal training in later years may have been derived in part from the fact that he saw in repeated assignments on an unchanging cantus firmus a didactically sound application of this principle.

There are two further notebooks from the 1780s in which Mozart's lessons in composition are contained. In both cases we are dealing with rather advanced students and very thorough courses of study. In the summer of 1785, Thomas Attwood, a young English composer who had gone to the continent on a stipend from the Prince of Wales, applied to Mozart for instruction, and his studies extended over the better part of two years.3 Overlapping with these is the work Franz Jakob Freystädtler carried on under Mozart's guidance for several months (probably from the summer of 1786 to the spring of 1787). Freystadtler (whose name, as well as the nickname "Gaulimauli" Mozart gave him, is known from the Canon, K. 232) soon joined the circle of Mozart's close friends, as had Attwood; and it is clear from Mozart's correspondence that he considered both of them junior colleagues rather than mere students. Nevertheless, he took them back initially to basic exercises, and it is remarkable to see that in the continuation of their rigorous studies, their writing, suggesting relatively inexperienced hands at first, began more and more to resemble Mozart's own, so that in the end a differentiation between the entries of teacher and student begins to pose serious problems.

Attwood's work under Mozart took its beginning in a manner somewhat similar to that of Barbara Ployer. But after some time, Mozart realized that what was needed was a careful schooling in linear writing. It was now no longer Leopold's influence so much that made itself felt in Mozart's method of instruction, but that of Haydn, with whom his close personal and artistic association developed during the decade of the 1780s. The dedication of Mozart's string quartets Opus X, addressed to Haydn as "their father, guide, and friend," stands as a testimony to the fact that he considered the older master (who himself had received strong impulses from Mozart's work) his mentor. It was evidently also in questions of pedagogy that Mozart was decisively influenced by Haydn, for the documents suggest that to the latter he owed his detailed knowledge of the formal study of counterpoint.

Haydn had become a choirboy at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna when the venerated master of the Imperial chapel, Johann Joseph Fux, was still living, and in early years he acquired Fux's famed Gradus ad Parnassum, the classical manual of counterpoint. "With tireless exertion Haydn sought to comprehend Fux's theory. He worked his way through the whole method, did the exercises, put them by for several weeks, then looked them over again and polished them until he thought he had got them right."4

Haydn's copiously annotated copy of the work was preserved in the Esterházy library until the Second World War, when it fell victim to the flames in the siege of Budapest. But various manuscript duplications of his exhaustive commentary exist, and the composer's "well-worn" copy had apparently gone through Mozart's hands, as can be seen from details of wording and musical examples in the Attwood studies.

Attwood's counterpoint studies covered several months; Attwood meticulously dated them. In the case of Freystädtler, Mozart began the instruction immediately with two-part exercises in species counterpoint according to Fux, and the more than 100 pages of the student's combined fascicles of manuscript are devoted entirely to the study of counterpoint (as was Haydn's instruction given to Beethoven).

There is no question that such complete devotion to strict contrapuntal schooling had a profound influence upon the masters' own work and, in fact, the rise of the Classical Viennese style. In a lecture left in manuscript (British Library Add. Ms. 35014 f.) by Samuel Wesley, the foremost English organist of the early eighteenth century, we find the following remark:

Mr. Thomas Attwood, His Majesty's Organist, who studied in Germany under Mozart, related to me many years ago an anecdote of his which frequently recurs to memory. Being naturally anxious to make a rapid progress under such a master and such a genius, he soon observed to Mozart, "Sir, I am extremely desirous to produce a good fugue from your instructions" — to which he replied, "Do not be too much in a hurry — study plain counterpoint for about twelve months, and then it will be quite time enough to talk about fugues."

1) Serie X Supplement, Werkgruppe 30 Band 2: Barbara Ployers and Franz Jacob Freystädtlers Theorie- and Kompositionstudien by Mozart, Hellmut Federhofer and Alfred Mann, editors, Kassel 1989.

2) Mario Mercado, The Evolution of Mozart's Pianistic Style, Southern Illinois Press, Carbondale, Illinois, 1991.

3) Serie X Supplement, Werkgruppe 30Band 1: Thomas Attwoods Theorie- and Kompositionstudien bei Mozart, Erich Hertzmann, Cecil B. Oldman, Daniel Heartz, Alfred Mann, editors, Kassel, 1965.

4) G.A.Griesinger, Biographical Notes Concerning Joseph Haydn (1809) edited in English translation by Vernon Gotwals, Madison, Wisconsin, 1963, p. 10.

Alfred Mann, Professor Emeritus, Eastman School of Music of the University of Rochester, known through his numerous publications on eighteenth-century music, has served as co-editor for two volumes of the Neue Mozart-Ausgabe. Musicologist Mario R. Mercado is Director of Programs at The Kurt Weill Foundation for Music in New York.

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