Mozart and Those Weber Women

26 July 2009

Guest Writer: Agnes Selby 

Die WeberischeFraun - Those Weber women — is the derogatory way in which Mozart historians maliciously refer to Mozart's wife, her mother and her sisters. In this they are influenced by Leopold Mozart, whose fear of losing the power he had exercised over his son's destiny prompted him to hate the Weber women well before he met them. Although Leopold saw them in a different light when he finally met them in Vienna, German historians have attached great importance to his early, most prejudiced statements and added to them the venom of their own imagination.In 1945, in Mozart, His Character, His Work, the renowned German scholar and critic Alfred Einstein wrote with unscholarly prejudice:"the Weber family embodied the evil and demoniac element which he could never escape; which would never loosen its hold upon him even after death......"

Einstein's statements regarding the Weber family are not substantiated by reference to any source material, so it is impossible to verify the basis of his harsh opinions. Later writers have copied Einstein verbatim; some have added further unfounded ridicule to his abuse.The campaign against the Weber women began in earnest in 1913 with the publication of Arthur Schurig's Mozart biography, W.A. Mozart. Mozart's wife's sexuality was particularly repellent to Schurig, who claimed that "the marriage robbed his artistic fertility of its intensity". Schurig and the writers who followed in his footsteps confused the purity of Mozart's music with the man of flesh and blood.

They refused to acknowledge Mozart's great love for Constanze and insisted that a celibate Mozart would have been infinitely more productive. Once again, Schurig's statements are not substantiated by primary source material and are simply the result of his opinionated prejudice.

With so much original material now available, the time is ripe for a more rational appraisal of the Weber family and their important role in Mozart's life.During the autumn of 1777, Mozart embarked on a journey to seek his fortune away from Salzburg. His journey was born of necessity. Despite the tremendous vitality and joyful spirit of his compositions at this time, he was thoroughly bored by his repetitious duties at the Salzburg court of Archbishop Hieronymus Count von Colloredo. Besides, Colloredo's ambition was to imitate the Viennese court by importing Italian musicians for the leading posts of his orchestra, thus reducing the German musicians' opportunities for advancement.

Astutely, Mozart's father realised that his son's future prosperity must lie where his talents would be better appreciated. And so the twenty-one-year-old Mozart resigned from his Salzburg post in an atmosphere of considerable unpleasantness and, accompanied by his mother, departed Salzburg in search of more prestigious employment.Mozart and his mother arrived in Mannheim on 30th October, 1777. Soon thereafter he was in need of a copyist, and the man recommended to him as the cheapest and best copyist in town was one Fridolin Weber, violinist, bass singer and theatre prompter at the Mannheim court.

Little did Mozart know as he stood for the first time at the Webers' door that destiny awaited him inside. The members of the family who welcomed him on that autumn day would forever change his life, influence his music, and one would even comfort him on his deathbed.

The four young women waiting to meet the famous Mozart, whose childhood reputation accompanied him wherever he went, were no simpletons, despite their poverty. There Mozart first beheld Aloysia, then seventeen years old, his first great love, the soprano whose voice was destined to grace the great opera houses of Europe. Aloysia's older sister, Josepha would one day be the future star of the Theater auf der Wieden in Vienna and the first Queen of the Night in Mozart's opera, The Magic Flute. Most important of all, Constanze, then fifteen years old, would one day become his wife, and would remain the champion of his music for fifty years after his death. The youngest, Sophie, was only thirteen on that fateful day but she too was destined to gain immortality as the comforting angel at his deathbed.

Nor was the visit to the Weber family a simple trip to a copyist. In their home Mozart found gemutlichkeit (friendship, hospitality and homeliness). Fridolin Weber was an educated man. A linguist, he had studied law at the University of Freiburg, as his father had done before him. The early death of Fridolin's father had forced him to abandon his studies and take up employment as manager of the vast estates of Baron Schonau in Zell. Seven years later, after a dispute with that feudal lord, the Webers moved to Mannheim. Fridolin Weber received a salary of only 200 gulden annually at the Mannheim court, scarcely enough to support his family. His ancestor, Johann Baptist Weber had been ennobled by Ferdinand II in 1622, and although Fridolin was entitled to use the noble von in front of his patronymic, he refused to do so. The name von Weber would soon be immortalised, however, by his brother Anton's son Carl Maria von Weber the composer of Der Freischutz (1820), acknowledged as the father of the German Romantic Movement.

Madam Weber, regarded as a "witch" by Mozart historians was the impoverished descendant of the noble house of Stamms-Stamm and a native of Mannheim. A thorough study of primary sources reveals a heavily burdened woman with an unwavering dedication to her family.

The Mozart writers who shamelessly copied one another in accusing Madam Weber of villainy have all been influenced by Leopold Mozart's dislike of the Weberische Frauen. Leopold's fear of the Weber family was justified to the extent where his own relationship with Mozart was concerned. There is no doubt that Mozart's open rebellion against his father, and his ultimate estrangement from him, began in Mannheim. This was entirely due, however, to Leopold Mozart's dictatorial attitude and the emotional stranglehold he imposed on his son. Away from his father, Mozart tasted freedom for the first time in his life. His mother, who was supposed to watch over him, was no match for a young man who had learned his cunning from his father.

Although poverty plagued Fridolin Weber in Mannheim, his daughters learned to play the piano, to sing and to speak several languages. Aloysia was Fridolin's pride and joy. Not only was she blessed with good looks but her talent as pianist and singer impressed Mozart to such a degree that he expressed his willingness to sacrifice his own career and devote himself to composing only for her. He planned to take her to Italy where he believed she would become famous. The extraordinary beauty and versatility of her voice can still be appreciated from the many arias Mozart composed for her between 1778 and 1788. Mozart's plans also included her older sister, Josepha. Fridolin Weber would act as chaperone.

The house in Salzburg where Constanze and Sophie died
(Image: Courtesy of wim Vingerhoed)

Mozart discussed his plans with the Weber family. He acted as an independent young man, sure of himself and his destiny. The Webers were completely overwhelmed by his generosity. Here was a young prince who had come to rescue them from poverty, who would help their beloved Aloysia find the fame she so richly deserved.

In due course, Mozart informed his father of his plans. The reply he received sent him to bed for three days suffering from headaches and nausea. His mother visited the Webers and explained the impossibility of fulfilling Wolfgang's plans, and informed them that she and her son would soon be leaving Mannheim to seek their fortune in Paris.

The Webers had suddenly lost their benefactor. Leopold Mozart quashed his son's enthusiasm with a single letter. Emily Anderson's translations of letters relating to this period in Mozart's life reveal a young man hopelessly in love. The father saw his son's plans as a destruction of all the hopes he held for him and probably rightly so. For ever after, Leopold would see the Webers as spoilers and opportunists, never taking into account his adult son's plans and decisions, be they ever so foolish.

This experience, however, would later be remembered by Madam Weber. Her much criticised behaviour toward Mozart in Vienna when he was courting Constanze takes on a different perspective when viewed with the Mannheim disappointment in mind. For a long time she believed Mozart was not to be trusted, especially as a suitor for her daughter's hand. Mozart, after all, had no employment in Vienna. A letter from his father could have resulted in Mozart returning to Salzburg, leaving her daughter abandoned in Vienna.

On 13th March 1778, Mozart and his mother attended a farewell dinner at the Webers at which Mozart was presented with mittens knitted by Aloysia. Herr Weber copied all his music for nothing and presented him with his own volumes of Moliere's comedies, which were still in Mozart's possession when he died. The day before his departure for Paris, Mozart again visited the Webers. He spent two hours in their company, and when he left they all wept and watched him disappear as he turned the corner.

At this time the Weber Family's very survival was threatened when following the death on December 30 1777 of Maximilliam the Elector of Bavaria, Elector-Palatine Karl Theodor left Mannheim for Munich to claim his inheritance as the next Elector of Bavaria. Emperor Joseph II decided to claim Bavaria on the strength of his marriage to Maximilliam's sister. Frederick the Great of Prussia, who saw himself as the defender of all German states, began to mobilise against Austria. The outbreak of war was imminent.

With the Elector-Palatine, Karl Theodor in Munich, the Mannheim musicians were left in a quandary, not knowing what the future would hold for them. Fridolin Weber's uncertainty came close to panic. At first he contemplated taking Aloysia on tour, but the lack of money and contacts put a stop to these plans. He then travelled to Mainz where the Seyler theatrical company was in residence, hoping that Aloysia could begin her career with the company. He unsuccessfully looked for work in Mainz in order to support his family. Soon this plan was also abandoned.

Much unhappiness was caused Aloysia by her exclusion from a court concert although she was now a salaried singer. Vicious tongues spread the rumour that she had lost her voice. At the end of July 1778, Aloysia was invited to sing at a concert where she was heard by Count Seeau, the director of the Munich National Theatre, and was promptly invited to join the Munich Opera. The entire Weber family moved to Munich, and for the first time in many years fate began to smile on them. Aloysia was engaged at a salary of 600 gulden and her father's salary was increased to 400 gulden, a princely sum when one remembers that Leopold Mozart's salary at that time was also 400 gulden a year.

Mozart's mother died in Paris on 3rd July 1778. Professionally and personally, Mozart's trip to Paris was a failure. Despite his father's explicit orders to return home promptly, he procrastinated in every city he visited on his homeward journey. The daunting prospect of seeing his father and returning to his dreary duties at the Salzburg court was more than he could face. Five months after his mother's death, Mozart arrived at the Webers, in Munich on Christmas Day. Attired in his red Parisian mourning suit with large black buttons and looking somewhat like a clown, he arrived just at the moment when Aloysia was entertaining friends. She was now a fully-fledged prima donna of the Munich Opera, and counted among her friends and admires such dignitaries as Count Hartig the finance minister and many other influential people. So much had happened to her during the past year that the pockmarked young man in the red suit was now a burden to her. Mozart, who during his unhappy times in Paris had been sustained by his love for her, now found that Aloysia would have nothing to do with him.

According to Nissen, the young Constanze watched with dismay her sister's rejection of Mozart and offered him her friendship and appreciation by playing his compositions on the piano. It was at this time Mozart discovered what a fine pianist she was and gave her lessons. Their great love was based on the friendship formed in Munich under such awkward circumstances.

Mozart returned to Salzburg on 1st January 1779. In September that year the Webers moved again, following Aloysia to Vienna where she was engaged as prima donna at the German National Theatre. Soon she became the toast of Vienna and the breadwinner of her family. The Webers moved to a large apartment at No. 11 Petersplatz, the famed "Zum Auge Gottes", where Mozart would later live with them.

Aloysia obtained for her father the position of cashier at the National Theatre, and despite enormous debts, the family began to look forward with hope to their life in Vienna. Then suddenly, on 23 October, a month after their arrival in Vienna, Fridolin Weber died of cerebral haemorrhage.

Madam Cacelia Weber and her daughters were now alone in Vienna. Aloysia continued to support her family until 31st October 1780, when she married the esteemed actor and painter Joseph Lange. He was a widower, nine years her senior, and an exceptionally gifted and handsome man. His unfinished portrait of Mozart is perhaps the most famous likeness of the composer. Lange was a linguist, a renowned Shakespearean actor and a man of great insight; his autobiography contains a curiously modern psychological portrait of Mozart. Before his marriage to Aloysia, Lange signed a document which bound him to support his widowed mother-in-law with an annual income of 700 ducats. Cacelia Weber has been much criticised for extracting money from Lange. Yet the custom of the times dictated such an arrangement. Lange was also supporting his own mother and his mother-in-law from his previous marriage. As Fridolin Weber left nothing but debts, it is not hard to imagine the helplessness of the Weber women without Aloysia's income in a large and expensive city like Vienna.

Mozart arrived in Vienna in 1781 after the success of his opera Idomeneo at the Munich Festival. He was summoned from Munich to Vienna by Archbishop Colloredo who was visiting his sick father, accompanied by a retinue of cooks and musicians to provide entertainment for his guests.

Mozart was determined not to return to Salzburg and, with this in mind, he successfully picked a quarrel with his employer which led to his dismissal. To his father's horror, he moved from the Archbishop's servants‚ quarters to the Weber home; thus began Mozart's life in Vienna. It must be remembered that at this point of his life Mozart was not yet recognised as the great master we revere today. To his contemporaries he was a young man from the provinces with only one major opera to his credit. At the behest of his employer, Mozart had left Munich in haste without a change of clothing or money. No amount of pleading to have his clothes sent to Vienna moved Leopold to oblige his son. Leopold wanted him back in Salzburg in the employ of the Archbishop Colloredo and under his own thumb.

The widow Weber sensibly turned her large apartment into a pension. Her daughter Josepha was soon to leave home to study in Graz, so it fell to Constanze to look after their young tenant. At first Constanze and Wolfgang went on outings, but always accompanied by her mother as duenna. But soon it was evident that the young couple had fallen in love. When in September Mozart sent his father the finished parts of his new opera Die Entfuhrung aus dem Serail, there appeared on the verso of his letter in Constanze's handwriting the aria, "Ach, ich liebte, war so glucklich." (Ah, I loved, I was so happy).

(Image of Contanze Weber Mozart is graciously provided by Wim Vingerhoed)

The romance was now in full bloom. Madam Weber, remembering Mozart's earlier irresponsible promises to Aloysia in Mannheim, asked him to find other accommodation. At the same time, Leopold insisted that Mozart move away from the evil Webers. Mozart obliged his father and Madam Weber and moved to No. 1175 Graben, but only around the corner from the Webers. He continued to have his correspondence addressed to their home and kept in daily contact with Constanze.

Despite a commission to write an opera and the contacts he was establishing, Mozart was not offered a permanent position by the Emperor. Gluck and Salieri were firmly established as the leading lights of the Viennese musical scene. Historians who decry Vienna's inability to instantly recognise Mozart's talent would today be equally critical if, for example, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic were to be replaced by a gifted provincial youngster.

Madam Weber envisaged the strong possibility of Mozart returning to Salzburg, and, as a result, he was asked by Constanze's guardian, Johann Thorwart, to sign a document by which he was bound to marry Mlle Constanze Weber within three years, or, should he change his mind, she would be entitled to claim from him 300 gulden a year. Mozart signed the document in the presence of Madam Weber and Thorwart. Distressed by such a turn of events, Constanze requested to see the document and tore it up forthwith.

No blessing for their marriage was forthcoming from Salzburg. Instead, Leopold referred to Constanze as a "slut" and Madam Weber and the guardian as seducers of youths who should be made to sweep the streets of Vienna with placards on their backs proclaiming their guilt. To avoid further difficulties with her mother, Constanze went to live with the Baroness Waldstatten, Mozart's friend and patroness. Madam Weber responded with a threat to call the "chastity police" and have her daughter brought home. Little Sophie, hearing of this threat, warned Mozart, who married his Constanze soon after, on 4th August 1782 at St. Stephen's Cathedral, with only a handful of people present.

Constanze was married to Mozart for nine years, bearing him six children, of whom only two survived. Throughout her life Constanze was a meticulous bookkeeper, and it was during his life with her that Mozart began the catalogue of all his works. For a while he kept a little book into which he entered all his expenses, but soon this became his English exercise book. Tickets for his subscription concerts were sold from his home, and it was Constanze who looked after the business matters concerning the sale of tickets. The practical lessons she learned during this period came in handy after Mozart's death when she toured Germany promoting his music.

And what of the other three Weberische Frauen?

Mozart continued to write arias for Aloysia. During his lifetime she was the highest paid singer of the German Opera ensemble, receiving 1700 gulden annually. However, her brilliant career was continually interrupted by pregnancies. She bore Lange seven children between 1780 and 1785 when their marriage ended in divorce.

Aloysia travelled through Europe as a star performer. She was famous for her interpretation of Mozart's works. For a while she lived in Amsterdam and later moved to Frankfurt and from there to Zurich, where she founded an arts institute. There she promoted the works of Mozart and Haydn and paid performers from her own savings. Impoverished and in poor health, Aloysia finally moved to Salzburg in 1831, where she was supported by Constanze. She died on 8th June 1839 and was buried in St. Sebastian's Cemetery.

Sophie was a minor actress and physically the least attractive of the four Weber sisters. She was forty years old when she married the organist Jacob Haibel in 1806 and moved with him to Djakovar, Slovenia, where her life was fraught with hardship. She was widowed in 1826 and joined Constanze in Salzburg to look after her household. She outlived Constanze by four years and when she died in 1846, she was buried in Aloysia's grave in St. Sebastian Cemetery. Their bodies were later exhumed and re-interred in the Communal Cemetery in Salzburg with Alois Taux, the first director of the Mozarteum and his family. At the age of twenty-two Sophie had witnessed Mozart's death, and her account of the event appeared in Nissen's biography of Mozart. Subsequently every Mozart biographer has told the story, thus paving Sophie's way to immortality.

Josepha studied singing in Graz under an Imperial scholarship; being one of two singer thus supported by Joseph II. The other singer would later become the mother of Carl Maria von Weber. Josepha returned to Vienna to join the Schikaneder company at the Theater auf der Wieden, and in 1788 she married the violinist Franz de Paula Hofer, one of Mozart's closest friends. Two years later she gave birth to her daughter, Josepha Hofer, who was to become a famous nineteen-century opera singer.

Josepha married after her first husband's death a man fourteen years her junior. He, Friedrich Sebastian Mayer is remembered as the first Don Pizarro in Beethoven's opera Fidelio. Josepha continued to sing leading roles until her retirement in 1805. By October 1795 she had performed the role of the Queen of the Night 200 times. Mozart's Queen of the Night died of a stroke on 29th December, 1819 in Vienna.

She is the only one of the four sisters not to be buried in Salzburg.

Constanze's story is central to Mozart's life and the survival of his musical output after his death and appears in full in my book, Constanze, Mozart's Beloved.

The Weber women were not personalities of such importance that they themselves could claim immortality. No great singer in the pre-recording era is remembered two hundred years later simply for her voice. These were talented, hard-working, unusual women who pursued their careers with varying degree of success in an often hostile world, but their names have survived to this day because they were drawn into a genius's magic world and share the aura of his immortality.

Note: This article was first published by Quadrant in April 1994.   Mrs. Agnes Selby, author of Constanze, Mozart's Beloved," thanks the Editor-in-Chief of Quadrant for allowing her to re-submit this article for re-publication.