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Mozart in Italy


‘A man who has not been in Italy,’ wrote Samuel Johnson, ‘is always conscious of an inferiority, from his not having seen what it is expected a man should see.’ Thus it was that from the mid-seventeenth century until well into the nineteenth century, young men (less frequently young women) embarked on what is known as the ‘Grand Tour’, a journey across Europe intended to expose them to the treasures of contemporaneous and ancient culture. Paris was a frequent stop for such travelers but the destination par excellence was Italy with its glorious Renaissance and classical past. For aspiring young musicians, too, and especially aspiring young German musicians, Italy was a preferred educational destination. Writing in 1770, Nicolas Étienne Framery noted that ‘While the French and Italians were disputing which of them possessed music, the Germans learned it, going to Italy for that purpose. Before the Germans had the advantage of having any great men themselves, they had that of sensing the merit of their neighbours. German artists filled the public conservatories of Naples; people of quality sent their sons to the most famous masters. . .’.footnote1

Leopold Mozart was only too aware of the potential advantages of traveling with his son, Wolfgang, to Italy. Even at the Salzburg court – which had long-standing ties with Italy in any casefootnote2 – Italy was seen as a ‘finishing school’ for young musicians, singers in particular. In the 1750s and 1760s, several members of the Salzburg court music were sent to Italy to study, among them the bassoonist Franz Schwarzmann, the singers Joseph Meissner and Felix Winter, and the organist and composer Anton Cajetan Adlgasser. But Wolfgang’s case was not entirely the same: already an accomplished musician, his tours of Italy were intended not only to give him first-hand experience of Italian theatre (something not generally available to him in Salzburg) but also to win honours and fame even beyond those won during the earlier tours to Germany, France, Holland and England (1763-1766) and Vienna (1767-1768), chiefly through opera commissions, and possibly even a permanent appointment. In genuine ‘Grand Tour’ fashion, he also wanted to expose Mozart to Italy’s cultural wonders.

This necessitated establishing contacts, making travel arrangements and courting a variety of musical and non-musical, chiefly noble, establishments throughout the peninsula, which was diverse in its political and cultural make-up and dispositions. Italy in 1770 was a far cry from its earlier heyday: continental trade, previously centred on the Mediterranean, had by then shifted to the Atlantic; the Papal States had lost much of their former authority, partly as a result of the Protestant Reformation and partly because Catholic monarchs increasingly sought independence from Rome; Venice had stagnated after its struggles with the Ottoman Empire; Naples had suffered under, successively, Spanish, Austrian and then Spanish again, rule; and while the southern part of the peninsula consisted of large, bureaucratically homogenous political units (see figure 1) – chiefly the Papal States (ruled by the Pope, at the time Clement XIV) and the Kingdom of Naples (ruled by the Spanish Bourbons, at the time King Ferdinand IV) – the north, largely but not exclusively under Austrian control, was fragmented. It included the Prince-Bishoprics of Brixen and Trent, the Grand Duchy of Tuscany (the Habsburg-Lorraine family), the Duchy of Parma, Piacenza and Gustalla (the Bourbons of Parma), the Duchy of Modena and Reggio (the Este family), the Republic of Venice, and, most importantly perhaps, the Duchy of Milan (under direct Austrian control) (see figure 2). Local bureaucracies, customs, travel conditions and accommodations, cultural predilections and personal dispositions all had to be negotiated by Leopold, chiefly through a network of contacts that began in Salzburg and spread from there, sometimes second- or third-hand, throughout the peninsula. To give only one example: Franz Lactanz Firmian, Obersthofmeister in Salzburg and a supporter of the Mozarts, was the older brother of Karl Joseph Firmian, from 1759 Governor of Lombardy, and Wolfgang’s most important patron in Milan; Karl Joseph took it upon himself to write letters of recommendation for the Mozarts to, among others, Count Gian Luca Pallavicini-Centurioni of Bologna, who then wrote to his distant relation Cardinal Count Lazzaro Opizio Pallavicini in Rome. For his part, Cardinal Pallavicini wrote to his relation Field Marshall Giuseppe Maria Pallavicini in Bologna, who then wrote to Baron Matthäus Dominicus Saint-Odîle in Rome, who subsequently introduced the Mozarts to Giuseppe Bonechi, secretary to the imperial ambassador at Naples (see, for example, letters 165, 171, 176 and 177, among others). Similar networks were established through other prominent Salzburg families, include the Arcos.

Figure 1. Jean Lattre, Atlas Moderne ou Collection de Cartes sur Toutes les Parties du Globe Terrestre (Paris, 1770)*Click for larger image  Opens in a new window

Figure 2. Jean Lattre, Atlas Moderne ou Collection de Cartes sur Toutes les Parties du Globe Terrestre (Paris, 1770), detail*Click for larger image  Opens in a new window

Mozart’s three Italian journeys (13 December 1769-28 March 1771, 13 August-15 December 1771, 24 October 1772-13 March 1773) all began with transit from Salzburg via St Johann in Tyrol, Wörgl, Schwaz, Innsbruck, Steinach, Sterzing, Brixen (Bressanone), Atzwang, Bozen (Bolzano) and Egna to Rovereto. From there Mozart and his father traveled, on the first Italian trip, to Verona, Mantua, Bozzolo, Cremona, Milan, Lodi, Piacenza, Parma, Modena, Bologna, Florence, Siena, Orvieto, Viterbo, Rome, Marino, Sessa, Capua and Naples (with visits to Vesuvius, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Caserta and Capodimonte), before heading north again to Rome, Civita Castellana, Terni, Spoleto, Foligno, Loreto, Ancona, Senigallia, Pesaro, Rimini, Forlì, Imola, Bologna, Parma, Piacenza and Milan (where Mitridate, Re di Ponto premièred on 18 December 1770), then home by a somewhat circuitous route through Canonica, Brescia, Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Venice, Padua, Vicenza, Verona, Rovereto, Brixen and Innsbruck. The second trip took them to Ala, Verona, Brescia, Canonica and Milan (for the première of Ascanio in alba on 17 October 1771), and the third chiefly to Milan (for the première of Lucio Silla on 26 December 1772) (see figures 3-4).

Figure 3. The first Italian journey (from Alberto Basso, I Mozart in Italia (Rome, 2006), 103)*Click for larger image  Opens in a new window

Figure 4. The second and third Italian journeys (from Alberto Basso, I Mozart in Italia, (Rome, 2006), 107)*Click for larger image  Opens in a new window

Although Italian music unquestionably influenced Mozart’s style – both in terms of adapting the music he composed there to local conditions and its longer-term influence on his works – it is not possible to generalize about it beyond some broad observations concerning the types of works composed and the circumstances under which they were performed: Italian music, like music elsewhere, was subject to constantly changing fashions and composers both old and young, working at theatres, at courts or for the church, wrote music in a variety of modern and more old-fashioned styles. Nevertheless, Framery does touch on two aspects of Italian music that, irrespective of time or place or composer, characterize it in general, and both of which left a permanent imprint on Mozart – effect and melody:

The Italians have for a long time divided their music into two genres: church music and theatre music. In the first they bring together all the forces of harmony, the most striking chord progressions—in a word, the effect. And that is what they seek to combine with melody, which they never abandon. Here it is that one finds such well-worked-out double and triple fugues, those pieces for two choirs or for double orchestra—in fact, the most elaborate things that the art of music is capable of producing. The theatrical genre rejects absolutely all of these tours de force. Here the Italians employ nothing learned; everything devolves upon the melody. . . It is quite simple on this basis to teach composition to young people: one makes them work only on church music; one shows them matters of labour before showing them matters of taste.footnote3

On the whole, music was performed in public theatres, private homes and palazzi, and in churches. In Italy, public music meant opera; unlike Paris or London, concerts of instrumental and vocal music were few and far between and rarely attended by the public generally. Rather, concerts were the domain of the nobility, such as Count Karl Firmian in Milan (where Mozart played on 12 March 1770) or institutions, like the Accademia Filarmonica at Verona (where Mozart played on 5 January 1770). The church, of course, was home to liturgical music. Perhaps the greatest changes during the eighteenth-century were the increasing commercialization of opera – whereas court opera dominated earlier in the century, theatres run by independent impresarios for profit became increasingly common – and the gradual dissolution of the stylistic boundaries between operatic and theatrical style. As elsewhere in Europe, including Mozart’s Salzburg, church music in Italy increasingly took over the idioms of opera. Similarly, music was a highly personal enterprise within a fixed but nevertheless flexible institutional structure. Aspiring young composers are likely to have trained either at a cathedral school or one of the important Italian conservatories, such as those in Naples (which had four music conservatories: the Poveri di Gesù Cristo (closed 1743), S Maria di Loreto and S Onofrio (merged 1797), and S Maria della Pietà dei Turchini) and Palermo, and then to have moved on to increasingly prestigious opera commissions or church appointments. For instrumentalists, and in particular singers, the increasing commercialization of the theatres meant it was possible to establish careers independent of any particular institution: ‘stars’ – such as Farinelli – traveled from one theatre to another, often from one country to another (by and large it was Italian singers who were exported throughout Europe).footnote4

It is possible, based on the family letters and other documents, to identify a number of composers and works heard or performed by Mozart in Italy, sometimes specifically, as in the case of operas, or more vaguely, in the case of instrumental music, chiefly because surviving concert programmes generally name only the type of work and rarely even the composer. For Mozart’s concert at the Teatro Scientifico, Mantua, on 16 January 1770, for example, we know only that the programme included ‘a concerto for harpsichord presented and performed by him at sight’, a ‘sonata for harpsichord performed at sight by the youth’, a ‘concerto for violin obbligato by a Professor’, a ‘concerto for oboe obbligato by a Professor’ and a ‘trio in which Sig. Amadeo will play an improvised violin part’ (see letter 157). A review of Mozart’s Verona concert on 5 January 1770 notes that the programme included a trio by Boccherini (see letter 152). As for church music, we know that Mozart heard Allegri’s Miserere while in Rome (see below) and that on 30 September 1770 he attended a grand ceremony at Bologna that included a mass and vespers written by ten different composers, among them Petronio Lanzi, Lorenzo Gibelli, Antonio Fontana, Callisto Zanotti, Gabriele Vignali), Giuseppe Carretti, Bernardino Ottani, and Antonio Mazzoni (see letter 206).

We are better informed concerning the opera productions Mozart saw in Italy, some sixteen works both new and old:

3 January 1770, Verona, Teatro dell’Accademia Filarmonica: Ruggiero, text by Catterino Mazzolà, music by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi (first performance: Venice, 3 May 1769)

10 January 1770, Mantua, Regio Ducale Teatro Vecchio: Demetrio (rehearsal), text by Pietro Metastasio, music by Johann Adolf Hasse (first performance: Venice, January 1732)

20 January 1770, Cremona, Teatro Nazari: La clemenza di Tito, text by Pietro Metastasio, music by Michelangelo Valentini (first performance: Bologna, 3 January 1753)

2 February 1770, Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro: Cesare in Egito (rehearsal), text by Giovanni Francesco Bussani revised by Carlo Goldoni, music by Nicola Piccinni (first performance: Milan, 3 February 1770)

7 February 1770, Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro: La Didone abbandonata, text by Pietro Metastasio, music by Ignazio Celoniat (first performance: Milan, 26 December 1769)

21 May 1770, Naples, Teatro dei Fiorentini: La pastorella incognita, text by Pasquale Mililotti, music by Carlo Franchi (first performance: Naples, spring 1770)

30 May 1770, Naples, Teatro di San Carlo: Armida abbandonata, text by Francesco Saverio De Rogatis, music by Niccolò Jomelli (première)

16 January 1771, Turin, Teatro Regio: Annibale in Torino, text by Jacopo Durandi, music by Giovanni Paisiello (première)

2-3 Feburary 1771, Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro: La Nitteti, text by Pietro Metastasio, music by Carlo Monza (first performance: Milan, 21 January 1771)

7 February 1771, Brescia, Teatro Grande: Il Carnovale di Venezia, text by Pietro Chiari, music by Antonio Boroni (first performance: Dresden, 1769) or L’amor soldato, text by Niccolò Tassi, music by Alessandro Felici (first performance: Venice, autumn 1769)

11 February 1771, Venice, Teatro Tron di San Cassiano: La serenata in tartana, text by Giovanni Dolfin, music anonymous (first performance: presumably Venice, winter 1771)

12 February, 1771, Venice: either Siroe, text by Pietro Metastasio, music by Giovanni Battista Borghi, at the Teatro S Benedetto or Le contadine furlane, music by Antonio Boroni, given at the Teatro San Moisé (see letter 231)

16 October 1771, Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro: Il Ruggiero, o vero L’eroica gratitudine, text by Pietro Metastasio, music by Johann Adolf Hasse (première)

2 November 1772, Verona, Teatro dell’Accademia Vecchia: La sposa fedele, text by Pietro Chiari, music by Pietro Alessandro Guglielmi (first performance: Venice, carnival 1767)

5 November 1772, Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro: La locanda, text by Giovanni Bertati, music by Giuseppe Gazzaniga (first performance: Venice, carnival 1771)

30 January 1773, Milan, Regio Ducal Teatro: Sismano nel Mogol, text by Giovanni De Gamerra, music by Giovanni Paisiello (première)footnote5

Actual performance, or attendance at operas, was not the only way Mozart became acquainted with Italian music. During their time there, Leopold was given, or actively purchased, numerous works, some on behalf of the Salzburg court,footnote6 others for his, and Mozart’s, own private use. Wolfgang copied out Giorgio Allegri’s famous Miserere while in Rome (letters 176 and 184), and Leopold purchased copies of Francesco Antonio Bonporti’s Inventioni da camera op. 10 and the aria ‘Un pensier mi dice al core’ from Baldassare Galuppi’s L’amante di tutte. It may have been in Italy that Leopold made a copy of Eugène Ligniville’s Stabat Mater (K1 Anh. 238, K6 Anh. A17). Other pieces of music that cannot be shown to derive from the Mozarts but that survive in the same collection as other works once owned by the family, may similarly have been owned by them and purchased in Italy, including Rutini’s Sei sonate per cembalo published at Bologna in 1770, and the arias ‘Se possono tanto due luci vezzose’ and ‘Vedrai con tuo periglio’ by Antonio Saccini.footnote7 Similarly, it is certain that Mozart heard the overture to Josef Mysliveček’s Demoofonte, writing to his siter on 22 December 1770: ‘Ask whether or not they`ve got this symphony by Mysliveček in Salzburg, because if they haven`t, we`ll bring it with us’ (letter 224).

As for Mozart’s own compositions in Italy, the standard catalogue of his works – the Köchel catalogue, last revised in 1964 – gives a misleading picture of what he wrote there; recent philological advances in the study of Mozart’s own autograph manuscripts have significantly re-dated many works thought to have been composed between 1770 and 1773 and studies of authenticity have similarly cast doubt on others (for full details, see entries for individual works):

K1 (K6)Traditional dating (according to K6)Notes/New dating
71 (71): Aria for tenor ‘Ah, più tremar non voglio’Salzburg, late 1769 or Italy, early 1770Incomplete; paper-type of surviving fragment suggests dating of Salzburg, early 1769
--- (72a): Allegro for keyboardVerona, 27 December 1769-6 January 1770Documented by ‘Verona’ portrait and letter 152; authorship uncertain
Anh. 2 (73A): Aria ‘Misero tu non sei’Milan, 26 January 1770Lost, documented by letter 158
143 (73a): Recitative and aria ‘Ergo interest—Quaere superna’presumably Milan, early February 1770 (dated 1772 in K2)Paper-type of autograph suggests dating of Salzburg, late 1773
78 (73b): Aria for soprano ‘Per pieta bell’ idol mio’Milan, February-March 1770Holland or Paris, c1766 (paper- type of autograph)
88 (73c): Aria for soprano ‘Fra cento affanni’Milan, February-March 1770Paper-type of autograph confirms traditional dating
--- (73D): Aria for soprano ‘Per quel paterno amplesso’ (fragment)Milan, February-March 1770Paper-type of autograph suggests dating of Holland c1765
79 (73d): Scena for soprano ‘O temerario Arbace—Per quel paterno amplesso’Milan, February-March 1770Paper-type of autograph suggests dating of Holland or Paris, c1765-1766
77 (73e): Recitative and aria for soprano ‘Misero me—Misero pargoletto’Milan, beginning of March 1770Paper-type of autograph confirms traditional dating
80 (73f): Quartet for two violins, viola and violoncello (movements 1-3)Lodi, 15 March 1770Autograph score dated by Mozart; the fourth movement was added in Vienna or Salzburg, late 1773-early 1774
123 (73g): ContredanceRome, on or before 14 April 1770Presumably the composition described by Leopold Mozart in letter 176 but possibly not a work by Mozart
94 (73h): MinuetBologna, March 1770 or Rome, April 1770Paper-type of autograph and handwriting suggest dating of Salzburg, 1769
--- (73i): Canon à 5presumably Rome, April 1770Paper-types of autographs suggest dating of Salzburg, before mid-1772
89 (73k): Kyrie à 5presumably Rome, May 1770Paper-type of autograph suggests dating of Salzburg, c1772
81 (73l): Symphony in DRome, 25 April 1770Lacks authentic sources altogether, authorship unknown; dating in K6 based on dated manuscript copy in Vienna, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde
97 (73m): Symphony in Dapparently Rome, April 1770Lacks authentic sources altogether, authorship and dating unknown
95 (73n): Symphony in Dapparently Rome, April 1770Lacks authentic sources altogether, authorship and dating unknown
82 (73o): Aria for soprano ‘Se ardire, e speranza’Rome, 25 April 1770Autograph score dated
83 (73p): Aria for soprano ‘Se tutti i mali miei’Rome, April or the beginning of May 1770Paper-type of autograph suggests traditional dating correct
84 (73q): Symphony in Dpresumably started at Milan, February 1770, completed at Bologna, July 1770Lacks authentic sources altogether, authorship unknown; dating in K6 based on extant non-authentic manuscript copy
--- (73r): 4 puzzle canonspresumably Bologna, July-August 1770Paper-types of autographs suggest dating of Salzburg, before mid-1772
85 (73s): MiserereBologna, end of July-beginning of August 1770Autograph: ‘Miserere / à 3. Del Sgr: Cavaliere Wolfgango Amadeo Mozart. / in Bologna 1770.’
122 (73t): Minuet without trioApparently Bologna, early August 1770possibly not by Mozart but sent by him to Salzburg in March 1770 (see letter 171)
44 (73u): Antiphon Cibavit eosBologna, late September-early October 1770 (dated 1767 in K1)Not by Mozart but by Johann Stadlmayr. Mozart’s autograph transcription in Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin
86 (73v): Antiphon Quaerite primum regnum DeiBologna, 9 October 1770Written for Mozart’s admission to the Accademia filarmonica, Bologna, on 9 October 1770; another copy, by Leopold Mozart, dated 10 October
--- (73w): Fugue for keyboardBologna, 1770Paper-type of autograph suggests dating of Salzburg, c1773 or slightly later
--- (73x): Canonic studiesItaly, summer of 1770 or later, in SalzburgPaper-types of autographs confirms traditional dating
74: Symphony in GMilan, 1770Paper-type of autograph confirms traditional dating
87 (74a): Mitridate, Re di PontoCompleted Milan, December 1770Completed Milan, December 1770
--- (74b): Aria for soprano ‘Non curo l’affetto’Milan or Pavia, early 1771Lacks authentic sources altogether; authorship and dating unknown
111: Ascanio in AlbaMilan, late August-23 September 1771Milan, late August-23 September 1771
120 (111a): Finale to a symphony in DMilan, late October-early November 1771Traditional dating appears to be correct
96 (111b): Symphony in CMilan, late October-early November 1771Lacks authentic sources altogether, authorship and dating unknown
112: Symphony in FMilan, 2 November 1771Autograph dated 2 November 1771
113: ‘Concerto o sià Divertimento’Milan, November 1771Paper-type of autograph confirms traditional dating; second version with additional instruments probably 1773-1775
155 (134a): Quartet in DBolzano and ?Verona, late October-early November 1772No exact order of composition can be determined for the quartet series K155-160, nor precise dates for any particular quartet. At best they are collectively to be dated Italy, 1772-1773
156 (134b): Quartet in GMilan, late 1772See 155
135: Lucio Sillastarted Salzburg, October 1772-completed Milan, December 1772Started Salzburg, October 1772-completed Milan, December 1772
Anh. 109 (135a): Ballet sketches Le gelosie del SerraglioMilan, December 1772Presumed to be for Lucio Silla
157: Quartet in CMilan, late 1772-early 1773See 155
158: Quartet in FMilan, late 1772-early 1773See 155
165 (158a): Motet ‘Exsultate, jubilate’Milan, shortly before 16 January 1773Performed at Milan on 17 January 1773, see letter 279
159: Quartet in B-flatMilan, early 1773See 155
160 (159a): Quartet in E-flatMilan, early 1773 (and Salzburg)See 155
186 (159b): Divertimento in E-flatMilan, March 1773Paper-type of autograph suggests traditional dating correct

Finally, the Mozarts’ tours of Italy were more than musical adventures – in keeping with the spirit of the times, they also represented journeys of cultural discovery. The letters are full of references to major cultural attractions visited by the Mozarts, including the Verona amphitheatre (letter 152) and Vesuvius, Pompeii and Herculaneum (letter 191). Leopold was particularly enthusiastic about Istituto delle Scienze at Bologna: ‘All that I`ve seen here surpasses the British Museum, for here there are not only unusual objects from the world of nature but everything that comes under the heading of science, preserved like a lexicon in beautiful rooms and neatly arranged in an orderly fashion: in a word, you`d be amazed etc.’ (letter 171). In order to remember these places, and to show his family and friends in Salzburg what they looked like, he purchase copper engravings of many of them (see letter 186). And he collected numerous souvenirs, including some he described as trivial (such as a piece of the True Cross, see letter 221) but others that he treasured: ‘I shall not only bring back with me all the rare sights in the form of many beautiful copper engravings but have also received from Herr Meuricoffre a fine collection of Vesuvius lava – not the kind of lava that anyone can easily get hold of, but choice pieces with a description of the minerals that they contain. . .’ (letter 190).

We also learn from these letters some of the details of everyday life in the eighteenth-century, for example that different pens were suitable for writing music or letters (letter 202) or that in Italy, apparently unlike Salzburg, the best rooms were on the ground floor since they did not get as hot during the summer as rooms on the upper floors (letter 203). And of the vicissitudes of travel: ‘In this [letter] I must praise my sedia, which has successfully survived this journey, and even though we rattled over the biggest stones at breakneck speed on the Venetian roads from Verona and even from Peri, I didn’t feel the least discomfort, although I had to have 2 straps fixed to one of the two front wheels as the incredible heat had completely dried out the wood and it made little or no difference that I kept moistening it with water’ (letter 243).

All told, then, the Mozarts’ Italian letters are a window not only on to Mozart’s early career and travels, but also on to the culture of his eighteenth-century world.

Cliff Eisen

Please use the following reference when citing this website:
Eisen, Cliff et al. In Mozart's Words, 'Mozart in Italy' <http://letters.mozartways.com>. Version 1.0, published by HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.
In Mozart's Words. Version 1.0, published by HRI Online, 2011. ISBN 9780955787676.