May 19, 2014

Agnes Selby: Constanze, Mozart's Beloved (Wien: Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag 2013)

Why the Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag published a second edition of this smorgasbord of howlers, whose first edition in 1999 had already been the laughing stock of Mozart scholarship, is a total mystery. Agnes Selby is completely ignorant of the recent Mozart literature. She has to quote Mozart's letters from Emily Anderson's out-dated edition and simply repeats all the old popular nonsense that has been debunked ages ago. This book literally runs over with hogwash and could be turned into a successful comedy program, easily providing endless laughter for attendees of a meeting of musicologists.

A piece of popular literature like this does really not deserve a detailed review. But because this opus has been republished and contains passages that are so outrageously funny, I want to quote some of them and point out some of the most glaring mistakes it contains. Selby has an uncanny ability to create what I call "Selbyisms": statements that sparkle with so much nonsense that they are irresistibly funny. For example (from p. 96): 
Mozart had more immediate problems. He was known to be a Freemason and the French revolution had been fostered by French Freemasons who were in contact with their Viennese brethren. King[sic!] Leopold's secret police were well informed about the Lodges in Vienna and soon those connected with Freemasonry were discharged from their government posts.
Where to begin in the face of such ignorance? After the unification of the Lodges by Joseph II in 1785, the Freemasons had to register by name. They were completely harmless and under control. Hence they posed no threat at all to the Court, and nobody was discharged from a government post. Even professors at the university (such as Franz Schubert's patron Heinrich Watteroth) were Freemasons. The French Revolution had not "been fostered by the French Freemasons" (it is immensely funny to imagine those French Freemasons beating down the Bastille with their trowels and to visualize all the suddenly unemployed noblemen wandering the streets of Vienna). Mozart's Vienna is presented as a kind of fairytale paradise. That nonsense like this is being published in 2013 by a publishing house that calls itself a Wissenschaftsverlag is truly amazing:
The Vienna that Constanze encountered was unlike any other city in Europe. The population was so homogeneously united that only the epithet 'Viennese' fits its description. There was no question of 'nationality' as such among the inhabitants of Vienna, where Magyars, Bohemians, Slovaks and Slovenes, Germans, Italians and Poles rubbed shoulders in good humour. (p. 23)
This description of the eighteenth-century Viennese population is completely false and obviously caused by Selby's mistaken concept that the Ringstraßenzeit of the late 1900s – when huge numbers of people from all parts of the monarchy moved to Vienna – took place one hundred years earlier. Mozart's Vienna was not "unlike any other city in Europe" and at that time only an extremely small part of the city's population were foreigners.
The modest sum of 31 kreutzer would purchase a meal consisting of two meat dishes, soup, vegetables and unlimited bread with a litre[!] of wine. Because people were generous, even industrious citizens accepted the fact that some individuals might prefer begging to working, extreme poverty was practically nonexistent and those who made begging their profession often profited handsomely by it. (p. 23)
Of course the price of 31 kreuzer for such a meal is based on pure fantasy. And extreme poverty could be found everywhere in Mozart's Vienna. Here is another classic (from p. 32): 
In an amazing display of ill-will Leopold Mozart accused Constanze of being a slut.
Of course, Leopold Mozart did no such thing, and this insult cannot be found anywhere in the Mozart letters. Selby's slanderous claim (which she has repeatedly presented on various Mozart websites and internet forums) is based on her deep hatred of Leopold Mozart and her pathological jealousy of all people, who, in her opinion, were not fond enough of Constanze. There are more of these priceless statements (p. 71):
Mozart had many opportunities to gamble. Mozart's concerts at the Mehlgrube Casino were always followed by gambling tables being set up to allow the aristocracy to participate in their favorite sport. [...] Gambling was also endemic in Salzburg.
There was no public gambling in Joseph II's Vienna, because gambling (except for the state lottery) was illegal. It was also illegal in deeply Catholic Salzburg. That "men would gamble at street corners" in Salzburg (as claimed by Selby) is pure nonsense. All through her book, Selby mistakenly thinks that the word "Casino" refers to a gambling venue. The word "Casino" in eighteenth-century Vienna referred to a venue for social gatherings and events. The book's low scholarly flight level becomes apparent in Selby's imagining Mozart in Prague, losing money to Casanova in a series of card games: 
Casanova was an inveterate gambler who could never resist tempting his friends with a game of cards and it would not be inconceivable that Mozart lost considerable sums to him." (p. 85)
One can only wonder: where was Constanze and why could Mozart's guardian angel not forestall her husband's nightly activities? Emperor Franz II – one of the most hardworking monarchs of all time – is described by Selby in the following inimitable way:
Franz II lived through this period as though in a dream, occupying himself with gardening, attending to his family and walking through the streets of Vienna dressed as just another burgher enjoying a bit of window shopping.
Some of the most glaring nonsense to be found in this book is already well-known from Selby's longstanding and relentless self-praising activities on the Internet. The problem is that all these sparkling bloopers should really not be republished in 2013. Here are some of the most impressive examples (and this list is far from complete):
  • That Joseph Lange signed a document "which bound him to grant his widowed mother-in-law an annual income of 700 ducats" (p. 23) is of course false. Lange promised to pay Cäcilia Weber 700 gulden which is less than a quarter of the sum given by Selby. That at the time of her wedding, Aloysia Weber was already pregnant, is still an unproven assumption.
  • That Gottfried van Swieten was "dismissed from the Imperial Service on suspicion of participating in the Freemasons' conspiracy of 1791" (p. 35) is a piece of gross misinformation that Robbins Landon presented in his book Mozart: The Golden Years. There was no "Freemasons' conspiracy of 1791". Van Swieten was dismissed by the Emperor "in good grace", because of their differing views concerning the universities' role in science and the freedom of education that was part of van Swieten's political concept.
  • Like many amateur Mozart researchers, Selby mixes up the family of Adam Isaac Arnsteiner (1721–1785) with that of his daughter-in-law Fanny Arnstein. Fanny Arnstein did not "occupy the house at Graben No. 1175" (p. 35), her father-in-law Arnsteiner lived there on the second floor and he also was Mozart's landlord.
  • "Johann Thorwart was an altogether unpleasant and unsavory character". As a matter of fact, we have absolutely no documentary information concerning Thorwart's character. Selby is just jealous of him and picks her negative judgement out of thin air.
  • Selby is unable to let go of the story regarding the music supposedly performed at Mozart's wedding dinner: "During the dinner Constanze was surprised by the unexpected performance of Mozart's Serenade in B-flat (K. 361)." (p. 40) This alleged performance is a myth which may have been caused by a sentence that was willfully added into one of Mozart's letters in Nissen's Mozart biography. There is absolutely no documentary evidence to support it.
  • On p. 50 Selby claims that, on the occasion of the christening of Mozart's first child Raimund Leopold on 17 June 1783, "Baron Wetzlar could not be present due to the death of his father". What looks like very educated information, is based on pure fantasy. Wetzlar's father Karl Abraham Wetzlar von Plankenstern only died on 3 September 1799 (Wiener Zeitung, 11 September 1799, p. 3063). 
  • The information that "Neustift suburb No. 250 is now Lerchenfelder Straße[sic!] No. 65" (p. 52) is false. As Hans Rotter published in 1925, and as I have explained on this blog, it is Mariahilfer Straße 94.
  • That Mozart "composed the two duets for violin and viola for Michael Haydn [...] who was ill (supposedly due to heavy drinking)" (p. 53) is a fairy tale that has been debunked by Mozart scholarship a long time ago. It should really not reappear in a book released by a publishing house that calls itself Wissenschaftsverlag.
  • Maynard Solomon's estimates concerning Mozart's income, which Selby copied into her book, are based on speculations. They have absolutely no basis in archival sources.
  • "The banns for their marriage were read at the Theatines Chappel." (p. 39) No, they were not. Everybody who has seen Mozart's marriage entry knows that he and Constanze were exempt from the three readings of the banns. Furthermore, no banns were ever read at this chapel, because it was not a parish church. Mozart and his bride visited this chapel to go to confession and to get the "Beichtzettel" (certificates of confession) which they needed for the wedding.

A typical Viennese "Beichtzettel" of the composer Joseph Eybler (A-Wkhm, Archiv der Burgpfarre)
  • "After Lodge meetings, Mozart would join his brother Freemasons at the Cafe Jüngling, whose owner, Johann Jüngling belonged to the Lodge 'Zur neugekrönten Hoffnung'. There the men would sit down to dinner after which they gambled well into the early morning." (p. 63). There was no "Cafe Jüngling" in 1785, because Johann Jüngling (1762–1835) became the owner of this coffee house only in 1791. There was also no gambling at this Cafe. The whole scenario of this supposed "Freemasons' Casino" is the product of one of Selby's countless brain bubbles, obviously triggered by abysmally flawed secondary literature.
  • The "ballet story" concerning Le nozze di Figaro is nice, but it has been shown ages ago that it is purely fictional. There is no documentary confirmation that dancers were hired for the complete production of Figaro in 1786.
  • Franz de Paula Hofer's annual salary in 1788 at St. Stephen's Cathedral was 25 gulden, but (just like another writer, who in her new book calls Hofer a "penniless violinist") Selby is unaware of the fact that Hofer was a court musician and held several well-paid jobs simultaneously. Why should Josepha Weber have married a poor church mouse? At the time of his death, Hofer was making 360 gulden a year at the Court and 100 gulden at St. Stephen's and he had additional jobs at other churches. Selby's claim (p. 142) that he "left Josepha and their daughter burdened with enormous debts" is simply false. Franz Hofer's debts were managable: unlike Mozart he had actually joined the Tonkünstler-Sozietät to secure the livelihood of his widow and child. Between the death of her first husband on 14 June 1796 and her second marriage on 23 December 1797, Josepha Hofer was paid a pension from the Tonkünstler-Sozietät which, according to § 15 of the society's regulations in 1797, was passed on to her daughter who received it until 1813, the year she married Karl Hönig.

An unpublished document, issued on 21 July 1788 by the "Stadtwiener Conscriptions Amt", stating that Franz Hofer "is 31 years of age, Catholic, was born in Vienna, is employed as K.K. Hof-Capell Musicus, has been living at Stadt 587 for twelve years" and that "the conscription office does not object to his marriage". The information in the Dokumente that Hofer only became a court musician in 1789 is false.
  • Landstraße No. 224 was not "a large house". It was rather small. The Danish actor Joachim Daniel Preisler did not visit the Mozarts in 1787 at Landstraße No. 224, but in 1788 at Alsergrund No. 135.

A groundplan of the front section of the house Landstraße No. 224 where Mozart lived in 1787 (A-Wsa, Unterkammeramt, Baukonsens 87/1833)
  • Nannerl Mozart did not "retain all the valuable gifts given to the young Mozart". The list, which was drawn up on the occasion of the auction of Leopold Mozart's belongings, proves that those gifts had been sold by Leopold many years earlier. Selby's description of the distribution of Leopold Mozart's estate is based on Solomon's erroneous speculation and is therefore completely false. Nannerl did not "receive 6,000 to 10,000 florins from her father". As I explained in detail in 2012, Solomon's theory is based on a miscalculation of Nannerl's heritage from her husband, who not only bequeathed to his widow an annual pension of 300 gulden from the interests of her children's share, but also the main share of his estate of 22,000 gulden. Selby's descripton of the events after Leopold's death is rife with unfounded speculation and – as always – driven by hatred against all of Constanze's "less well-meaning" contemporaries. That Mozart "received punishment through Leopold's will" is a classic "Selbyism". Selby is ignorant of the sources and the literature dealing with Leopold's estate.
  • Gluck did not receive "a lavish funeral." As a matter of fact, this funeral was performed "in der Stille" (without music) and only cost 28 gulden 49 kreuzer (of which 12 gulden were paid for the carriage with four horses to the Matzleinsdorf cemetery).

The entry concerning Gluck's modest exequies on 17 November 1787 at Vienna's Paulanerkirche: "NB: Ist in der Stille Eingesegnet worden" (A-Wd, Bahrleihbuch 1787, fol. 408v)
  • In 1787 Mozart did not earn "1,700 florins in Prague". This estimate is based on Maynard Solomon's flawed presumptions.
  • Selby writes: "On December 7 Mozart was appointed to Gluck's vacated position as Chamber Music Composer to the Viennese Court" (p. 86). No, he was not. a) Gluck's position was not that of a "Chamber Music Composer to the Viennese Court". Gluck held an honorary position as a supernumerary which also explains his high annual salary of 2,000 gulden. b) Mozart was not appointed "Chamber Music Composer", but "k.k. Kammermusikus" which is a huge difference and explains the modest annual salary of 800 gulden that came with that position.
  • That Mozart's begging letters to Puchberg are proof for his poverty in 1788, is an out-dated point of view. At this time, Mozart was living in a 300m2 apartment for which he paid an annual rent of 250 gulden. He also owned a horse and a carriage. Of course he shamelessly took advantage of a well-to-do brother Mason. The suggestion that Mozart's begging letters were mostly theatrical scrounging efforts (which I first published in 2012 in my review of Günther Bauer's book Mozart. Geld, Ruhm und Ehre) has been echoed by Nikolaus Harnoncourt in a 2014 interview, who (not surprisingly) disingenuously presented my concept as his own brilliant idea.
  • Selby's account of the origin of Così fan tutte is based on the out-dated popular literature and is therefore worthless.
  • "Theresia von Trattner stood godmother for the little girl and the christening took place in St. Peter's Church". As I have shown in 2009, Theresia Mozart's christening did not take place in St. Peter's Church, but in Mozart's apartment.
  • Prince Lichnowsky's 1791 lawsuit against Mozart had nothing to do with gambling. As a matter of fact, gambling debts were classified as "Naturalobligationen" (so-called imperfect debt relations) and therefore their payment could not be claimed in a court of law. Debts incurred from illegal gambling, on the other hand, were legally void, i.e. they did not exist at all in the eyes of the law. Hence they could not be considered "Naturalobligationen". On 20 February 1753 Maria Theresia had issued a Patent die hohen Spiele und Wetten betreffend, ruling that "von niemanden, was er auf Borg verspielet, es mag wenig oder viel seyn, dem Gewinner, wenn selbser schon derentwegen eine schriftliche Recognition in Händen hätte, etwas bezahlet, noch der Verspieler von einer Obrigkeit hierzu angehalten werden soll" ("Nobody, who has gambled away money, be it little or much, should be forced by the authorities to pay the winner, even if this person is in possession of a written recognition."). The only gambling contracts that were legally valid were those concluded in connection with legal gambling, such as the official state lottery. Selby's repeated description of Mozart's debts as having been caused by gambling is comparable to the plot of Groundhog Day transferred into late eighteenth-century Vienna.
  • Walther Brauneis did not come across information "in a Logbook of the Special Courts of Aristocrats" (Selby will never understand the correct name of this source). The entry that Otto Mraz found (and Brauneis then mistranscribed and published with a wrong date) is located in the 1791 Cameralprotocoll of the I. & R. Court Chamber (today's Finanz- und Hofkammerachiv of the Austrian State Archives).
  • The address "Schulerstraße 816" is wrong. Johann Michael Auernhammer was neither a nobleman, nor a wealthy merchant. Gottfried Ignaz von Ployer was not "a high official of the court". He was a minor "Hof-Agent" who, at the time of his death in 1797, was totally broke. Babette Ployer was not a "von Ployer".

The seal of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta and the signature of its Viennese administrator Johann Michael Auernhammer (A-Wsa, Patrimoniale Herrschaften, Johanniter A12/1, 134/1747)

Seal and signature of Gottried Ignaz von Ployer from 1774 (A-Whh, OMaA 641-20)
  • That in 1789 "the priest of the Church am Hof was able to administer an emergency baptism to Anna Mozart" is false. Selby does not know the sources, the literature or any other documents related to this child's birth. Mozart's daughter Anna was baptized by the midwife.
  • The idea that Mozart's mass K. 317 was performed at the 1790 coronation in Prague (as Selby claims on p. 97) has been soundly debunked by Mozart scholarship years ago.
  • That "Die Zauberflöte embraced the philosophy of Freemasonry" (p. 101) is a popular misconception that has been refuted in several recent scholarly publications. Die Zauberflöte is not a cryptogram of Freemasonry, but a classic fairy tale opera. Its supposed relation to Freemasonry (which nobody ever noticed back in Mozart's days) is a creation of fanciful twentieth-century writers.
  • In summer 1791, in Baden, Constanze was not – as claimed by Selby – "again housed on the first floor above the butcher's". This error is one of the most ancient "Selbyisms", mostly because for years Selby has relentlessly been repeating it on several online forums. In his letter to Anton Stoll of May 1791, Mozart expressedly referred to Joseph Goldhann's former apartment on the ground floor: "das nothwendigste aber ist; daß es zu ebener Erde seye [...] zu ebener Erde, beym Fleischhacker". Because of her bad feet Constanze could not live "on the first floor above the butcher's", but had to use the apartment beside the butcher's. 
  • The estimation (copied from Solomon) that "Mozart in 1791 earned 5,000 florins" is of course pure hogwash. The rent for Mozart's apartment at the Camesina house was not "320 gulden for six months" (p. 63). It was 450 gulden for one year. 
  • The claims that "Süssmayr had a gift for composing in the style of famous composers" and that "Süssmayr composed numerous ballets which often lasted for three hours and were performed by the monks" (p. 106) are two other priceless "Selbyisms". That Franz Xaver Süßmayr "died of alcoholism" – as Selby impudently states – is nothing but slanderous malarkey. All surviving documents prove that Süßmayr died of tuberculosis.

The previously unpublished entry concerning Süßmayr's burial in St. Marx cemetery ("An Lungensucht besch[aut] word[en]"). Note that owing to inflation, this third-class burial cost even less than Mozart's 22 years earlier. (A-Wd, Bahrleihbuch 1802-03, fol. 304r)
  • Selby claims that "for La Clemenza di Tito Mozart was paid 1,150.gulden[!], including expenses" (p. 107). This alleged fee is an old myth, based on Mozart's claim in 1789 that he was offered "200 Dukaten und 50 Dukaten Reisegeld" for an opera. But there is absolutely no proof that Guardasoni ever made that offer in 1789 and even less that Mozart actually received this amount in 1791.
  • "Many of Mozart's Zettel were found among Süssmayr's papers in the Hungarian National Library." (p. 162). No, they were not.
  • Not "Jakob Haibel's father had been a tenor in the Schikaneder Company", Haibel himself had been that tenor.
  • Like countless amateur Mozart writers, Selby is unaware of the fact that the name of Mozart's last child was not "Franz Xaver", but Wolfgang. The names "Franz Xaver" only appear in the baptismal register and were never used by the parents. Mozart's last child was always called Wolfgang or "Wowi" by his parents and the claim (appearing all over the popular literature) that Constanze "later changed his Christian names" (p. 34, 163, 250 and 253) is simply false. Selby's claim that "Franz Xaver[sic!] inherited from his father his malformed left[sic!] ear" is just too funny to be commented on.
  • On 4 December 1791, Dr. Closset (which one of the brothers, Nikolaus or Thomas?) was of course not "enthralled by Die Zauberflöte that he refused to come". Closset came from the Burgtheater where Die Zauberflöte was not performed.
  • Mozart's belongings were not "catalogued and assessed for taxation purposes", but to secure the assets for the claims of the creditors. Mozart's debts with Lichnovsky, Puchberg, and Lackenbacher were not included in the official records, because "Constanze did not include them in her list prepared for the public records" (as Selby claims on p. 118), but because these creditors did not come forward to file their claims with the Vienna municipal civil court. A widow had no right to determine what the Sperrskommissär put on the list of passiva of her deceased husband.
  • There was no such name as "Walsegg von Stuppach". The correct name is "von Walsegg". Walsegg did not commission "Johann Martin Fischer to create a tomb". He commissioned the sculptor Benedikt Hainrizi to do this.

The design for the tomb of Countess Anna von Walsegg by Benedikt Hainrizi (1749–1799) (Vienna, Albertina)
  • Selby's bizarre presentation of Franz Schubert as "poor, lonely young man who had struggled in a Vienna barely aware of his existence [...]", and who "had died young and of syphilis[sic!]" (p. 119) makes us very glad that Selby has refrained from writing books about other famous dead people.
  • Selby's claim that Constanze "was listed in the Vienna Archives[sic!] as living in the Palais Liechtenstein in the Dorotheergasse which was near the Michaelerplatz" (p. 147) is just a conglobation of errors. There is no "Palais Liechtenstein" in the Dorotheergasse. Selby seems to have mixed it up with the Palais Dietrichstein, where Constanze also never lived. Constanze resided in the Palais Eskeles which is not located near the Michaelerplatz. Wetzlar von Plankenstern's villa in Meidling was not located "on the Grünberg", but at the bottom of this hill, above the so-called "Steurer Mühl Fahrtweg".
  • The spelling "Friedrich Sebastian Mayer" is wrong. This singer and his wife always signed their names Meier.

Friedrich Sebastian Meier's seal and signature in 1812

 Josepha Meier's signature in 1800
  • Constanze Mozart and her second husband did not get married in Pressburg, because she and Nissen fled from Napoleon's army or wanted to "wait for the storm to blow out". As a matter of fact, in 1809, Pressburg was bombed by Napoleon's army. They went to Hungary, because only there could they get the permission for an interfaith marriage.

In the chapter "Constanze's Second Widowhood" Selby falls into a well-known trap that regularly claims victims among all kinds of enthusiastic amateur Mozartologists: she actually thinks that Leopold Mozart, Euphrosina Pertl and Genoveva Weber were all buried in the family grave in the cemetery of St. Sebastian in Salzburg. And yet, it has been known for decades – based on the Berchtold von Sonnenburg family papers in Brno – that Leopold Mozart (just like "Theophrastus Paracelsus" as Selby hilariously misnames this historical figure) was not buried in the churchyard, but in the communal crypt of St. Sebastian. The "Mozart family grave" in this cemetery is an artificial site, created by Johann Evangelist Engl for reasons of nostalgia. There were no family graves in today's sense in the eighteenth century. The whole defensive rant, brought forward by Selby against "attacks by Mozartean writers accusing Constanze of desecrating Leopold Mozart's grave by having her aunt Genoveva buried there" is based on ignorance of the literature.

To defend Constanze's absence from her husband's burial Selby resorts to Philippe Ariès's book Images of Man and Death, but her discussion is completely beside the point. The main issue was not "the wife's place in her home and not at the burial", but the customs related to Josephinism. Constanze was not "forbidden to attend Mozart's burial", she did not even consider to attend it, because it was not customary. At that time, the act of burying a body was no part of the Christian rite as it is today. People bid goodbye to their loved ones at the church and not in the cemetery, a custom that only began to change in the course of the Napoleonic Wars. Selby's musings about "the United States changing western attitudes toward death in the 20th century" (p. 114) have nothing to do with the relevant issues of eighteenth-century cultural life in Vienna. Because Selby is totally ignorant of the intricacies of the Josephinian burial regulations and their partial repeal in 1785, she rehashes all the nonsense about "Mozart having been sewn into a linen sack and having been buried with a reusable coffin". These old misunderstandings have all been refuted and should certainly not resurface in a 2013 publication. Not "eighty-five percent of Vienna's citizenry" received a third-class burial, but ninety-nine percent. Selby extrapolates from a small section of the St. Stephen's burial records which does not represent the situation in all of Vienna's parishes. First-class burials were not (as Selby presumes on p. 117) "reserved for the nobility", but for anybody who was willing to pay for them (this old misunderstanding seems ineradicable). Because Selby's description of the funeral classes is copied from the worst secondary literature, it is totally flawed.

Selby repeats her old story about Süßmayr's supposed trip to Kremsmünster Abbey in December 1791, and that after Mozart's death, "Süssmayr was nowhere to be found" (p. 128). Over thirteen years ago, Selby already posed as omniscient archival researcher on public internet forums as follows:
I would like to add that I have serious doubts about Sussmayr working on the Magic Flute which Constanze sold for 100 ducats 23 days after Mozart's death. While working on my book, "Constanze. Mozart's Beloved", I came across Archival evidence at the Vienna National Library, in the archives of Kremsmunster Abbey wherein Sussmayr arrived at the Abbey on 17 December, 1791 in the company of Pater Pasterwitz. It had been Sussmayr's custom to spend Christmas at Kremsmunster where he organised the Christmas festivities. It is also the reason why Constanze could not find him, when pressured for the completion of the Requiem by Count Walsegg's representative and why the Requiem was first handed over to Joseph Eybler who signed for it on 21 December, 1791. Eybler found himself incapable of completing the Requiem and it was then given to Sussmayr on his return from Kremsmunster. I have not been able to find in the archives his departure date from the Abbey. [...] Some further information to iron out one more wrinkle posed by both Carr and Gartner, Constanze was NOT MAD AT SUSSMAYR when she could not find him after Mozart's death. She was looking for him to complete the Requiem and NOT TO MARRY HER. She could not find Sussmayr because he was at Kremsmunster Abbey making preparations for Christmas festivities which he did every year. Again Kremsmunster archives can be found at the National Library in Vienna. (Agnes Selby on, 28 December 2000)
There are no "Kremsmunster archives" at the National Library in Vienna. Apart from that, my on-site research at Kremsmünster Abbey in July 2002 showed that there is no documentary proof that Süßmayr went there in late 1791. The whole story about this Christmas trip is a figment of Selby's imagination. All Viennese sources related to Süßmayr's employment at the Court show that at the end of December 1791, he was working in Vienna at the Burgtheater. Selby has a notorious reputation for fabricating her sources. On 12 June 2001, and on 26 and 27 November 2002, she posted the following statements on the (long defunct) online forum
My studies in the Vienna archives where all Baden records about the comings and goings to and from Baden record that on every occasion Sussmayr was in Baden he travelled with Pater Pasterwitz and not with Constanze. Sussmayr and Pater Pasterwitz were registered at a hotel, the name of which escapes me but if anyone is interested, I would be happy to go through my files. This is very important to understand in order not to perpetuate the lies created by Francis Carr and Heinz Gartner. Neither of these two gentleman seems to have taken time for proper research. [...] I checked the Baden records at the Viennese National Library[sic]. These are records of people coming and leaving Baden. I took as my point of departure the dates of Constanze's presence in Baden. [...] Sussmayr seems to have led a good life, e.g. his trips to Baden. These may have been paid for by Pater Pasterwitz in whose company he travelled. (List of Arrivals and Departures. Baden police file in Archives, Austrian National Library, Vienna). 
There are, of course, no records "about the comings and goings to and from Baden" in the Vienna National Library. None of the archival documents Selby referred to in the above statements do exist, and neither did Selby ever intend to "happily go through her files". Such documents are also not held by the Austrian State Archives. When asked for the location of these mysterious sources, Selby replied: "Records pertaining to this are in Vienna. I am sorry, I do not remember the section in the archives as my research concerned Constanze and the biography I was writing about her." According to Selby, other researchers could not find these sources, "because they lacked the necessary »Sitzfleisch«".

After Dan Leeson, in 2006, had somebody search in vain for these sensational "police records", Selby simply relocated their alleged place of discovery to the Baden City Archives.
Police files from Baden indicate the arrival of Pasterwitz and Sussmayr on at least three occasions and staying together at a hotel in the township. These files are available to researchers in the Baden city archives. (Agnes Selby, 23 November 2006)
The Baden archivist Dr. Rudolf Maurer has assured me personally that these files do not exist. Neither do the Austrian State Archives hold any Baden police files from 1791. The Baden police station was only established in 1809. When Selby was told about Dr. Maurer's statement, she immediately returned to her initial narrative and relocated the fictitious police files back to the Austrian National Library (after all, where else would one expect to find police files?).
As for the Police Files, I know, Mr. Lorenz has had a field day telling me that they do not exist and that they were burnt in a fire. Mr. Lorenz, you know perfectly well that this is not true and the files do exist. Somewhere you have got all this mixed up as the police files rest comfortably in the archives of the Austrian National Library. (Agnes Selby, 17 August 2008)
Needless to say, I had never claimed that "the Baden police files burnt in a fire". Whenever Selby was caught in a lie, she tried to defend herself by producing yet another lie. In 2007, Selby tried to convince the members of an online forum that Alfred Einstein, in his biography of Mozart, had "described the Weber family as useless vagabonds" and "had placed Constanze's sisters as parading in front of Vienna military barracks to catch husbands." (Selby, 11 November 2007). When she was asked to provide an exact quote and a page number to prove these gross accusations, she claimed that she had no access to Einstein's book, because "she had lent it to her daughter Kathryn".

Agnes Selby's fictional sources are not limited to Süßmayr's life. Concerning Mozart's commemorative service, which Emanuel Schikaneder organised on 10 December 1791, she claimed to have received a letter from St. Michael's Church.
I wrote to St. Michael's Church and received a polite reply informing me that the singers were listed in the Church records as well as the payment they received from Schikaneder who had organised this Commemorative Service. Although it has often been stated that parts of Mozart's Requiem were performed, I was told that there is no record as to the music performed. (Agnes Selby, 14 August 2008)
This "list of singers in the Church records" does not exist in the parish archive of St. Michael's. It is yet another flimsy figment of Mrs. Selby's imagination. She never corresponded with the staff at St. Michael's who do not know her name. Selby even claimed to have corresponded with Professor Neal Zaslaw and Robert Levin (or "Levine" as she called him) regarding this issue.
I wrote to St. Michael's Church and was told that although a list of performers exists in the archives of the Church and even how much they were paid, whose Requiem was performed had not been noted. I sent this letter to Dr. Zaslaw who had the same information sent to him. (Agnes Selby, 9 August 2007)
Well it must have been a "ghostie" who wrote to me and to Dr. Levine that the list of performers at St. Michael's Church exists but not what was peformed on that crucial night. (Agnes Selby, 17 August 2008)
It must have been a ghostie indeed, because neither Neal Zaslaw nor Robert Levin ever received any letters from Selby or St. Michael's Church. In August 2004, Selby reported on that "an Australian PhD student named Morgan Flannery is currently doing research in the Lichnowsky archive in Prague and will present his findings at a congress in the Mozart Year". This student (originally intended to serve as one of her pseudonyms) also turned out to be one of Selby's countless fabrications. When in 2008 she was asked about Mr. Flannery's research and why he had never published anything concerning the Lichnowsky papers in Prague, Selby simply decided to give Flannery's career an unexpected turn towards family life and to declare the Lichnowsky papers destroyed.
Morgan Flannery lives in London where he has a teaching job. The last I saw him was over a capuccino at the Sydney seaside suburb of Woolloomooloo, where good capos can be found. Morgan has since his Prague adventure got married and has to now "earn his crust". It is true, he has yet to present his findings but I did not realize it was my duty to inform you of his inability to complete his thesis in time. You see, the Lichnowsky files were indeed burnt during World War II by the Germans, and information is difficult to find although he has a good bit of material available. The Germans did a lot of damage to beautiful Prague!!! As a very young and enthusiastic warrior of that era, you must remember it well. (Agnes Selby, 17 August 2008)
It is not quite clear as to whether the words "as a very young and enthusiastic warrior of that era, you must remember it well" were meant to refer to me. The fact that Selby obviously tried to slander me by staging me as Nazi soldier, speaks volumes about her deranged state of mind. I have dealt with Mrs. Selby's amazing concoctions in print in my article "Süßmayr und die Lichterputzer: von gefundenen und erfundenen Quellen" in the Mozart-Jahrbuch 2006, (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 2008, 425–38).

Selby's book presents a grossly overoptimistic, untrue, and apologetic picture of Constanze Mozart as a flawless saint. This does not correspond to the current state of research and is caused by Selby's only rudimentary knowledge of the scholarly literature. The reissue of Selby's book is a regrettable waste of money and paper. This book has not even come close to an expert musicologist's proofreading eyes and there is ample reason to presume that not even the publisher bothered to read it with adequate attention. It is a real pity that Selby was unwilling to completely overhaul her work. So many interesting topics related to Constanze Mozart are still waiting to be explored more deeply: Where and when did Constanze move after Mozart's death? Where exactly did Nissen live in Vienna? Why did Constanze reject Schwanthaler's first design of her husband's statue? Who destroyed the many letters of Leopold Mozart? Who is the woman on the supposed "photograph of Constanze Mozart" that for simple technical reasons cannot originate from before 1842? What about the early musical career of Karl Mozart who in many Viennese sources is being addressed as "Tonkünstler"?

Karl and Wolfgang Mozart, both addressed as "Tonkünstler" in an 1811 register of the Hauptregistratur of the Vienna City Council (A-Wsa, HReg. B1/104, fol. 180r)

Karl Mozart being described as "als Hand[lungs]pr[aktikant] abwesend soll klein seyn" ("absent as business intern, is said to be small") on an 1805 conscription sheet of the Palais Eskeles (A-Wsa, Konskriptionsamt, Stadt 1110/1r). Selby considers it possible that "Constanze feared that Wolfgang might be conscripted into the Austrian army", but in fact both Mozart brothers were exempt from service owing to their small body height. The above entry was first published in 1957 by Gustav Gugitz, but Selby is completely ignorant of the standard German Mozart literature.

Georg "von Niessen" listed as "Dänischer Gesandschafts Rath" on a Viennese conscription sheet from 1805 (A-Wsa, Konskriptionamt, Stadt 4/2r). This entry proves that Nissen already was living with Constanze Mozart in 1805 in the house Stadt No. 4.

The Hollitzer Wissenschaftsverlag did not put any editorial effort into the production of this superfluous book, which is proved by glaring typos such as "Beamarchais", "Greisinger", a "quintet K. 542" (p. 60), numerous missing spaces and a letter written by Leopold Mozart on "November 17, 1886" (p. 78). It would also have helped if the editors (i.e. the notoriously sloppy Michael Hüttler) had at least done a little research concerning Mrs. Selby's reputation as an extraordinarily imaginative author. While the negative effect of Selby's book had already died down in Australia, her work from the 1990s is now unfortunately being revived in Europe, as if it were a scholarly contribution that meets today's standards.

Selby's book was not the only biography of Constanze Mozart published in 2013. At the same time, the German musicologist Gesa Finke published her dissertation entitled Die Komponistenwitwe Constanze Mozart. This book, which addresses the topic "Mozart's widow" from the perspective of "commemorative and gender studies", also resulted in a massive failure, albeit on an academic level. Finke was completely on her own and had to fulfill her task without any competent help from her incompetent advisor. But this will be the topic of a future blogpost.

Wir sehen voraus, daß wir auch manchmal in den Fall kommen werden, daß ein Liebling der Menge nicht gerade auch unser Liebling sei und wollen die deshalb unvermeidlichen Vorwürfe gern über uns ergehen lassen.

(Goethe: Über strenge Urteile)

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2014.

Updated: 14 March 2023


  1. I can't believe that people are paying money or that they are spending their time reading her book. This is ridiculous. Selby: we want to read truths about Mozart not your imagination. Which by the way sucks too.

  2. Thank you for this review! I thought one couldn't do worse than Gesa Finke whose book a read the other day, but obviously I was wrong. It's a shame that impostors like Selby or Finke (whose main effort consisted in compiling more or less recent research without even naming her sources properly) get away with it.

  3. Let me add to the litany of errors. On p.171 of the 1999 first edition we find the assertion that, during a trip in 1821, "In Augsburg Constanze and Nissen met Leopold Mozart's brother, Alois. This event increased Nissens's interest in the Mozart family's history ... " Indeed. Alois had been dead since 1791 and his wife Maria Viktoria also dead since 1808, in fact all Leopold's brothers and sisters were dead by this time. Talkative ghosties. Ms Selby includes this information in a family tree in the preface to her book, but then proceeds to ignore it.

  4. "there is ample reason to presume that not even the publisher bothered to read it with adequate attention. It is a real pity that Selby was unwilling to completely overhaul her work" (Lorenz above) ...
    I wrote to The Sydney publisher, Turton and Armstrong, in early 2000 making this very request, but received no answer.

  5. “A critic is someone who enters the battlefield after the war is over and shoots the wounded.”

    ― Murray Kempton

    I wonder at the agenda and intent of those who take such delight at humiliating the author. There is but a handful of you. A good scholarly review would highlight the strengths and weaknesses of any book; this fails, utterly.

    1. The quote you present is utter nonsense. There is no war, there are no wounded and nobody was shot. There is only an abysmally bad book that should have never been published.

  6. Agnes Selby died earlier this year. No doubt she was sobered by these comments about her book. But I think Dr. Lorenz seems to have an awful lot of time on his hands!!!

    1. You don't know anything about me or how much time I have on my hands. Agnes Selby had a lot more time on her hands: after all she wrote a whole book, while I only wrote a review, because my work in academia and my research really don't allow me to deal any longer with these old fabrications and insults. Mrs. Selby made up sources, published countless lies about my person and my work and publicly slandered me as "a very young and enthusiastic warrior of that [Nazi] era". These outrageous deeds cannot be undone by her death.

  7. No, Ms. Smith. Dr. Lorenz sometimes may be tart and biting with his observations, but these result from not having "an awful lot of time on his hands", rather a result of rigorous standards of research and achieving honest results. Ms. Selby's work falls into neither category. We can be grateful for Dr. Lorenz's countless hours (and often poorly compensated) of archival sleuthing, give Mozart scholars precious data, properly recorded, otherwise much that is found with hearsay, secondhand sources sloppily interpreted or often falsified for one's own purpose. For Dr. Lorenz's salvos of corrections and clarifications, particularly in the field of Mozartean studies, I am always grateful.

  8. Thank you for your review. I had read a couple of comments of hers on a Classical forum, believing she was a 'scholar' and was interested in this book from that - so very glad I did some internet searches prior to spending precious silver and gold! As for some of the negative comments here apparently from misguided feminist SJW's: get a life.