Oct 4, 2014

Three Mistranslations of a Mozart Letter

In his article "The 'Effective Passage' in Mozart's 'Paris' Symphony" (Eighteenth-Century Music, 9/2012), Matthias Range deals with the meaning of the words "mitten" and "auf die lezt" in Mozart's letter of 3 July 1778 to his father and their translation by Emily Anderson, Robert Spaethling and Stanley Sadie. But the real blooper in all three published translations of this letter went completely unnoticed.

Like in countless other cases, Emily Anderson, with her persuasive mistranslation, was able to completely convince her male successors. Her nonsensical "There were shouts of 'Da capo'" duly led to Spaethling's "There they were: the shouts of Da capo", and Sadie's "When there were shouts of Da capo". 

There were no shouts of "Da capo". Shouts of "Da capo" would have been totally out of place anyway at this moment, because this already was the Da capo. Mozart does not refer to what the audience shouted, he describes how it burst into applause for a second time. Here is the correct translation of the last sentence of this passage in Mozart's letter:
I brought it once again at the end of the movement – and there they went again.
The fact that there is still no reliable and scholarly annotated translation of the Mozart family letters is still a major impediment for Mozart scholarship.

Mozart's signature in his letter to Sebastian Winter of 30 September 1786 (D-KA, Don Mus. Autogr. 45)

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2014. All rights reserved.


  1. At least, in France, we have the Genevieve Geffray’s edition and translation. Unfortunately she didn’t keep all the letters from the Bauer-Deutsch original publishing…
    It would seem that Geneviève Geffray’s French translation is much better, as she keeps Mozart’s original joke with the Da Capo…

    « [...] ; au milieu du premier Allegro, il y a tout de suite un Pasage* qui, je le savais bien, devait plaire ; tous les auditeurs furent enthousiasmés – il y eut un grand applaudissement* –, mais comme je savais, en l’écrivant, quel Effect* il produirait, je l’avais réintroduit à la fin – cela recommença da capo. »
    W.A. Mozart, Correspondance II 1777-1778, Paris : Flammarion (Harmoniques), 1987, pp. 336-337.

  2. Nice. But Mozart's use of "Da capo" is no joke. It's the regular use of the term.

    1. I know what Da Capo means, but I misunderstood it as a reference to the "grand applaudissements" which came back "Da Capo"... as did the Pasage. So, with the word "cela" Mozart meant the return of the musical theme and not the audience pleasure in hearing it. Thanks.
      By the way, is the custom of applause/clapping documented? I always wondered when and where it first began.