May 22, 2017

An Unknown Incident in Mozart’s Life in 1791

Mozart: New Documents is pleased to announce the posting of two documents that bring to light a previously unknown incident in Mozart’s life in 1791, and to welcome Michael Lorenz as a guest contributor.

At some point during that year, the playwright Johann Friedrich Jünger (Hoftheaterdichter to the Viennese court theaters) and actor Johann Franz Hieronymus Brockmann (the director of the theaters) asked Mozart to write a piano piece for Jünger's new comedy Er mengt sich in Alles, which would be premiered in the Burgtheater on 23 August 1791. It remains uncertain whether Mozart eventually composed anything for them, but all early sources for Jünger’s play (including the original prompter's copy and the earliest editions) retain a reference to Mozart. In Act 5, scene 2, one of  the characters asks his daughter to play his "favorite sonata." When she feigns not to remember which one he means, he responds: "The one by Mozart that I like so much. You’ve played it for me a hundred times." This is followed by a stage direction indicating that she should play something on the piano at that point (although exactly what is left unspecified).

Er mengt sich in Alles was performed six times in all in the Burgtheater before the end of the season 1791/92, and it was performed twice in Prague during the festivities surrounding the coronation of Leopold II in late summer 1791. The play was quickly taken into the repertories of German ­language theater companies elsewhere, and it went on to become one of Jünger’s most popular and frequently performed plays. Er mengt sich in Alles remained in the repertory of the Burgtheater until 1853, and performances elsewhere are documented as late as 1875.

The reference to Mozart in Er mengt sich in Alles was discovered by Dexter Edge, and the reference to Mozart in Jünger's letter was discovered by Michael Lorenz. Edge and Lorenz are coauthors of the commentaries, which are written by Edge, incorporating additional archival research by Lorenz. The commentaries are accessible on the website Mozart: New Documents.

1791 (between 12 March and 23 August) Johann Friedrich Jünger asks Mozart for a keyboard piece

In an undated letter to Brockmann, Jünger writes that he has been to see Mozart repeatedly with a request that he write a short new piano piece for the planned production of Er mengt sich in Alles. Our commentary discusses in detail the dating of the letter, and shows how contextual clues suggest that it may have been written as early as the middle of March 1791, several months before the play’s premiere. We then consider whether any of the four known piano pieces by Mozart that certainly date from 1791 (K. 613 and the fragment K. 357) or may possibly date from that year (the fragment K. 312 and the minuet K. 355) could have anything to do with Jünger and Brockmann’s request.

Folios 1v and 2r of Jünger's undated letter to Brockmann from 1791 in which Jünger refers to his request that Mozart write a short piano movement for the play Er mengt sich in Alles. The passage quoted below begins with the new paragraph on the left page (A-Wst, H.I.N. 1207).

Johann Friedrich Jünger to Johann Franz Hieronymus Brockmann, undated letter (1791), Vienna, Wienbibliothek, H. I. N. 1207


       Der Vorwurf den du mir machst, ich habe die Aufführung von
"Er mengt sich in Alles" selbst durch meine Nachlässigkeit verzögert,
ist ungegründet. Dein Gedächtniß hat dir da vermuthlich einen
Streich gespielt, und du hast vergessen, daß ich das Stück von
dir gehohlt, selbst zu Mozart getragen, und es ihn lesen lassen, und
ihn um Composition eines kleinen Sazzes gebethen habe: So
wie auch, daß ich dir einmahl geklagt habe, ich seÿ zu ver=
schiedenen Mahlen ohne Erfolg beÿ M. geweßen, mit der aus=
drücklichen Bitte, du möchtest selbst an ihn schicken, und das
qua Theaterdirektor von ihm verlangen, was ich als Autor
nicht erlangen konnte. Diese Bitte habe ich absichtlich nicht wieder=
hohlt, weil ich auch den allergeringsten Schein vermeide, als woll=
te ich die Aufführung meiner Stücke durch mein Zuthun be=
fördern. Uebrigens glaube ich nach näherer Prüfung, daß diese
Composition gar füglich wegbleiben, und an ihrer Statt das
erste beste liedchen gespielt werden kann, weil mir eine Mu=
sik in welcher sich die Schauspielerin als Flügelspielerin zeigt,
da nicht recht an ihrer Stelle zu seÿn scheint, da die Aufmerk=
samkeit der Zuschauer auf den Ausgang des Stücks gespannt ist.


Uebrigens bitte ich dich recht herzlich, künftig nichts von allem dem zu glau=
ben, was dir von mir und über mich gesagt wird. Ich wenigstens habe
mir fest vorgenommen, mich gegen keine einzige Klätschereÿ mehr
zu vertheidigen, weil ich das unter der Würde des Mannes finde. [...]



Your charge against me, that I myself have delayed the
performance of Er mengt sich in Alles through my neglect, is
unfounded. Your memory has probably played a trick on you
here, and you’ve forgotten that I fetched the play from you to take
to Mozart myself, and to have him read it, and asked him to
compose a short movement: how I also once complained to you
that I had been to M[ozart] several times without success,
with the express request that you yourself might send a note
to him, and as Director of the Theater demand from him what
I as Author could not obtain. I intentionally did not repeat this
request, because I also avoid the very least appearance that
I would want to promote the performance of my play through my
own action. Besides, I think on closer examination that this
composition can even be omitted with justification, and in its
stead any little song can be played; because it seems to me that
a musical piece in which the actress shows herself off as
a keyboard player is not right for this scene, as the attention
of the spectator is in suspense over the outcome of the play.


In addition, I ask you quite sincerely in the future not to believe
everything that is said of me and about me. I at least have
firmly resolved to myself not to defend myself against any
gossip at all, because I find that beneath a man’s dignity [...]

The actor Johann Franz Hieronymus Brockmann with his dog (probably "Petiterl"). Portrait by Joseph Lange (Wien Museum, I.N. 33075)

23 August 1791 A piano sonata by Mozart in Jünger's Er mengt sich in Alles

Jünger's Er mengt sich in Alles is a thoroughly reworked adaptation of Susanna Centlivre’s 1709 play The Busie Body, with the action transplanted to Vienna. Our commentary summarizes the plot of Jünger’s play, and places in context the scene referring to Mozart. We then discuss the cast of the premiere and the play’s reception, and we consider what music might have been played on stage in the early performances. We also explore whether Mozart might have attended any of the performances that took place while he was still alive. The main commentary is followed by a new biographical sketch of Jünger, incorporating many newly discovered sources on his life.

Johann Friedrich Jünger, mezzotint by A. O. Lállée from 1795 after a painting by Johann Heinrich Ramberg (A-Wn, PORT_00091591_01)

Jünger's seal and signature on his will dated 5 December 1792 (A-Wsa, Mag. ZG, A10, 118/1797)

© Dexter Edge.& Michael Lorenz 2017. All rights reserved.