Feb 16, 2020

A Mozart Forgery

In the April 1956 issue of the Österreichische Musikzeitschrift (11. Jahrgang, Heft 4, 146f.), Erich Hermann Mueller von Asow published a short article, entitled "Mozart als Zeuge" ('Mozart as witness'). The article presented a document from 1789, held by the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket in Stockholm. It is a receipt, signed by a certain Elisabeth Rothmann, which allegedly bears Mozart's signature. Mueller von Asow's article begins with the following short introduction.
In its collection of autographs, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm holds a document signed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart as a witness, concerning a payment made by Martin Rothmann to his sister-in-law Elisabeth Rothmann, widowed Born. The document, of which the librarian Ph. Lic. Gösta Morin has kindly given us a photocopy, reads as follows.

Mueller von Asow sent a research request to the Vienna Municipal Archives (whose original could not be found in the holdings of the Magistratsabteilung 438). His commentary (Österreichische Musikzeitschrift 1956, 147) reads as follows.

Nothing can be found about Elisabeth Rothmann (Rottmann?) in the Municipal Archives of Vienna, despite reviewing the probate files of the Schotten and the Vienna magistrate from between 1791 and 1820 (For the arduous search, the author gives thanks to the head of the archive Dr. Geyer, and Dr. Kratochwill).
According to the Hof- und Staats-Schematismus der Residenzstadt Wien from 1791, the following people can be documented: Philipp Rottman, living at Rauhensteingasse 1352 (a new building designed by the civil master mason Franz Jäger), who was an accessist at the department of clerical foundations which was a part of the Royal Hungarian and Transylvanian accounting department, and the council protocolist Ignaz von Rottmann who resided at Preßgasse 464, a house which belonged to a certain Joseph von Weinbrenner. He was born around 1768 in Pilsen, later became privy councilor and president of the Landrechte Court in Lemberg, and died on 26 April 1815 in Venice, leaving behind a daughter Therese who had been born around 1811 (Monatsblatt Adler, vol. XII, 1935, p. 108). It couldn't be cleared up yet if these aforementioned persons had any family relations to Elisabeth Rothmann. The address in Rauhensteingasse could point to a relation to Mozart. On the other hand, that Elisabeth Rothmann signed as "widowed J. A. Born", might suggest that the witnesses von Kunnersdorff and von Spaugk were members of the same Masonic Lodge as Mozart and the well-known geologist and mineralogist Ignaz von Born (1742-1791).
It is to be hoped that the local Viennese historians will be able to uncover more details about the persons that appear in the document and to clarify the reasons for the payment.
Because this receipt was included in the Dokumente (Deutsch 1961, 304f.), a translation of the document was published in the English edition of Mozart documents (Deutsch 1965, 348).

Like those of many other documents in Deutsch's Documentary Biography, the above translation is flawed. For unknown reasons Mozart's name is turned into "Mozard", "Spaugk" became "Spaug", and the abbreviation "K." (meaning "Imperial") is mistranslated as "R." ("Royal"). Furthermore, the "mp." (manu propria) after Mozart's name is missing.

When about 20 years ago, I first became aware of Mueller von Asow's article and read the ominous receipt, it made a strange impression on me right away. What particularly aroused my suspicion back then, were the names "von Kunnersdorff" and "von Spaugk". Noble families by these names never existed. Apart from the lack of clarity in the text of this supposedly significant receipt, several inaccuracies in Mueller von Asow's commentary also caught my attention. First, his research request to the Vienna City Archives had been incomplete. He should have asked the archivists to find documentary traces of the demise of Elisabeth Rothmann's "much-loved" brother-in-law Martin Rothmann who – according to the receipt – must have died in 1789. Mueller von Asow seems not to have realized this crucial circumstance. Second, it is not clear why Geyer and Kratochwill limited their search for Elisabeth Rothmann in the indexes of the registers to 1791–1820. Such a search must always start with the date of the last known trace of life which, in this case, is the date of the receipt. Mueller von Asow's guesses about Mrs. Rothmann's possible family relation to Philipp Rottmann and Ignaz von Rottmann added no relevant information at all.

When in September 2019, at a flea market, I bought the original issue of the 1956 Österreichische Musikzeitschrift (which contains the first publication of the 1789 receipt), my interest was awakened again. I asked the library of the Musik- och teaterbiblioteket in Stockholm to send me a scan of the original document. What I received from Sweden exceeded my wildest expectations.

Elisabeth Rothmann's receipt, allegedly signed by Mozart (S-Skma, Brev B8:14)

Almost nothing about this document makes any sense. The issue at hand is not whether this receipt is a forgery. It is the question who in God's name would have the audacity to produce such a clumsy piece of work, and how it was ever possible to make anybody believe that this is a genuine Mozart document. The written text – in character as well as in content – is rife with ahistorical (or rather pseudohistorical) details that have no place in a handwritten document from Mozart's time. Some details are reminiscent of the legendary forger Josef Kuderna (1886–1952) whose written forgeries were so clumsy that at one of his trials the prosecutor expressed pity with the defendant. With the exception of Mozart, none of the persons appearing in this document ever existed. With the help of archival registers and catalogs, as well as today's vast digital databases, such as genteam, anno, and matricula, it is actually possible to determine if a person lived in 18th-century Vienna. "Kunnersdorf" and "Cunersdorf" are names of several European towns and villages, but not of a noble family. The same goes for the name "von Spaugk" (or, according to a later transcription, "Spaugh") which is completely fictitious.

The two Rottmanns, whom Mueller von Asow introduced in his commentary, had no provable relation to any Elisabeth Rothmann. The first one, the state official Philipp Rottmann, was born in 1758 in Wiener Neustadt, son of the merchant Philipp Rottmann. On 8 May 1787 at the Franziskanerpfarre, he married Maria Anna Melzer (1768–1819) with whom he had three children (of whom only one was still alive in 1819). The couple separated in 1796, when Maria Rottmann began a lifelong relationship with the writer Joseph Schreyvogel with whom she had an illegitimate daughter named Carolina Wölf (1797–1866). Maria Rottmann could afford to leave her husband, because she had inherited a share of the house Stadt 186 from her wealthy father. Her daughter from her marriage, Theresia Rottmann (1788–1855), on 23 September 1810 became the wife of the publisher and art dealer Pietro Mechetti. As witness to the wedding officiated Joseph Schreyvogel whose signature appears in Mechetti's marriage contract (A-Wsa, Serie 2.3.2.A3, Fasz. 3, 1. Reihe, M 104). At the time of his estranged wife's death, Philipp Rottmann was living in St. Pölten (A-Wsa, Mag. ZG, A2, 2781/1819). A Magdalena Rottmann living in St. Pölten is listed as heir of a 50 fl annuity in the 1853 will of Theresia Mechetti, née Rottmann (A-Wsa, Handelsgericht, A51, 36/1856). The second Rottmann, brought up by Mueller von Asow, the president of the Lemberg Landrechte court, Ignaz von Rottmann also had no provable relation to an Elisabeth Rothmann. His first wife, whom he married in Kraków, was Barbara Haller (1767–1805). On 21 July 1810, in Vienna (A-Wd, Tom 82a, fol. 260), Rottmann married again. His second wife was Theresia von Rainer (b. 18 June 1786, in Vienna) who on 5 September 1812, in Lemberg (Slezak, 67), gave birth to a daughter Therese (whom Mueller von Asow mentions in his commentary). Therese von Rottmann married a Count Bobrowski von Bobrówka and died in 1888. Ignaz von Rottmann's probate file (AT-OeStA/AVA Inneres NÖLR Allgemein A 54.5) is currently not accessible due to damage from the 1927 fire at the Vienna palace of justice. Ignaz's brother Vinzenz von Rottmann had died a bachelor on 29 May 1792 in Vienna. The name of their only sister was Josepha (A-Wsa, Akt 3.3.10.FA.791, Haansche Regesten).

Let us consider the legal scenario that is presented in the receipt. A certain Mr. Martin Rothmann has died and (as will be shown below) has left his sister-in-law Elisabeth Rothmann 6,000 gulden which are being paid out by the executors of his will in three installments of 2,000 gulden. Since Mrs. Rothmann must be the wife of Martin Rothmann's brother, it is not clear why she signs as "widowed J. A Born". After all, since she is the widow of a Mr. J. A Born (not "von" Born!), she cannot legally sign as Elisabeth Rothmann. Equally unclear is why her husband – Martin Rothmann's brother – who should be his brother's main heir, does not take over the inherited money from the civil court. Or has he died as well? No Martin Rothmann is documented to have died in Vienna between 1785 and 1789. That the alleged executors of Martin Rothmann's will paid out the money to his sister-in-law, is highly unusual. The law demanded that such high amounts of money should remain in the safekeeping of the court. It was far too risky to leave such assets in the hands of private individuals. The use of three witnesses is also at odds with the customary legal practice at the time. Mrs. Rothmann was the legal heir of her brother-in-law's bequest. The simple process of receiving this bequest did not require three witnesses. Multiple witnesses were only needed for contracts that contained important legal agreements, such as business, purchase of real estate, and wedding contracts.

It comes as no surprise that there is also no member of the Born family that could serve as a candidate of Elisabeth Rothmann's allegedly deceased husband. Ignaz von Born, the famous mineralogist, died but in 1791. His widow, whose maiden name had been Magdalena von Montag, died on 3 April 1818. Ignaz's younger brother Franz Xaver von Born died on 2 April 1821 at the age of 77. The name of his wife, whom he had married in 1768, was Josepha von Bolza. She died on 9 December 1825. The third Born sibling, a captain in the infantry regiment No. 56 of the I. & R. Austrian Army, on 22 August 1767, in Brunn am Gebirge, married Antonia von Rieger, daughter of an I. & R. court councilor. No relation can be established between the von Born family and a person named Elisabeth Rothmann. It is quite obvious that the name "Born" was only put on the receipt to add a touch of Mozart's social environment.

Several passages in the document show a gross ignorance of basic historical and genealogical facts. The use of a single "K." before the names, instead of the usual "K.K." (meaning "Kaiserlich Königlich") is highly unusual. The amount of money in a receipt was always written in numbers, and, if necessary, in additional words. Never in words alone. The term "Floriner harten Geldes" ("Florins in hard cash") did not exist in Mozart's Vienna, because at that time there was no gulden coin. In 1789 Vienna hard cash consisted of Spezies- and Konventionstaler, various types of ducats, and kreuzer whose silver twenty coin was the most frequently used piece of currency. A sum of two thousand gulden would most likely have been paid out in ducats. The word "gegeben" before the date of a document was not used in Vienna; at least I have never seen it being used this way in any of the thousands of historical documents that I have scrutinized.

The constant inclination of the letters, together with the very characteristic and desperately made to look old-fashioned letter "g" are telltale signs that the whole document was written by one single person. The descriptive line "Madame Rothmannins quittierung [...]" at the top, with the ludicrously fake-historical word "fyr" (which actually reads "fgr") already shows the hand of the person that signed as Mrs. Rothmann, and also produced all the signatures of the alleged three witnesses. The letter "g" in "Ignatz" gives away the scribe. The "Mozart" signature was done with a stronger effort of disguise, but to no avail. Not only had the forger obviously never seen a genuine Mozart signature, he also had no idea what the "mp" (manu propria) sign after a signature was supposed to look like. Hence he produced the following curiosity, with an "mp" that looks like a capital "A" enclosed in a "C". The hook of the "z" and the inclination of the letters again give away the same hand.

To illustrate the absurdity of the above forgery, let us look at a genuine Mozart signature from Mozart's letter to Sebastian Winter from 30 September 1786: the "mp" is only a zigzag line below the name, the "ca" at the end of the signature is Mozart's characteristic shortening of the attribute Cavaliere.

Mozart's closing formula in his letter to Sebastian Winter (D-KA, Don Mus. Autogr. 45)

During the 1770s, Mozart's typical "Ca" token was much more distinct. Here is another example, at the end of his signature in the letter of 3 July 1778 to Abbé Bullinger.

Mozart's return address and closing formula in his letter of 3 July 1778 from Paris to Abbé Bullinger in Salzburg (current owner unknown)

The signatures of the witnesses Johann Carl Cetto von Kronstorff, Franz Gilowsky De Urazowa, and Johann Thorwart on Mozart's 1782 marriage contract nicely show how genuine "mp" signs were supposed to look like.

The seals and signatures on Mozart's marriage contract (GB-Lbl, Zweig MS 69). This document once was an integral part of Mozart's Sperrs-Relation (probate file, Magistratisches Zivilgericht, Fasz. 2, 3703/1791) where it had the legal function of Mozart's will (vis testamenti). At some time between 1856, when the Landesgerichts-Directionsadjunkt Joseph Laimegger (1814-1895) made a copy for Otto Jahn, and the death of its first private owner Franz Hauser in 1870, this contract must have been stolen from the archive of the Vienna Landesgericht. That the text and the storage place of the contract on 19 December 1857 were published in the newspaper Die Presse, certainly did not increase the safety of the document. To disguise the origin of the contract, already in the catalog of the 1905 auction, the sellers created a false narrative of "two different versions of the contract, one for Mozart and one for the bride" (Boerner, 1905, 17). Such discrepancies, however, would have been against the law. The two contracts had to be identical. The note in Mozart's Sperrs-Relation proves that there was only one copy of the contract. The dissimilarities between Jahn's edition and the original were caused by Laimegger's transcription errors. In 1905 the contract was bought by Edward Speyer from whose collection, in 1935, it went to Stefan Zweig.

When in 1991 Cliff Eisen's collection New Mozart Documents: A Supplement to O.E. Deutsch's Documentary Biography was published, it became known that there is another copy of Elisabeth Rothmann's receipt. Sven Hansson, a Swedish collector, to whom Eisen gave thanks in his preface (Eisen 1991, XVI), owns the receipt for payment No. 3 to Elisabeth Rothmann, dated 10 August 1789. Eisen's edition of this receipt shows two differences from Müller von Asow's transcription: "Spaugk" is now spelled "Spaugh" and the "mp" after Mozart's name is again missing. The fact that one month later Frau Rothmann had exactly the same three witnesses at hand is yet another quite suspicious circumstance.

The first publication of Sven Hansson's copy of Mrs. Rothmann's receipt (Eisen 1991, 62)

Curiously enough, the German edition of the privately held receipt, which was published in 1997, shows even more discrepancies from Eisen's English edition and the previously published earlier copy of the receipt. "Kunnersdorf" is now again "Kunnersdorff", the name Ignatz is abbreviated to "Ign.", the names Mozart and Spaugh have an "mp" again, and the "J. A." before the name Born is missing. The most significant difference appears in the phrase "a sum of two thousand florins hard cash" which is now "eine summe von zweÿtausend florinern baares[sic] geld", a wording that is also at odds with the text of the receipt published in 1956. Given that meticulous accuracy can be expected from a scholarly edition of primary sources, these discrepancies are astonishing.

The first publication of the original text of Sven Hansson's copy of the receipt (Eisen 1997, 63)

Since this receipt is marked "N° 3", and the one from July 1789 bears the number 2, it can be presumed that there must be a third copy which confirms the first payment of 2,000 gulden in June 1789. This copy, if it exists, has yet to surface.

Since Mueller von Asow had a photocopy of the original receipt and undoubtedly knew what real Mozart signatures look like, he bears the main responsibility for the erroneous attribution of these two documents. The whole matter, as curious as it appears today, should serve as a reminder that we must always remain suspicious. Who knows how many Mozart documents, that have been published in print, also have nothing to do with Mozart?


Boerner, C.G. (ed.). 1905. Katalog der Bibliothek Hauser Karlsruhe, Leipzig.

Deutsch, Otto Erich. 1961. Mozart Die Dokumente seines Lebens. Mozart. Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, Serie X: Supplement, Werkgruppe 34. Kassel. Bärenreiter.

Deutsch, Otto Erich. 1965. Mozart: A Documentary Biography. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Eisen, Cliff. 1991. New Mozart Documents: A Supplement to O.E. Deutsch's Documentary Biography. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

–––––––. 1997. Mozart. Die Dokumente seines Lebens. Addenda, Neue Folge. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Neue Ausgabe sämtlicher Werke, Serie X, Werkgruppe 31, vol. 2. Kassel: Bärenreiter.

Mueller von Asow, Erich Hermann. 1956. "Mozart als Zeuge", Österreichische Musikzeitschrift, 11. Jahrgang, Heft 4.

Slezak, Friedrich. 1987. Beethovens Wiener Originalverleger, Forschungen und Beiträge zur Wiener Stadtgeschichte 17, Vienna: Deuticke.

© Dr. Michael Lorenz 2020. All rights reserved.

Updated: 15 June 2022