Mozart was no lone genius. His wife made him a success – and he was the first to admit it, writes Jane Glover
Friday September 2, 2005
Peter Shaffer’s play Amadeus brilliantly explores the confrontation between genius (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) and mediocrity (Antonio Salieri). But there is one person to whom his take on Mozart’s life does no favours at all: his wife Constanze. Portrayed as a vulgar, bubble-headed sex kitten, lacking any appreciation of her husband’s phenomenal gifts, Constanze shares and encourages only the immature aspects of Mozart’s personality. Together they indulge in childish games with adult undercurrents of unbridled sexuality. Constanze’s only redeeming feature seems to be a basic loyalty to her husband, manifested in a readiness to sleep with his rival Salieri in order to advance Mozart’s career.
Constanze Weber came from a high- spirited family of talented musicians. Her father, Fridolin, was a musical all-rounder (singer, prompter, copyist) and an exceptional singing teacher – three of his four daughters were coloratura sopranos of quite remarkable ability. In addition to Constanze, for whom Mozart would write the sublime but challenging solos in his Mass in C minor, Fridolin’s eldest daughter, Josefa, was to be Mozart’s first Queen of the Night, and his second, Aloysia, became the Renée Fleming of her day, enjoying great public acclaim for her singing.
Constanze and her sisters were brought up in Mannheim, a centre of musical excellence. And, in addition to the sophistication she absorbed from this artistic milieu, she was intelligent – speaking excellent Italian and French as well as her native German. In many ways, she was an ideal wife for a composer. Mozart himself was firmly of that opinion. As he wrote in a careful letter to his father, Leopold: “I must make you better acquainted with the character of my dear Constanze. Her whole beauty consists in two little black eyes and a pretty figure. She likes to be neatly and cleanly dressed, but not smartly; and most things that a woman needs she is able to make for herself; and she dresses her own hair every day. I love her and she loves me with all her heart. Tell me whether I could wish for a better wife.”