The Crass Buffoonery of Mozart’s Letters to Bäsle

Genius! We imagine the high ceilings of a drawing room in Versailles. Elegant nobles in many-layered dresses or white tights, lounging in every posture. One of the huge mirrors framed in gold—perhaps we are in the Hall of Mirrors itself!—shows the reflection of a young Mozart’s fingers upon the piano. Everyone is mesmerized. Not pictured: the chamber pot. “The Presentation of the Young Mozart to Mme De Pompadour at Versailles in 1763.” Painting by Vicente De Paredes (color litho). “Before I start writing to you, I have to go to the john,” Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart writes to his cousin Maria Anna Thekla (or, Bäsle) Mozart on December 3, 1777, “…Well, now, that’s over with! Ah!—now my heart feels so much lighter again!—it’s like a big stone is off my chest!” And thus is established the governing metaphor of Mozart’s epistolary oeuvre to his dear cousin. Writing nonsense, according to the erstwhile composer, is like building a log cabin. When this is inevitably discovered by his admirers, it doesn’t always go over well. In fact, it’s led to some strange conclusions. Mozart wrote the Bäsle letters between the Octobers of 1777 and 1781. In total, as scholar Robert Spaethling teaches […]

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