Mozart Minute: The Day Mozart Lost It with the Archbishop

Mar 3, 2016

It was an open secret in Mozart's day, as in ours – Mozart didn’t like his job at the Salzburg court of the Archbishop Hieronymous von Colloredo. Mozart’s letters are full of colorful rants about the archbishop. Here’s the story about the day it all blew up.

Mozart’s gripes were essentially these: The archbishop, Mozart claimed, lacked the sensibilities to appreciate Mozart’s enormous talent. The archbishop didn’t pay him what he deserved. The archbishop treated him not only like the hired help but, moreover, with disdain and contempt. He also prevented Mozart from meeting influential people. Mozart had ambitions far beyond toiling away in someone else’s service, and the archbishop, frankly, just didn’t care.

Mozart and the archbishop nearly came to fisticuffs in early May 1781. On May 9, 1781, Mozart wrote from Vienna to his father, “I am still seething with rage! And you, my dearest and most beloved father, are doubtless in the same condition. My patience has been so long tried that at last it has given out. I am no longer so unfortunate as to be in Salzburg service. Today is a happy day for me.” (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

Mozart went on to write that, a week earlier, as the archbishop and his court were making arrangements to return to Salzburg from a temporary stay in Vienna, the archbishop had summoned him to his chambers and asked, “’Well, young fellow, when are you going off?’” Mozart responded, “I intended to go tonight, but all the seats were already engaged.

“Then,” Mozart continued, “he rushed full steam ahead, without pausing for breath – I was the most dissolute fellow he knew – no one served him so badly as I did – I had better leave today or else he would write home and have my salary stopped. […] He lied to my face that my salary was five hundred gulden, called me a scoundrel, a rascal, a vagabond. Oh, I really cannot tell you all he said. At last my blood began to boil, I could no longer contain myself and I said, ‘So Your Grace is not satisfied with me?’ ‘What, you dare to threaten me – you scoundrel? There is the door! Look out, for I will have nothing more to do with such a miserable wretch.’ At last I said; ‘Nor I with you!’ ‘Well, be off!’ When leaving the room, I said, ‘This is final. You shall have it tomorrow in writing.’ Tell me now, most beloved father, did I not say the word too late rather than too soon?”