Mozart Minute: Mozart Rants about the Archbishop

Mar 17, 2016

After being sacked by the Archbishop of Salzburg Hieronymous von Colloredo, Mozart held his erstwhile employer in notoriously intense disregard. His disdain was so intense, in fact, that even discussing an improvised performance of some variations (which possibly became the variations K. 359, 360, or 352) at a concert for the Archbishop was enough to set Mozart off.

By early June 1781, Mozart had been unceremoniously dismissed from his employment at the archbishop’s court with a now-famous kick on the rump after years of wrangling with the Archbishop and his steward, Count Arco. Mozart was fed up with the whole affair and likely also tired of having to explain to his father why remaining at the Salzburg court was no longer an option.

On June 13, 1781, Mozart wrote one of many letters decrying his treatment at the archbishop’s hands, noting a particular incident that took place in a performance for the archbishop himself.

“… I played twice and the last time when the concert was over I went on playing variations (for which the Archbishop gave me the theme) for a whole hour and with such general applause that if the Archbishop had any vestige of humanity, he must have felt delighted. But, instead of showing me – or not showing me, for all I care – his pleasure and satisfaction, he treats me like a street urchin and tells me to my face to clear out, adding that he can get hundreds to serve him better than I ..." (Letters of Mozart and His Family, trans. Emily Anderson).

Mozart’s rant went on and on. “The Archbishop on two occasions said the most insulting things to me and I never said a word in reply.” Mozart added, “I played at his concert with the same zeal and assiduity as if nothing had happened; and instead of acknowledging my readiness to serve him … he behaves for the third time  … in the most disgraceful way imaginable.” Mozart added further, “… he acts as if he were resolved to get rid of me by force.” Finally, Mozart rehashed the coup de grâce: “Instead of ... persuading me to let the matter lie and to consider things more carefully ... Count Arco hurls me out of the room and gives me a kick on my behind.”

The roof didn’t have to fall on Mozart’s head.

“… that means in our language,” Mozart continued, “that Salzburg is no longer the place for me, except to give me a favourable opportunity of returning the Count’s kick, even if it should have to be in the public street.”