Johann Friedrich Jünger’s five-act comedy Er mengt sich in Alles (roughly “He pries into everything”) was premiered in the Burgtheater in Vienna on 23 Aug 1791. The play was quite popular in its day and for several decades thereafter, with performances documented at least as late as 1875; yet Jünger is largely forgotten and unread today. Thus it has escaped notice up to now that Er mengt sich in Alles contains a reference to a Mozart piano sonata, with a stage direction implying that an appropriate piece of music could be played on stage at that point by the character Charlotte (see our entry for 23 Aug 1791).
In the course of helping us investigate Jünger’s biography, Michael Lorenz uncovered a letter from Jünger to Johann Franz Hieronymus Brockmann (1745–1812), the director of the Burgtheater at the time, in which Jünger states that he had (repeatedly) asked Mozart to compose a short new piece for Er mengt sich in Alles, presumably to be performed in this scene. The relevant passage from Jünger’s letter is given above and is the subject of this commentary.
It remains unclear whether Mozart did, in fact, compose or begin to compose anything in response to this request, and because Jünger’s letter cannot be dated precisely, we do not know when the request was initially made. We do know that in mid July, Mozart suddenly became exceptionally busy, after receiving a commission (probably unexpected) to compose the coronation opera La clemenza di Tito, just as he was trying to finish work on Die Zauberflöte. (His commission to compose the Requiem may have come around this same time as well, although the date of that commission is uncertain.) So it is possible that Mozart’s failure to produce anything for Jünger by the date of the letter may have had something to do with the commission for Tito. But given Mozart’s fluency as a composer and the uncertainty over the date of Jünger’s initial request and that of the letter (both of which, as we shall see, could well have come several months before the commission), the possibility cannot be ruled out that he might at some point have written something for use in the play, or at least begun to draft something.
With that in mind, we will examine four candidates—two completed pieces and two fragments—that could conceivably correspond to Jünger and Brockmann’s request. Even if none of the four has anything to do with Jünger’s play and Mozart never did compose anything in response to the request, it still seems quite possible that an excerpt from some appropriate work of his would have been performed in the scene, however briefly. It is also possible that Mozart himself attended the play (see the discussion of Mozart’s possible attendance in our commentary on the play).
Johann Friedrich Jünger was born and educated in Leipzig, but lived in Vienna from 1787 until his death in 1797 (see the biographical sketch in our entry for 23 Aug 1791). On 11 Mar 1789 he was appointed “Hoftheaterdichter” by Joseph II, possibly at Brockmann’s recommendation; Brockmann had recently been made sole director of the Burgtheater company. Twelve of Jünger’s plays had been performed in the Burgtheater by the time of his appointment as Hoftheaterdichter, and three had been quite successful: Der Strich durch die Rechnung, Das Kleid aus Lyon, and Der Revers. Between his appointment and the middle of 1791, three more of Jünger’s plays had been staged in the Burgtheater. One was a failure: Die unerwartete Wendung (after Sheridan’s The Discovery) was premiered on 11 May 1789 and dropped after just one more performance. His comedy Der Faschings-Dienstag (Shrove Tuesday) seems to have been intended for the holiday: it was premiered on Tue, 8 Mar 1791—which was Faschingsdienstag that year—and performed just one more time a few days later, on 13 Mar. Although the premiere was well attended (the box-office receipts were 549 fl 18 kr), it seems not to have been a hit, and it was not performed again by the court theater in subsequent years, apart from a single performance in the Kärntnertortheater in 1794, on (oddly) Thu, 14 Aug.
Both of these plays sank into oblivion, but Jünger had a substantial hit with Die Entführung, premiered in the Burgtheater on 10 May 1790. It was performed five more times that year, and rapidly became a staple in the repertory of the Viennese court theater and the repertories of German-language theater companies elsewhere (it was eventually given 110 times in the Burgtheater through 1858; see Alth & Obzyna 1979, ii:55). By the beginning of 1791, however, Hoftheaterdichter Jünger had not had a new play produced in the Burgtheater since the previous May, and Der Faschings-Dienstag, first performed on 8 Mar 1791, was a seasonal production that proved not to have staying power. This apparent lack of successful productivity is the context of Jünger’s defensive response to Brockmann, who (as we gather from Jünger’s letter) had blamed Jünger himself for the delay in bringing Er mengt sich in Alles to the stage. Part of the reason for the delay, Jünger responded, was Mozart’s failure to produce a short piano piece for the play, even after repeated requests.
Er mengt sich in Alles is a free adaptation of Susanna Centlivre’s 1709 English play The Busie Body. Jünger relocated Centlivre’s action to contemporary Vienna (the first scene takes place in the Augarten), gave the characters plausibly German-sounding names, tightened the pacing, and simplified the dialogue, while retaining most of the main scaffolding of the plot. (For a plot summary and a more detailed comparison with Centlivre’s original, see the entry for 23 Aug 1791.) The scene in Er mengt sich in Alles that refers to a Mozart sonata corresponds to a scene in Centlivre’s play in which a song is performed, with no composer mentioned.
In Jünger’s version, young Karl Herrmann is in love with Charlotte Mileck, and she with him, but Karl can bring only his meager annual salary of 400 fl to a marriage, since his avaricious and miserly father gives him nothing. Charlotte’s father, Mileck, cannot afford to help them, and realizing that Karl cannot offer enough for the couple to live well, has forbidden their relationship and banned Karl from the house. Naturally, Karl and Charlotte attempt to continue seeing one another in secret.
The reference to a Mozart sonata comes in Act 5, scene 2. Karl and Charlotte have arranged for him to visit her at home at a time when she believes her father will be dining out with a friend. According to their plan, Karl will enter through the back door (which Charlotte’s maid Hannchen will have left unbolted), giving him access to Charlotte’s room by way of a closet to which he has been given a key. However, Mileck unexpectedly decides to remain at home and to take his dinner in Charlotte’s room. When she (nervously) claims not to be hungry, he asks her instead to play his “favorite sonata” (“Lieblingssonate”) on the “Pianoforte” while he eats. When she feigns not to know which sonata he means, he replies:
Die von Mozart, die ich so gerne höre. Du hast mir sie ja hundertmahl vorgespielt.
The one by Mozart that I like so much. You’ve played it for me a hundred times.
She begins to play. Karl has not been warned that Mileck is in Charlotte’s room, and has proceeded according to the original plan. While Charlotte is playing, or perhaps just after she finishes (the stage direction is vague on the timing), Karl opens the closet door—and is immediately seen by Mileck, who is seated facing the door. Uproar ensues. In Jünger’s adaptation, this is the beginning of the denouement.
Jünger has in fact moved the scene with music towards the end of the play from its position in his model. In The Busie Body, the analogous scene takes place relatively early in Act 4, well before the denouement in Act 5. Jünger’s shift in the location and function of this scene helps explain his statement in his letter to Brockmann that a performance on the piano at this point by the actress playing Charlotte would interrupt the forward momentum of the plot, just when the audience will be anticipating Mileck’s discovery of Karl. Even so, the published version of the play and a surviving prompter’s copy (probably the original one; see the entry for 23 Aug 1791) retain the reference to a Mozart sonata, and have the same rather equivocal stage direction:
Charlotte macht einige Gänge auf dem Piano=
forte, oder kann auch nach Gutbefinden einen kleinen
Satz aus einer Sonate spielen.
Charlotte plays some passages on the piano,
or if desired can play a short movement froma sonata.
It remains unclear exactly what was done on stage during this scene at the earliest performances of Er mengt sich in Alles in the Burgtheater. But the subtext of Jünger’s letter to Brockmann seems to imply that the reference to Mozart had been planned during the play’s gestation. Their idea (whether it stemmed from Brockmann or Jünger is uncertain) had apparently been to ask Mozart to write something new for the scene, probably as a topical joke for the Viennese audience—a particularly amusing one if Mozart himself happened to be in attendance.
We know that Jünger was already acquainted with Mozart, possibly through Joseph Lange, one of the leading actors in the Burgtheater ensemble, and Mozart’s brother-in-law by marriage. In Aug 1788, Joachim Daniel Preisler and Michael Rosing, members of the Royal Theater in Copenhagen, visited Vienna as part of a study tour of leading European theaters (Dokumente, 284). Preisler published his diary from the tour in 1789 as Journal over en Reise igiennem Frankerige og Tydskland i Aaret MDCCLXXXVIII, and Rosing kept a manuscript travel diary. Both men recorded a visit to Mozart in the late afternoon of Sun, 24 Aug 1788, in the company of Jünger, Lange, and Dr. Karl Werner (Dokumente, 285–86; the identification of Werner is from Dokumente). Preisler writes:
Sondagen den 24 August. [...]
dagen hentede Jünger, Lange og Werner
os, for at gaae til Kapellmester Mozardt.
Her havde jeg den gladeste Time, Musikken
nogentid har skienket mig. Denne lille Mand
og stoere Mester phantaseerte To Gange paa
et Pedal-Clavecin, salledes! salledes! at
jeg ikke vidste hvor jeg var. [...]
[Preisler 1789, ii:250–51; Dokumente, 515]
Sunday, 24 August. [...]
In the afternoon
Jünger, Lange, and Werner fetched us
to go to Kapellmeister Mozart’s. There
I experienced the happiest hour of music
ever granted to me. This little man and
great master improvised twice on the
Pedal-Keyboard, so wonderfully! so
wonderfully! that I did not know where
I was. [...]
Rosing likewise noted this visit in his diary, and specified that he and Preisler had been fetched by Jünger, Lange, and Werner at four in the afternoon (Dokumente, 286, 515).
Up to now, these two diary entries describing the same event have been the only evidence connecting Jünger to Mozart. (Jünger’s name does not appear in the correspondence of the Mozart family, apart from four passing references to him as author in letters from Leopold Mozart to his daughter.) For his part, Brockmann is not known to have had any personal dealings at all with Mozart; it is true that he played the speaking role of Eiler in the premiere of Der Schauspieldirektor in 1786 (Michtner 1970, 199), but this would not necessarily have required him to have social contact with the composer. Mozart refers to Brockmann just once, in a letter to Leopold in 1781: he relates an anecdote about Lange wanting to play Hamlet, a role that Brockmann had introduced to the Burgtheater and made famous there (Briefe, iii:173–74); but the anecdote in no way implies that Mozart had direct contact with Brockmann, and there is no other evidence of social contact between them. Since Jünger was personally acquainted with Mozart, however slightly, it makes sense that he would have been the one to go to Mozart to request that he compose something new for Er mengt sich in Alles.
Jünger’s letter to Brockmann is undated and begins without even a salutation (see the facsimile and transcription of the complete letter here), but there is no reason to think that it is a draft. It was not unusual for Jünger to leave letters undated; five of the twelve letters from Jünger to his close friend Knud Lyne Rahbek that are discussed by Knudsen (1921, 68–72, 215–25) are undated. The content of Jünger’s undated letter to Brockmann strongly suggests that both men were in Vienna at the time, and it is possible that Jünger delivered the letter personally or via an intermediary. If so, no salutation would have been necessary. Brockmann would likely have received the letter on the same day or perhaps the day after, and because the content makes clear that the letter is part of an ongoing exchange, there would have been no need for Jünger to date it.
One detail in the letter provides a terminus post quem. Jünger refers in his first paragraph (before the passage transcribed at the top of this page) to “Sr Excellenz” (“His Excellency”) and “mein neuer Chef” (“my new chief” or “my new boss,” although “boss” would be an anachronism here). Both evidently refer to Count Johann Wenzel Ugarte (1748–1796). Early in 1791, Emperor Leopold II appointed Ugarte to the long-vacant post of Musikgraf, with the intention of giving Ugarte authority over the court theaters, which for several years had been the responsibility of Count (since 1790 Prince) Orsini-Rosenberg. Ugarte’s appointment was made known to Brockmann, Francesco Bussani, and Antonio Salieri in early March (see Rice 1987, 369–70), and Ugarte’s appointment probably took effect officially on 12 Mar 1791, the beginning of the theater’s fiscal year (12 Mar is the starting date in the court theater’s account book for the season 1791/92, Vienna, HHStA, Hoftheater, SR 26). It seems nearly certain, then, that Jünger’s letter to Brockmann was written after Ugarte officially took up his new position and became Jünger and Brockmann’s new boss. (Jünger dedicated the first volume of his Comisches Theater to Ugarte in 1792.)
Another surviving letter from Jünger to Brockmann (ÖNB, Handschriftensammlung, Jünger 8/124–2), dated 27 Aug 1791, shows that Brockmann had recently left Vienna, presumably to attend the coronation of Leopold II in Prague (the coronation itself took place on 6 Sep, but guests and participants in the festivities began arriving in the last week of August). Jünger’s letter of 27 Aug implies that Brockmann had departed before the premiere of Er mengt sich in Alles on 23 Aug (see our entry for that date), and had left Jünger in charge of daily business at the court theater while he was away.
These, then, are the termini post and ante quem for Jünger’s undated letter to Brockmann mentioning Mozart: it was written sometime between 12 Mar 1791, when Ugarte officially took over responsibility for the theaters, and approximately mid August, when Brockmann left Vienna. As we shall see, one further reference in Jünger’s letter (albeit an ambiguous one) can be taken to suggest that it dates from quite early in that span.
The exact date of the letter is of potential consequence in trying to explain Mozart’s delay in fulfilling Jünger and Brockmann’s request, because Mozart’s workload increased significantly in mid July. In other words, it is easier to explain why Mozart might have dragged his heels after mid July than before. Mozart had been highly productive in the first half of 1791, but he was not, so far as we can tell, overwhelmed with work. At the beginning of January, he had finished what turned out to be his last piano concerto, K. 595, and written three songs (K. 596–598) for Ignaz Alberti’s Liedersammlung für Kinder und Kinderfreunde am Clavier. For the rest of that month and up to the beginning of Lent on 9 Mar, he was occupied writing dances for the Carnival balls (K. 599–607 and 610–611). In early March he completed the Allegro and Andante in F minor for Mechanical Organ, K. 608, and the aria “Per questa bella mano,” K. 612, and later in March or in early April he finished his Variations for Solo Piano on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt,” K. 613. In April he completed the String Quintet in E-flat, K. 614, and the lost chorus “Viviamo felici in dolce contento,” K. 615. On 9 May he was appointed unpaid adjunct to Leopold Hofmann, Kapellmeister at St. Stephen’s Cathedral; Mozart’s duties in this position are unknown, but he may have played the organ in the Cathedral and sometimes directed music there (see our entry for May–June 1791). That same month Mozart entered into his Verzeichnüß (his catalog of his own works) the Andante in F for Mechanical Organ, K. 616, and the Adagio and Rondo for Glass Harmonica, Flute, Oboe, Viola, and Cello, K. 617. In June he composed the Ave verum corpus, K. 618, and in July he finished a commissioned work, the Kleine deutsche Kantate, “Die ihr des unermeßlichen Weltalls Schöpfer ehrt,” K. 619, published in Hamburg later that year (see our commentary to 19 Feb 1792). He was also evidently working on Die Zauberflöte during the first half of the year, because he entered it into his Verzeichnüß as completed under the date July 1791. All in all, then, a very productive and busy period, but one that would probably still have left him time to dash off a short keyboard piece for Jünger and Brockmann, had he been so inclined—keeping in mind, too, that he seems largely to have been working without fixed deadlines in the first six months of 1791 (apart, perhaps, from whatever duties he may have had at the Cathedral in May and June). One also assumes that he would have been happy to take the opportunity to ingratiate himself with Brockmann, and by extension with Ugarte and the emperor; on the other hand, there is no indication that he would have been paid for the piece, which would perhaps have lessened the incentive.
Around the middle of July or shortly thereafter, Mozart received a commission from Domenico Guardasoni to compose the opera La clemenza di Tito for the coronation of Leopold II as King of Bohemia, scheduled to take place in Prague in early September. On 8 Jul Guardasoni had signed a contract with the Bohemian Estates to provide the opera, and he had reached Vienna by 14 Jul as the first stop on a hasty tour to contract a composer and singers. He apparently first offered the commission to Salieri, who declined, and then to Mozart, who accepted (on the contract and commission, see Durante 1999). The opera was premiered on 6 Sep 1791, the evening of the day of the coronation, so even if Mozart had accepted the contract as early as 14 Jul, he would have had just 54 days to compose the opera, a very short time, even for a composer as fluent as he was.
Along with this high-profile commission with its looming deadline, Mozart had other pressing work to do as well. Although he had entered Die Zauberflöte into his Verzeichnüß as complete in July, it was actually not quite finished (he entered the overture and March of the Priests into his catalog under the date 28 Sep, two days before the premiere). And at some point in 1791 (it is often said in July, but the date is unclear), Mozart had accepted a commission from Count Walsegg to compose a Requiem mass; the Count’s wife had died on 14 Feb, and the Count wanted a Requiem that could be performed on the anniversary of her death. Thus Mozart had a precise deadline for this commission as well, albeit one that was not as pressing as the one for Tito. (The primary documents on the commissioning, composition, and completion of the Requiem—most dating from long after the fact—are in Wolff 1991, 119ff; see also our entry for 27 Dec 1791.) Furthermore, Tito and the Requiem would bring Mozart substantial amounts of much-needed cash: 50 ducats for the Requiem and at least 100 or perhaps even 200 ducats for Tito (the amount of Mozart’s honorarium for the opera seems to be unknown). Mozart probably also had reason to expect a good return on the time he had invested in Die Zauberflöte: he is reported to have received the gate receipts from the third performance (see our entry for 5 Oct 1791), and this may have been supplemental to a previously agreed fee (although this is uncertain). These three large projects would certainly have taken priority for Mozart after the middle of July, and the pressing deadline for Tito in particular could explain why he had failed to produce a piece for Er mengt sich in Alles after (allegedly) repeated requests—provided that Jünger’s letter dates from around the time of the commission for Tito (which came only a little over five weeks before the premiere of Jünger’s play).
Because of this uncertainty, it is perhaps worth digging more deeply into the question of the date of Jünger’s letter. The letter fills four pages (see the full letter here), including a postscript; the reference to Mozart is on the second page. The letter as a whole is a response to what Jünger describes as Brockmann’s “Seitenlange Defension” (“pages-long defense”) of the lack of performances of Jünger’s plays, which the playwright says is simply a repetition of their discussion “am verwichen Montag” (“this past Monday”). So Jünger’s letter is a response to a long one from Brockmann, and both are continuations of a recent conversation. Jünger writes that if he understands correctly, Brockmann believes that Jünger has complained to Ugarte about the lack of performances; he responds that Brockmann is doing him an injustice if he believes this—that he (Jünger) was simply answering a question from his new boss, as he was naturally obliged to do. He obviously cannot be expected merely out of friendship with Brockmann (“aus lauter Bonhomie”—the letter shows that they were per Du) to allow Ugarte to believe that no new plays by Jünger had been produced recently because he was lazy and hadn’t written any.
Jünger refers to Ugarte (who took up his duties as Musikgraf in early March 1791) as “mein neuer Chef” (“my new chief” or “boss”). It also appears that Jünger’s four-act comedy Der Fasching-Dienstag, which premiered in the Burgtheater on 8 Mar 1791, had not been a success, which may have played a role in provoking the exchange between Jünger and Brockmann. So the beginning of Jünger’s letter could be taken to imply that it may have been written as early as the middle of March, shortly after Ugarte took up his appointment, and as much as four months before Mozart’s commission for Tito. However, the case for this early dating depends largely (although not entirely) on the implications of Jünger’s “neu” in reference to Ugarte. The beginning of the letter could, on the other hand, be viewed as consistent with a date in, say, June or July, a few months after Jünger’s most recent premiere, but with Ugarte’s appointment still fresh enough for Jünger to refer to him as the “new boss.”
Jünger’s letter continues with a response to Brockmann’s apparent charge that Jünger had been spreading a rumor about him in the city. Jünger does not specify the nature of the rumor, but the context makes it likely that Brockmann thought Jünger was publicly blaming him for delaying the production of Jünger’s plays. Jünger defends himself first by saying that he hardly ever goes out, that when he does go out he tries to avoid people, and he hardly knows anyone anyway, implying that he is an unlikely person to have spoken to anyone about anything, much less spread rumors. He then writes (in the passage immediately preceding the reference to Mozart and Er mengt sich in Alles):
[...] Ich ambitionire es wahrhaftig nicht, immer auf
den Anschlagzetteln zu paradiren. Ich glaube daß es mir immer mehr
Ehre bringt, wenn man fragt: Warum kömmt kein Stück von Jünger?
als wenn es heißt: Mein Gott! schon wieder ein Jüngersches Produckt!
so wie ich auch glaube, daß es für das K.K. Hoftheater eben keine
Schande ist, einen Dichter zu haben, dessen Arbeiten dem feinern
und bessern Theile des Publikums gefallen. [...]
[...] I truly do not have the ambition to parade myself
constantly on the posters. I believe that it always brings me
more credit if it is asked: Why hasn’t there been a play by
Jünger? than if it is said: My God! Yet another Jünger
production! So I also believe that it is no disgrace for
the K. K. Hoftheater to have a poet whose works please
the finer and better parts of the public. [...]
After the passage mentioning Mozart, Jünger goes on to relate an anecdote about the play Fehler in Formalibus by Karl August Seidl, which had been performed just once in the Burgtheater, on 16 Dec 1790; the single performance suggests an unusually dismal failure. Jünger writes:
[...] So wurde zum Beÿspiel lezthin erzählt, es seÿ kurz
nach der Aufführung des Fehler in Formalibus im fürstl. lichtensteinischen
Hauße die Frage aufgeworfen worden: Wie konnte Brockmann aber
auch so ein Stück aufführen? — Ja mein Gott! war die Antwort,
ein Direktor hat der Geschäfte zu viele; er kann unmöglich alles
selbst lesen! — Aber, fragte man wieder, wozu ist dann Jünger
da? — Diese leztere Frage wurde von Seiten des Quidams mit
einem bedeuten ^aber stummen Achselzucken beantwortet. Dieses Achsel=
zucken konnte nun entweder heißen: Jünger ist zu faul, oder:
Jünger ist zu dumm! Nun hätte ich freÿlich können den Quidam zur
Rede stellen welches von beÿden er eigentlich gemeint habe? Aber ich be=
gnügte mich damit, seinen Edelmuth im Stillen zu bewundern, und
die ganze Sache zu ignoriren. [...]
[...] So, for example, the story was just recently circulating
that shortly after the performance of Fehler in Formalibus at Prince
Lichtenstein’s residence the question had been asked: How could
Brockmann ever let such a piece be performed? — Yes, my God! was
the answer, a director has too much to do; he can’t possibly read
everything himself! — But, it was asked, what is Jünger there for,
then? — This last question was answered by the same person with
a significant but silent shrug of the shoulders. Now this shrug could
mean either: Jünger is too lazy, or: Jünger is too stupid! Now of course
I could have asked that person which of the two he had actually
meant. But I satisfied myself with marveling in silence at his magnanimity
and ignored the whole thing. [...]
Jünger’s phrasing is ambiguous at one key spot. If we read
… es seÿ kurz nach der Aufführung des Fehler in Formalibus
im fürstl. lichtensteinischen Hauße die Frage aufgeworfen worden ...
to mean “shortly after the performance of Fehler in Formalibus, the question was raised at Prince Lichtenstein’s residence…”, then this reading and the fact that the play was performed just once in the Burgtheater on 16 Dec 1790 suggest an early date for Jünger’s letter, well before Mozart received the commission for Tito; in other words, this anecdote would no longer have been current later on, and we would be justified in taking this as evidence that the letter was written quite soon after Ugarte took up his appointment.
But the same clause in Jünger’s letter can also be read as saying: “shortly after the performance of Fehler in Formalibus at Prince Lichtenstein’s residence, the question was asked …” We know that Prince Lichtenstein sometimes hosted theatrical performances, but we do not currently know if this was one of them. If it was, we do not know when it occurred (although the abject failure of the play in the Burgtheater suggests that there would have been little incentive for anyone else in Vienna to start planning a production of the play after 16 Dec 1790). The first reading seems much more plausible than the second, but we at present cannot say for certain it is the right one. In essence, the issue comes down to where a comma should be inserted in English: after the title of the play, or after the words “Prince Lichtenstein’s residence.” If the first reading is correct, then it may imply that the letter dates from as early as the second half of March 1791.
However, this dating is far from certain. Because of that uncertainty, we need also to consider the possibility that the letter dates from later in 1791, perhaps as late as June, July, or even early August. We must also keep in mind that we do not know what happened after Jünger wrote this letter to Brockmann. Whether the letter is early or late, it remains possible that Mozart eventually composed a piece for Er mengt sich in Alles, or at least started to draft something.
With these caveats in mind, only four known keyboard pieces by Mozart could fit the required chronology: the variations K. 613, the fragments K. 357 and K. 312, and the Minuet, K. 355. None of the four is a perfect fit; the cases for all four are problematic, but to different degrees.
Variations for Solo Piano on “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt,” K. 613
Mozart’s last known completed work for piano is K. 613, a set of eight variations on the aria “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt,” from the singspiel Die verdeckten Sachen, oder der dumme Gärtner aus dem Gebirge. This was the second of what eventually became seven “Anton” singspiels given by Schikaneder’s company at the Theater auf der Wieden, where it had its premiere on 26 Sep 1789. In performance “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding” was sung by Schikaneder himself in the role of Anton. Many of the singspiels written for the Theater auf der Wieden at that time were collaboratively composed (Buch 2000, 71), and this was probably the case with Die verdeckten Sachen. The music for “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt” is often attributed to the tenor Benedikt Schack or the bass Franz Xaver Gerl, but in fact there is insufficient evidence to attribute the tune to either of them.
This aria and its texts survive in a number of contemporaneous sources (see Buch 2016, which includes a full score of the entire singspiel, including this aria). The first verse, with its galloping acephalous anapestic tetrameter, gives the flavor:
Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt
Wer’s läugnet, dem schlag ich daß d’Goschen ihm schwelt.
Oft rappelt’s beym Manne, kein Geld ist im Haus,
Sie jagt aus dem Schädel die Grillen ihm aus.
Sie grabelt dem Wildfang am Bart und am Kinn,
Und schmunzelnd sieht er auf sein Weiberl dann hin,
Wer’s läugnet, dem schlag ich daß d’Goschen ihm schwellt,
Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt.
[Buch 2000, 73]
Which translates (approximately) as:
A wife’s the most marvelous thing in the world,
Deny it, I'll bash in your mug till it’s swelled.
The man’s going mad, there’s no money at all,
She chases the gloomy thoughts out of his skull.
She grabs at the madman by beard and by chin,
And now he regards his dear wife with a grin.
A wife’s the most marvelous thing in the world,
Deny it, I'll bash in your mug till it’s swelled.
The aria became especially prominent in the public ear when Schikaneder added new verses in response to Austria’s successes in Oct and Nov 1789 in its war against the Ottoman Turks, which up to that point had been going disastrously for Austria. (For background on the war, see our entry for 28 Oct 1789; for Schikaneder’s new verses, see Buch 2000, 74). In fact, the aria circulated separately at the time with these new verses under the title “Sieg der beiden Helden Laudon und Coburg” (“The Victory of the Two Heros, Laudon and Coburg”; Buch 2000, 77–78). And in 1790 an anonymous pamphlet was published in Vienna with six new verses, “Ein Mann ist das herrlichste Ding auf der Welt” (we are grateful to David Buch for this reference).
The song evidently remained popular, and yet another new verse for it was published in Schikaneder’s Allmanach für Theaterfreunde auf das Jahr 1791:
Jetzt jagt uns der Winter aus Garten und Feld,
Weil jederman gerne zum Ofen sich hält,
Drum gnädige Gönner! Kommt zu uns herein,
Bey uns soll’s schon warm, und lustig stets seyn,
Und hält man sein Weibchen, sein Mädchen am Arm,
O glaubt es dem Anton, es wird euch bald warm.
Ein weiblicher Haupt, das uns Männer gefällt,
Erregt oft die größeste Hitz von der Welt.
[Buch 2000, 79]
The winter now drives us from garden and lea,
And all near the oven are happy to be,
So come, gracious patrons, come inside with us,
At our place it’s warm and hilarious,
And if wifey or girlfriend are there on your arm,
Then take it from Anton, you’ll quite soon be warm.
A feminine head that men love to behold,
Can stir up the very most heat in the world.
Given Mozart’s increasingly close connections with the Theater auf der Wieden toward the end of his life, especially in the run up to Die Zauberflöte in the first half of 1791, it is not surprising that he would have chosen this well-known melody for a set of variations.
No autograph is known to survive for K. 613, but Mozart completed the variations between 8 Mar and 12 Apr 1791, and it was issued in a printed edition by Artaria in June 1791.
Could K. 613 have anything to do with Er mengt sich in Alles? At first glance, it may seem unlikely that Mozart would have composed a full set of eight variations in response to a simple request for a “short piece.” On the other hand, the quotation of that particular tune at that point in the play would have been amusing on a number of grounds. Charlotte’s father Mileck has nixed her relationship with Karl because of his meager salary, and if she played “Ein Weib ist das herrlichste Ding,” she would be playing a tune that many in the audience knew praised (in its first verse) the value of wives when there is no money in the house. It would also surely have gotten a laugh to hear a tune from the popular Theater auf der Wieden quoted on the stage of the supercilious Burgtheater.
Since the variations were published in June 1791, at least some of the audience would have recognized them as a work by Mozart by the time of the premiere of Jünger’s play. This avoids one of the problems with the other three candidates: if a brand new piece by Mozart, previously unknown to the public, had been performed in Er mengt sich in Alles, the audience would have had no reason to recognize that it was by Mozart, unless that fact had been advertised ahead of time—and so far as we know, it wasn’t. In other words, it would potentially have been confusing for the audience if Mileck asked Charlotte to play a piece by Mozart, and she began to play something the audience had never heard before.
That K. 613 is not a sonata, as Mileck specifically requested, would probably not have made much difference to the audience, especially if they were laughing. In fact, the contrast itself might have gotten a laugh: after Mileck’s request for his favorite Mozart sonata, the audience would have been primed to hear, say, the familiar opening of the A-Major Sonata, K. 331, only to have Charlotte launch into Mozart’s setting of the tune of a well-known aria from Schikaneder’s theater. And we should recall that Jünger, in his undated letter to Brockmann, does not mention the genre of the piece, but refers rather to a “short movement” (“Sazz” = “Satz”), and later in the letter to “any little song” (“das erste beste liedchen”), a description that would certainly fit Mozart’s setting of the tune of “Ein Weib ist das herrlichstes Ding” at the beginning of K. 613.
So there is a possible scenario that would fit the known evidence: suppose that Mozart composed K. 613 with a view both to publication and its partial use in Er mengt sich in Alles (it would not have been necessary or advisable for Charlotte to play all of it on stage; it probably would have sufficed for her to play just the opening theme). Its use in the play would have been good advertising for the printed edition, and also good advance advertising for Mozart’s new opera, which opened in the Theater auf der Wieden a little over five weeks after the premiere of Jünger’s play. (We know from press reports of the time that rumors of Mozart’s new opera for the Theater auf der Wieden were in circulation.)
Although it may simply be coincidence, Viennese copyist Laurenz Lausch first advertised manuscript copies of K. 613 in the Wiener Zeitung on 27 Aug 1791, four days after the premiere of Er mengt sich in Alles.
A case can be made, then, that Jünger and Brockmann’s request may have served as a trigger for Mozart’s composition of K. 613. This remains entirely speculative, of course, and the scenario only works with the early dating for Jünger’s letter to Brockmann. If the letter dates from after the completion of K. 613, it doesn’t.
Fragment K. 357 (500a), Movement in G Major for piano 4-hands
This fragment is for piano 4-hands, which is its most obvious drawback in trying to make a case for its connection with Er mengt sich in Alles. Jünger’s letter implies that Mozart had been asked to compose a short piece for solo piano, to be performed in the play by the actress playing Charlotte. We have no evidence that Jünger and Brockmann ever considered having a duet in this scene. (However, it is worth noting that Centlivre had a duo in the corresponding scene of The Busie Body: Isabinda, the model for Charlotte, accompanies her maid Patch, who sings a song). On the other hand, K. 357 is the only piano piece by Mozart apart from K. 613 that can be securely placed in 1791, and it is possible to construct a reasonably plausible scenario that might connect K. 357 with Jünger’s play, one that does not rest on too many speculative assumptions.
Let us first consider the fragment’s date. The autograph is written on three leaves of paper-type Tyson 102, a type that occurs principally in the autographs of the aria “Per questa bella mano,” K. 612 (9 leaves), the String Quintet in E-flat, K. 614 (18 leaves), Die Zauberflöte (26 leaves), and the Requiem (26 leaves). 15 additional leaves are scattered among 8 other completed works and fragments, including K. 357 (see Tyson 1992, Textband, 48). The total number of leaves of this paper-type in known Mozart autographs is 94, just under two quires, where a quire (a “Buch” in the terminology used by 18th-century Viennese dealers) consisted of 24 (or perhaps 25) bifolia, thus 48 (or 50) leaves. Mozart’s standard operating procedure during his Viennese years was to buy music paper in quires (sometimes probably more than one at a time), usually with one or more major projects in mind. (For a fuller discussion, see Edge 2001, Chpt. 3, here esp. 390–410 and Table 3.1.) In the case of paper-type Tyson 102, the major projects were the aria, the quintet, Die Zauberflöte, and the Requiem. Considering that his use of this paper-type seems to have been spread out over a few months, Mozart might have bought the two quires at different times (although probably from the same dealer), or he might have bought them at the same time. In either case, at least one of the quires must have been purchased by 8 Mar 1791, the date under which Mozart entered “Per questa bella mano” into his Verzeichnüß, and the earliest precise date associated with this paper-type. On the other hand, the dates of Mozart’s autographs written on Tyson 99, the paper-type that he was using just prior to Tyson 102, suggest that he did not need to buy a new batch of paper until after the beginning of 1791. So we can say with some assurance that Mozart came into possession of at least one quire of paper-type Tyson 102 between the beginning of 1791 and 8 Mar. Thus the fragment K. 357 more or less certainly dates from no earlier than the first months of 1791, although at present we cannot say precisely when during that year it was written down because of the wide chronological range of the works in which the paper-type appears. Of the three remaining candidates under discussion, however, the dating of K. 357 is the most certain and the most precise: it was certainly written down in 1791, almost certainly at some point before the premiere of the play. As we shall see, we cannot make such a precise claim about K. 312 or K. 355.
(The premiere of Er mengt sich in Alles took place just around the time Mozart left Vienna for the coronation in Prague. The only paper-type that we can say with some confidence that Mozart acquired after returning from Prague in mid September is the one identified as 62-V in Edge 2001, Table 3.1, 437. Mozart used this paper-type for the overture to Die Zauberflöte and other late additions to the opera, for portions of the Requiem, and for the Masonic Cantata “Laut verkünde unsre Freude,” K. 623, the last work he entered into his Verzeichnüß, under the date 15 Nov 1791. No leaf of Tyson 102 appears in any autograph that can be dated with certainty after Mozart’s return from Prague, so it seems quite possible that he had used it up before he left.)
However, K. 357 is for piano 4-hands, not piano solo. The scene in Jünger’s play as it has come down to us has Charlotte beginning to play the piano for her father while he is eating dinner, and she would presumably have been playing solo (unless her maid Hannchen was playing with her, a hypothesis for which there is no evidence). Even so, we should not rule out K. 357 on these grounds alone. In the premiere of Er mengt sich in Alles, the roles of Mileck and his daughter Charlotte were played by Johann Heinrich Friedrich Müller and his daughter Josepha Hortensia (1766–1807; on the cast of the premiere, see our entry for 23 Aug 1791, which includes a facsimile of the premiere poster). An actual father and daughter playing the roles of a fictional father and daughter in Er mengt sich in Alles would perhaps have lent a special charm to this casting for the Viennese audience. Thus one wonders whether Jünger and Brockmann, at some point during the play’s gestation, might have had the idea of having father and daughter Müller perform a piece together, even if this idea was later given up. If Jünger and Brockmann did have such a plan at some point, then Mozart might well have drafted something appropriate, or he might even have had the idea himself, if the final form of the scene was not yet set when Jünger first contacted him. If Jünger’s letter dates from as early as the second half of March 1791, then this hypothesis becomes even more plausible, as it is likely that the final form of the play was not yet set by that point.
We know that Josepha Hortensia Müller could play that piano: she gave a concert in the Burgtheater on 17 Feb 1785 at which she played a piano concerto (see the notice in Das Wienerblättchen, Thu, 17 Feb 1785, 150). And from a previously overlooked entry in Preisler’s travel diary, we know that on 11 Aug 1788 Preisler and Rosing visited the Müllers at home, where they heard Josepha Hortensia play piano sonatas by Mozart and Josepha Auernhammer, her teacher. We currently have no direct evidence that J. H. F. Müller himself played the piano, but we do know that he had a Walter piano in his house in 1796: it is mentioned in the diary of Carl Friedrich Kübeck von Kübau, who reported meeting Beethoven at the Müllers’ in Apr 1796 and hearing Beethoven play the instrument (for details, see our entry for 11 Aug 1788); Kübeck writes of the Müller household: “Man betreibt dort viel Musik” (“Much music is made there”).
If we assume for the sake of argument that Josepha and her father could both play, the music of K. 357 can certainly be seen as appropriate for a father-daughter duo. It opens with an 8-bar period in the soprano register by the first player (the melody lies between d2 and d3), answered by a nearly exact repetition two octaves lower by the second (some of the left-hand chords are slightly revoiced and repositioned because of the very low register), and the piece continues on in this dialogic vein between treble and bass, rather reminiscent of Joseph Haydn’s 4-hand Il maestro e lo scolare, Hob. XVIIa:1. Technically, K. 357 (an Andante), if not taken too fast, is within the capabilities of amateurs of intermediate skill.
The fragment as a whole ends with two full-voiced chords in both hands of both parts, V7 of V moving to V7 in the home key, each followed by portentous fermatas, creating a strong expectation of a return to the theme. In the autograph, these chords are followed by three beats in the upper part suggesting a slightly varied return of the opening theme. The autograph breaks off at this point in the middle of a system, giving the manuscript the appearance of a fragment. However, the portentous chords would, comedically, have been an excellent cue for Karl to open the closet door, at which point the music would have stopped. (The notation is somewhat unclear in these last measures, but the general impression is of a piece cut off in medias res.) And if K. 357 was indeed intended for this scene in Er mengt sich in Alles, then it could be regarded as complete as it stands, rather than as a fragment.
Thus K. 357 fits the requirements of Er mengt sich in Alles both chronologically (it was composed around the right time) and musically (it is mostly not too difficult, it could plausibly be meant for a father and daughter, and it is humorous.) Its biggest drawback is that it is for piano 4-hands, and any notion Jünger and Brockmann might originally have wanted a 4-hand piece remains pure speculation. Another potential drawback is that K. 357 seems rather too long for the purpose: 159 measures of Andante, 2/4, not counting repeats (which are indicated by Mozart). These 319 beats (counting the initial upbeat and final eighth, but not the repeats) at roughly 76 beats per minute (a reasonable tempo for the material) would take a little over 4 minutes, a long time for an audience to wait with bated breath for the inevitable discovery of Karl in the closet. But then this is precisely the worry that Jünger expresses to Brockmann: that the performance of a substantial piano piece at this point would interrupt the drive to the denouement. This piece also suffers from the problem that it was entirely new and unpublished, and thus the audience would not have known that is was by Mozart unless the fact had been advertised.
To make a case that K. 357 is connected to Jünger’s play, then, it seems to be necessary to assume that it reflects an early idea for that scene—one that was probably abandoned before the premiere—in which Charlotte and Mileck play a duet. This assumption is perhaps more plausible if Jünger’s letter dates from the spring of 1791, than if it dates from the middle of the year.
Fragment K. 312 (590d), Movement in G minor for solo keyboard
The fragment K. 312 consists of an exposition and development of a sonata movement in G minor for solo piano, in 3/4 time. The autograph ends on the downbeat of m. 106, with a V of G minor, evidently in preparation for the recapitulation. The manuscript continues with mm. 106–145 in another, unknown hand; the anonymous writer has completed the retransition and added the recapitulation of the first theme and part of the transition. A first edition from 1805 (Vienna, Magasin de l’imprimerie chimique) continues the recapitulation to the end of the movement.
K. 312 is written on a bifolium with watermark Tyson 100. The dating of paper with this watermark in Mozart’s autographs is somewhat problematic, because the range that Tyson gives for the total span of the staff ruling, 181 to 183 mm, is unusually wide: subsequent research has shown that the total spans of music paper ruled in Vienna at this time are more stable than Tyson’s range of 2 mm implies. Total spans can generally be measured accurately to within at least 0.5 mm, and research suggests that the configuration of a full-page rastrum of the type used in Vienna at this time remained stable enough to serve as a kind of “fingerprint” over a considerable period of use. Thus one suspects that the 314 leaves identified as having watermark Tyson 100 in Mozart’s extant autographs probably represent at least two different paper-types—that is, there are probably at least two types with the same watermark but distinct and identifiable staff rulings. Further research into the staff ruling of these leaves will be necessary to clarify whether they do, indeed, represent two or more distinct types. But the chronology of the music that Mozart wrote on paper with watermark Tyson 100 suggests strongly that batches of paper with this watermark fall into (at least) two distinct groups that may well represent distinct paper-types. For precision, in what follows, we will use “Tyson 100” to refer to the watermark, and “100a” and “100b” to refer to the (still hypothetical) paper-types that would reflect this chronological distinction.
Paper-type 100a is the principal type used for the autograph of Così fan tutte, which contains 222 leaves with this watermark; it also appears in 4 further leaves devoted to drafts and sketches for the opera. Assuming these leaves all have the same staff ruling, then this paper-type was used mainly in the last few months of 1789 and perhaps into early Jan 1790 (the opera was first performed on 26 Jan 1790). The autograph of the uncompleted aria “Schon lacht der holde Frühling,” K. 580, which Mozart entered into his Verzeichnüß under the date 17 Sep 1789, also has this watermark, and presumably belongs to hypothetical paper-type 100a. The autograph of the string quartet K. 589 (completed in May 1790) also includes 4 leaves with this watermark, and there are 8 more in the autograph of the string quartet K. 590 (completed in Jun 1790). Whether the 12 leaves with this watermark in the two string quartets should be grouped together with the earlier autographs remains an open question.
However, there is a distinct group of autographs from mid and late 1791 that also include leaves with watermark Tyson 100: the cantata K. 619 (4 leaves, Jul 1791), Die Zauberflöte (6 leaves), and La clemenza di Tito (25 leaves). One suspects strongly that the staff ruling on these leaves, if examined using modern techniques (identifying the rastrum using an image of the complete page, not simply measuring the total span), would be found to be distinct from the ruling on the leaves identified here as type 100a. We can tentatively call this later paper-type 100b, which Mozart almost certainly acquired only after receiving the commission for Tito in July 1791. (Even if the staff rulings in the two chronological groups should turn out to be indistinguishable, it is still clear that Mozart acquired a new batch of paper with this watermark after receiving the commission.)
In addition to autographs that contain 4 or more leaves with watermark Tyson 100, there are several scattered leaves with this watermark among Mozart’s sketches and fragments, including the bifolium used for the fragment K. 312. Whether the autograph of K. 312 belongs to the earlier group with this watermark (100a) or the later one (100b) remains an open question. But until the question is resolved, the possibility remains that K. 312 may date from 1791. If so, the fragment would be a candidate for Er mengt sich in Alles. On the other hand, the fragment could date from late 1789 or early 1790, in which case it isn’t a candidate.
The autograph portion of K. 312 consists of 316 quarter-note beats, if the exposition is not repeated. The music suggests a brisk tempo. To allow for amateur performance, we can choose a tempo on the low side of brisk, perhaps 160 beats per minute. Mozart’s portion of the fragment would last just under 2 minutes at this tempo, arguably a more plausible length for the needs of Er mengt sich in Alles than the lengthier K. 357, but still a potential disruption to the forward momentum of the plot. Although K. 312 is unquestionably a “sonata,” as the play’s text specifies, its minor-mode and unisono opening gives it a rather serious cast, reminiscent of the Piano Concerto in C minor, K. 491; thus it is perhaps less appropriate for the comedic setting of Jünger’s play. Unlike K. 357, K. 312 doesn’t have anything that would function as an obvious musical cue for Karl to open the closet door, except perhaps the forte V7 of G minor at the end of the exposition. So all in all, the musical case for K. 312 does not seem strong, and its date remains uncertain.
K. 355, Minuet in D Major
The Minuet in D Major, K. 355, was first published in Vienna by Tranquillo Mollo in 1801. No autograph or manuscript copy from Mozart’s lifetime is known to survive, and the piece is not listed in Mozart’s Verzeichnüß. Even so, the attribution to Mozart has never been seriously questioned. (Mollo’s edition includes a Trio explicitly attributed to Maximilian Stadler.) The minuet is beloved by music theorists because of its unusual chromaticism, particularly in mm. 5–10. It consists of 132 quarter-note beats, counting the final rest, but not counting the repeats. The style of the music suggests a moderate tempo of perhaps around 88 beats per minute; at this tempo, the minuet would last 1 minute and 30 seconds if the repeats are not taken. Because of its moderate tempo, it is well within the capabilities of a skilled amateur.
In terms of style, length, and difficulty, K. 355 (assuming that it is indeed by Mozart and was originally written for piano) would have been well suited to the needs of Er mengt sich in Alles. If the piece had been used by the theater, the autograph might easily not have made it back into Mozart’s (or Constanze’s) hands, which would suggest a plausible backstory for its disappearance. Unfortunately, we have no grounds at all, other than stylistic ones, for dating K. 355. A date of 1791 certainly cannot be ruled out on stylistic grounds, but that is probably the best we can say in the absence of other evidence. Thus the case for its connection with Jünger’s play remains entirely speculative.
These four pieces—K. 613, K. 357, K. 312, and K. 355—are the only solo piano works attributed to Mozart that certainly date from 1791 (in the case of K. 613 and K. 357) or possibly date from that year (K. 312 and K. 355). Thus they are the only known pieces by Mozart that could possibly have been written in response to Jünger and Brockmann’s request. None of the four has a completely compelling case, but none can be conclusively ruled out. It is also entirely possible that Mozart never found time to write anything at all for Jünger and Brockmann, and that Charlotte ended up playing an extract from an already existing piece by Mozart, or perhaps (as the stage direction suggests) she simply played a few anonymous passages, as if warming up. Thus we cannot say for certain whether anything at all by Mozart was played on stage in the earliest performances of Er mengt sich in Alles, but neither can we rule out the possibility, based on the known evidence.
The main part of Jünger’s letter closes with a response to Brockmann’s question about what Jünger wants to be paid for his play Der Ton unserer Zeiten. Jünger rather irritably answers that it is specified in paragraph 5 of his contract that he is to receive 200 fl for each of his plays. (As it turns out, this play was not performed in the Burgtheater until 27 Feb 1804, several years after Jünger’s death, although it was published in 1792; see Goedeke 1916, 613. His reference to Der Ton unserer Zeiten in this letter shows that he sometimes wrote plays that were not immediately produced.) In a postscript he notes that he is returning to Brockmann the play That und Reue (by Johann Baptist Tilly), which, he writes, left him cold. Tilly’s play was never produced by the Burgtheater.
Jünger’s letter to Brockmann brings to light a previously unknown (if minor) incident in the last year of Mozart’s life: the composer had been asked by Jünger (and by implication, Brockmann) to write a short new keyboard piece for Jünger’s comedy Er mengt sich in Alles. Internal clues in the letter make it difficult for us to date the letter more precisely than sometime between 12 Mar 1791, when Count Ugarte assumed responsibility for the court theaters, and the premiere of the play on 23 Aug that year. However, Jünger’s ambiguously-worded reference to Fehler in Formalibus can be taken to support a date somewhere near the beginning of that period, perhaps in the second half of March. On the other hand, Mozart’s reported failure to respond to repeated requests makes it tempting to date the letter to the middle of July or later, after the composer had received the commission for La clemenza di Tito.
In evaluating these possibilities, it must be kept in mind that we have little or no idea of the typical gestation period for new plays intended for the Burgtheater, such as Er mengt sich in Alles: we do not know how long it might have been under discussion and in preparation behind the scenes before it actually reached the stage. Jünger writes that he has been to see Mozart several times with a request for a piece, so far to no avail. If the letter dates from after the middle of July, then Mozart’s failure to produce anything for them can probably be explained by the intense pressure of the commission for La clemenza di Tito. But Jünger’s letter could very well date up to four months before the commission. This early dating would leave us without an obvious explanation for Mozart’s failure to respond: he was busy in the first half of the year, but not that busy. And even if we were able to date the letter more precisely and more certainly, we still could not say for certain whether or not Mozart eventually did write something to comply with their request. The dating of the letter merely changes the respective probabilities of the possibilities.