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Touching musical performances

58. "Herr Stein sees and hears that I am more of a player than
Beecke,--that without making grimaces of any kind I play so
expressively that, according to his own confession, no one shows
off his pianoforte as well as I. That I always remain strictly in
time surprises every one; they can not understand that the left
hand should not in the least be concerned in a tempo rubato. When
they play the left hand always follows."

(Augsburg, October 23, 1777, to his father. [We have here a
suggestion of the tempo rubato as played by Chopin according to
the testimony of Mikuli, who said that no matter how free Chopin
was either in melody or arabesque with his right hand, the left
always adhered strictly to the time. Mozart learned the principle
from his father who in his method for the violin condemned the
accompanists who spoiled the tempo rubato of an artist by waiting
to follow him. H.E.K.])

59. "Whoever can see and hear her (the daughter of Stein) play
without laughing must be a stone (Stein) like her father. She
sits opposite the treble instead of in the middle of the
instrument, so that there may be greater opportunities for
swaying about and making grimaces. Then she rolls up her eyes and
smirks. If a passage occurs twice it is played slower the second
time; if three times, still slower. When a passage comes up goes
the arm, and if there is to be an emphasis it must come from the
arm, heavily and clumsily, not from the fingers. But the best of
all is that when there comes a passage (which ought to flow like
oil) in which there necessarily occurs a change of fingers, there
is no need of taking care; when the time comes you stop, lift the
hand and nonchalantly begin again. This helps one the better to
catch a false note, and the effect is frequently curious."

(Augsburg, October 23, 1777. The letter is to his father and the
young woman whose playing is criticized is the little miss of
eight years, Nanette Stein.)

60. "When I told Herr Stein that I would like to play on his
organ and that I was passionately fond of the instrument, he
marveled greatly and said: 'What, a man like you, so great a
clavier player, want to play on an instrument which has no
douceur, no expression, neither piano nor forte, but goes on
always the same?' 'But all that signifies nothing; to me the
organ is nevertheless the king of instruments.' "

(Augsburg, October 17, 1777, to his father.)

61. "I had the pleasure to hear Herr Franzl (whose wife is a
sister of Madame Cannabich) play a concerto on the violin. He
pleases me greatly. You know that I am no great lover of
difficulties. He plays difficult things, but one does not
recognize that they are difficult, but imagines that one could do
the same thing at once; that is true art. He also has a
beautiful, round tone,--not a note is missing, one hears
everything; everything is well marked. He has a fine staccato
bow, up as well as down; and I have never heard so good a double
shake as his. In a word, though he is no wizard he is a solid

(Mannheim, November 22, 1777, to his father.)

62. "Wherein consists the art of playing prima vista? In this: To
play in the proper tempo; give expression to every note,
appoggiatura, etc., tastefully and as they are written, so as to
create the impression that the player had composed the piece."

(Mannheim, January 17, 1778, to his father. Mozart had just been
sharply criticizing the playing of Abbe Vogler. [See No. 66.])

63. "I am at Herr von Aurnhammer's after dinner nearly every day.
The young woman is a fright, but she plays ravishingly, though
she lacks the true singing style in the cantabile; she is too

(Vienna, June 27, 1781, to his father. Beethoven found the same
fault with Mozart's playing that Mozart here condemns.)

64. "Herr Richter plays much and well so far as execution is
concerned, but--as you will hear--crudely, laboriously and
without taste or feeling; he is one of the best fellows in the
world, and without a particle of vanity. Whenever I played for
him he looked immovably at my fingers, and one day he said 'My
God! how I am obliged to torment myself and sweat, and yet
without obtaining applause; and for you, my friend, it is mere
play!' 'Yes,' said I, 'I had to labor once in order not to show
labor now.' "

(Vienna, April 28, 1784, to his father in Salzburg, whither the
pianist Richter, whom he recommends to his father, is going on a
concert trip.)

65. "Meissner, as you know, has the bad habit of purposely making
his voice tremble, marking thus entire quarter and eighth notes;
I never could endure it in him. It is indeed despicable and
contrary to all naturalness in song. True the human voice
trembles of itself, but only in a degree that remains beautiful;
it is in the nature of the voice. We imitate it not only on wind
instruments but also on the viols and even on the clavier. But as
soon as you overstep the limit it is no longer beautiful because
it is contrary to nature."

(Paris, June 12, 1778, to his father. [The statement that the
tremolo effect could be imitated on the clavier seems to require
an explanation. Mozart obviously had in view, not the pianoforte
which was just coming into use in his day, but the clavichord.
This instrument was sounded by striking the strings with bits of
brass placed in the farther end of the keys which were simple and
direct levers. The tangents, as they were called, had to be held
against the strings as long as it was desired that the tone
should sound, and by gently repeating the pressure on the key a
tremulousness was imparted to the tone which made the clavichord
a more expressive instrument than the harpsichord or the early
pianoforte. The effect was called Bebung in German, and
Balancement in French. H.E.K.])

66. "Before dinner Herr Vogler dashed through my sonata prima
vista. He played the first movement prestissimo, the andante
allegro and the rondo prestissimo with a vengeance. As a rule,
he played a different bass than the one I had written, and
occasionally he changed the harmony as well as the melody. That
was inevitable, for at such speed the eyes can not follow, nor
the hands grasp, the music. Such playing at sight and...are all
one to me. The hearers (I mean those worthy of the name) can say
nothing more than they have seen music and clavier playing. You
can imagine that it was all the more unendurable because I did
not dare to say to him: 'Much too quick!' Moreover it is much
easier to play rapidly than slowly; you can drop a few notes in
passages without any one noticing it. But is it beautiful? At
such speed you can use the hands indiscriminately; but is that

(Mannheim, January 17, 1778, to his father.)

67. "They hurry the tempo, trill or pile on the adornments
because they can neither study nor sustain a tone."

(Recorded by Rochlitz as a criticism by Mozart of Italian singers
in 1789.)

68. "It is thus, they think, that they can infuse warmth and
ardor into their singing. Ah, if there is no fire in the
composition you will surely never get it in by hurrying it."

(According to Rochlitz Mozart used these words while complaining
of the manner in which his compositions were ruined by
exaggerated speed in the tempi.)

Jan 6, 2016
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