Mozart, Constanze (1762–1842)
Mozart, Constanze (1762–1842)
German musician and wife of Mozart. Name variations: Constanze von Nissen; Constanze Weber or Constanze Weber Mozart. Born Constanze Weber on January 5, 1762, in Zell, Germany; died in 1842 in Salzburg; daughter of Fridolin Weber and Cecilia Weber; sister of Josepha Hofer (c. 1758–1819), Aloysia Lange (1761–1839), and Sophie Weber (1763–1846); married Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (the composer), on August 4, 1782; married Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, on June 26, 1809; children: (first marriage) Raimund Leopold (b. 1783, died young); Carl Thomas(b. 1784); Johann Thomas (b. 1786, died young); Theresa (b. 1787, died young); Anna Maria (b. 1789, died young); Franz Xaver (b. 1791).
Constanze Mozart has often been treated critically in biographies of her famous husband. Her contribution to the study of Mozart's life and works has been devalued, and she has been characterized as ignorant, petty, materialistic, and unable to appreciate Mozart's genius. Yet Mozart himself acknowledged her importance in his life, and her efforts to protect his work after his death were critical in establishing his permanent fame.
She was born Constanze Weber in 1762 in Zell, Germany, the third daughter of a poor family of Mannheim. Her mother was Cecilia Weber . Her father Fridolin Weber, a court musician, trained all of his daughters as singers; Constanze also learned to play the piano, but received little formal education. In 1777, she met Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart when he became a boarder in the Weber household. He soon fell in love with Constanze's older sister, Aloysia Lange , but Mozart's father Leopold stopped their planned elopement.
The Webers moved to Vienna in 1780, and Fridolin died soon after, leaving his widow with
four children and very little money. The next year Mozart, unemployed, boarded again with the family, where he developed a romantic friendship with Constanze, now 19. This relationship alarmed Cecilia Weber, who feared that rumors spread about her daughter and Mozart would ruin Constanze's reputation and chances for marriage. Determined to ensure her family of a permanent means of support through her sons-in-law, Cecilia Weber induced Mozart to sign a contract, without Constanze's knowledge, promising to either marry Constanze within three years or to pay her an annual stipend. In December 1781, Mozart wrote to his father that they planned to marry as soon as he had a steady income, but Leopold refused to give his blessing. He objected to his son's marriage into a family that could bring him neither the wealth nor the powerful connections he needed to launch a career as a composer.
Life for Constanze at this time was difficult. She was eager to marry and move out of her mother's house, but Mozart's financial trouble prevented the wedding. In letters, Mozart described the relationship between Constanze and her mother as tense and argumentative, made worse by Cecilia's apparent alcoholism. Their arguments sometimes led Constanze to leave home for several days at a time. Finally, in August 1782, Mozart and Constanze married in a small ceremony.
Despite its initial difficulties, it was a loving marriage. As surviving love letters from Mozart to Constanze show, the couple were devoted to one another; in their nine years together, they were rarely separated. The period of their marriage saw a general rise in Mozart's fortunes as his fame increased. He earned a fairly high income, but the couple usually spent even more than he made, leading to the stories of Mozart's poverty. Mozart's income was always fluctuating, and he was frequently in debt, but it is also true that the Mozarts were compelled to spend lavishly on their apartment and fashions to conform to the lifestyle of Vienna's elite.
Constanze gave birth to six children, which took a toll on her health, but only two sons survived infancy. The children, along with several servants and a constant stream of pupils, musicians, artists, and friends, made the household the lively, noisy, crowded environment in which Mozart worked best. Constanze enjoyed the active social life and, as a singer and pianist, was comfortable in these theatrical surroundings. She and her husband shared a musical bond as well; several of his compositions were written for her or dedicated to her. Constanze also sang opera roles or accompanied Mozart on the piano while he was composing. She occasionally performed publicly in Vienna in productions of Mozart's work.
From 1788 to 1790, however, she suffered from very poor health brought on by her frequent pregnancies, and several times she sought relief at the sulfur spas of Baden. These expensive medical treatments added to the family's financial trouble and led Mozart to borrow heavily. In November 1791, Mozart himself became violently ill and told Constanze he thought he had been poisoned (the actual cause of his illness is unknown). Constanze and her sisters nursed him but he died, at age 35, in December. His widow was too grief-stricken to attend the funeral service.
Having almost no money left after paying Mozart's debts, Constanze and her sons stayed with her family for a time. Once her situation became known, however, she received a small annual pension from the Holy Roman emperor Leopold II. She was also honored at a number of benefit concerts arranged by friends and admirers of her late husband. A close friend financed the education of her two sons and others took up collections for the widow and orphans for several years after Mozart's death. Constanze was sole possessor of her husband's many unpublished manuscripts, a responsibility she took seriously. Clearly she was deeply aware of her husband's talents, and recognized the potential worth of his musical works; at the same time, she refused to sell them off carelessly. In the first years of widowhood, she only sold eight compositions, to the king of Prussia in 1792.
Her health improved greatly after her childbearing years. In 1795, she and her sister Aloysia Lange undertook a successful concert tour of the northern German states. On her return to Vienna, Constanze opened a boarding house, where in 1797 a Danish diplomat took lodgings. Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, well educated and with a strong interest in music, soon became a close friend, and together they endeavored to organize Mozart's manuscripts as thoroughly as possible. Constanze, afraid that some other composer's work might be published under Mozart's name, verified the authenticity of each page herself. In 1799, she sold a large number of these compositions to a respected music publisher, Johann André of Offenbach, whom her husband had known. She continued to work with André through the 1830s, eventually letting him publish much of Mozart's corpus of music. She also negotiated editions with another large publishing firm in Leipzig. Constanze's care in the preparation of the manuscripts and her choice of only two primary publishers allowed for the dissemination of accurate, unabridged editions of Mozart's work and provided the foundation of modern Mozart studies.
In June 1809, Constanze married von Nissen. By this time both of her sons were grown; Karl would become a civil servant in Italy, while Franz followed his father's career as a composer and pianist. Both sons were close to their mother, and subsequently developed good relationships with Georg von Nissen. Constanze's second marriage was a happy one, although much more conservative in lifestyle than her first had been. After a few years in Copenhagen, the Nissens settled in Salzburg, where they began work on Nissen's biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Nissen died in 1826, before the massive book was completed. Constanze arranged for another scholar to finish the manuscript, which included many of her personal reminiscences of life with Mozart. It was finally published in 1828, although the book's uneven writing quality and length prevented it from enjoying much success. After Nissen's death Constanze resided with her sister Aloysia in Salzburg, where she died on March 6, 1842, at age 80. She was buried in the Mozart family vault in Salzburg.
Braunbehrens, Volkmar. Mozart in Vienna, 1781–1791. Trans. by Timothy Bell. NY: Grove Wiedenfeld, 1986.
Davies, Peter J. Mozart in Person. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.
Laura York , Riverside, California