Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Visit in 1914 to the House where Mozart was Born

(Photograph of the inner courtyard within the Mozart Geburtshaus taken by Jeffrey Johnson in 2010.)



Harriette Brower (1854-1928) wrote an article for The Etude Music Magazine (1883-1957) in January 1914 about a trip that she took to visit Salzburg. The museum opened in 1880, but written accounts of visits to the geburtshaus in English are not as common as one might suspect. Harriette writes an engaging article about her visit. She writes in motion; recording observations like a video camera that translates into words. She brings us to the house by crossing the river and walking through town. Like much of her writing it is saturated in charm:


"Let us turn our steps toward the old part of the town, and cross the river by the wide city bridge. Stop a moment in the centre and glance down at the shallow, pale green Salzach, as it hurries over its rocky bed. Look up the river and see how the mountains seem to close in, sloping down to the water’s edge; note the fine promenades, shaded by double rows of thick chestnut trees, on each side of the river; while hack of them rise most picturesque old buildings. Then lift your eyes to the great fortress of Hohe Salzburg—-a more formidable pile of rock and masonry than the old Burg at Nuremberg—-and you can make for yourself a general outline of the picture.

"Now we will proceed to the end of the bridge, and at once you are in the old part of Salzburg. Before you runs the narrow, busy street called the Getreide Gasse. The houses are all about four stories high, not including the street floor. Some of them look ancient, others have been modernized, few are of recent build. Each house has its shop, on the ground floor; and what curious little shops they are, with every kind of article for sale. Carved wood, glassware, shoes, pictures, postcards and Mozart mementos everywhere. Turn to the right now, and walk along this quaint thoroughfare. Perhaps business signs will catch your eye at first; some of them are very unusual. One, which belongs to a gold-beater’s shop, is really very handsome. A great golden eagle holding a wreath of green olive leaves in his beak. Many of these houses have narrow passages, dark and stony, running through them to the river on the other side. Pass along this street a short distance till you reach a small square—-Haganau Platz it is called.

"Look up at the third floor of the house facing this small square, and you will see the magic words 'Mozarts Geburtshaus.' Here, then, was the birthplace of one of the greatest composers who ever lived. The great, wide house doors stand wide open: they are of massive wood, covered with iron, to preserve them, and are painted black. Large brass handles are in the center of each--a lion’s head holding a ring--formed of a coiled serpent, in his mouth.

"Three flights of narrow stone stairs bring us to the right landing. How dark it all is here--though there are one or two openings letting in a few rays of light from the court at the back. We ring, an attendant opens, and we stand within the very room where Mozart was born. In the farther corner stood the cradle: the space is now occupied by a fine bust of the composer decorated with green. There is only one window, looking out to the court. Beyond, a glimpse can be caught of one of the square towers of the old University Church, perhaps the most picturesque in Salzburg."

[The prior two sentences describe the view in the photograph at the top of this page].

"The walls of this little room are hung with family portraits and mementos. Here is a large painting of Leopold Mozart and his family—-his wife and two children. Here are several portraits of Mozart as a child of six, ten and twelve years; in one of which he is veritably the “Little Prince.” Here, too, is a painting of Mozart’s two sons--it seems he had seven children—-the others, however, died in infancy. This portrait is an ideal one--the boys have very spirituelle faces. There are also likenesses of the sons when grown to manhood. At one side of the room is the tiny spinet on which the little wonder-child practiced; at the opposite side stands the harpsichord on which he used to give concerts.

"The attendant assured us the wooden floor was the veritable floor on which the Mozart’s trod--that it had not been renewed. The tall green porcelain stove was also the same they had used.

"The front room leading from this is much larger, almost twice the size. It was doubtless the general living room of the family; its four windows look out on the Getreide Gasse. The Mozarts surely made music in this room, and if the walls could but speak, what thrilling, inspiring stories they might tell Perhaps here is where little Wolfgang, at five, wrote and played for his family and friends those dainty menuettes which have come down to us. Fourteen portraits of the composer hang about the room. Here is a quaint little safe, not five feet long, some odd old chairs and a handsome inlaid cabinet, all of which had belonged to the family. The cabinet holds a complete collection of the composer’s works. The Mozarts were certainly in comfortable circumstances there are no traces of the touching poverty found in the early homes of Beethoven, Brahms and Schubert.

"A small front chamber, connecting with the large one, now contains a fine model of the new Mozarteum, the concert hall and conservatory, which are now being constructed through the efforts of the Mozart societies. There were probably several other rooms in the apartment, but only these three are shown, the remainder being reserved for the caretaker. What we saw filled us with tender reverence for the gifted man and gratitude that the place where he lived and worked as a child has been preserved intact till to-day."

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