Gateway to the Classics: Mozart's Youth by George P. Upton
Mozart's Youth by  George P. Upton

The Little Virtuoso

T HE little Mozart was christened Johann Chrysostom Wolfgang Amadeus, and was called by his parents and his sister Nannie, "Wolfgangerl," at least as long as he wore children's shoes. On the fourteenth of December, 1759, he being then three years and ten months old, a pleasant family feast was given by the relatives and friends of the sincerely and heartily beloved Father Mozart, in honor of his fortieth birthday. On that day the solicitous mother had been actively engaged making preparations since early morning, and although her little eight-year-old daughter Nannie was an industrious helper, there still remained so much to be done that she could pay little or no attention to Wolfgang, who consequently passed away the time until noon just as he pleased. Dressed in his best clothes, the little fellow sat at the window, quietly looking out into the street, and softly repeating, over and over again, the words of a little poem, with which, in childish festive fashion, he intended to welcome his father when he came home from his duties at noon. A friend of the family had written the verses, and Nannie and his mother had recited them to him so often that he knew them by heart. Suddenly, however, the little fellow stopped; his handsome, good-natured face was illumined with a smile, and he sprang up and knocked sharply on the window-pane.

"Hey! Andreas," he loudly cried; "Andreas, come in a little while. I am all alone."

The door was immediately opened, and a boy of Wolfgang's age, Andreas Schachtner, his devoted playmate, entered the room with a look of astonishment.

"Why, Wolfgang, how is it you are so nicely dressed?" said he. "This is not Sunday, nor a feast day."

"No, but it is a birthday," replied little Wolfgang, with an air of importance,—"father's birthday. We are going to have cake and wine, Andreas! Just think how good they will taste!"

"Yes, to you; but what does it matter to me?" said Andreas, trying to keep the tears back.

"Well, what are you crying for?" replied Wolfgang, quickly, and with affectionate impulsiveness. "Do you think I would not share a piece of cake with you and let you drink out of my glass? Oh, no, I am not so mean as that! So don't mind; and let us play a little while together, that the time may pass more quickly until noon."

"But what shall we play? It's too cold to go out doors, Wolfgangerl," said Andreas, appeased at once by the prospect of having some cake and wine.

"Let us stay in and turn somersaults," cried Wolfgang. "That's great fun, if you don't fall on your nose."

Andreas made no objection, and with loud and merry shouts of laughter the two little fellows ran about, turned somersaults, wrestled, and tumbled around on the sand-strewn floor, Wolfgang utterly forgetting that he was dressed in his best clothes. Their uproar rang through the house, and at last reached his mother's ears. In alarm she hastened to ascertain the cause of the tumult.

"Look at yourself, Wolfgangerl, you naughty child!" she exclaimed, as she entered the room and found the little fellows covered with dust and sand from head to foot. "What have you been doing? How you have soiled your clothes! What if your father should see you now! Oh, you bad, bad child!"

Little Wolfgang stood amazed, and looked confusedly, now at his mother, now at the sorry figure he presented. Shame and sorrow struggled in his childish face, and at last tears rolled down his flushed cheeks. "Oh, darling mother," he suddenly exclaimed, rushing to her with outstretched arms, "Oh, my darling mother, do not be angry! We have only turned a few somersaults, but we will not do it again. We will be real nice, only don't be angry with me, dear mother."

The good woman could not resist the little one's appeal. Displeasure vanished from her face, and she gently stroked her little son's blond locks. "You are indeed a harum-scarum," said she; "and see, your hair too is full of sand. Well, we will overlook it this time, but if you are naughty again to-day, you shall have neither cake nor wine."

"Oh, I will be good, perfectly good," replied Wolfgang, stroking, pressing, and kissing his mother's hand in a coaxing way. "Please forgive me, and be nice to me again."

The good mother bent over her little one and embraced him with maternal tenderness. Wolfgang was soothed and contented. Then his mother brushed him clean, put his hair and dress in order, and looked upon him with evident pride.

"Now it is all right again," she said, "but there must be no more foolishness, Wolfgangerl, or your father will be angry. Don't you know that these fine clothes cost a good deal of money, and that your father has to work very hard to earn it? So you must be a good child, and see that you do not soil or spoil them. Will you not do so, naughty little one?"

"Yes, certainly I will, for I love my father so dearly that I would not do anything to trouble him for all the world," the boy replied, and in such a tone of sincerity that his mother was satisfied.

"Well, now, I will leave you alone again," said she; "but what will you do next, if you are not going to turn somersaults any more?"

"Oh, I know, dear mother," he at once replied; "we will play soldiers, and tramp around the room, and I will play a nice march."

"Oh, I know your march will be fine," said Frau Mozart, smiling. "I wish I could hear it."

"You can, right off," replied the little fellow. "Attention, Andreas! In position—so—now, forward march."

Andreas obeyed. Wolfgang stationed himself by his side, held both hands to his mouth as if he had a trumpet in them, and then began playing, or rather singing, a charming march, in such correct time that his mother was completely surprised. The two children marched exultantly around the room, as well satisfied as if all the world were watching them.

"It's all right now," at last said his mother. "Now, after this, be good children, and each of you shall have a big piece of the birthday cake."

With these words she graciously nodded to the children and went away. Wolfgang and Andreas marched and trumpeted for some time. At last Wolfgang's voice gave out and Andreas complained that his legs were tired. "This is enough for now," he said to Wolfgang, wiping the sweat from his forehead. "I can't march any longer, it is so warm."

"Then we will play schoolmaster," said Wolfgang in great glee. "You sit there on the stool, for you are the pupil and I am the teacher. Now pay attention, for I am going to give you some examples on the blackboard. There is some chalk in the drawer."

While Andreas comfortably seated himself, Wolfgang took a big piece of chalk and began scribbling upon the floor and walls as earnestly as if he really were executing a task of the utmost importance. They were not actual figures, for he did not yet know how to make them, but rather meaningless hieroglyphics, which soon made the polished boards and the walls of the room look as if a dozen whitefooted crows had been hopping over them.

"Wolfgang, you naughty boy, what nonsense is this?" suddenly exclaimed a childish voice. Nannie, Wolfgang's sister, stood in the doorway, regarding with astonishment the disfigured boards and walls.

"Why, what is the matter, Nannerl? We are only playing school, and having some lessons in arithmetic," replied Wolfgang, looking at his sister in the most innocent manner and with an expression of absolute delight.

"Yes, but you entirely forget that mother and I have been toiling since early this morning to get things clean and in good order," said Nannie, beginning to cry. "Now we must begin all over again, and there is no one more to blame for it than you. You are a naughty, naughty child. Go away; I do not wish to see you any more."

When little Wolfgang saw tears glistening in his sister's eyes and noticed her manifest grief, it came over him all at once that he had behaved improperly. Thoroughly surprised, he was at her side in an instant. He gently pulled at her dress and softly said: "Don't be angry, dear Nannerl, I beg of you. Little Wolfgang has been naughty, but he will not do so again. Only don't be angry, my dear, darling Nannerl."

He begged so piteously, appeared so thoroughly contrite, and raised his little clasped hands so imploringly to his sister, that she could not remain offended. She turned a kindly face to him, and Wolfgang was not slow in noticing it.

"Now you are again my good Nannerl, and you have forgiven me," he loudly exclaimed, as he put up his mouth to her.

"Well, this shall be overlooked," said his sister, as she lovingly kissed her brother's little lips, "but don't make any more trouble. I will quickly rub it all out, so that mother will never know how naughty you have been."

Little Wolfgang sat quietly by while Nannie rubbed out the chalk-marks with nimble hands. In a few minutes everything was again clean and orderly, and Wolfgang embraced her, and over and over again called her his "dear, good Nannerl."

"You are a good-for-nothing," she replied, half laughing, half angry, "but I cannot help being good to you because you have a good heart; but don't play any more of your silly tricks, for your father will soon be here, and then you must recite your little piece. Can you do it now?"

"Oh, yes, every line of it," he answered. "I guess papa will be astonished for once. Listen."

At that instant the house door opened, men's voices were heard in the hall, and soon Vice Chapelmaster Leopold Mozart entered with some of his friends. Wolfgang joyously flew to him and embraced him. "God greet you, father," he cried. "I congratulate you a thousand times on your birthday."

"Thank you, thank you, my little one," replied Father Mozart, kissing him. "Do you love your father very much?"

"Yes, father," said Wolfgang, looking at him with beaming eyes, "I love you very, very much, and, do you know, after the dear God comes my dear, good papa."

"This greatly pleases me, little fellow. Keep both in your heart as long as you live and all will be well with you," said Father Mozart, with great emotion, as he laid his hand in blessing upon the child's curly head. The mother and sister also entered and offered their congratulations. While this was going on little Wolfgang mounted the stool, struck an attitude, and recited his little address, not only correctly and in good voice, but with heartfelt emotion. It ran thus:

"This day my heart exults with joy,

This day that sweetest welcome brings;

It greets me in my own young day,

And to my youthful heart it sings:

'I bring both happiness and blessing.

Yes, happiness is truly mine,

Oh, day so rare, oh, day so fine;

My father's life, so true, so strong,

And God's own love to me belong;

His counsel wise I will obey,

Hold to the right, take virtue's way;

Yes, father, I am thine my whole life long,

My heart is yours;' so ends my song."

A loud "brava" followed the little poem, which had truly come from his heart, and all complimented Wolfgang because he had acquitted himself so well. Tears stood in his mother's eyes, and even the men displayed emotion, as if they realized that an unusual inspiration was already manifesting itself in the little one. Wolfgang, however, was somewhat disconcerted by the serious mood of the company. Jumping down from his stool, he loudly shouted, "Let us go to the table, for I am hungry, and mamma has promised me a glass of wine and a big piece of cake."

All laughed and followed the little fellow into an adjoining room, where the table was spread, handsomely decorated with flowers and growing plants. They seated themselves, and more than an hour passed in lively conversation and general intercourse. They were tried and true friends. What they said came truthfully and sincerely from the heart. The afternoon called the father to his duties, for he would not neglect them, even on his birthday, and his guests left at the same time. Toward evening, however, he returned, contented and pleased after a day's duties well performed. "I have been very happy to-day, mother," he said to his wife, as he affectionately embraced her. "I am going to begin to-day what I have contemplated for some time, namely, giving piano lessons to our Nannerl. Come here, child. You shall have one at once."

"And give me one too, papa," said Wolfgang, eagerly. "You will find I can do just as well as Nannerl."

"Why, you silly boy, you can hardly stretch four keys with your little fingers," said his father, laughing. "Play and laugh with your comrades all you will, and never mind the piano."

Thus severely admonished, Wolfgang retired to a corner of the room with a sorrowful face. Nannie seated herself at the piano, and Father Mozart began the lesson. It had not continued long before Wolfgang became restless. He stole nearer and nearer, on tiptoe, until he was behind his father's chair, where he listened intently to his words and instructions. There he remained until the lesson was over. Nannie left for the kitchen, to help her mother to get supper. Father Mozart began reading a book in his armchair. Wolfgang stood at the piano, thoughtfully looking at the keys. After a little, and apparently unconscious of what he was doing, he placed his hands on the keyboard and began striking thirds as he had just seen his sister do. At the sound of the instrument his countenance lit up, his eyes glowed, and utterly absorbed by the passion of music he forgot all else.

Father Mozart at first paid no notice to his son's playing. Gradually, however, as the tones grew fuller and stronger, he became attentive, laid aside the book he had been reading, and watched little Wolfgang with constantly increasing astonishment. He listened eagerly, and was more and more delighted when he found that Wolfgang repeated accurately and without a slip the little exercise which he had played over shortly before to Nannie. Tears of joy stood in his eyes. He arose, and going to Wolfgang, folded him in his arms and, overcome by his emotions, exclaimed: "Wolfgang, my heart's own little one, surely, and beyond all question, you are already a true musician." Then he called the mother and sister and told them the good news, and Wolfgang had to repeat the little pieces, which he did excellently. All were delighted. His mother embraced and kissed him, his sister joyfully clapped her hands, and his father looked on with beaming face. Little Wolfgang alone remained calm, and wondered that his playing caused such a commotion. "Why, that is nothing," he said. "I have known all that from the first; but you will see, papa, that I shall soon know far more than this."

"God grant it. For my part, I have no further doubt of it," said his father, deeply moved. "I will not fail to teach you all that I know."

Meanwhile bedtime had come, and little Wolfgang was tired. This time his father himself put him to bed, said the evening prayer as his mother was accustomed to do, and tucked him up nice and warm. It was hardly done before the little fellow was sound asleep, but Father Mozart knelt a while at the bedside, and raised his heart and soul to the Eternal Father in heaven.

"Lord, my God," he silently prayed. "Thou hast given me a rare and beautiful flower. Give me also strength and perseverance, that I may tend it and bring it to its perfect blossoming, for thy honor and my happiness."

God heard the prayer. It rose to His throne in heaven, found favor in His eyes, and was granted.

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