My Dearest Father is a touching collection of letters between Mozart and his father, Leopold, penned while Mozart travelled around the continent with his mother.
The father and son touch upon music, with Mozart describing the sounds various pianos and organs produce in the Little Black Classics’s very first epistle. But the exchange is largely of a more personal nature.
The letters begin with what seems like a careless, self-absorbed young man and an over-protective, rather interfering father.
Wolfgang was 21–22 years old at the time of writing these letters. His personality is abundant in the first letter – he speaks gleefully about music, offers brutal opinions and isn’t afraid to swear.
Take, for example, a lyric he composed in relation to a new acquaintance in the first letter:
“O you prick, lick my arse.”
(Sorry, Grandma! It was Mozart, not me, remember!)
Along with sharing so much, their address to one another makes it clear that the two have a great respect and love for one another; Mozart begins his letters with “Mon très cher Père” and Leopold opening with “Mon très cher Fils.”
‘My dearest Father / Son’ for those of you that, like me, are not natural Francophiles.
(Apologies if that was enormously patronising. I genuinely am appalling at French. Ask anyone who knows me).
Tensions do simmer, however. It soon becomes apparent that Mozart’s handle on money is not a strength of his and causes his father much concern.
His father appears to micro-manage Mozart and his budgeting, querying precisely what his outgoings have consisted of.
Mozart clearly inherits his honesty (see earlier insult) from his Father, who in one letter remarks “your long and unnecessary stay has ruined everything.” Seems a bit harsh.
In all honesty, I found Mozart’s father rather irritating. He’s what my Mum would define as a ‘helicopter parent,’ hovering over his child constantly and imparting his unwanted opinion.
He obsesses over Mozart’s handling of money and interferes:
“In your 2nd letter from Mannheim you should at least have said that the journey cost us such and such an amount and we’re now left with – –, so that I could have made arrangements in good time.”
It’s like a stream of consciousness. Why can’t he simply let Mozart realise that if the money runs out, it’s his responsibility to earn more?
I was even more bemused to realise Mozart’s Mother is travelling with him. Leopold says:
“Your dear good Mama told me she’d keep a careful note of your expenses. Good!”
So why can’t Leopold trust his wife to keep a watchful eye on her son and his wallet?
He even passes comment over Mozart’s friends, warning that some might want to keep company with him for his money alone.
Mozart, in comparison, is remarkably patient, defending himself and taking full responsibility:
“We are not incurring any expenses that are not necessary; and what is necessary when travelling you know as well as we do, if not better. That we stayed so long in Munich was the fault of no one but myself.”
Mozart comes across very well in these letters. He’s patient, funny, excited and, as said previously, evidently respects his father hugely.
I grew tired of Leopold’s nagging, which occupies the majority of the letters.
But the subject and tone took a turn for the worse and I soon warmed to the synonymously worried parent.
In the third to last letter, Mozart writes:
“I have some very disagreeable and sad news for you, which is also the reason why I have been unable until now to reply… My dear mother is very ill… she’s very weak and is still feverish and delirious”
He talks at length about this, before he writes of music – symphonies he’s written, orchestras he’s conducted and song lyrics. It’s clear he’s trying to distract himself and his Father from an impending loss, signing off
“I kiss your hands 1000 times and embrace my sister with all my heart. I am your most obedient son”
Alas, six days after writing this, Mozart writes once more:
“my mother passed away peacefully; – when I wrote to you, she was already enjoying the delights of heaven.”
Mozart was real and his Mother genuinely passed away soon before he started writing to his Father, warning her she was unwell.
The letters are genuinely heartbreaking – if you’re in need of a therapeutic cry, I recommend.
What is lovely, is the ever evolving relationship that floods and ebbs between them, almost like the season’s Kenko described in A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees.
Having begun with an eye-rolling attitude toward Leopold Mozart, I read his final letter, which concludes this collection, with my hand over my mouth in sympathy for him.
On this occasion he addresses his letter to “My Dear Wife and Son”.
“This morning, the 13th, shortly before 10 o’clock, I received your distressing letter of 3rd July. You can well imagine how we are both feeling. We wept so much that we could scarcely read your letter.”
He second guesses his wife’s behaviour during her illness, knowing her so well:
“I expect she ate some meat. She waited too long to be bled. Knowing her very well, I remember that she likes to put things off, especially in a foreign place, where shed’s first have to enquire after a surgeon.”
His Father heartbreakingly second-guesses, however, that his wife is no longer alive: “I now know that my dear wife is in heaven.”
“Write and tell me all the details… Write to me soon – tell my everything – when she was buried – and where… Your honest and utterly distraught father”
I really struggled to know how to celebrate this Classic. I didn’t much feel like celebrating, more mourning for Mozart and his family.
The only appropriate course of action seemed to be writing to my own dear father and nearest and dearest.
On a selfish note, but with Mozart’s thrifty Father in mind, I am broke. And I mean cheese-and-pasta-for-dinner broke.
No spontaneous tickets purchased for the proms to listen to Mozart’s symphonies in all their glory for me, I’m afraid.
There is no need to feel sorry for me. My money has been spent on literary fun that I absolutely do not regret, so there was plenty to write home about.
Plus I need as much writing practice as I can get – blog, postcard, tweet, post-it note. I’m fortunate enough to work with books daily, but I work with others’ words rather than my own. Any writing is excellent practice.
My parents are currently slurping on mojitos in Havana, before heading to a favoured hotel on the Cuban coast. So it seemed that writing to my Dad, Our Man in Havana as he has affectionately been dubbed, along with a few other loved ones, was an excellent notion – he would have post to greet him on his return.
I made a much needed, restorative cup of tea, unpacked my drawers of delicious stationery (I’m a sucker for any stationery from Waterstone’s or Stanfords – take note) and set to.
I’ve had a very jolly time of late and, as said previously, literature has featured a lot. Those of you who follow me on Instagram will be only too aware of this i.e. those of you who are sick to death of ‘book’ and ‘bookblog’ hashtags. Sincere apologies, chums.
A friend and I visited the House of Illustration in Granary Square, King’s Cross, for the Ladybird by Design exhibition.
A wealth of childhood memories flooded back, as they would have had for my parents and Grandma, I’m sure. There were so many beautiful artworks and fascinating exhibits showing the idyllic illustrations, like a peephole into utopia.
I particularly remember the Ladybird fairytale books from my childhood and specifically The Big Pancake, which is infamous in my family.
My sister loved the story and asked for it repeatedly to be ready to her. Both Mum and Dad read to us a lot when we were little, and Dad was so fed up with The Big Pancake that he hid it from my sister. It provided a few weeks of respite.
I, on the other hand, had a ladybird pram when I was tiny. On one occasion, Mum said it was story time and I ran off to choose a book. I was gone a good few minutes, and Mum began to wonder what I was up to, before hearing the tinkling of the pram’s bell.
I appeared, my beloved ladybird pram tacked to the brim with books. A bibliophile from a very young age!
Another friend and I visited Alice’s Adventures Underground, last week. The immersive theatre experience, celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland, sorts spectators into suits and takes them through Alice’s adventures in disjointed order.
I, for example, chose ‘drink me’ (naturally), talked to Alice through the looking glass, ate one of the Queen of Hearts jam tarts, visited the Caterpillar’s smoke filled den, joined the revolution against the tyrannical Queen, had a delicious cocktail at the Hatter’s tea party, danced with a walrus and played flamingo croquet. Curiouser and curiouser.
It was enormous fun – if you’re London based I highly recommend – and gave me lots of inspiration for an Alice-themed tea party I’m holding next week. Watch my Instagram and Twitter to see how it goes!
So there really was lots to write home about. I chose some appropriate Ladybird postcards for the occasion and a Robin card for Dad.
As a sidenote, I typed this blog up listening to Mozart, a digression from my usual playlist, and it wasn’t at all unpleasant. In fact, I often found myself typing furiously in time with the orchestra.
Perhaps I’ve found my new medicine for lifting writer’s block. Thank you Mozart!
And also a big thank you to my housemate (who moved out a week ago today!) Alice who chose this Little Black Classic on Father’s Day. I hope you and Greg have a space in the new flat ready for a bookshelf!
Next I shall be blogging about Dante’s Circles of Hell.