Olomouc’s connections with the childhood of W. A. Mozart are both rich and poignant, resulting in musical composition, and a lasting legacy – although at first glance, it is a legacy less visible than that for example, he left in Brno and of course, Prague. The Moravian city became a place of residence for the boy Mozart and his family, rather out of necessity than otherwise, as they had left Vienna in the wake of the smallpox epidemic that swept through the capital, claiming the sixteen-year-old Archduchess Maria Josepha, daughter of Empress Maria Theresia, among its victims – at a time shortly before her marriage to the future Ferdinand II of the Two Sicilies and future King of Naples, was due to be celebrated. Leopold Mozart rapidly removed the family to Brno, where a concert was planned for the children to give at Christmas, with the boy Wolfgang and his elder sister, Nannerl, writing to his landlord back in Salzburg, Lorenz Hagenauer: “I was resolved to leave for Moravia immediately after the young princess’s death…” It is on Leopold Mozart’s letters that I have attempted to reconstruct the stay of the Mozarts in Olomouc.
Leopold Mozart decided to delay the concert in Brno and continue to Olomouc: “I had a certain inner feeling that I couldn’t get out of my head and that persuaded me to continue my journey to Olmutz [Olomouc] and delay the concert in Brunn [Brno]…” The Mozarts duly travelled on to Olomouc and drove to the city from Brno on 26 October 1767; the journey was held up en route because the carriage in which the Mozarts were travelling had to be taken to a blacksmith at the southern Moravian town of Wischkau [Vyskov], the town making a convenient stop-off point, even on today’s modern map. The Mozarts took one room at the ‘Black Eagle’ on the lower end of the marketplace, [Dolni Namesti] on the corner of Lafayet Street, to Leopold’s “annoyance”, which he described pointedly as “bad” and “damp”, as none of the more comfortable rooms was left. Today, the building is known as the Hauenschild Palace, a town palace which is occupied by the Hannakische Restaurant. The three-floored town palace was built in the Renaissance style, in 1583. Its portals are still decorated with classical figures; its striking corner feature was inspired by Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Significantly perhaps, theatrical performances were held in the building from 1744-1768, for which a special space was constructed in the courtyard.
A small memorial tablet may be found at the entrance of the building, which commemorates the stay of the Mozarts in 1767; it was unveiled in 2001. Despite the fact that the Mozart women travelled with them to Moravia as part of the party, only Leopold Mozart and W. A. Mozart feature on the plaque, which reads in Czech, German and English: “Hauenschild’s House in which in 1767 the Salzburg Kapellmeister Leopold Mozart stayed with his wife Maria Anna and their children Maria Anna and Wolfgang Amadeus”. It presages the type of plaques which still may be seen at houses and residences where the young Mozart stayed with his father Leopold en route to Italy when the Mozart women were left behind in Salzburg: only Wolfgang – and sometimes his father, too – are commemorated.
Leopold’s letter contains fascinating domestic details such as the fact that their room at the ‘Black Eagle’ had a stove, which smoked abominably, but that due to the dampness, a fire had to be lit. It was at about ten o’clock in the evening that the boy Wolfgang began to complain that he felt unwell. The immense paternal anxiety that attended Leopold’s reaction to Wolfgang’s illness makes it clear that it is the boy’s genius already which overshadows the considerable talents of his elder sister Nannerl, although they are at this point, still very much performing together. The letter home to Salzburg is full of Wolfgang, only one mention is made of Nannerl, and that is towards the end of the missive: “I am still worried that my little girl might get smallpox…”
It was at the ‘Black Eagle’ that Wolfgang felt into the first stages of his illness, complaining about his eyes: “his head was warm, his cheeks hot and very red, whereas his hands were as cold as ice”. He was given a black powder, which the Mozarts appear to have taken with them on their travels. The boy was put to bed, but the following morning he was still feverish. Wolfgang was moved to “two better rooms” and wrapped in furs. He was administered black powder again and then margrave powder, after which he became delirious, as Leopold reported home to his landlord.
Leopold attended church during the boy Wolfgang’s illness. As he refers to the great Cathedral of St. Wencelas separately, it is possible that this could have been one of Olomouc’s other near-lying churches, such as the Catholic Church of Sv. Michala, not far from the Archbishop’s seminary.
Leopold Mozart spoke to His Excellency Count Leopold Anton Podstatsky (1717-76), the former president of the consistory in Salzburg. (Mozart: A Life in Letters, ed. Cliff Eisen, Pg 61, 2006). Remarkably, the Count was not at all afraid of smallpox – in marked contrast to much of eighteenth-century European society, that rightly feared this horrifying disease: “Reflect on how strange it was that our fate drew us to Olmutz [Olomouc] and how extraordinary it was that, of his accord, His Excellency Count Podstatsky took us in with a child who was to develop smallpox…” (Eisen, Pg 63). Count Podstatsky sent his doctor to examine the boy Wolfgang at the ‘Black Eagle’ and ordered his housekeeper to prepare two rooms at the Cathedral Deanery.
Wrapped in furs again, in between leather sheets, Wolfgang was taken to the carriage waiting outside on the square, to the Cathedral Deanery, at four o’clock in the afternoon. Some of the ‘pocks’ of the disease came out the following day, while the boy was given more powder and “scabious tea”. At the appearance of his spots, his fever began to lessen, but the swellings on his face continued for several days. While he convalesced in the Deanery, he was visited by the chaplain, Johann Leopold Hay von Fulnek. It is perhaps during his recovery that the boy Mozart composed his Symphony No. 6 in F major. A plaque near the Cathedral today commemorates Wolfgang’s illness and his recovery in the Deanery, something which gave Leopold Mozart occasion to rejoice over to his landlord, in his letter home from Olomouc, written on 10 November 1767: “Te Deum Laudamus! Wolgangerl has recovered from smallpox! And where? – – in Olmutz!” (Ibid, Pg 60). Leopold asked for three masses to be said in Salzburg, as was customary for him to do, but this time presumably out of thanks for his son’s return to health. His praise for the Count was fulsome: “This deed will do Count Podstatsky no little credit in the life story of our little boy that I shall have printed when the time comes”. Such was Leopold’s gratitude that he attempted to have the Count’s kindness recognised formally by the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg, or by some other person of authority and consequence.
The Mozart family stayed in Olmutz until 23 December, returning to Brno on Christmas Eve, to hold the postponed concert.
Today, the Hauenschild Palace’s small memorial commemorates a most significant episode in the life of the eleven-year-old Mozart. His recovery at Olomouc allowed him to return to composition, beginning work on his opera buffa, La Finta Semplice, on his arrival back in Vienna. In addition to his Symphony No. 6 in F major, the plaque on the square at Olomouc ensures that his stay in the town is not forgotten.
©Elizabeth Jane Timms, 2018