Thursday 14 November 2019

Classic talk: Meet Mozart's forgotten son

Musical family: Mozart's sons Franz Xaver and Karl. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images
Musical family: Mozart's sons Franz Xaver and Karl. Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images

George Hamilton

Family ties in classical music can run pretty deep. There are the Bachs, of course, father and sons, and the brothers Haydn, then that dynasty of the masters of the waltz, the family Strauss, and, of course, the Mozarts.

It's pretty well known that Wolfgang Amadeus was the son of a musician of note himself - Leopold - who composed church music and wrote the then definitive handbook on how to play the violin.

These days, Leopold's output tends to be bracketed as an addendum to the catalogue of his hugely talented offspring, which isn't really surprising since he more or less hung up his quill once he realised just how good the boy was and took to promoting him instead.

What's maybe not quite so well known is that the younger Mozart, too, had a composer son.

Just two of his six children, both boys, survived into adulthood. The elder, Karl, became a civil servant, but the younger, Franz Xaver, followed in his father's footsteps.

Franz wouldn't have known his dad. He was only four months old when he died. But his mother Constanze made sure he got the best possible musical education.

He was sent as a child to Prague to learn piano from the pre-eminent player of the time, Frantisek Dusek, and that confirmed his potential.

Back in Vienna, he had lessons from Hummel and Albrechtsberger, who had taught Haydn and Beethoven. Salieri was another of his teachers.

He was clearly going to be a star performer like his father, and his career as a composer showed promise, too.

Salieri reckoned he had a rare talent and there was every chance he would become just as big a name as his old man.

But outshining the era's greatest star was always unlikely to happen. The shadow cast by the original was just too long.

Franz Mozart was concerned that he wouldn't measure up, that comparisons would be odious.

Still, he did make his mark. He based himself in Lemberg (now Lviv in western Ukraine) where he taught in the big houses, and gave concerts featuring his own and his father's music.

As a performer, styling himself Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart Junior, he undertook a major European tour. He was on the road for two-and-a-half years.

Back in Lemberg, he founded a choir which, at the height of its success, could draw on 400 amateur singers. He was at the heart of artistic life in the city.

Franz would spend much of his adult life in Lemberg, teaching and directing music. There, they were happy to have a Mozart of their own, and he was clearly content.

He was in his late 40s when he made the move back to the mainstream in Vienna. His connections in his father's home place of Salzburg were rekindled.

That resulted in his appointment as Honorary Director of the Mozarteum, the Salzburg university that specialises in music and the dramatic arts.

His career as a performer and conductor continued, but his health was failing. He was suffering from stomach cancer.

He decided to take what's known as a Kur -rest and recuperation, and possibly some treatment - in the spa town of Karlsbad.

It didn't work out so well, and he passed away there (now Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic) on July 29, 1844.

Mozart's musician son was buried in the local cemetery, since remodelled into a green space known as Mozart Park. His gravestone still stands.

His music isn't heard much any more but is well worth seeking out. In particular, his two piano concertos, very obviously Mozart music, in the classical idiom, but just edging down the road towards romanticism.

Neither he nor his brother had children. The forgotten Mozart - Franz Xaver - was the last in the line.

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Saturday and Sunday

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