Academic journal article Current Musicology

A Context for Mozart's French Ariettes: The Wendling Family and Friedrich Schiller's Kabale Und Liebe

Academic journal article Current Musicology

A Context for Mozart's French Ariettes: The Wendling Family and Friedrich Schiller's Kabale Und Liebe

Article excerpt

This essay examines Mozart's relationship to the Wendling family and the French ariettes he wrote during his visit to Mannheim. Through documentary evidence we glimpse the underside of court life, involving an affair between Elisabeth Augusta Wendling and Elector Palatine Carl Theodor. Six years after Mozart's visit, Friedrich Schiller's Kabale und Liebe was performed at the Mannheim National Theater in 1784. The goal of the essay is first to draw connections between Mozart and the Wendlings, and second to consider Schiller's fictional Luisa Miller, her father, and mother--a family possibly modeled on the Wendlings.

The Wendling Family

Among the friends Mozart made during his visit to the Mannheim court in 1777-78 were the Wendlings--Johann Baptist, his wife Dorothea, and their daughter Elisabeth Augusta--whom Mozart first met on November 8, 1777, a few days after his arrival:

   Today after lunch at about two o'clock I went with Cannabich
   to the flautist Wendling. There everyone was extremely polite.
   The daughter, , plays the
   keyboard quite nicely. After that I played myself. I was in
   such an excellent mood that I cannot describe it. I played
   nothing but from my head, and three duets with violin which I had
   never seen in my life, and whose author I had never even heard of.
   They were all so content that I had to kiss the women. With the
   daughter it was not hard for me, for she is no dog. (Bauer and
   Deutsch 1962-75, 2:110) (1)

The flautist Johann Baptist Wendling had joined the Mannheim orchestra in 1751 or 1752, and in a short time became principal flautist at the court. He gave private flute lessons to Elector Palatine Carl Theodor, and eventually visited London and Paris, where he performed and published his own music? Dorothea Wendling was born at Stuttgart in 1736 to a family of musicians named Spurni, and she married Johann Baptist Wendling on January 9, 1752. According to an early biographer, she "lived with him in a happy marriage" (lebte mit ihm in glucklicher Ehe, Lipowsky 1811:386). Later that year she was appointed a singer at the Mannheim court, and at the age of sixteen she made her debut in Baldassare Galuppi's An tigona (1753). She appeared as prima donna for the first time in 1758 in Ignaz Holzbauer's Nitteti, and for the next twenty years she was the most celebrated soprano at the Mannheim court. Her last and most famous role was Ilia in Mozart's Idorneneo (Munich, 1781). (3) The concert aria (K. 294a) that Mozart wrote for her in Mannheim in 1778 was undoubtedly an impetus for Holzbauer's one-act opera, La morte di Didone (1779), based on Metastasio's Didone abbandonata and which featured Dorothea in the title role. (4)

Elisabeth Augusta, the only surviving daughter of the Wendlings, was born on October 4, 1752. At the age of ten, she made her stage debut in Tommaso Traetta's Sofonisba as the young son of Sofonisba, with her mother in the title role. (5) By the time she was seventeen, she had appeared in several comic operas, including the role of La Cecchina in Niccolo Piccinni's La buona figliuola in November 1769. (6) In a letter of November 20, 1777, Maria Anna Mozart mentions:

   Yesterday, on St. Elizabeth's Day, Wolfgang and I ate with
   Herr and Madame Wendling, namely, the flautist; Wolfgang gets
   along well with them; they have an only daughter who is very
   beautiful, and whom Bach in England wanted to marry; she has
   been sickly for more than a year and a half, because she has
   not been cured completely of a fever; it is too bad about
   this person. (Bauer and Deutsch 1962-75, 2:136) (7)

Both Wolfgang and his mother indicate that Elisabeth Augusta Wendling was very beautiful, and that at some point she had been the mistress of Carl Theodor. Furthermore, we learn that Johann Christian Bach, who had befriended the Mozarts during their trip to London in the 1760s and who subsequently wrote two operas for the Mannheim court in the 1770s, had wanted to marry her. …

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