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Mozart’s Ninth
by: Debbie Cybill


This is the true (well, almost true) story of the first performance of the ninth piano concerto, also known as the Jeunehomme concerto.

I recently attended a symphony concert where Mozart’s ninth piano concerto was featured. The program notes remarked that at its première in 1777 the solo part had been played by an unknown woman, Mademoiselle Jeunehomme. Intrigued, I read a couple of biographies of Mozart and found a scholarly article about this concerto. I wrote the following story to offer a possible settlement to this puzzle. It concerns the three weeks between Mozart’s arrival in Mannheim and the first performance of this concerto.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and his sister Marianna were juvenile prodigies who spent most of their childhood jolting around Europe with their mother, giving concerts wherever anyone would pay them. Except for invented conversations most of this tale is accurate. It covers the period of his first courtship of Constanze Weber whom he married a few months later. The story is narrated by Marianna Mozart.


Now that smoking was banned the College common room seemed much more comfortable to me. Charles was reading the newspaper when I walked in. "I see they’re performing Mozart’s Ninth Piano Concerto at the concert tonight, with that young Serbian pianist, Igor Perecekevic. I wish I had tickets," said Charles.

"Chantal and I are going. We have season tickets. What does the paper say about it?"

"Nothing much. The critic raves about the pianistic skills of the soloist, but says nothing about the program."

Janet had come in and was pouring herself a cup of coffee. "The ninth, you say? Isn’t that the one where some woman played and conducted at the première?"

"I think you’re right," said Charles. "But I always understood that Mozart claimed that he wrote all the piano concertos for himself and always gave the first performance. After all the piano was his favourite instrument, despite his father’s insistence that the violin was the queen of music."

"Typical chauvinist! He wouldn’t let a woman have the honour of a first performance of one of his works."

"That’s not true," said Jimmy, who had been quietly sipping his coffee in the corner. "He wrote many compositions for women as well as men. More for the latter, of course, since they were the patrons who could pay him."

"Who was the woman, anyway? What do we know about her?"

"According to the program of the opening concert in Mannheim, she was Mademoiselle Jeunehomme. There is no other record of her at all. She never seems to have played any other concert, and we don’t even know her initial, let alone her first name. Nobody knows who she was." Jimmy, a professor of musicology, had adopted his lecturing voice.

"Strange! How do you think Mozart came to allow an unknown woman to perform at the opening of one of his major piano concertos? And how could he continue to claim that he always played at the opening of all his concertos?"

"I don’t really know," said Jimmy, "But it could have happened something like this. . ."

"How dare you charge the full toll when the turnpike is in such a condition? The tolls are to be used for maintaining the road, are they not?"

I was almost screaming at the toll booth attendant in my frustration over the trip along the turnpike from Strassbourg. Heavy rains had left it a sea of mud, washed out in places, and we were all half frozen and tired from the constant jolting.

"I don’t set the rates, Fräulein. I just have to collect what the Archbishop tells me."

Wolfgang was wrapped in his winter cloak and curled up in the corner of the coach. "Oh, tell Jakob to give him the toll, Marianna, and let’s get on."

I shrugged my shoulders in exasperation and handed the toll to Jacob. The shivering footman, on the outside of the coach, handed over the crown piece, the pike was raised and then we proceeded on towards Mannheim where we were to meet Father. We had set off for Paris in such high hopes, Wolfgang, Mother and I, leaving Father at home in Salzburg, where the Archbishop would not let him leave his duties. But in Paris we were now young adults, not child prodigies anymore, and our concerts were poorly attended, rarely more than fifty people. Wolfgang received a few small commissions, which helped, but Mother fell ill and died in July. Wolfgang wrote the news to father in a beautiful letter which expressed better than I ever could what we both felt about our family and our love for each other. I truly think we are closer than most families. But it fell to me to make arrangements for the funeral and to hustle my kid brother back home.

What a relief it was to drive along the cobbled streets of Mannheim, after that dreadful muddy turnpike. Father met us at his lodgings in the Weber household. I think he probably had some misgivings about this despite his friendship with Fridolin Weber, the prompter at the opera house, for Wolfgang had earlier had a crush on Aloysia Weber. He had even composed a soprano air for her to sing and had proposed taking her to Milan to star in his next opera. But Father’s fears must soon have been laid to rest, for when Aloysia came to join us in front of a roaring fire, where we were getting warm - for the first time in days it seemed - Wolfgang took not the least notice of her. He was over his infatuation and she was over hers too.

It was a sad reunion, and a brief one, for Father had to return to Salzburg, while we remained in Mannheim, where Father had arranged several concerts for us, three commissions for Wolfgang and one for me. "The most important commission, my boy, is for an opera for the new Imperial Opera House. If it is a success you may well obtain a position at Court."

"I have an idea for an oriental opera, Father, and I can use some of the music I sketched for that play by Racine that folded last year. What was it called? I forget. Anyway the play closed before they could use my choruses and incidental music."

"Then the Archbishop wants a new mass from you for Shrove Tuesday. That should be easy enough, and he is potentially an important patron. Lastly, a mere trifle - the Saint Cecilia School for Young Ladies wants a piano concerto for the end of term concert. I don’t suppose that will give you any trouble."

"The only trouble is going to be with the ability of the soloist. You know I really write piano concertos for myself and I would hate to have someone else give the first performance. I am not going to write down for a school-girl’s abilities."

"Oh, come on, laddie. It won’t kill you to write a concerto for someone else for once. It’s not as if it were a violin concerto. Oh, and Marianna! You are to conduct the choir at that same concert. Now tell me more about Paris."

"Nobody talks about anything except the events in the British Colonies in North America. And it was very disappointing that Guy de Mottier, Vicomte de Lafayette, had left Paris for the Chesapeake," said Wolfgang


Gur de Mottier
Vicomte de Lafayette

I burst in. "He is said to be the richest man in Paris and had promised Wolfgang a major commission to compose some martial music."

"He’s a year younger than I am, only seventeen, yet he’s been able to raise a full regiment and sail to the aid of the insurgents as its colonel. Anyway, with him gone and Mama’s illness we could not really do too much. I gave a few lessons, though, and so did Marianna."

"On the way home, we did better in Strassbourg, and our concerts were well attended. At least that helped us to cover the costs of the trip. But it’s so good to be back in Austria again."

Father left the next day and Wolfgang walked over to the Concert Hall to meet the musicians with whom he was to perform a violin concerto. How he hated the violin! To Father that was the queen of instruments, and Wolfgang played it really quite well, just to please him, but he much preferred keyboard instruments, especially the new-fangled pianoforte. I was to play a piano sonata at the same concert, one of those which Wolfgang had composed earlier for Baron Durnitz (and for which the good Baron "forgot" to pay).

Before dinner that evening in the Weber household, Aloysia’s younger sister, Constanze, came bustling home for the weekend from school, where she was a weekly boarder. "I hear you are going to compose the end-of-term concerto for us, Wolfgang."

"I didn’t know you were at Saint Cecilia’s."

"Yes, and I am to play the solo part in your concerto. I am so excited."

"Do take your coat off, dear, before you start into all that," said Frau Weber.

"Yes, Mama."

Constanze threw her books and coat on a chair. "I am really ex. . ."

"Hang your coat up at once, Constanze. Is that what they teach you at school?"

When she returned Wolfgang sat her down at the piano. "Now, if you are to play a new concerto of mine I must listen to you and then try to write according to your abilities."

Constanze began to play one of Wolfgang’s early sonatas.

"No-no! That won’t do at all. You are not even getting all the notes correct. You must be note-perfect before we can begin to realize the emotion, the expression. I had better start to give you lessons."

"But not till after dinner, young man. You can start to teach Constanze as soon as we have eaten."

The whole weekend seemed to pass in Constanze’s lessons from Wolfgang who was proving a stricter taskmaster than usual. Her performance seemed to me to be barely adequate. It was not any lack of musicianship, for she sang well and expressively, though not as well as her sister Aloysia, but somehow, even when she was note perfect on the piano (which was not often) her playing lacked expression. On Sunday evening she returned to school, somewhat chastened it seemed to me.

"I think you and I had better make a call on the headmistress tomorrow, Marianna. I can’t see that Constanze will be able to carry it off. Even if her playing improves immeasurably I can’t see her learning a new piece in time. Perhaps Frau Bittermann has selected her as soloist out of respect for our hosts, and not because she is the best player."

The next morning we sent Jakob over to St Cecilia’s to request an interview with Frau Bittermann, then walked over to the Cathedral Plaza to drink coffee in one of the coffee houses while waiting for the reply. Wolfgang could not rehearse the orchestra till evening, so this was a good day for idling.

Frau Bittermann received us after dinner at half past two. Wolfgang introduced me.

"With your permission, gnädige Frau, " he said., "My sister will assist me in preparing the school orchestra for the end-of-term concert."

"Indeed, Herr Mozart, that will be entirely acceptable. But the fee we are offering is all-inclusive. We cannot offer you, Fräulein, a separate fee or honorarium."

"I quite understand, but there is no question of extra cost to you in this. Now when can we hear the orchestra play and arrange a rehearsal schedule?"

"Perhaps tomorrow at this time will be suitable."

"That will be fine by me, madame. Perhaps you can tell me why you selected Fräulein Constanze Weber for the solo part in the piano concerto you have commissioned."

"Why! Because she is the best pianist in the school, of course."

"You would not consider my playing the solo myself?"

"Certainly not! This is a school for young ladies, and we cannot have a male performer. What an idea!"

"My brother will endeavour to coach Fraulein Weber, Frau Bittermann, and I hope she will be up to it." I tried to mollify her.

"Has she had any conducting experience?"

"Why do you ask, Herr Mozart?"

"Well in a piano concerto, the soloist conducts the orchestra from the keyboard. If she has had no experience at conducting perhaps it would be better if I were to conduct so that she can concentrate on her playing."

"I am sure that will not be necessary, Herr Mozart. You will be able to teach her the fundamentals. After all you have nearly three weeks. Besides, our public concerts are all-female affairs."

I could see that Wolfgang was restraining himself with difficulty and I feared he might say something unforgivable. "I shall help my brother in this too, and I am sure that your prize pupil will succeed with our joint help."

"If that is everything, then, Fräulein Mozart, Herr Mozart, then I must return to my duties. My assistant will show you the music room. Good day to you."

"Good day, Frau Bittermann."

We walked over to the music room. No ‘assistant’ was there to show us around and we had the hall to ourselves. "Three weeks to compose a concerto, teach it to an inadequate pianist, teach her to conduct and rehearse an orchestra of school girls! What does she think I am?"

His voice rose in pitch and volume. He was fairly exploding.

Constanze came bustling in. "She told me you were here. Have you written my concerto yet?"

I broke in before Wolfgang could be rude to her. "I think Wolfgang has some musical ideas for it, but he has not written anything down yet. Why don’t you try the instrument, Wolfgang, and improvise on what we were talking about."

Wolfgang shot me barbed glance, but said nothing. He sat down on the piano stool and struck a few chords. "This is a better instrument than I expected. Oh, I see it’s a Clementi. No wonder it’s good."

He played a brief motif with one hand. "That’s the first subject of the first movement. Now I am going to develop it."

After a couple of minutes he broke off. "This is the second subject." Another brief motif. "Now let’s intertwine them and develop them together, playing one off against the other."

He played for ten minutes. "That roughly is the first movement. Two or three more to go, then I shall have to orchestrate it."

"That was wonderful, Wolfgang, but how am I ever going to learn it?"

"I’ve been wondering that too. Can you conduct?"

"I’ve never tried. Does it matter?"

"Well, your dear headmistress tells me that a mere male will not be allowed to conduct and that the soloist will perform that chore. So you will have to learn not merely the piano part, but the whole orchestral score as well, with entrances, dynamics and everything else. On the day I shall not be able to help you. It will all fall on your shoulders."

Constanze looked almost panic-stricken.

Wolfgang wrote down the first movement and orchestrated it before continuing with the second, not his usual practice at all, but he had to offer something to the school orchestra to work on. I rehearsed the orchestra, going back to basics, which they seemed to lack, before I took them through this first movement. They were dreadful. I could not see that they could ever give a creditable performance with all the new music they would have to learn.

Constanze was having even more difficulty with mastering this first movement. The whole school seemed to be given over to preparation for this end of term concert.

"I’ve had to give up all work on my new opera about the escape of two young lovers from the Turkish Seraglio. This wretched concerto for the school is taking all my time, what with writing it, and coaching Constanze."

"Will she ever master it, do you think, Wolfgang?"

"I can’t see it. The only good thing is that it throws us together so much."

"You like that do you?"

"But seriously, I can see no way she can learn it in the ten days remaining, let alone learn how to conduct the orchestra."

"I wish I could help, but I’m on show at that same concert as choir-master."

Constanze came in at that moment, looking rather tearful. "I can’t bear all this. It seemed so wonderful that I was chosen as soloist, but it’s all spoiled. You write such difficult music, Wolfgang, even if it is so lovely. And I don’t know how to conduct at all. If only you could do it for me!"

She broke down and sobbed.

Wolfgang moved over to her and put his arms around her. He seemed genuinely distressed. Perhaps he was falling in love again. I looked at them, much of a size, and I had an inspiration. "Sorry to interrupt you two love-birds, but perhaps there is a way Wolfgang could take your place, Constanze."

"I don’t see how."

"If Wolfgang dressed up as a girl then Frau Bittermann might let him play, especially if we could convince her that here was a really superior artiste who could play and conduct an outstanding performance."

"Would you really do it, Wolfgang? Please please please."

Wolfgang looked doubtful. "I don’t like the idea at all."

Constanze pouted. "For me? Please-pretty-please."

"You and Constanze are pretty much the same size, you know, Wolfgang. You could carry it off."

We went the following day to see the headmistress of the school, Wolfgang and I.

"Fräulein Weber is beginning to master the music I have written for her, Frau Bittermann, but I fear her rendition will be quite wooden since there is so little time available."

"But she will be able to play the piece, I trust, Herr Mozart."

"Yes, indeed, gnädige Frau, so long as she recovers from her nervous fever, but there is no possibility that she can also conduct the orchestra."


"The orchestra, though very good for a school orchestra, is, after all, an amateur orchestra, which needs a strong hand to direct its performance. Fräulein Weber cannot conduct at all, and I have been quite unable - we have been quite unable - to train her to do so."

"I am sure the orchestra will manage quite well, Herr Mozart."

I broke in. "Fräulein Weber is showing severe signs of strain and I fear that she may be confined to bed by her physician if she tries to maintain this pace. May I make a suggestion, Gnädige Frau? A former student of my brother’s, a Mademoiselle Jeunehomme from Paris, has just arrived on a visit, with the intention of taking master classes with him."

"How will this help Fräulein Weber?"

"It won’t. Not directly. But Mademoiselle Jeunehomme was one of my brother’s best students both in pianoforte playing and in conducting. She has already played through the new concerto, and plays it far better than Fräulein Weber."

"And?" Frau Bittermann sounded annoyed.

I answered in a rush. "Mademoiselle Jeunehomme could be persuaded to play and conduct the concerto in Fräulein Weber’s place, without payment, Frau Bittermann, in return for classes from my brother."

"And you could guarantee that this would not cost the school anything extra?"

"She was my star student in Paris, gnädige Frau," replied Woldgang, "Both in conducting and in the pianoforte. She will play without pecuniary remuneration in exchange for further master classes from me. And she is a quite extraordinary conductor. I know that she can learn the music in time, which Fräulein Weber cannot, and also extract an outstanding rendition from the orchestra."

"I am prepared to permit this person to take Fräulein Weber’s place at the concert, provided that this can be done without cost to me or to the school. But if the concert is a failure I am sure you understand that I shall find it impossible to pay your fee, Herr Mozart."

The mean-minded bitch!

"Now we have to dress you up and teach you how to walk and comport yourself."

"Mademoiselle Jeunehomme, indeed! How did you dream up that name, Marianna?"

"You know what it means, don’t you?"

"Of course - Miss Young-man."

"Well, don’t you think it’s appropriate?" We both giggled.

That afternoon I ransacked Constanze’s wardrobe as well as my own and spent half the afternoon sewing while Wolfgang went off to rehearse the orchestra instead of me. When he arrived back I made him strip to his under-shirt and then laced on a corset. "Keep still. We’ll never get you dressed."

"These bones are agony. I don’t know how you girls stand them."

"They’ll make you sit like a girl anyway. It’s a good job you have such a light beard, but you’ll have to shave very carefully."


The corset and whalebone hoops for the panniers

We got him into three petticoats and an underskirt, then added a bodice.

"This is nearly as uncomfortable as the stays."

I added panniers and an overskirt.

"How do you sit down in all this?"

"It’s nothing yet. We have to make you up and add a wig." I put my new wig on his head. I would have to make do with my second-best for myself. A little flour on his face, then rouge and a patch. He was beginning to look like a woman. Just then Constanze came in. "Constanze, come and meet Mademoiselle Jeunehomme. She’s Wolfgang’s star student in conducting and piano from France. Frau Bitter-face has agreed to let her take your place in the concert."

Judging by the look of relief on Constanze’s face she must have been dreading going on with this concert. "Wow, has she really? How do you do, Mademoiselle. It is really most kind of you to take over from me like this." She curtsied.

I saw Wolfgang beginning to bow, and then he changed it to an awkward curtsey.

"Enchanté, Mademoiselle. C’est mon privilège."

Constanze stared. I hurriedly said, "Please play the new concerto for us, Mademoiselle."

Wolfgang sat down at the piano and played the first movement.

"Why, that sounds just like your brother’s touch, Marianna."

Wolfgang ran through the whole concerto. Constanze was almost in tears. "I wish I could play like that. I quite see why Marianna says you were Wolfgang’s star student." She sounded almost jealous.

"I can’t keep this up any longer. Don’t you recognize me, Constanze?"

Wolfgang got up from the piano stool, tripped over his skirts and fell down. Constanze rushed to give him a hand up. "I never really expected you to carry out the plan. I really thought it was a woman from Paris who had unexpectedly turned up. Did Frau Bittermann really buy the idea."

"With her usual miserly provisos she did indeed. Now Wolfgang has to learn to walk, talk and comport himself like a parisienne."

"He’d better dress as a woman every day until the concert in order to get lots of practice. I am really going to enjoy teaching him."

"You two are going to need a chaperone, I can see."

Constanze and I sewed and sewed to provide both a street outfit for Wolfgang and an evening dress for the concert. My wig fitted him well, but the only difficulty remained shoes. Finally he went to the cobbler and had him make a pair of high-heeled shoes, saying he wished to emulate King Louis XIV of France, who was also a small man. The cobbler knew all about this foible of the king of France and produced an perfect pair in time for the evening.

The next few days passed in a whirl of activity as ‘Mademoiselle Jeunehomme’ rehearsed the orchestra and I rehearsed the choir. Constanze was pressed into service as music copyist, preparing the master copy of each orchestral part which the members of the orchestra had then to copy for themselves.

Frau Bitter-face looked in a couple of times and seemed satisfied which what she heard. She unbent sufficiently to ask us (me really, since she did not connect ‘Mademoiselle Jeunehomme’ with Wolfgang) if we would mind Constanze serving as mistress of ceremonies since she was not going to play on the festive evening. I never saw the music teacher, who should have been involved in all this.

Constanze and I tried to get Wolfgang to walk and behave like a woman, but once he sat at the keyboard all our lessons were forgotten as he immersed himself in his own music. In private he grumbled all the time about this dressing-up.

On the great day we all started to dress quite early. While Wolfgang shaved carefully my maid helped me on with my underskirt, then I stopped her and dismissed her for a time. I wanted to get Wolfgang dressed before I completed my toilette. I dressed him first in a white shift, then called Constanze in to help me lace him into his stays. Then we helped him into four petticoats before spreading out his buff taffeta underskirt with a ruched and pleated hem with rows of lace. Maquillage came next, before continuing with dressing him in the bodice, which was yellow silk velvet,, and embroidered with tiny red flowers, with green foliage, edged around the décollété with white lace repeated on the cuffs of the sleeves. The sleeves and bodice were decorated with silk ribbon bows. Wolfgang stood with his arms out, not protesting in any way, not even when we laced his corset tight. We added silk stockings and his new shoes, then the panniers, which were particularly large that year for evening wear, and finally the overskirt, matching the bodice and looped up to reveal the underskirt.

I stepped back to admire our handiwork. He really did make a handsome woman! I added a beauty patch where he had nicked himself in shaving, and Constanze and I put on his wig (my best wig) for him, a towering beehive on top of which we perched a velvet hat of the same material as the bodice, with a white feather.

"You need lace mitts and a fan, I think, Mademoiselle Jeunehomme."

Constanze raided her mother’s dressing room and found these items.

"I’m not going to play in these mitts, but I must say they complete the outfit." Wolfgang seemed to be enjoying himself.


Mademoiselle Jeunehomme in her panniered skirt, ready for the concert

I called in my maid again to help in dressing both Constanze and me. Constanze wore quite a severe plain white dress, with small panniers, as befitted her status as a school-girl, while I wore an indigo dress printed with tiny flowers in white, though I suppose it was really the reverse, with the flowers undyed against the printed indigo background. Like Wolfgang I wore large panniers, but my underskirt was white with a plain hem.

I summoned the carriage and off we set for the school concert.

It was a great success, with ‘Mademoiselle Jeunehomme’ receiving a great ovation, both for her playing and for her conducting. The orchestra excelled themselves and my choir too gave a most creditable performance. Constanze was a delightful mistress of ceremonies. Even Frau Bitter-face complimented us on our work with the choir and orchestra.

In the carriage on the way home Wolfgang gave Constanze a great kiss.

"Hey, stop it you two! I said you needed a chaperone."

"That was quite fun, the dressing and all. And its given me an idea for an opera."


"Yes, I’ve been mulling over those plays of Beaumarchais, and wondering about their operatic potential. I think I’ll do one of them, the one about the wedding of Figaro, and have Cherubino disguise himself as a woman in order to get out of one of his scrapes."


"I think it must have been something like that," said Jimmy.

"Well, however it came about, I am going to enjoy Mozart’s ninth piano concerto tonight. I almost wish it would be played by a woman, after your tale, Jimmy."

"It is usually claimed," said Jimmy, "That Mademoiselle Jeunehomme must have been a student at the school that commissioned the concerto, but there are two strikes against that idea besides Mozart’s claim that he performed the première of them all. Firstly, if she was a student at the school in Mannheim why use the French title Mademoiselle instead of the German Fräulein? Secondly, the city records of Mannheim record no family with the name Jeunehomme. So, there never was any Mademoiselle Jeunehomme.

It came almost as an anticlimax to see the conductor of the Symphony Orchestra in white tie and tails instead of a towering wig and a panniered skirt.




© 2001
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