'The best work I ever composed' (W.A. Mozart - 10th April 1784)
On 30th March 1784 Mozart, in Vienna, made a written entry in his new thematic catalogue to record the completion of a new and now very famous Piano Quintet, listed today in the Koechel list as KV452. Two weeks later, and very proud of it, he refers to this same piece in a letter of 10th April 1784 to his father in Salzburg –
‘I have composed two grand concertos and then I composed a quintet, which produced the very greatest applause. I consider the (piano) quintet to be the best work I have ever composed. It is written for oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon and pianoforte. I wish you could have heard it yourself. And how beautifully it was performed !’.
Welcome once again to the surreal world of Mozart attributions !
A brief study of KV452 reveals a very different story from that which Mozart tells us. Here it is –
'Mozart's greatest work', this Piano Quintet, seems not to have interested any music publsher during his entire lifetime. A strange fact, yes ? n fact, it was first published in Mozart’s name by the Vienna publisher ‘Artaria’ in 1794 (10 years after its supposed composition and 3 years after Mozart’s death). A strange fate for such a great work, don't you think ?
After Mozart’s untimely death in December 1791 his widow, Constanze, entered in to protracted negotiations for sale of all Mozart’s musical manuscripts. These negotiations involved several music publishers over years including Artaria, Breitkopf and Hartel and, finally, the Andre family. Constanze finally agreed (many years and many intrigues later) to sell them to Andre. (It was around the year 1800 that he was able to obtain these manuscripts and began publishing them). Breitkopf and Hartel, failing to get rights to them, cancelled their publicised plan to publish 'all Mozart’s works'. They even stopped publishing (eventually) works that were not by 'Mozart'. Thus, around the time the infamous ‘Mozart’ Requiem was being first published by them 1799/1800 the Mozart manuscripts became the property of Andre.
Shortly after taking control of the 'complete Mozart collection', Andre noticed there was a musical manuscript missing. This very quintet. (He'd consulted Mozart’s thematic catalogue and saw no such work in the mass of papers before him).. So he asked the widow Constanze, the seller, for information. The story she gave him of the piece is the same one she later gave to Rochlitz, editor of the ‘Allgemeine musikalische’ who published in 1798 a series of 10 memorial anecdotes on Mozart’s career. (In these 10 anecdotes Rochlitz first records that he was careful to obtain all information for these anecdotes from Constanze Mozart herself).
In the first of the 10 published anecdotes Constanze speaks to Rochlitz about the Piano Quintet. She said –
‘My husband performed this piece shortly after its completion in 1784 and the audience were so pleased that one listener, a Polish Count, unexpectedly gave a sum of money to Mozart in gratitude. Mozart was happy with this donation of money and sent the Count the original musical score of this same quintet – ‘something he never did at other times’. ‘’
Then, according to this same report by Constanze Mozart –
‘This Polish nobleman kept the original document and, a short time later, without my husband’s agreement, this composition was published by Artaria not as a Piano Quintet but as a Piano Quartet, with accompaniment by Violin, Viola and Cello’.
(Constanze Mozart – ‘Allgemeine musikalische’ – 1798 ed. Rochlitz)
But here is where problems begin. The first is as mentioned that KV452 was first published by Artaria in 1794, 3 years AFTER Mozart’s death and fully 10 years after its supposed completion date. But Constanze told Rochlitz that it was first published ‘[I]a short time later’, (after its composition) /I] by a Polish nobleman via Artaria in Vienna. This is impossible, since, of course, Artaria were the main publishers of Mozart’s music in Vienna. How could they publish the quintet without Mozart and Constanze Mozart being aware of it ? And, as already said, the piece actually appeared first from Artaria 10 years later - long after Mozart’s death.
This strange story might end here. But now we discover other facts. In the late 1790’s the music publisher Andre wants to get his hands on the manuscript which he now owns. But this time, in reply to his written request Constanze Mozart suddenly invents a totally new story about the piece. She replies/explains/confesses (as you prefer) to Andre that its originalk owner was NOT, in fact, a Polish Count ! Thus, she tells one story to Rochlitz and the ‘Allgemeine musikalische’ and a quite different story to the new owner of the Mozart manuscripts. And, from 1800 onwards she even tells people that Rochlitz invented the original story ! (The same Rochlitz who had paid her to provide the 10 anecdotes in the first place)!
In this confused world of Mozartean lies and inventions our story of KV452 continues and it begins to take its typically complicated form –
Constanze now tells Andre that the true owner of the Piano Quintet was not in fact a Polish Count but was someone never mentioned before - Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanovecz and Lestine, a Secretary to the Hungarian Court Chancellery. She also tells Andre (the year being 1800) that this quintet today known as KV452, exists with two different final pages ! These she describes as ‘duplicate endings’.
But close study of the original music (which was finally provided to Andre several years later) shows that ONLY THE FINAL 11 BARS OF THE 3RD MOVEMENT ARE ACTUALLY IN THE HANDWRITING OF MOZART ! (Bars 228-238). Folio 16 Recto (which contains only 4 bars of a final musical cadence) had been written by a different person whose style of writing is so close to that of Mozart that the forgery was revealed only by very close examination of the document.
Recent research has also shown Folios 9 to 16 of this quintet were originally separate sheets before they were later glued together.
With such fakery featuring in yet another 'Mozart' work (this one being 'the greatest he had ever composed) the problems now begin to multiply. For this fraudulent ending to KV452 (given to Andre with the rest of the manuscript in 1800) is almost identical to the ending we find in the Artatria version of the quartet version that first appeared in 1794 and in all other versions (there were many) which were published widely after 1794 !
Therefore, beyond reasonable doubt, a forger who wrote in handwriting very similar to Mozart’s was active in Vienna before 1794 (i.e. within 3 years of Mozart’s death). This forger (and not a Polish Count or Nikolaus Zmeskall von Domanoveca and Lestine) created this version in ‘Mozart’s’ handwriting and sold it to Artaria before 1794.
If this Quintet was truly by Mozart why did Constanze Mozart lie ? Why was forgery necessary ? Why would Artaria have accepted this quintet for publication when they were already in close contact with Mozart and, also, Constanze Mozart ?
It is clear that in the final years of Mozart’s life, many pieces of music were coming in to the hands of the Mozart family which Mozart claimed were his own compositions. In the final years a professional forger was even creating music in Mozart’s own handwriting (or in versions so close to Mozart’s handwriting) that it made no difference.
This is why, with documents such as the ‘Mozart Requiem’ KV626 we have a manuscript that appears to be partially by Mozart. In actual fact, KV626 is NOT by Mozart. None of it. It’s signature is a forgery and the entire ‘Mozart’ within it is also a clever forgery. False too are stories of its rehearsal days before Mozart’s death in December 1791. Mozart, despite a complex web of false claims, was NOT commissioned to write a Requiem Mass. That story was invented. But the forger gives us the false impression that Mozart wrote large parts of KV626. He did not. Nor did he compose KV452.