Constanze Mozart was born in Austria on 5 January 1762 into a world of music. Her father, Fridolin Weber, worked as a double bass player, prompter and music copyist, and her two elder sisters, Josepha and Aloysia, had distinguished musical careers.
It was from this musical landscape that Constanze rose to notoriety, primary remembered for being married to the prolific Classical composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Yet Constanze was a trained musician in her own right, and as both biographer and businesswoman, played a crucial role in establishing her husband’s legacy.
A world of music
Constanze’s childhood was spent in her mother’s hometown, Mannheim, then an important cultural and musical hub. While she and her sisters never received a full education, her father Fridolin ensured that his 4 daughters trained as singers. The star of the family was Aloysia, a popular soprano, and the Webers often travelled Austria following her career.
Surrounded by musicians, it was in her mother’s hometown that Constanze met Mozart for the first time. Yet at 15 years old, she was not the object of the young musician’s affections; Mozart had fallen head over heels for her sister Aloysia. Unfortunately for Mozart, Aloysia did not return his feelings and rejected his marriage proposal.
Once again the family moved to follow Aloysia’s performances, arriving in Vienna in 1779. Fridolin died shortly after leaving his wife and daughters without an income. Constanze’s mother opened up their townhouse to boarders, and once again the paths of the Webers and Mozart crossed.
Now 19, Constanze and Mozart struck up an intimate friendship, so much so that her mother demanded either he marry her daughter or be forced to pay her a yearly pension because she would be scandalised and left unmarried. The two were wed on 4 August 1782.
Married to Mozart
Despite the initial difficulties of their relationship, Constanze and Mozart had a loving marriage. Surviving love letters from Mozart to Constanze show their devotion to one another and in their nine years together, they were rarely separated.
Mozart’s fame increased, and the couple spent lavishly to keep up with the fashions of the high society they moved within. Constanze even performed several of her husband’s operatic roles in Vienna and had numerous pieces dedicated to her.
Together they had 6 children, yet only 2 survived infancy. Constant pregnancy took a toll on Constanze’s health. She spent time at the Baden sulphur spas recuperating, which only increased the family’s debts.
In November 1791, Mozart’s own health took a downward turn. The sudden illness raised suspicions that he had been poisoned, but the cause of Mozart’s death remains uncertain. Nursed by Constanze, he died aged 35 in December.
What happened to Constanze after Mozart died?
Constanze was too grief-stricken to attend her husband’s funeral. She was newly widowed and faced her husband’s massive debts. The precariousness of Constanze’s situation drew support from Mozart’s fans.
She received a small annual pension from Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold II, and was honoured at several benefit concerts arranged by friends of her late husband. Another friend even financed her two sons’ educations and others took up collections for the widow.
Constanze also mobilised to secure the future and legacy of her family. She recognised the value of Mozart’s music and, as the owner of his unpublished manuscripts, made sure they were authenticated.
In 1797, a Danish diplomat took lodgings at her Vienna boarding house. Georg Nikolaus von Nissen had a passion for music, and soon became a close and trusted friend who helped Constanze organise Mozart’s works.
In 1809, von Nissen and Constanze were married. They lived happily together travelling Europe and writing a gargantuan biography telling the story of Mozart’s life and work.
How is Constanze remembered?
Constanze moved in with her sister Aloysia in Salzburg after von Nissen’s death in 1826. She remained there until she died aged 80 on 6 March, 1842. In the centuries following her death, Constanze was often portrayed as musically inept, materialistic and unsupportive of her first husband’s career.
However, more recent scholarship has sought to correct this interpretation, highlighting the societal demands on the Mozarts to spend money on their home and clothes, evidence of great affection within their letters and Constanze’s influence on Mozart’s work. Indeed, Mozart wrote to his sister, Nannerl, explaining how “My dear Constanze is really the cause of this fugue’s coming into the world”.
Undoubtedly, Constanze dedicated much of her life to securing Mozart’s legacy. She painstakingly preserved his manuscripts and her selectiveness in choosing publishers meant only accurate, unedited versions of Mozart’s work were shared.
More than just supporting the life’s work of her famous husband, Constanze had a passion for music. Throughout her childhood and marriages to Mozart and later, von Nissen, she met musicians, travelled to concerts, performed on Europe’s stages and influenced one of history’s greatest classical composers.