Musikgeschichten: 10. Dezember (1791)

Mozart's Fault? – Franz Hofdemel Goes Bezerk

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Bennet Seiger
Bennet Seiger
12/10/2019

The innumerable conspiracy theories surrounding Mozart's death are nothing new. In part, they were stoked by the wonderful Amadeus, a film which openly prioritized dramatic impact over historical accuracy. An alternative to the Salieri-plot revolves around the husband of a woman alleged to have had an affair with Mozart. Once again, it is a revenge story with a poisoning at its center. 

Mozart krank

The ailing Mozart shortly before his death. It has since been the object of endless speculation. 

(Image: Public Domain)

The list of Mozart's possible lovers is just as long as the list of conspiracy theories. To start with, there's Josepha Duschek, a soprano from Prague; Henriette Baranius, a singer from Berlin; and then there's two of the singers from the premiere of The Magic Flute. There are also plenty of rumors about Mozart and his cousin, his "Bäsle", to whom he wrote a series of rather unusual erotic letters. He was also accused of having an affair with his "favorite student", Magdalena Hofdemel. He gave her private lessons in her own home, which according to one of Mozart's biographers was highly unusual. The author claims that Mozart rarely took on private students, unless, that is, his interest in them went beyond their talent for music. In any case, it seems that the lawyer Franz Hofdemel frequently allowed Mozart to spend time alone with his wife, a a woman of twenty-three who was famed for her beauty. Was it a mistake? 

The Piano Concerto KV 595, dedicated to Magdalena Hofdemel.

Hofdemel and Wolfgang had established a kind of friendship – and more importantly, they belonged to the same Masonic lodge. Franz proved to be a reliable source of money whenever things got desperate in the Mozart household:

"Dear Friend! –
I am taking the liberty of asking you for a favor, without putting on any airs – could you or would you lend me 100 fl. until the 20th of the coming month? I would be exceedingly grateful. On the 20th, I will receive my quarterly fee, at which point I will return to you what I owe, along with my gratitude."

– Mozart to Franz Hofdemel, March 1789

Just as he had so often before, Franz helped Mozart, giving him the 100 florins, which he most probably never got back. Following the birth of her daughter in 1790, his wife had resumed her piano lessons with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who even during his lifetime had developed a certain reputation. When the composer died in December 1791, Magdalena, at the time pregnant with her second child, went to the funeral service on December 10th 1791 at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. On returning home, she found Franz in the throes of a fit of rage. He attacked her with a razor, intent on killing her. As she began screaming and trying to defend herself, Franz gave up and took his own life. Magdalena was left with scores of wounds on her throat, chest, arms and face.

This incident further stoked the rumors, both in the contemporary newspapers and in the generations to come. Some people have even contended that Franz had discovered the alleged affair far earlier, and had reacted by poisoning Mozart. There's no way of knowing what really happened; but we do know a little about Magdalena's fate. Following her husband's suicide, she moved to Brünn, where her son Johann Alexander Franz was born. Although the boy took Hofdemel's name, rumor had it that he was Mozart's child. Magdalena was left with extensive scars, and her reputation was completely destroyed by the newspaper coverage. As a result, she was forced to abandon her musical career. ¶

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