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2 posts categorized "Rare books"

04 May 2018

The Mozarts in London

It's April 1764 and Leopold Mozart was standing on the French shore of the Channel, waiting for the ferry to England. He was accompanied by his wife Anna Maria and their two children, Maria Anna (nicknamed Nannerl) and Wolfgang, aged 12 and 8 respectively. They had never seen the sea and any apprehensions they might have had were met with a rough crossing. Leopold reported in a letter that they made “a heavy contribution in vomiting.”1

On the 23 April they finally arrived in London from Paris, lodging above a barber’s shop near Trafalgar Square. They had left Salzburg almost a year before, as Leopold showed the prowess of his two child prodigies across different European courts. Britain wasn’t included in their initial plans, but they had been urged to make the journey by two Englishmen in the French Court: London was at the time the richest, the biggest and most successful city in Europe. It contained a wealthy class of merchants who patroned public performances. This was an important difference from previous countries they had visited, where concert life was mainly confined to the courts. 

The Mozart family spent around fifteen months in the British capital, but their experience was not as successful as they had hope so. Let’s find out more about their story through these three items from our collections

Violin Sonatas, KV 10–15 
R.M.11.f.5. 1b
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus. Six Sonates Pour Le Clavecin ... Oeuvre III. London: Printed for the Author, 1765. British Library Shelfmark R.M.11.f.5 

The start of the trip was nonetheless auspicious. The letters of introduction from France had been very effective, as within a week the family was summoned to Buckingham House (a more modest predecessor to the current Palace), for the first of their three visits to the court of King George III and Queen Charlotte. Here Wolfgang’s skills were put to royal test:

The King placed before him not only works of Wagensil, but those of Bach, Abel, and Handel,2 and he played off everything prima vista. Then he accompanied the Queen in an aria which she sang, and also a flautist who played a solo. Finally he took the bass part of some airs of Handel and played the most beautiful melody on it and in such a manner that everyone was amazed. In short, what he knew when we left Salzburg is a mere shadow compared with what he knows now. It exceeds all that one can imagine.3

The Queen asked the Mozarts to be the dedicatee of one of Wolfgang's compositions. Leopold obliged, printing at his expense a run of three sonatas. The copy shown above, is the very one which was presented to the Queen.

God is our refuge, K. 20
K.10.a.17.(3)_f001rMozart, Wolfgang Amadeus.: ‘God is our Refuge’, K. 20; 1765 (detail). British Library Shelfmark K.10.a.17.(3) 

Towards the end of their London stay the Mozarts received an invitation to visit the British Museum (from which the British Library was born). It seems now hard to believe, but children weren’t allowed then. Wolfgang and Nannerl were indeed very privileged. Leopold and his daughter kept a travel diary and she recalls to have seen “the library, the antiquities, birds of all kinds, fishes, insects and fruits.” in the Museum 4

They presented the Museum directors with a copy of his first two sonatas (also in our collections); a copy of a print showing Leopold and his two children (in the British Museum); and the manuscript of ‘God us our Refuge’ K. 20 shown above (a digitised version is available here). This motet for four voices was especially composed and presented to the Trustees of the Museum. It was to be his only setting of English words during his life. Little Wolfgang seems to have had trouble fitting the words to their corresponding notes (noticeable in bars 7-9), so his father wrote them in the rest of the piece.

At the British Library we can boast that our collection of Mozart manuscripts is certainly the first to have been started by the composer himself!

Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser
NGDA - 01.06.1764
Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, 17 May 64 . British Library Shelfmark Burney 529.b.

The British Library has an important collection of Newspapers gathered by the Reverend Charles Burney (b.1757, d.1817), mostly published in London between 1604 and 1804. The collection has been digitised and can be viewed on any of our Reading Room terminals.

Leopold Mozart was no doubt an astute marketer, paying for several adverts on London papers where he announced performances by his children. They were often described as “prodigies of nature” and Leopold was more than ready to bend the truth slightly, purporting his children to be one or two years younger. The adverts here shown appeared on the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser, where Leopold published more frequently.

Their first few months of their London stay saw them play in the most fashionable gardens of London. However their luck changed in early July when Leopold fell gravely ill, developing from what he described as “a kind of native complaint, which is called a cold5. Without his guidance and promotion, performances stopped for a few months and by the spring of 1765 public interest in the child prodigies began to wane. Wolfgang in the meantime, occupied himself composing -among other works- his first symphony, which premiered in February at the Little Theatre in Haymarket.

Their bad fortunes may have also been influenced by external forces, as there are indications that malicious rumours were being spread about the family. One of the most outrageous no doubt, said that Wolfgang wasn’t a child but a small adult with a growth deficiency. His father Leopold was forced to deny this in an open letter

Understandably, by mid-1765 the Mozarts started to arrange their long return to Salzburg. Private concerts were being offered at reduced fees. By July 1765 the young Mozarts, who had started performing for the Royals, were now playing during lunchtime at the Swan and Hoop pub near Moorgate in the City... 



Special thanks to Maddy Smith, curator of printed heritage collections 1601-1900, for her assistance with this article.



  1. Letter from Leopold Mozart to his merchant and friend, Johann Lorenz von Hagenauer. London, 25 April May 1764 (extract)
  2. Composers Georg Christoph Wagenseil, Johann Christian Bach, Karl Friedrich Abel and the King’s favourite composer, George Frideric Handel
  3. ibid 1. London, 28 May 1764 (extract)
  4. Mozart. Briefe und Aufzeichnungen. Gesamtausgabe. (Kassel 1962) Vol I. pp196, 198-9. British Library Shelfmark 07902.e.4.
  5. ibid 1, "Chelsea near London", 13 September 1764.

28 November 2016

Youth's Delight on the Flagelet: Samuel Pepys and his lessons with Thomas Greeting

Nearly 350 years ago, the English diarist Samuel Pepys wrote in his entry for Thursday 28th February 1667 that he had employed a man named Thomas Greeting to teach the flageolet to his wife.  According to the entry, this was something of an impulsive arrangement: Greeting had gone with the flageolet-maker Drumbleby to deliver a new instrument to the diarist, who appears to have leaped upon the opportunity to arrange instruction for Mrs. Pepys.

Pepys’s musical enthusiasms feature prominently in the diary, particularly his passion for playing the flageolet and recorder.  He seems to have been well-connected within the world of professional musicians, so this association with Thomas Greeting, who was perhaps the most renowned flageolet tutor book author of the period, is not surprising.

Two copies of Greeting’s tutor books are held within the British Library’s collection of English 17th-century printed music: an enlarged third edition of his first tutor book, The Pleasant Companion (shelfmark K.11.e.8.) and a copy of his second tutor book, published in 1682/3 (shelfmark K.4.a.20). Both consist of 13 pages of instruction for the flageolet, followed by (different) sets of tunes, with fingerings supplied for each note.

The Pleasant Companion title pageTitle-page from the third edition of The Pleasant Companion, British Library K.11.e.8

A closer look at the copy of the second tutor book, The Second Part of Youth's Delight on the Flagelet, reveals two significant imperfections: the insertion of two manuscript pages which have been erroneously supplied from a 1675 edition of The Pleasant Companion – a title-page, and the final page of the ‘Directions for Playing on the Flagelet’.

There is also another, entirely different addition which is far more noteworthy: two monograms of Samuel Pepys in his autograph, which have been inscribed on the blank verso of the last page of music.

Samuel Pepys initials

The two monograms of Samuel Pepys, in his hand, which appear in British Library K.4.a.20

But does the fact that this volume once belonged to Samuel Pepys shed any new light on his music-making activities? It is already well-known that Pepys was a keen musician, although there is little evidence in his diary that Elisabeth Pepys shared his passion. Her flageolet studies seem to have been rather sporadic, probably indicating that the lessons arranged by her husband were his enthusiasm rather than hers. A month after her instruction had commenced, Pepys still seemed optimistic about Elisabeth’s progress:

Being returned home, I find Greeting, the flageolet-master, come, and teaching my wife; and I do think my wife will take pleasure in it, and it will be easy for her, and pleasant.

Entry for 1st March, 1667

But by 17th May he was complaining that she was not doing enough practice and feared that her lessons would seem a ‘bad bargain’ to Greeting.  ‘I did think that the man did deserved some more consideration,’ wrote Pepys, ‘and so will give him an opportunity of 20s. a month more, and he shall teach me, and this afternoon I begun, and I think it will be a few shillings well spent.’

On 9th September, he admits that she has been exceeding his expectations, and three days later he noted that her sight-reading had improved:

[…] and mightily pleased with my wife’s playing on the flageolet, she taking out any tune almost at first sight, and keeping time to it, which pleases me mightily.

Entry for 12th September, 1667

It seems that after this point the lessons may have ceased for a while, but a year later Pepys wrote that Greeting had called round to play some Matthew Locke duets with him, and that he had booked his wife in for lessons again, ‘for I have a great mind for her to be able to play a part with me’.

This entry probably holds the key to the real reason behind Elisabeth’s flageolet lessons with Thomas Greeting: namely, that her husband considered that playing duets with him was a logical and entirely reasonable extension of her wifely duties. But where does the British Library copy of The Second Part of Youth's Delight on the Flagelet fit into the picture? The date of the publication is certainly significant. Despite the lack of this copy’s original title-page, the term catalogues reveal that this publication was only printed in the years 1682 and 1683 – well after Elisabeth’s death in 1669, which indicates that Pepys continued playing the flageolet himself after this date. Although this might seem unsurprising on the face of things, it is actually the only real evidence we have to suggest this, since Pepys had also stopped writing the diary in 1669 because of his deteriorating eyesight.

Since the copy bears no annotations besides the two monograms, it is impossible to ascertain whether Pepys would have actually used this tutor book for instruction. Since he would have been far from a beginner by this point, he may have bought it simply to supply himself with a new set of tunes to play, since the songs and dances in this publication are entirely different to those contained within The Pleasant Companion. It is also worth noting that the book includes several pieces by John Banister  – another musical acquaintance of Pepys.

John Banister Jigg

No. 9 from The Second Part of Youth’s Delight on the Flagelet, ‘A jigg by Mr. Io Ban:’, British Library K.4.a.20

Equally though, the book may have been merely a casual or symbolic purchase – perhaps a gesture of support to his friend, Thomas Greeting, or even a memento of his late wife’s less-than-enthusiastic studies. Nevertheless, the existence of this copy does provide a telling indication that Samuel Pepys’s interest, and presumably his enjoyment of the flageolet, continued until long after its last mention in his diaries.


Isobel Clarke

Doctoral student, Royal College of Music, and PhD placement student, British Library Music Collections