A Work Of Two Halves

By London_Nick Last edited 145 months ago
A Work Of Two Halves

To mark the 250th anniversary of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birth, two halves of one of his manuscripts have finally been re-united after spending the last 170 years apart. The British museum, which has been in possession of the lower half since 1953, has finally purchased the top half from a private collector.

The theory as to why the manuscript was cut in half in the first place is that after Mozart’s untimely death in 1791, his widow Constanze was struggling to support herself financially. In 1835, she cut the manuscript in half and either gave or sold the two halves to separate private collectors, as she realised that she could make more money this way (or was angling for a financial favour from one of the collectors). By 1835, Mozart was becoming one of the most renowned and revered composers of all time, and any original manuscripts written by him were extremely valuable for any collector.

The manuscript itself has music written on both sides. One side features a short minuet for a string quartet, which Mozart composed in 1773, when he was just 17. The other side features two cadenzas for piano concertos. Mozart’s cadenzas are often extremely complicated, and show off his true virtuosic capacity, and so these are valuable to any historian or musician studying the man himself.

In fact, the music on the manuscript shows a turning point in Mozart’s compositions: By the time he was 17, he wanted to shed the ‘child prodigy’ image created for him by his father, and become a serious composer and performer in his own right. The minuet and cadenzas featured on the manuscript show some of his first forays into the world of adult composition.

Now that the British Museum has got hold of both parts of the manuscript, nicely in time for the worldwide 250th anniversary celebration of Mozart’s birth, it will be put on display from Saturday.

For more information on Mozart – arguably the world’s most prolific, virtuosic and celebrated composer – click here.

Last Updated 12 January 2006