An authentic gentleman's suit from 1790. France. Kyoto Costume Institute. Similar suits were documented in the inventory of Mozart...

Stepping into Mozart's Iconic Trouser Role

An authentic gentleman's suit from 1790. France. Kyoto Costume Institute.
Similar suits were documented in the inventory of Mozart's estate in 1791.

The inventory taken of Mozart's estate after his death gives us a very intimate glimpse of the man through the lens of his personal affects, including his wardrobe. The list substantiates his penchant for luxurious clothing. As is evident from his letters and contemporaries, extravagant dress was Mozart's preference, but it was also necessary as a vehicle of his artistry in Viennese society. As a musician, he was obligated to attend court functions and mix with the aristocracy, his patrons, in Vienna's most elegant salons. In a letter to his father on September 5, 1781, Mozart writes: "I could not go about Vienna like a tramp. One must not make oneself cheap here - that is the cardinal point - or else one is done."

It's a controversial subject, but after Mozart's death, Count Joseph Deym, owner of an art gallery, took a cast plaster of his face which was then modeled with a fax figure and Mozart's real clothes at his museum. Imagine. It's not clear what became of this exhibition and the copy of the mask owned by Mozart's widow Constanze was accidentally broken when she was dusting it in 1820, but there is an existing mask said to be another copy of the original. I saw it in the Mozarthaus on display in 2006. Although there's still an ongoing dialogue concerning its authenticity, seeing it made me very emotional for the possibility that it could be the Maestro's likeness.

Clothing is the closest tangibility to a silhouette of the departed, and posterity has been robbed of it whereas Mozart is concerned, but also of everything else regarding his physicality. Afterall, none of his authenticated portraits corroborate the others and his precise resting place is unknown. Aside from a few instruments and effects, how appropriate it is that we have only his words and his music. He will always remain elusive. Not a single item of Mozart's clothing exists today, but we're fortunate enough to have his estate accounts as well as commentary from his colleagues and surviving clothes of the period from which to draw inspiration.


Mozart's interest in fashion seems to have been an extension of his creativity at play where he naturally excelled, inventing and re-inventing himself, so it's not surprising that Mozart's contemporaries noted that his dress was often garish. Irish tenor Michael Kelly gives us a description during a rehearsal for Figaro from his memoirs, Reminiscences: "I remember that at the first rehearsal of the full band Mozart was on the stage, with his crimson pelisse and his gold-banded cocked hat, giving the time of the music to the orchestra. I shall never forget the little animated countenance when lighted up with the glowing rays of genius. It is as impossible to describe it as it would be to paint sunbeams." Kelly recalled Mozart as "a remarkable small man, very thin and pale, with a profusion of fine, fair hair of which he was rather vain."

Wolfgang, 24 years old, in detail from an oil painting of the Mozart family 
commissioned by his father in 1780/81. Johann Nepomuk della Croce painted 
him on a few occasions. Mozart wore a red jacket in two authenticated portraits 
and there was a red ditto (suit) in the list of his effects when he died.

Kelly remembers him as "remarkable," but others stated that while his person was appeasing, his stature was average, perhaps underwhelming, as it did not match his talent (Would this even be possible?). Mozart's first biographer, Franz Xaver Niemetschek, noted his exterior. "The appearance of this extraordinary man was not at all remarkable; he was small, with an agreeable face which, however, with the exception of the large fiery eyes, did not impress one at first sight with the greatness of genius." 

So, it seems that fashion was not only a creative medium for Mozart, but perhaps compensatory as well. Piero Melograni, Mozart biographer, believes this is the case. "It is true that Wolfgang always sought to compensate for his physical limitations by an elegance in dress. The care he took with his clothing and his hair must have helped him deal with the powerful on an equal basis. Moreover, as a man of the theater in its more spectacular mode, he wanted to be a spectacle himself and to be noticed."

The question still arises for us today in our age of celebrity: What should "greatness" look like? It has many faces and forms. Personally, I love that Mozart was somewhat unsuspecting in this way and that he defied convention. It's one of the profound statements God made through this extraordinary life. Musicality, personality, creativity, intelligence. He was larger than life in every other way. Mozart was a great conversationalist, could speak many languages, was an excellent dancer and could take anyone at a game of billiards. Luigi Bassi, the Italian baritone who premiered the title role in Don Giovanni, alludes to the fact that although Mozart wasn't a leading man type in terms of stature, he was indeed a leading man, and fashion inevitably complimented his confidence. "Mr. Mozart was an extremely eccentric and absent-minded young man, but not without a certain spirit of pride. He was very popular with the ladies, in spite of his small size; he had a most unusual face, and he could cast a spell on any woman with this eyes."

The following is a list of clothing owned by Mozart upon his death per the Sperrs-Relation (Suspense Order) document. I extracted this information from 1791: Mozart's Last Year by H.C. Robbins Landon.

-1 white frock coat of cloth, with Manchester (cotton) waistcoat
-1 blue ditto
-1 red ditto
-1 ditto of nankeen (ie. of yellow or pale buff color)
-1 brown satin ditto together with breeches, embroidered with silk
-1 black cloth whole suit
-1 mouse-color great-coat (ie. dun, greyish-brown)
-1 ditto of lighter material
-1 blue cloth frock coat with fur
-1 ditto Kiria with fur trimming
-4 various waistcoats, 9 various breeches, 2 plain hats, 3 pairs of boots, 3 pairs of shoes
-9 silk stockings
-9 shirts
-4 white neckerchiefs, 1 nightcap, 18 handkerchiefs
-8 underdrawers, 2 nightgowns, 5 pairs of stockings

*A ditto is a suit.

When I read this list for the first time, it didn't alter my view or understanding of him. It did something more. It made me feel closer to the man, not a removed musical deity, who gave the world everything through music. It's proof that he existed, for a short while, in our world. He was one of us, imperfect, delicate and courageous. We remain a part of his prism of joy when we experience his music and history. And aside from books and music, fashion is, quite appropriately, one of my favorite ways in which to experience Mozart and his era. 

My poster from the Albertina exhibition in 2006 and the brocade jacket I purchased in London's Notting Hill. Both are nods to Mozart, who was not only the world's greatest composer, but a fashion icon.

When I was attending the University of Westminster in London, I went to the Notting Hill markets one Saturday afternoon with a few friends. I found a beautiful 18th Century inspired brocade jacket. It was a reminder of the influence of Mozart's era on contemporary fashion, his tangibility of the here and now. Of course, I couldn't resist and brought it home with me! When I was in Vienna for the 2006 Mozart Year (250th birthday anniversary), I visited the Albertina's exhibition, Mozart. Experiment Aufklärung (Mozart. Experiment Enlightenment). An iconic symbol trumpeted the City of Vienna's official exhibition for the Mozart Year: Mozart's red coat, re-imagined. It was one of the first items on display as you walked into the museum and it was also the official logo. It adorned the poster and DVD I purchased from the gift shop. It's astonishing that we don't think of Mozart more often as a fashion icon.

The fire in my heart for Mozart's music was initially lit when I absorbed Sir Neville Marriner's soundtrack from Amadeus in 5th grade music class (See: The Amadeus Argument: Friend or Foe?) but my passion for his dramatic works, which I've come to love most of all, was ignited when I heard Cherubino's aria Non so più as a teenager. Cherubino is an amorous adolescent page boy in Le Nozze di Figaro and is a "trouser role," meaning that despite being a male character, it's performed by a female singer because the vocals are written for mezzo-soprano. This was Mozart and DaPonte's intention. So, to pay homage to the aria that started it all, I've even dressed up as Cherubino for All Hallow's Eve!

My eccentric Cherubino for All Hallow's Eve. This is my character's snooty reaction to Figaro singing Non piu andrai as he tries to send me away to the military. Oh, no! I don't think so!
During his brief life, Mozart composed 25,000 pages of music, which could hardly be copied by the average person in an entire lifetime, so it's difficult to imagine him finding time for anything else. The fact that he made an investment in fashion as an enjoyably amusing diversion is one of the wonderful reveals of Mozart the man which tends to be buried in legend and lore. Although it's generally known that he took great care in his dress, people don't tend to think of him as having an active interest in fashion like the average person. The word "genius" always gets in the way. Mozart's letter of September 28, 1782 to Baroness Waldstätten in which he clamors for a certain red coat is an endearing portrait of a man the world will not soon forget.

"As for the beautiful coat red coat, which attracts me enormously, please, please let me know where it is to be had and how much it costs - for that I have completely forgotten, as I was so captivated by its splendor that I did not take note of its price. I must have a coat like that, for it is one that will really do justice to certain buttons which I have long been hankering after. I saw them once, when I was choosing some for a suit. They were in Brandau's button factory in the Kohlmarkt, opposite the Milano (cafe). They are mother-of-pearl with a few white stones round the edge and a fine yellow stone in the center. I should like all my things to be of good quality, genuine and beautiful."      


Sherry

2 comments:

Monica said...

I loved reading that. I find it adorable that he was so careful with his looks! This really brought a warm feeling into my heart. I also felt the same seeing the picture of the supposed mask...

Well done, Sherry!

Sherry Davis said...

Thank you, Monica! I'm glad that you enjoyed reading about Mozart's trouser role. :) He could have quite easily considered fashion an obligatory part of his life, something to tolerate with a constant schedule of teaching, composing and performing, but by all accounts he sought it out and really enjoyed it. I think it's important for Mozart admirers to know about this part of his life.