Paris, 3 July 1778
Mozart writes to his father:
I have had to compose a symphony for the opening of the Concert Spirituel [This was the 'Paris' Symphony in D major, K297]. It was performed on Corpus Christi day with great applause...I was very nervous at the rehearsal, for never in my life have I heard a worse performance. You have no idea how they twice scraped and scrambled through it. I was really in a terrible way and would gladly have had it rehearsed again, but as there was so much else to rehearse, there was no time left. So I had to go to bed with an aching heart and in a discontented and angry frame of mind. I decided next morning not to go to the concert at all; but in the evening, the weather being fine, I at last made up my mind to go, determined that if my symphony went as badly as it did at rehearsal, I would certainly make my way into the orchestra, snatch the fiddle out of the hands of Lahoussaye, the first violin, and conduct myself! I prayed God that it might go well, for it is all to His greater honour and glory; and behold – the symphony began. Raaff was standing beside me, and just in the middle of the first Allegro there was a passage which I felt sure must please. The audience were quite carried away – and there was a tremendous burst of applause. But as I knew, when I wrote it, what effect it would surely produce, I had introduced the passage again at the close – when there were shouts of 'da capo'. The Andante also found favour, but particularly the last Allegro, because, having observed that all last as well as all first Allegros begin here with all the instruments playing together and generally unisono, I began mine with two violins only, piano for the first eight bars – followed instantly by a forte; the audience, as I expected, said 'hush' at the soft beginning, and when they heard the forte, began at once to clap their hands.
[from a translation by Emily Anderson]
This is an oft-quoted letter, from which we learn (or are reminded) that:
- 18th-century rehearsals were scrappy affairs
- 18th-century orchestral concerts were often led/conducted by the first violin
- 18th-century audiences were accustomed to responding verbally and with applause during the performance
- Mozart was unashamed about studying the tastes of his audience in order to (a) delight them and (b) surprise them
But the part I like best is Mozart's expression of sheer pleasure at his success:
I was so happy that as soon as the symphony was over, I went off to the Palais Royal, where I had a large ice, said the rosary as I had vowed to do – and went home…
Imagine that: 22-year-old Mozart, relieved that his worst fears weren't realised and thrilled by a wonderful audience reaction, goes off to the Palais Royal to eat ice cream. And on that subject here's Elizabeth David, my favourite cooking writer, in her social history of ice and ices, Harvest of the Cold Months. Apparently there were five or six cafés in the Palais Royal, including the fashionable Café du Caveau (of M. Dubuisson, who claimed to have introduced liqueur-flavoured ices to Paris) and the Foy (or Foi), which was the oldest and most famous and renowned for its good coffee, lemonades and ices.
The Foy had an exceptional privilege, permission to serve refreshments in the gardens of the palace, although not to set tables. Everything had to be balanced on chairs.
And as I've written elsewhere, that makes for quite a picture: Mozart eating ice cream, resting his supper on a chair.